Chomsky at 80

IssueSeptember 2008
Feature by Milan Rai

It is customary to mark significant dates in a scholar’s life with a festschrift – a publication containing original work in fields that the honoured academic has been involved in.
I think we can be sure that Noam Chomsky has little interest in such honours, but it seems churlish to allow his 80th birthday to pass on 7 December without some public marking of the value of his work and example to several generations of activists around the world. (I note with alarm that German historian Joseph Vogt is said to have accumulated an 89-volume festschrift for his 75th birthday.)
Ten years ago, Michael Albert of ZNet (now the stupendous ZCommunications) organised an online celebration which drew 2,000 contributions from around the world.

What shall we do?
I’m sure people will be planning things now. On behalf of Peace News, I’d like to invite your thoughts on the best way to celebrate the life and work of Noam Chomsky – perhaps a festschrift of activism rather than scholarship, perhaps a combination of the two.

MI5 realism

I’ll make a tiny contribution now. Chomsky has documented the way in which the Western mass media functions like a propaganda system, distorting the information and restricting the opinion available to citizens.
Let’s take as an example the front-page report in the Guardian on 21 August, about MI5’s analysis of “radicalisation”, which comprehensively demolishes every official stereotype about al-Qa’eda terrorism (see p3).
This looks as if it challenges official propaganda. But the crucial next step is missing. Having established that al-Qa’eda-type terrorists are not passively brainwashed or drawn by sexual frustration into committing their crimes, the next step is to ask what their real motivations are.

Young Muslims

And there is plenty of evidence on this. To take only one example, the mid-2004 “Young Muslims and Extremism” report, drawn up jointly by the home office and foreign office, with MI5/MI6 input.
This concluded that the “perceived ‘double standard’ in British foreign policy”, grown worse post-9/11, was a “strong cause of disillusionment” among young British Muslims, contributing to “extremism”.
In other words, Britain’s foreign policy contributes to al-Qa’eda recruitment.
This is a well-known report. The Guardian and Observer published several stories about it in 2005. Yet it has effectively been erased from history – not only by the Guardian.
The 21 August Guardian front page was bold, but it was accompanied by a level of self-censorship that merely confirmed the Propaganda Model.

Topics: Radical lives