Noam Chomsky's Golden Rule

The principle is that if somebody carries out terror against us or against our allies, it's terror, but if we carry out terror or our allies do, maybe much worse terror, against someone else, it's not terror, it's counterterror or it's a just war.
-- Noam Chomsky, "Power and Terror"

In his first new book since the controversial bestseller "9/11," Noam Chomsky concentrates his criticism of U.S. policy on a single principle which is easily recognizable as the Golden Rule: that one should apply to oneself the same standards one applies to others.

chomskyIn "Power and Terror: Post-9/11 Talks and Interviews" (Seven Stories Press), Chomsky uses that rule to cut to the heart of the matters in American foreign policy and domestic politics. This brief 150-page book collects transcripts from interviews and public talks given by Chomsky during the Spring of 2002. "There is one simple way for the United States to decrease very significantly the amount of terror in the world," says the 75-year old political activist, writer and MIT linguistics professor, "and that is to just stop supporting and participating in it."

Although Chomsky's work in linguistics has had a profound effect on the field, his notoriety arises from his activism. He is among the foremost critics of the world's sole remaining superpower, and arguably embodies the heart and soul of the progressive movement.

Chomsky points out that the distinction between terrorism and counterterrorism is often a matter of perspective, though the counterterror tends to be far more terrible. This hypocrisy, this inability to recognize one's own crimes as crimes, Chomsky argues, is not a singularly American trait.

"As far as I know," he explains, "it's universal. Anyplace I've looked -- and I've looked at a lot of different countries -- that's exactly what you find. During the whole history of European imperialism, this is the standard line: We do it to them, it's counterterror or a just war, bringing civilization to the barbarians, or something like that. If we do that in their own countries -- because remember, until September 11, the West was largely immune -- at a vastly worse level, it's not terror. It's a civilizing mission, or something like that."

Chomsky spoke those words several months before the Bush administration defined its invasion of Iraq as a mission of "liberation and democracy."

The book's topics extend beyond Iraq into other instances of the powerful United States and its allies inflicting terror on the weak of the world. Chomsky details the little-known U.S.-backed oppression and state terror carried out against Kurds by Turkey during the 1990s. He examines the roots of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and points out the extent to which Israel has become, in effect, an American military outpost in the Middle East. He touches briefly on other conflicts in Africa, Asia and Latin America. In every case he points out that it is doubtful that the U.S. media will offer a complete accounting of the deaths and sufferings of those on the receiving end of U.S. terror, because those wrongs have few or no consequences for the rich and powerful.

In the case of Afghanistan, for instance, no one could have blamed the Afghan people for the attacks of September 11, 2001; nevertheless, they paid the price. Chomsky explains that the consensus among Afghan dissidents was against the U.S. attack, but the U.S. media and military planners seemed to ignore their advice. Have the media reported on civilian casualties in Afghanistan? Not much. A year and a half later, has there been significant discussion about the aftermath of the attack and the failure to bring order to that country? No. Those are the issues that impact the real people of Afghanistan, Chomsky argues, but the issues are overlooked and forgotten in the U.S.

Chomsky doesn't condemn everything about the United States. On the contrary, he says, "One of the advantages of living here is that the United States has become, over the years, a very free country. Not as a gift from the gods, but as the result of plenty of popular struggle, it's become an unusually free country, uniquely so in some respects."

He cites access to declassified, high-level documents as one of the unusual freedoms afforded to Americans -- a freedom very few of us ever exercise. Fortunately for the rest of us, Chomsky has made a career sifting through the public record in search of injustices and inequities, acting as our conscience, holding the United States to the high standards we apply to those countries and people who are not our allies.

Eric Bosse is a writer and filmmaker in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He edits a literary journal, The God Particle, and is co-editor of

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