By Lynn, Patricia
Washington Report on Middle East Affairs , Vol. XX, No. 5
NOAM CHOMSKY SPEAKS ON GLOBAL OPPRESSION AT UNIVERSITY OF TOLEDO
"We Americans may shake our heads in disgust at news of atrocities in other nations, or shrug our shoulders at distant problems being of no concern to us. But U.S. citizens bear responsibility for at least some human rights abuses taking place around the world. And much of that is because the U.S. government, with our tacit approval and tax dollars, is pouring massive funding into some of the nations and regimes which are the worst violators."
That message, delivered quietly but backed up by years of research and data, was delivered to a standing-room-only crowd at the University of Toledo in Ohio on March 4 by renowned linguist and political activist Noam Chomsky.
Chomsky's presentation at UT was the first annual Maryse Mikhail Lecture, a new endowment to promote Middle Eastern culture, especially relating to peace and justice. This first visit to Toledo by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor drew more than 1,200 attendees from more than six states and Canada, said Dr. Samir Abu-Absi, chair of the English Department UT and coordinator of the event.
Throughout Chomsky's fact-packed presentation on the Middle East, he reminded his audience that much of what is happening on the contemporary world stage is due to U.S. influence. While America has a tremendous power for good and consistently shares with the rest of the world, especially in crisis situations, he noted, the tendency of the nation's foreign policy, in the past 40 years especially, has increasingly been to view other nations through the lens of our national interest.
Chomsky said that Americans are among the most poorly informed of any nation when it comes to understanding world affairs, and that the average American doesn't follow foreign affairs at all. Particularly in terms of the Middle East, many Americans cannot locate its nations on a map, and don't even think about the region "except when our gas prices start going up," he said. Yet the U.S. government has for years understood the importance of the Persian Gulf region--and positioned itself accordingly. "It's long been understood that whoever controls the Gulf not only has enormous wealth, but incomparable leverage in world affairs," he said.
Chomsky said the United States has funded military arsenals for nations with some of the worst human rights records on the planet and supplied many of the weapons used in terrible atrocities and mass destruction--often by nations using these against their own people. "But most Americans never see this kind of information," he said. "Apparently we cannot tolerate human rights abuses within our national borders, but we can tolerate them near our national borders," he said to a round of applause.
Chomsky said that if Americans knew what their tax dollars were supporting, many atrocities would never have happened. Citing as examples the genocide of the Kurds by Turkey, the sanctions-related deaths of civilians in Iraq and the escalating oppression of Palestinians by Israeli forces, Chomsky said, "That means you and I did it because the U.S. funds it."
In his hour-long presentation, followed by a question-and-answer period, Chomsky highlighted three Middle East regions: Iraq, Turkey and Israel/Palestine. No one disputes the fact that Iraq's President Saddam Hussain has been guilty of terrible crimes against humanity, including the gassing deaths of thousands of Kurds and chemical warfare against his own people, he noted. …