Noam Chomsky on the Twin Towers/Pentagon assault
Chomsky interview on Radio B92, Belgrade
Interviewing Chomsky Radio B92, Belgrade

Why do you think these attacks happened?

To answer the question we must first identify the perpetrators of the
crimes. It is generally assumed, plausibly, that their origin is the
Middle East region, and that the attacks probably trace back to the
Osama Bin Laden network, a widespread and complex organization,
doubtless inspired by Bin Laden but not necessarily acting under his
control. Let us assume that this is true. Then to answer your
question a sensible person would try to ascertain Bin Laden's views,
and the sentiments of the large reservoir of supporters he has
throughout the region. About all of this, we have a great deal of

Bin Laden has been interviewed extensively over the years by highly
reliable Middle East specialists, notably the most eminent
correspondent in the region, Robert Fisk (London _Independent_), who
has intimate knowledge of the entire region and direct experience
over decades. A Saudi Arabian millionaire, Bin Laden became a
militant Islamic leader in the war to drive the Russians out of
Afghanistan. He was one of the many religious fundamentalist
extremists recruited, armed, and financed by the CIA and their allies
in Pakistani intelligence to cause maximal harm to the Russians --
quite possibly delaying their withdrawal, many analysts suspect --
though whether he personally happened to have direct contact with the
CIA is unclear, and not particularly important.

Not surprisingly, the CIA preferred the most fanatic and cruel
fighters they could mobilize. The end result was to "destroy a
moderate regime and create a fanatical one, from groups recklessly
financed by the Americans" (_London Times_ correspondent Simon
Jenkins, also a specialist on the region). These "Afghanis" as they
are called (many, like Bin Laden, not from Afghanistan) carried out
terror operations across the border in Russia, but they terminated
these after Russia withdrew. Their war was not against Russia, which
they despise, but against the Russian occupation and Russia's crimes
against Muslims.

The "Afghanis" did not terminate their activities, however. They
joined Bosnian Muslim forces in the Balkan Wars; the US did not
object, just as it tolerated Iranian support for them, for complex
reasons that we need not pursue here, apart from noting that concern
for the grim fate of the Bosnians was not prominent among them. The
"Afghanis" are also fighting the Russians in Chechnya, and, quite
possibly, are involved in carrying out terrorist attacks in Moscow
and elsewhere in Russian territory. Bin Laden and his "Afghanis"
turned against the US in 1990 when they established permanent bases
in Saudi Arabia -- from his point of view, a counterpart to the
Russian occupation of Afghanistan, but far more significant because
of Saudi Arabia's special status as the guardian of the holiest

Bin Laden is also bitterly opposed to the corrupt and repressive
regimes of the region, which he regards as "un-Islamic," including
the Saudi Arabian regime, the most extreme Islamic fundamentalist
regime in the world, apart from the Taliban, and a close US ally
since its origins. Bin Laden despises the US for its support of these
regimes. Like others in the region, he is also outraged by
long-standing US support for Israel's brutal military occupation, now
in its 35th year: Washington's decisive diplomatic, military, and
economic intervention in support of the killings, the harsh and
destructive siege over many years, the daily humiliation to which
Palestinians are subjected, the expanding settlements designed to
break the occupied territories into Bantustan-like cantons and take
control of the resources, the gross violation of the Geneva
Conventions, and other actions that are recognized as crimes
throughout most of the world, apart from the US, which has prime
responsibility for them.

And like others, he contrasts Washington's dedicated support for
these crimes with the decade-long US-British assault against the
civilian population of Iraq, which has devastated the society and
caused hundreds of thousands of deaths while strengthening Saddam
Hussein -- who was a favored friend and ally of the US and Britain
right through his worst atrocities, including the gassing of the
Kurds, as people of the region also remember well, even if Westerners
prefer to forget the facts.

These sentiments are very widely shared. The _Wall Street Journal_
(Sept. 14) published a survey of opinions of wealthy and privileged
Muslims in the Gulf region (bankers, professionals, businessmen with
close links to the U.S.). They expressed much the same views:
resentment of the U.S. policies of supporting Israeli crimes and
blocking the international consensus on a diplomatic settlement for
many years while devastating Iraqi civilian society, supporting harsh
and repressive anti-democratic regimes throughout the region, and
imposing barriers against economic development by "propping up
oppressive regimes." Among the great majority of people suffering
deep poverty and oppression, similar sentiments are far more bitter,
and are the source of the fury and despair that has led to suicide
bombings, as commonly understood by those who are interested in the

The U.S., and much of the West, prefers a more comforting story. To
quote the lead analysis in the _New York Times_ (Sept. 16), the
perpetrators acted out of "hatred for the values cherished in the
West as freedom, tolerance, prosperity, religious pluralism and
universal suffrage." U.S. actions are irrelevant, and therefore need
not even be mentioned (Serge Schmemann). This is a convenient
picture, and the general stance is not unfamiliar in intellectual
history; in fact, it is close to the norm. It happens to be
completely at variance with everything we know, but has all the
merits of self-adulation and uncritical support for power.

It is also widely recognized that Bin Laden and others like him are
praying for "a great assault on Muslim states," which will cause
"fanatics to flock to his cause" (Jenkins, and many others.). That
too is familiar. The escalating cycle of violence is typically
welcomed by the harshest and most brutal elements on both sides, a
fact evident enough from the recent history of the Balkans, to cite
only one of many cases.

  What consequences will they have on US inner policy and to the
American self reception?

US policy has already been officially announced. The world is being
offered a "stark choice": join us, or "face the certain prospect of
death and destruction." Congress has authorized the use of force
against any individuals or countries the President determines to be
involved in the attacks, a doctrine that every supporter regards as
ultra-criminal. That is easily demonstrated. Simply ask how the same
people would have reacted if Nicaragua had adopted this doctrine
after the U.S. had rejected the orders of the World Court to
terminate its "unlawful use of force" against Nicaragua and had
vetoed a Security Council resolution calling on all states to observe
international law. And that terrorist attack was far more severe and
destructive even than this atrocity.

As for how these matters are perceived here, that is far more
complex. One should bear in mind that the media and the intellectual
elites generally have their particular agendas. Furthermore, the
answer to this question is, in significant measure, a matter of
decision: as in many other cases, with sufficient dedication and
energy, efforts to stimulate fanaticism, blind hatred, and submission
to authority can be reversed. We all know that very well.

  Do you expect U.S. to profoundly change their policy to the rest of the

The initial response was to call for intensifying the policies that
led to the fury and resentment that provides the background of
support for the terrorist attack, and to pursue more intensively the
agenda of the most hard line elements of the leadership: increased
militarization, domestic regimentation, attack on social programs.
That is all to be expected. Again, terror attacks, and the escalating
cycle of violence they often engender, tend to reinforce the
authority and prestige of the most harsh and repressive elements of a
society. But there is nothing inevitable about submission to this

After the first shock, came fear of what the U.S. answer is going to
be. Are you afraid, too?

Every sane person should be afraid of the likely reaction -- the one
that has already been announced, the one that probably answers Bin
Laden's prayers. It is highly likely to escalate the cycle of
violence, in the familiar way, but in this case on a far greater

The U.S. has already demanded that Pakistan terminate the food and
other supplies that are keeping at least some of the starving and
suffering people of Afghanistan alive. If that demand is implemented,
unknown numbers of people who have not the remotest connection to
terrorism will die, possibly millions. Let me repeat: the U.S. has
demanded that Pakistan kill possibly millions of people who are
themselves victims of the Taliban. This has nothing to do even with
revenge. It is at a far lower moral level even than that. The
significance is heightened by the fact that this is mentioned in
passing, with no comment, and probably will hardly be noticed. We can
learn a great deal about the moral level of the reigning intellectual
culture of the West by observing the reaction to this demand. I think
we can be reasonably confident that if the American population had
the slightest idea of what is being done in their name, they would be
utterly appalled. It would be instructive to seek historical

If Pakistan does not agree to this and other U.S. demands, it may
come under direct attack as well -- with unknown consequences. If
Pakistan does submit to U.S. demands, it is not impossible that the
government will be overthrown by forces much like the Taliban -- who
in this case will have nuclear weapons. That could have an effect
throughout the region, including the oil producing states. At this
point we are considering the possibility of a war that may destroy
much of human society.

Even without pursuing such possibilities, the likelihood is that an
attack on Afghans will have pretty much the effect that most analysts
expect: it will enlist great numbers of others to support of Bin
Laden, as he hopes. Even if he is killed, it will make little
difference. His voice will be heard on cassettes that are distributed
throughout the Islamic world, and he is likely to be revered as a
martyr, inspiring others. It is worth bearing in mind that one
suicide bombing -- a truck driven into a U.S. military base -- drove
the world's major military force out of Lebanon 20 years ago. The
opportunities for such attacks are endless. And suicide attacks are
very hard to prevent.

"The world will never be the same after 11.09.01". Do you think so?

The horrendous terrorist attacks on Tuesday are something quite new
in world affairs, not in their scale and character, but in the
target. For the US, this is the first time since the War of 1812 that
its national territory has been under attack, even threat. It's
colonies have been attacked, but not the national territory itself.
During these years the US virtually exterminated the indigenous
population, conquered half of Mexico, intervened violently in the
surrounding region, conquered Hawaii and the Philippines (killing
hundreds of thousands of Filipinos), and in the past half century
particularly, extended its resort to force throughout much of the
world. The number of victims is colossal.

For the first time, the guns have been directed the other way. The
same is true, even more dramatically, of Europe. Europe has suffered
murderous destruction, but from internal wars, meanwhile conquering
much of the world with extreme brutality. It has not been under
attack by its victims outside, with rare exceptions (the IRA in
England, for example). It is therefore natural that NATO should rally
to the support of the US; hundreds of years of imperial violence have
an enormous impact on the intellectual and moral culture.

It is correct to say that this is a novel event in world history, not
because of the scale of the atrocity -- regrettably -- but because of
the target. How the West chooses to react is a matter of supreme
importance. If the rich and powerful choose to keep to their
traditions of hundreds of years and resort to extreme violence, they
will contribute to the escalation of a cycle of violence, in a
familiar dynamic, with long-term consequences that could be awesome.
Of course, that is by no means inevitable. An aroused public within
the more free and democratic societies can direct policies towards a
much more humane and honorable course.

Note from MN: Reading Chomsky's comment on the CIA-organized "Afghanis" in
Chechnya, it occurred to me to look back at the campaign of terror bombings
in Russia attributed to the Chechen rebels in 1999. One such report follows.
I remember at the time that the widespread attitude in the US seemed to be
something like "The Russians brought it on themselves, or maybe did it to
themselves," since the Russian military was playing a brutal role in
Chechnya (which was considered a part of Russia). Those bombings in the
run-up to the Russian elections ushered in the current Putin regime in a
hand-off of power from Yeltsin.--MN