Chomsky 'does theory' on 9/11
by Brown Douglas
9/11 by Noam Chomsky (New York: 2001, Seven Stories Press)
Noam Chomsky is forever a topic of discussion among the
Left. His viewpoints hold a lot of weight among many people from all kinds of
political affiliations, from anarchist to liberal to peace activist to college
professor. Many times his ideas are looked on by students and youth as complex,
yet accessible; someone who "does theory" but in such a way as to
address a broad audience. In 9/11, a collection of seven interviews all
conducted within a month after the terrorist attacks, he gives us his
perspectives on the attacks themselves, their causes, and their ramifications.
Chomsky has the reputation of being a well-spoken and
serious dissenter against U.S. foreign policy. In 9/11, he bases all of his
arguments on the premise of the U.S. being a lead terrorist state. This is a
premise that is surely interesting and merits discussion, but the way in which
it is elaborated transforms it into a logic that is more complex than just
saying that the U.S. is a terrorist state. He says:
"Nothing can justify crimes such as those of September
11, but we can think of the United States as an 'innocent victim' only if we
adopt the convenient path of ignoring the record of its actions and those of its
allies, which are, after all, hardly a secret" (p. 35).
I believe that in this statement is the basis of all of the
arguments that Chomsky utilizes in the book. Where there is the tiniest hint of
sympathy or solidarity with the victims of September 11, always close behind is
a statement made in an annoyed tone disabusing all of us of the notion of the
U.S. as an "innocent victim" and espousing an almost apologetic view
towards any force--no matter how reactionary--pointing "the guns... the
The logic is that the hegemony of the U.S. is so strong
that crimes against its people, although unjustifiable, should be looked at
through a lens of crimes committed by the Empire. As writer Joe Lockard puts it,
"While deploring bin Laden, Chomsky can describe him as but another noxious
product of the American Empire." Not only does this view obscure the two
worlds in every country--one being the world of the oppressors, the other world
being those oppressed, like racial minorities, women, workers, and youth--but by
treating the U.S. as the font of all evil fails to completely analyze religious
fundamentalism as a threat in and of itself.
Real U.S. hegemony, in a Marxist-Humanist view, takes place
in and is an outgrowth of worldwide capitalism. To analyze it outside of that
context is to attack the manifestations of a system that creates leaders and
governments to carry out the purpose of expanding and enabling the free,
uninhibited flow of capital.
This goes hand in hand with Chomsky's treatment of the U.S.
as a collective mass of oppressors and his disregard for the forces of revolt in
this country or any other. So while talking about the possibility of a war with
Afghanistan, Chomsky manages to say barely a word about the women oppressed by
the Taliban or people like the Revolutionary Association of the Women of
Afghanistan who are truly pointing the way to an opposition to U.S. hegemony and
oppression of all kinds.
When confronted with this drive for U.S. world domination coupled with the global threat of militaristic religious fundamentalism that we have seen since September 11, Noam Chomsky has chosen to stick with a philosophy that, in the end, narrows opposition to the U.S. only. This is an old idea, one that hasn't worked in the long history of anti-imperialist opposition in this country. Chomsky's narrowed vision guarantees that, despite all of his searching for a "root cause" to explain and analyze the terrorist acts of September 11, he just ends up in the same place as always.
Published by News and Letters Committees