Chomsky on Terrorism

“The problem lies in the unwillingness to recognise that your own terrorism is terrorism”
Noam Chomsky interviewed by Saad Sayeed
Excalibur Online, October 25, 2006

Excalibur (Ex): How important is an understanding of the role of states such as the U.S. and the U.K. when examining the question of terrorism?

Chomsky (Ch): It depends on whether we want to be honest and truthful or whether we want to just serve state power ( . . . ) We should look at all forms of terrorism. I have been writing on terrorism for 25 years, ever since the Reagan administration came in 1981 and declared that the leading focus of its foreign policy was going to be a war on terror. A war against state directed terrorism which they called the plague of the modern world because of their barbarism and so on. That was the centre of their foreign policy and ever since I have been writing about terrorism.

But what I write causes extreme anger for the very simple reason that I use the U.S. government’s official definition of terrorism from the official U.S. code of laws. If you use that definition, it follows very quickly that the U.S. is the leading terrorist state and a major sponsor of terrorism and since that conclusion is unacceptable, it arouses furious anger. But the problem lies in the unwillingness to recognize that your own terrorism is terrorism. This is not just true of the United States, it’s true quite generally. Terrorism is something that they do to us. In both cases, it’s terrorism and we have to get over that if we’re serious about the question.

[snip]

Ex: And what keeps you motivated?

Ch: I’ll just tell you a brief story. I was in Beirut a couple of months ago giving talks at the American university in the city. After a talk, people come up and they want to talk privately or have books signed.

Here I was giving a talk in a downtown theatre, a large group of people were around and a young woman came up to me, in her mid-’20s, and just said this sentence: “I am Kinda” and practically collapsed. You wouldn’t know who Kinda is but that’s because we live in societies where the truth is kept hidden. I knew who she was. She had a book of mine open to a page on which I had quoted a letter of hers that she wrote when she was seven years old.

It was right after the U.S. bombing of Libya, her family was then living in Libya, and she wrote a letter which was found by a journalist friend of mine who tried to get it published in the United States but couldn’t because no one would publish it. He then gave it to me, I published it. The letter said something like this:

“Dear Mr Reagan, I am seven years old. I want to know why you killed my little sister and my friend and my rag doll. Is it because we are Palestinians? Kinda”. That’s one of the most moving letters I have ever seen and when she walked up to me and said I am Kinda, and, like I say, actually fell over, not only because of the event but because of what it means.

Here’s the United States with no pretext at all, bombing another country, killing and destroying, and nobody wants to know what a little seven-year-old girl wrote about the atrocities. That’s the kind of thing that keeps me motivated and ought to keep everybody motivated. And you can multiply that by 10,000.

Read the entire interview here.

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