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Noam Chomsky Deplores a Rogue Nation: Ours

Iconic linguist offers stinging commentary, little hope on Mideast

| From BU Today | By Susan Seligson

Speaking at BU on December 8, Noam Chomsky criticized President Obama and the United States and its allies, among others, but pointed to encouraging developments in Northern Ireland. Photo by BU Productions

Armed with a stockpile of caustic sound bites, Noam Chomsky took to a lectern at the College of General Studies Tuesday night to address the chances for Middle East peace and to rail against the world’s most ruthless terrorists.

He was referring to the United States and Israel.

Although he acknowledged that President Barack Obama “is probably a nice man,” Chomsky had no constructive words for the president, who he charged with deceiving and humoring those who elected him while continuing to do the bidding of those who have turned America into the imperialist “Godfather.” Pointing out that the Nobel Committee’s award of the Peace Prize to Obama in October coincided with his endorsement of a plan to build more stealth bomber planes, Chomsky disparagingly referred to “Obama’s inspiring contribution to peace … which you can look for under a microscope.” This drew laughter from the mostly student audience in Jacob Sleeper Auditorium, which was about three-quarters full.

Pale features framed by a full head of long white hair, the frail-looking Chomsky still travels and lectures widely. His latest book, Hopes and Prospects, is due out next year.

The famed linguist was also critical of the domestic media, which he believes is complicit in demonizing Iran (“a massive propaganda campaign”) while ignoring violations of international law and United Nations resolutions by the United States, Israel, India, and Pakistan. In particular, he derided New York Times high-profile Middle East hand Thomas Friedman for being a flak, and not seeing beyond U.S. interests.

Attributing Obama’s victory to backing by major financial institutions, he dismissed U.S. presidential elections as “a façade, like a TV commercial, a way to get uninformed consumers to make irrational choices.”

Chomsky charged that the Obama administration is secretly undermining a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians. Throughout his talk, cosponsored by the School of Education and the BU-based nonprofit Axis of Hope, Chomsky insisted that if the United States directed Israel to cease aggressions in Gaza or new settlements in the West Bank, Israel would oblige. He chided Obama for going soft on “evil dictator” Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s president, during his June speech in Cairo.

“Israel knows that all settlements in the West Bank are illegal; its own courts says so,” he argued. “But they can keep doing it as long as ‘the Godfather’ says it’s fine.”

It wasn’t all doom and gloom. Chomsky pointed to the powerful, enduring end to apartheid in South Africa. And he’s encouraged by developments in Northern Ireland, which he visited and found “peaceful, at least on the surface.” He praised U.S. special envoy George Mitchell for his efforts in Northern Ireland and called him a good choice for Middle East envoy.

Occasionally, when he retreats from statistics and arcane historical details of insurgencies and international law, Chomsky hits at the human heart of violent conflict. “On a visit in 1993, a woman took us to meet an Irish hit man,” he said. “I asked him, ‘What do you think you’re changing?’ He said, ‘Nothing. Someone killed my brother so I killed his cousin; he killed my cousin so I killed his nephew.’”

Except for a question about whether it was appropriate to make light of a potential threat from Iran, the handful of questions revealed that Chomsky was preaching to the choir. As he rose to thank the audience and was met with applause, the 81-year-old did something he hadn’t done in the previous hour and a half. He smiled.

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