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Things you'll never hear
Interview with Noam Chomsky

June 14, 2000
The Iranian

Ramin Jahanbegloo's interview with Noam Chomsky, one of America's most provocative intellectuals who is professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Jahanbegloo is associate professor of political science at the University of Toronto. The interview was conducted in April.

RJ: You have a very multifaceted career as a linguist and university lecturer. But it is probably as a critic of politics, government and media that you are most well known. And your interest in politics is not limited to the borders of North America; you are also interest in what is going on in Latin America, the Middle East and Asia. Today we are going to talk about the Middle East and I want to know more about how you got interested in the Middle East and more specifically in Iranian affairs. Does this interest in the Middle East have to do with your Jewish background or are there more reasons for this?

NC: I grew up in a small immigrant Jewish community in the United States which was very involved in the revival of Hebrew, with things that were happening in Palestine and that as a child, back in the 1930s was beginning to integrate with my general political interests toward political radicalism and there were all sorts of connections that grew out of that. When I got to college I studied Arabic and got to read it reasonably well having Hebrew. Then more generally I lived in Israel for a while and just became more and more engaged in Middle East affairs generally but it is just one of several areas as I told you this morning I was talking on Brazilian radio.

RJ: Did you follow up your interest in the Middle East more in the 60s and 70s in relation to the Palestinian problem?

NC: No, it was a continuation of earlier interests. Back in the 1940s I was more involved in that than in anything else.

RJ: Have you ever been to Iran?

NC: No.

RJ: Are you interested to go to Iran?

NC: Yes, I have invitations I just haven't been able to make it. I have an extremely intense schedule. I'm usually planned two years ahead, it is hard to work things out.

RJ: When you think of a country like Iran, since you have never visited, what are your perceptions of Iran today?

NC: Well, I have been interested in Iran since the early 1950s when the United States and Britain overthrew the conservative-nationalist government and restored the Shah. I have been following Iran throughout that whole period. I was involved with Iranian dissidents, Iranian students in the period of protest against the Shah and of course I have paid a lot of attention since the overthrow of the Shah when the Islamic regime took over. Most of what I look at is from the point of view of U.S. policy. So I have been interested in the role of Iran under the Shah as part of a system of control of Middle East oil and later as a partial antagonist. I read and follow what's happening. My picture now is pretty conventional. There is clearly now a significant reform.

RJ: I'm sure you follow the news on Iran on a daily basis. How would you assess Khatami's election and the reform process in Iran?

NC: Well I think it is an encouraging sign of a very badly needed opening up of society. It's a mixed story, for example if Iran opens up in such a way as to subordinate itself to the general neo-liberal order I think it will be very harmful for many people in Iran, probably the majority. So opening up is a mixed [blessing]. It depends on how it is done. On the cultural and ideological level it is certainly highly beneficial to eliminate constraints, to allow freedom of expression, to eliminate religious and other controls and to allow people to live their lives the way they want to. On the other hand there is also the question of how you become part of an international economic order, and there are many questions that arise. What is called opening in the United States means opening the society to private, concentrated capital. That is not the same thing as making society more free and open.

RJ: Do you see any similarities between the Iranian revolution and the American revolution or not at all? The puritan side of the .

NC: The United States happens to be an extremely fundamentalist country. It is probably more fundamentalist than Iran. If you did a comparative analysis of extremist religious belief, I wouldn't at all be surprised if the United States would be beyond Iran. For example, about 40-50 percent of the population believes that the world is created 6000 years ago. I don't know if that is true in Iran. I doubt it. Maybe 80-90 percent of the population believes in miracles and most think that they've seen them. Maybe 70 percent think they witnessed them. So yes this is an extremely fundamentalist country. The origins were complex. There was a strong fundamentalist puritan element; on the other hand there was also a strong secular Enlightenment-based element, that is where Jefferson and Madison come from. So it's a mixture. In fact the elite elements at the time of the revolution were mostly what are called deists, which is basically non-believers. On the other hand the fundamentalist puritan strain was very strong. The puritans who settled here described themselves as the children of Israel who are coming to the promised land to eliminate the Malikites (?) and that continues right to the present, so it's a strange country. It's not within the spectrum of industrial societies on matters like this. You don't find these properties in other industrial societies.

RJ: You talked about U.S.-Iran diplomatic relations which have been at their lowest level for the past 20 years. Yet during the past month, as you read, U.S. foreign policy toward Iran seems to have undergone a reversal. Throughout much of the 80s, Israel and its American supporters were agitating for a military confrontation with Iran. How do you explain Madeleine Albright's diplomatic overture toward Iran? What has changed?

NC: Israel has had an ambivalent policy, so yes there are elements in Israel and it's [American] supporters who have been calling for a military confrontation. On the other hand Israel has been improving its relations with Iran. Its trade relations are very small but they are improving. Iran has never been officially regarded by Israel as a terrorist state they have to attack. So it is mixed. In the case of the United States I think what is happening is the usual situation. Business interests within the United States have not been in favor of the sanctions, the blockade. There is a standard process that takes place when the United States government imposes sanctions, blockage, embargo, terrorist attacks and so on. For a while most of the world observes them, because the world is afraid of the United States, so you don't step on the toes of the United States. After a while it begins to erode at the borders. After sometime, American business doesn't like the fact that it's being cut out of markets and resources and opportunities and you find it influences government policy and government policy shifts. This is very standard.

So in the case of Vietnam, for example, as long as the world was observing the extremely harsh U.S. sanctions designed to punish Vietnam for daring to stand up to the master, as long as that went on, not a big problem. By the time Japan and Europe started violating the sanctions, American business didn't like it and all of a sudden the government discovered that Vietnam is improving so that we can enter into relations with them. We see the same happening with regards to Cuba right now and Iran is the same story. Other competitors, other oil corporations or other international competitors in Japan and Europe are simply not observing the U.S. embargo any longer and American business is not happy about that. American oil companies have long wanted to enter Iran to exploit its fairly rich resources, not on the level of Saudi Arabia and Iraq, but still it's substantial and it has other resources, it's a big market and a potentially rich country. So government policy is beginning to shift under these influences. But it's a very conflicted story. I mean the question of the [Central Asian oil] pipeline, for example, is very much alive. I'm sure that American oil companies would prefer to have the pipeline to go through Iran because it's cheaper and simpler and so on. But the government is still insisting as its general strategic planning that it go through, ultimately, the friendly state of Turkey.

It's rather interesting, you may have seen the lead story on the front page of the New York Times on Sunday, the lead story by Judith Miller, supposedly a Middle East specialist, on the latest state department report on terrorism, and it's interesting the way they treated Iran, Syria and Turkey. Iran is a terrorist state. Syria is a terrorist state, they say, but could stop being a terrorist state if it begins to support the U.S. Middle East peace process. Turkey was praised, they went out of their way to praise Turkey, for its positive experiences in overcoming terror. That's pretty remarkable because Turkey has one of the worst records in the world of state terrorism against the Kurds. In fact right at this moment the government is carrying out military operations in northern Iraq in a U.S. no-fly-zone. So [terrorism is] permitted by the United States against Kurds. It's carrying out military operations around Tujali, in southeastern Turkey, which is one of the areas most devastated by attacks. Throughout the 1990s it carried out massive ethnic-cleansing and atrocities, all with huge support from the United States. In fact in the year of 1997 alone, US arms transfers to Turkey were higher than in the entire period from 1950 up to the beginning of the counter-insurgency operation in the mid-80s. Take one of the leading terrorist states, where its state terrorism is highly dependent on U.S. arms, about 80% of the arms are from the United States, and to pick that out for its positive experiences in opposing terrorism, that takes a lot of confidence in the intellectual classes that they will subordinate themselves to anything. No matter how outrageous, they will accept it, the media and the intellectual classes in general.

On the other hand Iran is a terrorist state because it has not subordinated itself to U.S. interests. It's kind of interesting to see why Iran is regarded as a terrorist state. It's called a terrorist state because it is supporting Hezbollah in Lebanon. Hezbollah is described as a terrorist organization. Now why is Hezbollah a terrorist organization? Hezbollah, whatever you think of it, is fighting against a foreign military occupation of country that was ordered to leave by the [United Nations] Security Council 22 years ago. Now that's not terrorism. In fact there happens to be one major United Nation's resolution on this issue which incidentally has yet to be reported in the United States except on the margins, I've reported it.This is in December 1987, right at the peak of concern about terrorism in the Middle East. The U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution condemning terrorism in all its forms, the plague of the modern world.and so on and so forth. It was passed 153 to 2. There was only one abstention - Honduras. The two were the United States and Israel, as usual. Why did the United States and Israel oppose a strong resolution condemning terrorism? Well the reason is that there is one paragraph in it which said that "nothing in this resolution shall prejudice the rights of people to struggle against racist and colonial regimes and foreign military occupation" and to gain support from others in that struggle. Of course the U.S. is opposed to that. It doesn't think that people have the right to struggle against foreign military occupation and racist and colonial regimes, as Hezbollah is doing in Lebanon, certainly not get support. So, the U.S. voted against [the resolution] and it still hasn't been reported. If there is an international community outside of the United States, this is a pretty strong statement of its position. So the question arises why is Hezbollah a terrorist organization and why is Iran a terrorist state for supporting it? These questions cannot arise in U.S. discussion. I'm sure you've never seen the question raised in the media or in journals and so on because it is just taken for granted that if the U.S. supports terrorism it's fine, if it supports military occupation it's defensive, no matter what the facts.

RJ: Why have the Iranians been losing the war of words for the past 20 years?

NC: With the United States?

RJ: Yes.

NC: They don't enter the war of words. There is nothing reported about the Iranian position. In fact even what I just said - this is virtually 100 percent of the United Nations - that hasn't entered the discussion. It's possible for the lead story in The New York Times to talk about Turkey's positive experiences in combating terrorism because U.S.-backed terrorism in Turkey is barely reported. I mean some of the worst ethnic cleaning and atrocities in the 1990s, far worst than anything attributed to Milosevic in Kosovo up to the NATO bombing, that's barely reported, perhaps a few words, here and there.

RJ: Don't you find it strange that Madeleine Albright comes and makes apologies to Iran and a week after that you have a feature in The New York Times saying they suddenly found documents on the coup in 1953 in Iran?

NC: First of all, Madeleine Albright made a very weak apology. It's clearly a reaction to the fact that U.S. oil companies and other business interests are not happy with the policy. So it's kind of weak step, a response to Khatami's gestures. The documents that The New York Times published are actually not very interesting. There was almost nothing in them. Everything there has been known for years. In fact the only interesting part of that, I thought, was a side column, by the journalist himself. There was one column in that section where he described how the media created the CIA-British coup and the headline says something like "CIA tried to manipulate media but failed." And the story is about how the media did not submit to the CIA manipulation but they gave, he said, "an objective and factual account." Then he describes the "objective and factual account" which is straight out U.S. government propaganda and all lies as the rest of the material indicates. It's an interesting point that it was not necessary to manipulate the media because they were happy to manipulate themselves. Without subordinating themselves to government power they produced the same lies anyway and now they are calling it "objective and factual," even though they can see that it is lies.

In fact the reaction at the time, if you look, is quite interesting. After the coup they knew what had happened. They pretended that they didn't but it was pretty clear what had happened. The New York Times ran an editorial in which it said the overthrow of the Mossadegh government "will be an object lesson to governments that go berserk with hysterical nationalis" meaning they go berserk by trying to control their own resources. This will be an object lesson of what will happen to them. That's the way it was understood - teaching a lesson to any country that is trying to control it's own resources. That was praised in The New York Times. Then came the - I don't have to describe to you what the Shah's regime was like - very ugly, one of the worst torturers and killers. Almost nothing was reported. I mean almost nothing was reported - I mean Amnesty International - year after year picked out Iran as one of the worst criminal states in the world for its treatment of its population - virtually nothing. The only discussion of this began in 1979. Then there was some talk on this. There is a pretty good book on this by Farhang and Dorman, which just reviews the coverage and it's pretty shocking. The fact that they came out now with documentary material is good because it's nice to have material but when you read the reports they basically tell you nothing that you didn't already know.

RJ: As you said, if we are going to have relations it is due to the globalization process, but for many people inside and outside Iran, globalization means American culture and domination. In globalization we have the assumption that because the world is unipolar, there is no more room for a dialogue among cultures, what do you think are the effects of globalization on a traditional country like Iran?

NC: I think we first of all should distinguish between the cultural forms of globalization, which is not of great significance to the United States, from economic globalization which is something quite different. So at the cultural level the integration of international societies has been double-edged. Take Europe where there has been a large degree of unification in the European Union. Well that has lead to a more homogenous culture on the other hand it has lead to a lot of regionalization. So regional cultures are becoming revitalized all over a good part of Europe: Wales, Catalonia, parts of Germany, partly in reaction to the uniformity that has been imposed. So I think things are going in both direction. For example, take languages. A lot of languages in Europe, which are called dialects are simply disappearing. On the other hand a lot of them are being revived. I think that this is true world wide.

Much more significant for power interests are the economic forms of globalization and here we have to be cautious. Globalization is a code word. There are many ways in which the international economy can be integrated. So if you go back to the 1960s, 1970s when the non-aligned countries were coming together and becoming a significant force. They called for a new international economic order - globalization in other words - but one that would respond to the needs of the overwhelming majority of the people of the world. In fact UNCTA (United Nations Countries on Trade and Development) was formed in 1964 to respond to these interests, it's the U.N.'s major economic analysis policy agency and it made proposals for an international economic order that would indeed respond to the needs of countries that were trying to develop the poorer majority of the world and so on. That was shot down instantly. That was not even discussed it was so ridiculous and UNCTA was marginalized with functions that barely exist. Look at the U.S. press they don't even know it exists. And the reason is that it was responding to the needs of maybe 80% of the world's population which is what the non-aligned countries are.

A different form of globalization was instituted at just that time catering to different interests, namely those of highly concentrated private power. That's called globalization but it's no more globalization than the alternative would have been or others that one can think of. It is a specific form of international global integration driven by corporate power, backed by a small number of powerful states that happened to be linked by the major economic concentrations. Now that particular form of globalization since the 1970s has had harmful effects on the world economy. There is no question of this. If you look at say growth rates in the 1950s and 1960s there were considerably higher than they have been since. This is not a big secret. I mean the United States had a Bretton Woods commission that was headed by Paul Faulker [sp?], Federal Reserve Chairman, you can't get more respectable than that, in 1995, they were studying these affects, they estimated that for the industrial countries growth rates had dropped by about half since the onset of what is called globalization/financial liberalization, the breaking down of the Bretton Woods system in the 70s. UNCTA just came out with it's trade and development report for 1999, dealing with the poorer countries, what is called the developing countries, they came out with basically the same estimate. The poorer countries growth rates in the 1990s had declined, they were about half of what they were in the 1970s. And the same is true of other macro-economic measures - productivity growth, capital investment and so on.

Furthermore, even within the rich countries you see the same thing. Take the United States. There is a lot of talk about the fairy tale economy but it's just not true. I mean the economy right now is finally beginning to approximate what it was through the 1950s and 60s and that's very fragile because it's based on extremely heavy debt and huge trade deficits and stock market bubbles, nobody knows how long they will last. Furthermore, in the last 20 years most of the population has been left out. So average wages in the United States are about what they were twenty years ago. That's unprecedented over a long period. If you look at social indicators, things like hunger, illiteracy, mortality rates, those kinds of measures, they have actually declined since the mid-70s, they more or less went along with gross domestic product, as the economy grew, social indicators improved. Since the mid 70s social indicators have been declining, while the economy continues to grow though not as fast, and now they are about the level of the 1960s, and in the poorer countries it was much worse. This is a particular form of globalization. The reason it is so highly praised is that for certain sectors of the population they've become extremely wealthy... Well who are the people who write the articles and describe what they hear from their friends in elegant restaurants? For them it's a very good economy, not for most of the rest, even in the rich countries, like the United States and certainly not in the poorer countries. That's a form of global integration.

It's had other interesting affects. So, for example, right now there is a lot of hysteria about the drug war. One of the reasons for the drug war -- there is a lot of things one might say about this -- but we might ask ourselves why do peasants in the Andean region produce cocoa? A large part of the reason is the international economic order that has been constructed. So one of the first proposals of UNCTA, as part of the new international economic order that the non-aligned countries were pressing, was efforts to stabilize commodity prices. That's very important. Poorer countries are primary producers of commodities. If these commodities oscillate widely in price then poor peasants just can't survive. I mean agri-business can survive if prices go up and down but a peasant can't tell his children don't bother eating next year maybe we will have food the following year, they can't do that. Every rich country does stabilize commodity prices. So the U.S. had huge subsidies to agro-business to keep prices for agricultural commodities more or less stable. The European Union does the same, even more. But when the poor countries tried to do it that was shut down right away. The U.S. and other rich countries would not permit a program to stabilize commodity prices. Well one of the affects of that is to drive peasants to produce commodities that have a stable market. What's that? If you are a peasant in Bolivia that's drugs.

Furthermore, then came the neo-liberal reform, which compelled countries to open their borders to imports of highly subsidized agro-business production in the United States and Europe. Well, obviously local agriculture is not going to able to survive that. So peasants are driven away from production from the local economy and they are told by the World Bank and the IMF to become what is called "rational peasants" -- meaning produce for agro-export and try to maximize profit. Okay, there is a way to do that. One way, in fact, is to grow cocoa and poppy and that's one way to make you a rational peasant... Well having learned their lessons from American economists and IMF economists the peasants are rewarded. Namely they are attacked by U.S. military helicopter gunships, chemical and biological warfare to destroy their crops and that's what's called the drug war. You might ask yourself, I mean there is a lot of discussion about the drug war [but] to what extent are these issues discussed? Not at all.

In fact, there is another obvious question which is never raised - it shows how deeply indoctrinated the industrial societies are - I mean what right does the United States have to carry out chemical and biological warfare and military attacks in the Andean countries? I mean, for example, does China have the right to carry out chemical and biological warfare in North Carolina? North Carolina produces lethal substances that are much more dangerous than cocoa or heroine. They make tobacco. The Supreme Court just described it as the worst health hazard in the United States. In the United States alone death from tobacco is about 25 times higher than all drugs. Countries of Asia, and much of the rest of the world, are not only compelled to accept U.S. lethal drugs they are compelled to accept advertising for them. I mean the Colombian cartel are not permitted to advertise on U.S. television, telling children how much fun it is to smoke cocaine, well you have to do that in Asia, if you don't you get hit by U.S. trade sanctions. So here is the United States, forcing lethal substances on the rest of the world, forcing them to accept advertising aimed at vulnerable populations. Do they have the right to come and carry out experimental biological and chemical warfare program in North Carolina or to send helicopter gunships to kill farmers in North Carolina. Why not? What gives the United States that right and not other countries? That question just can't be asked.

RJ: Is there is place in today's world, since we are talking about globalization and the new world order, for a dialogue of civilizations?

NC: You have to first open up the societies enough so that they are willing to have internal dialogue. That's clearly a problem in Iran and it's being struggled over but it is a huge problem right here. I mean this is a very free society in the sense that the government has very little power to coerce. So government can't stop me from saying what I'm saying. If I want to write it in some small journal I can do it, they can't put me in jail, it's not like Iran in that respect. On the other hand the actual level of dialogue here is extremely narrow. For example the kind of things I've been mentioning are completely obvious. I have no trouble talking about these things to school children, they understand them because it's obvious. It's not a deep point or a deep philosophical issue. These are elementary facts. They are never discussed. The doctrinal system is so narrow that these questions simply cannot arise. Until countries, the freer countries open up enough so they are willing to face elementary reality you cannot have a dialogue across countries.

Let me give you another example. The non-aligned countries account for about 80 percent of the population of the world, so it's not trivial. They just had a high level meeting in Columbia, Cartehena. There was not a word about it in the U.S. press. I did a database search and it didn't mention it. They came out with interesting declarations, you can read them. I read them in the Egyptian press, for example. They came out with a very strong condemnation of so-called humanitarian intervention which they described as just a revival of traditional imperial devices for using force to control other countries under the pretext of humanitarianism. That is a pretty big issue in the United States. Everyone is talking about humanitarian intervention on the left, the right, The Nation magazine, a sort of left magazine, just had a big discussion of it. How come we don't hear about the discussion of the countries representing about 80 percent of the world's population have to say about it? That was true right through 1999. When I wrote a book about what is going on there I quoted the press in India, Israel, Latin America and so on. It's never mentioned here. It is perhaps occasionally but how can you have dialogue if you are not willing to listen to the majority of the people in the world. Among the powerful you don't have to have dialogue. You say what you want. The kings and princes don't have to have a dialogue with the peasants. It doesn't make sense to talk about serious dialogue across cultures if you cannot even have it within the culture.

RJ: How can the non-aligned countries get strong again like they use to be in the 50s with Nehru, Nasser?

NC: You could have non-alignment as long as you had two superpowers. If there are two gangsters ruling the world there is a little space for people to play one off against the other. As soon as one of the gangsters disappears and there is only one left, non-alignment disappears too. So in the 1990s, what little concern there had been for the so-called South, virtually disappeared. In 1990, around then, the South Commission I mean these are not radical groups, people the like the minister of development of Indonesia etc. It was headed by [Julius] Neyere of Tanzania and was a very representative group of Southern governments, and most of them are very ugly governments. I don't like them but that's what they are; they are the governments of the non-aligned countries. They came out with a proposal for a new world order which would again, as in the 1960s, would respond to the interests of the South. It wasn't obscure. It was published by Oxford University Press. I didn't see a word about it. I read about it but I didn't see a word about it in general discussion. They then came out with another book - I had a chapter in it, in fact - again published by Western presses you can't overlook again nothing. I mean who cares about the interests of the South?

You see it in foreign aid. Foreign aid was always very... I mean what is called aid is always export promotion so it's tied aid. But whatever it was it has mostly disappeared. The United States now has barely any aid program. It's the smallest among the industrial countries and if you look at it's composition, most of it goes to a rich country, namely Israel. Another large piece goes to Egypt but only because it's supporting Israel. Take away that and there is almost nothing left except military aid that goes to countries like Turkey and Columbia who have to carry out massive violence against their own citizens. But other kinds of aid have virtually disappeared because who cares about the South? There is no space for non-alignment. It's typical that the Colombian non-aligned meetings are not even mentioned. About a year ago, it must have been 1999, at that time there was a lot of concern about somehow fixing the global financial architecture. There had been major economic collapses and rich countries were worried because rich people were getting hurt, it wasn't just poor people who don't matter. But rich people were getting harmed so there was great concern about the global financial architecture and a lot of discussion in the press. The G-15, which is the fifteen largest of the poorer countries, not small countries, this is India, China, Indonesia, major countries. They had a meeting about the global financial architecture, it was not hard to find, it was in Jamaica right next door, not a word in The New York Times. They had proposals to try to change the global financial architecture to stop the devastating effects on their countries which were very evident at the time, the East Asian crisis, the Brazilian crisis and so on. It was not mentioned in the national press, it happened to be mentioned in some of the small papers here and there that nobody knows about because that's only the population most of the world, what do we care about them? Like I said the king doesn't bother asking.the only time the king worries about the peasants is when the peasants are making an uproar. Then you have to worry about them. But as long as they are more or less quiet and you can control them by force, who cares what they think.

RJ: What are the challenges that you think are ahead for the whole world in the 21st century with all these processes of globalization?

NC: Very serious ones. For one thing what is called "globalization", is misleading in its particular form of integration. By now the protest against it is very widespread in the rich countries. They have taken the form of big demonstrations in Seattle, Washington and London. In other words, the peasants are making noise and the king is taking notice. As a matter of fact the World Bank has already publicly taken a position that it had made bad mistakes in the past, which is true, and claims to go in a different direction. But that is a response to the protests. They just have to respond. But that is only one problem. Another problem which is discussed right now at the moment is the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Well, the nuclear powers, not just the United States, but all the nuclear powers have not accepted completely the Non-Proliferation Treaty. That Treaty requires good efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons. In fact the opposite is happening. The danger of nuclear weapon is higher than it has been for a long time. If the U.S. institutes its missile defenses, according to most experts, that will increase the threat of the nuclear war. The South Asian nuclear development is related to many sources. But one of them is just "fear", and that again is recognized by the strategic analysts. If China builds up its nuclear forces in response to a theater missile defense, India will too. Then Iran will and Israel will too.

In fact in southeast Turkey, just where the purges against the Kurds are going on, these are also the regions where there are huge American air bases. It is the center of surveillance for the Middle East. The Israeli and American planes fly these region. They are probably equipped with nuclear bombs. Actually Iran was part of the system until 1979. And until 1979 the U.S. system for controlling the Middle East was based on Iran, Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Saudi Arabia because of the oil and the others because they acted as local gendarmes. Actually the hostility to Iran is because it pulled out of the system and when it is willing to pull back into the system it will become a non-terrorist State again.

But the danger of a nuclear war is quite severe and if it happens it will take us to our end. The danger of environmental catastrophe is also very severe. For example right now huge draughts are menacing parts of the world. Nobody knows exactly the reason, but the ecological catastrophes must not be left out. They are quite serious matters. Nobody knows the effects of these catastrophes. We have had Bhopal and Chernobyl. In the last few years the world had its warmest years. It looks very serious. A sudden change might lead to a massive effect. These ecological catastrophes are directly related to globalization. Part of the transfer of power to private corporations means that we don't pay attention to certain things, so we underestimate the environmental crisis or the risk of financial meltdown. You know there is now a religion which claims that trade is the supreme value. Trade is not a supreme value. It is okay for some people, it is not okay for some other people. It is an instrumental value like the human rights. But it has been raised at a supreme value. Many of the effects of trade are just not measured. Like one of the effects of trade is to spread disease. Another effect of trade is pollution. Trade causes massive pollution. In economics literature these are called "negative externalities". But they are put aside, because they are supposed to be small. But they are not small. If the trade has the effect of driving Bolivian peasants to cultivate Coca, so that is a "negative externality". As you see the trade has a huge effects on the world, but they are not considered because what the driving force behind globalization is -- it is just the concentration of private power.

RJ: How can one reconcile the universal and the particular? How can one defend his/her own cultural identity and struggle at the same time for universal principles?

NC: I think the principles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are not perfect. They can be improved. But I think they are reasonably good expression of principles that people around the world accept. In fact the Universal Declaration was put together from many different cultures who were not Western imperialists but there were inputs from all over the places and it represented a kind of consensus about the minimal standards of human rights. Now, of course many countries don't accept the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They may sign it, and everybody signed it , but it doesn't mean that they accept it. The Universal Declaration includes the socio-economic rights, rights to development, to job and to health and so on. The United States flatly rejects it. Actually in the UN Human Rights meetings the U.S. vetoed the resolutions calling for a right to development, which merely restates several articles of the Universal Declaration. In 1990 the U.S. vetoed it as preposterous. Other countries don't accept other parts of the Universal Declaration and they don't practice it even if they sign it in principle.

If you look at the principles themselves they are reasonable principles. I think they express the consensus that most reasonable people would agree to. Now you might come from an old culture and still be opposed to torture. Then other questions arise, like religious questions. For example, I don't think that teaching the theory of evolution is only illegitimate in Iran, it is also illegitimate in Kansas. You know the Kansas Board of Education also bans the teaching of the theory of evolution. If people like to believe that Darwin was not right, it is their right, but if they want to impose it to others, it is no more their right even if they have the majority. Another question is the schooling. Should there be a public schooling system or should public support religious schools? This is a debate in the United States. I am personally influenced by 18th century Enlightenment. I don't think that the public should support religious training. So if you want to have religious groups that is fine but not with public expense. Take also the example of abortion. Well, that is a serious issue and there is a conflict of values like in many moral issues. There is a right of a woman to have control of her body and there is the right of the fetus to life as the Catholics believe. So issues like that are not like torture on which everybody agrees. These issues like abortion are treated as theological issues, but I think in the United States it is mostly a show. I mean if people in the Congress, who are against the abortion, want their daughters to have abortion, they can have it. It's part of a technique to control the rest of the world.

One of the ways by which the U.S. cuts funds to the United Nations is by saying that they don't accept the U.N. to work on the family planning. This is a total hypocrisy. Take for example the Elian Gonzalez's case. It is an interesting aspect that is not discussed. Right in the middle of this Elian Gonzalez case, the Miami police broke into a house of an Arab family, took a two year child away from his mother and sent him to Jordan, because there was a custody battle since the father is Jordanian-American. The U.S. court decided that the custody should be decided in Jordan. Well as you know women's rights are badly treated in Jordan. But there was no discussion about this in the American media. This one fact shows you the total hypocrisy about the whole problem of Elian Gonzalez. A lot of this pretense about rights is a very ugly use of rights to attack others. That was the sense of the Cartagena Declaration of the Non-Aligned countries. What they effectively said was that the Western countries should not pretend to waive the banner of the human rights when your are carrying old fashion imperial intervention. And to a very large extent this is what has happened. So the U.S. is happy to bomb Yugoslavia , but it is not happy to bomb an allied country of the NATO like Turkey which commits a lot of atrocities against the Kurds.

RJ: Don't you think one of the ways to fight against this hypocrisy and injustice is to have a dialogue among the intellectuals of different countries and not just wait for our governments to establish the diplomatic bridge?

NC: I agree, because I am personally involved in a constant dialogue with people all over the world who are opposed to their own governments and in fact we all work together. How do I keep up with the Middle East or South East Asia or other places like this? Well, the way it works is that there are people who are pretty much like me in other countries like Israel or Australia and so on. They have the same interests. We are all dissidents, meaning that we are cut out of the main stream. We don't have resources, we have to work on our own and so forth. So we have to cooperate with one another. I mean if I want to find out what is going on in India or the Middle East, I have very smart people working for me. They are much smarter than the people working for the CIA. These are the dissidents in their own countries. And I do things for them and we interchange and are in a constant dialogue over issues which concern us. These are not only intellectuals. They could be doctors or workers. I learn more talking to them than to the intellectuals. In fact that is what Seattle is. Seattle is a meeting place of people from very diverse backgrounds. Students, steel workers, environmental activists and so on. That is a real dialogue. A dialogue does not have to be necessarily between governments. It is between people and the people who make constructive changes are mostly opposed to their own governments.

RJ: Thank you Professor Chomsky for giving your time.

Comment for The Iranian letters section
Comment for the writer Ramin Jahanbegloo

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