'People can change reality'
Issue No. 1120 EgyptPublished in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875
'People can change reality'To a packed hall at the American University in Cairo in the city's Tahrir Square, Noam Chomsky this week again asserted his belief in the power of the people in the face of overwhelming political and economic interests, writes Aziza Sami
Click to view caption Noam Chomsky
Noam Chomsky, holding himself well at the age of 84, walked through the AUC's Ewart Memorial Hall to a resounding ovation from the 1,000 or so students and members of the general public that had come to hear him. The crowds overflowed onto the nearby fountain area of the campus, which was set up with amplifiers and additional chairs to accommodate the numbers.
Placing himself before the podium, Chomsky asked the audience if they could hear him, adding with humorous repartee that when he asks this question the answer is usually no. From here, Chomsky, professor emeritus at MIT, linguist, philosopher, one of the most searing critics of US foreign policy and arguably one of the most influential intellectuals of our time, went on to give his prognosis of the current state of the world.
He underscored his unfailing faith in the power of people and their ability to change reality when they challenge the tight grip of overriding economic and geopolitical interests.
Through the prism of his interests in the issues of war, politics and the mass media, Chomsky has addressed the currently increasing divide between the haves and the have-nots, a divide, he says, that has been fuelled by the theories of neo-liberalism adopted in the US and Europe under former leaders Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.
These theories divested the state of its responsibility for welfare and affected the rest of the world "because of the plutocracy that was formed, the minority that was formed inside the US and inside Europe, and that was replicated in different parts of the world". It is here that the challenge lies for countries like Egypt, pulled into the circle of plutocratic interests at the expense of the vast majority of the population suffering from poverty.
Using a description that recalled George Orwell, Chomsky said that the majority of people, the have-nots of our world, are regarded by those who wield power as "un-people". He lambasted the mainstream media in the US, with its role of supporting big business and government interests and the subsequent blocking out from the American public of information related to pressing environmental issues such as global warming.
He spoke of the policy exerted by the US, formulated and planned since the mid-1940s, to "exercise control" over the energy-producing regions of the world "where exercising control becomes even more important than access". In the next 20 years, some 100 million people will die as a result of climate change, he said, mostly in poor countries, but there has been no mention of this in the US media.
On the contrary, the plan in the US is to increase the use of fossil fuels and to accelerate the catastrophe. "There is an extraordinary willingness to sacrifice the future of our children and grandchildren for short-term gain," he said. The American public, Chomsky said, is rarely, if ever, exposed to issues that would give them a choice, and climate change is one of them.
Through this paradigm of geopolitical interests, Chomsky said, US policy towards Iran can be understood, as can US alliances with oil-producing countries in the Arab world, where regimes often operate at the expense of people's actual interests.
Chomsky underscored the contrast between the perceptions of "ruling elites affiliated to the US", who see the "enemy" as Iran, and their own peoples "who perceive that the greatest threat to peace has been from the policies adopted by the US and Israel". This is the case in Egypt, Chomsky said, where "Egyptians, as far as I can see, are not against peace with Israel, but they are against the manner in which this peace is negotiated, and the position that the peace treaty, rather than resolving the problems on the Palestinian front, instead removes Egypt from the confrontation."
Moreover, Chomsky added, it does not necessarily hold that the Egyptian people agree with the US position that a toothless Iran is in the interests of world peace.
Chomsky, who in his youth lived for a while in a kibbutz in Israel, but who has been one of the staunchest supporters of the Palestinian cause, made his first trip to the Gaza Strip last week. He underscored the inspiring resilience of the Palestinians in the face of the Israeli occupation, describing them as "vibrant, vigorous, active, hopeful, resilient and continuing the struggle".
Asked by a member of the audience in Ewart Hall about his opinion on the way out of the crisis in Syria, Chomsky said, "I don't know of any solution other than the low probability of [the one put forward by] Lakhdar Brahimi. The forces operating on the ground in Syria are driving the society to self-destruction." In response to the question of whether he perceived the rise of political Islam in the Arab world as antithetical to the interests of the working classes, Chomsky said, "I don't think there is a reason that it has to be so."
In conclusion, Chomsky said he did not subscribe to the theory that there was a "conspiracy" against the Arab Spring. Rational interests come together and work to advance themselves, he said. "The way out, as always, is that the people have a voice and a vibrancy and that they raise it. It is what happened here in Tahrir, and it is this that has inspired us all."