Noam Chomsky at the American University in Cairo, 23 October 2012 (Photo: Randa Ali)
Hundreds filled the Ewart Memorial Hall at the American University in Cairo (AUC) on Tuesday to attend a lecture by prominent American political analyst and linguist Noam Chomsky on his first visit to the university in 19 years.
“I can’t help but picture the world we live in, the one we’re leaving to our grandchildren, and it is not a pretty picture,” said Chomsky, 83, who arrived from Gaza on Monday.
During the lecture, called “Emerging World Order and the Arab Spring," he spoke of the increasing threat of nuclear war and environmental disasters.
Chomsky argued that the only way out of the nuclear crisis was to embrace the initiative for a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East, adding that Egypt had played a leading role in advocating the initiative since 1995.
He further added that a conference was scheduled to be held in January in Helsinki to look into ways of implementing a nuclear-free zone in the region.
He argued that this initiative was blocked because of the American insistence that Israel be excluded from the plan.
"Right now we should be thinking about the 50th anniversary of the most dangerous moment in history," said Chomsky, reminding the audience of the Cuban missile Crisis on 27 October 1962.
He said if it was not for the choice of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev to back down and withdraw the missiles from Cuba a nuclear war would have happened.
But the world cannot be assured of such sanity forever, he said.
He further denounced the portrayal of Israel's bombing of Iraq's nuclear in 1981 as a parallel to a possible attack on Iran.
"It is rarely mentioned that this bombing did not stop the nuclear programme but rather initiated it," he said.
Noam Chomsky at the American University in Cairo, 23 October 2012 (Photo: Mai Shaheen)
Chomsky added that it was rarely mentioned that after the Iran-Iraq war US President George H. Bush invited Iranian scientists for advanced nuclear training.
Chomsky’s lecture was severely critical of US policies, describing both Israel and the US as rogue states that do not follow international norms because they are powerful enough to ignore them.
"Iran must be denied nuclear weapons; that is the general picture in the West," said Chomsky, emphasising that the picture in the West is not the picture in the whole world.
“Unlike Iran, Israel refuses to allow inspections and still hasn't signed the NPT [Non-Proliferation Treaty],” said Chomsky, who rejected the discourse of Arab dictators that see Iran as a threat, “When Israel is the real threat.”
"We saw the rest of the world recently at the NAM [Non-Aligned Movement] in Tehran, where it vigorously reaffirmed Iran's right to a nuclear energy programme."
Unless there is large-scale public pressure nothing will be achieved, he said. However large scale-public pressure is unlikely to take place because the issue is ignored in the mainstream media, he added.
Speaking on the hypocrisy of the US administration towards democracy in the Arab World, Chomsky gave an example of the US and Israel’s punishment of Gaza “for using democracy” to elect a Hamas government.
Chomsky described the 2006 elections in Gaza as “the first real free election in the Arab World.” However, because its results did appeal to the US and Israel, a coup was attempted against the elected government in 2007.
After Hamas succeeded in taking over the Gaza Strip, a blockade was enforced on the enclave by both Egypt and Israel.
“The Western attitude towards democracy: It is fine as long as its outcome is the one we want,” added Chomsky.
"For the West, the most important states are the oil dictatorships. Their democratic uprisings were squashed with Western help."
"The US does not want policies in Arab countries which reflect public opinion."
When asked about the situation in Syria, Chomsky said: "The forces operating [there] are taking the country towards self destruction.
While Chomsky did not address the Arab Spring much in his lecture he mentioned how fragile dictatorships are.
When people went to Tahrir Square, the regime quickly collapsed, he said.
When asked about the possibility of social justice rising from political Islam and the labour movement, Chomsky said he saw no reason why political Islam should oppose the workers' struggle.
However, during an interview aired later with prominent TV anchor Yosri Fouda, Chomsky said: “The hopes and aspirations of the [Egyptian] revolution will not be satisfied by the current [Islamist] regime.”
He ended his talk at AUC by referring to Tahrir Square as a "global symbol."
Noam Chomsky is a Jewish-American philosopher and political analyst, described as the "father of modern linguistics." His books and lectures largely focus on supporting political freedoms against imperialist powers throughout the world.
Chomsky is a professor emeritus in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, although he is a prominent critic of US politics and media. His publications include some 100 books, the latest, published in 2012, are Occupy and Making the Future: Occupations, Interventions, Empire and Resistance.