by Nina Somera, Isis International
Intellectual activist Prof. Noam Chomsky reflects on the fundamentalisms, new media, state interventions and many more since the 9/11 events. The following is an excerpt of an interview that will be published in the forthcoming issue of Women in Action, “Maximum Intolerance, Mounting Resistance.”
Isis: How would you describe racism immediately after the 9/11 events? How different is it now compared to 2001?
Noam Chomsky: One change is that there is a black family in the White House. It has undoubtedly a psychological effect on black Americans, giving them a sense that they are not as totally isolated from the mainstream as they were in the past. On the other hand, the situation of African-Americans have become worse. In their actual lives nothing much happens. And of course there is a backlash. There is a rise in racism. There is a racist element in the angry demonstrations that are taking place. But it is a little hard to identify [it] because the people who are involved in those demonstrations are people who have authentic grievances. They have been treated very badly during the last 30 years of neoliberal economics. And nobody has any answers for them.
Isis: How would you assess religious fundamentalisms, including Christian fundamentalism in the United States in the post 9/11 period?
NC: I am not sure that 9/11 changed very much. All through its history, the US has been quite different from Western societies in its extremist religious beliefs. The country was founded by religious extremists who were carrying out 'god's divine mission' when they conquered land, exterminated the population and so on. What has changed is that until about the 1980s, although it was not always there, it was never organised as a political force. In the last 30 years or so, the Republican party has organised it as a political constituency to try to press their own reactionary programmes. That has had a negative effect on American politics and elsewhere in the world. There are dangerous streaks of Islamic fundamentalism and Christian fundamentalism but nothing like the US.
Isis: What are your thoughts about the current role of media especially now that there are new emerging communication tools, in relation to fundamentalisms and social mobilisations?
NC: The internet has become the mechanism for organisation and mobilisation. The internet also provides access to many different opinions and sources. In that sense it has an enriching effect. But it can also be a generator of cults. As far as social mobilisation is concerned, it does not take the place of face to face communication. Of course, it is largely dominated by concentrated capital.
Isis: How about international media? Has the emergence of new communication technologies have sort of nuanced that kind of power of the international media?
NC: The international media has really changed in many ways. So for example, newspapers have far less international coverage than they used to. The press has been affected as it relies on advertising for survival and a lot of advertising have shifted to the internet. On the other hand, you can reach many more sources through the internet. But that takes a lot of understanding, time, resources, energy and so on. An ordinary person just cannot do that. One would not even know where to look.
Isis: You presented a paper on the responsibility to protect at the United Nations.
NC: The notion of responsibility to protect is a very ambiguous one. In 2005, UN General Assembly accepted a resolution committing it the responsibility to protect. It just reaffirms what had already been accepted such as the rights of the child, rights of women and so on and they amount to responsibility to protect. As far as intervention abroad is concerned, outside your own country, the UN resolution restricted it to what had already been accepted, namely that the Security Council can authorise a variety of means, ultimately sometimes the use of force in order to protect the populations that are subjected to genocide, famine and so on.
But there is another version that the West supports. Regional groupings and that means NATO [for] nobody else can do it, can use force in what they decide to be their area of jurisdiction without the authorisation of the Security Council. So these are the two versions and there is a great effort to try to confuse them. One version is perfectly sensible and the other is just a new version of old fashioned imperialist intervention.
Isis: What do you think is the strategic nature of Asia, particularly the emerging countries like China and India? What is their role in relation to the US establishment?
NC: To an extent, China and India are partially resuming the position in the world system that they had in the 18th century. But of course only partially. Yes the world is changing. In economic terms, the world is diverse. The US, Europe and Asia are approximately comparable economic centres although the US has enormous advantages. But in the military dimension, the US is alone. It spends about as much as the rest of the world combined, much more technologically advanced and has hundreds of military bases. No other country does anything remotely as the US.
Isis: What are the challenges for us, developing countries, especially civil society at the moment?
NC:The developing societies have to take their fate into their own hands, not subjugate themselves into the needs and demands of the dominant powers in the world.