Reading Chomsky in Waziristan
As you may have heard by now, the text of a new videotape message from Osama bin Laden was released today. The speech contains an eclectic mix of Salafist fanaticism and left-wing anti-Americanism. At times, bin Laden sounds more interested in applying for a tenured job in the Ivy League than waging jihad. He rants about "neocons", decries global warming, and claims that John F. Kennedy was murdered by a corporate conspiracy. The Emir of al Qaeda even praises the writings of a certain MIT linguist:
This war was entirely unnecessary, as testified to by your own reports. And among the most capable of those from your own side who speak to you on this topic and on the manufacturing of public opinion is Noam Chomsky, who spoke sober words of advice prior to the war, but the leader of Texas doesn't like those who give advice. The entire world came out in unprecedented demonstrations to warn against waging the war and describe its true nature in eloquent terms like "no to spilling red blood for black oil," yet he paid them no heed. It is time for humankind to know that talk of the rights of man and freedom are lies produced by the White House and its allies in Europe to deceive humans, take control of their destinies and subjugate them.
Of course, it's highly unlikely that bin Laden has been sitting around reading Chomsky's collected works. Rather, his remarks are part of an effort to gain useful idiots among the American left by convincing them that he shares their anti-corporate agenda. It is probably California native and al Qaeda spokesman Adam Gadahn ("Azzam the American") who has suggested this approach and done the requisite research.
Anyway, why is it that the likes of bin Laden and Hugo Chavez recommend Chomsky's writings? In reviewing Chomsky's latest work for last Sunday's Washington Post, Jonathan Rauch offers a possible explanation:
To be sure, Chomsky's trademark barbs and provocations are here, but so are his flights to a separate reality. In Chomsky's universe, the 2001 U.S. attack on Afghanistan's Taliban "was undertaken with the expectation that it might drive several million people over the edge of starvation." And North Korea's counterfeiting racket may actually be a CIA operation. And the Clinton administration intervened militarily in Kosovo not in order to prevent ethnic cleansing but to impose Washington's neoliberal economic agenda. And President Bush -- the first and only U.S. president to declare formal American support for a Palestinian state -- is the obstacle to a two-state solution that Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran are all prepared to accept. (I am not making that up.)
(Link via Harry's Place)
In short, Chomsky approaches every issue with a single predetermined narrative: America and its friends always act from the darkest motives, and are always the source of the problem. The nature of our adversaries and their actions is unimportant. Their questionable behavior is either explained away, dismissed out of hand, or blamed on the US and its allies. Thus has Chomsky framed matters ever since Vietnam. As Rauch puts it in his review, "the reader gets the sneaking suspicion that the author has not felt the need to adjust an opinion in 30 or so years." Is it really a surprise that America's enemies would recommend the adoption of such a viewpoint?
One wonders if Chomsky is ever bothered when being approvingly cited by bin Laden or Chavez. Somehow, I doubt it.