Noam Chomsky: Defeating ISIS Starts with the US Admitting Its Role in Creating This Fundamentalist Monster
We air the second part of our two-day interview with Noam Chomsky, the world-renowned political dissident, linguist and author. Chomsky is institute professor emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he has taught for more than 50 years. As Iraq launches an offensive to retake Tikrit and Congress prepares to debate an expansive war powers resolution for U.S. strikes, Chomsky discusses how he thinks the U.S. should respond to the self-proclaimed Islamic State.
Below is an interview with Chomsky, followed by a transcript:
AMY GOODMAN: Today, part two of our discussion with Noam Chomsky, the world-renowned political dissident, linguist and author, institute professor emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he’s taught for more than half a century. On Monday on Democracy Now!, Aaron Maté and I interviewed him about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech on Iran to Congress. Today, in part two, we look at blowback from the U.S. drone program, the legacy of slavery in the United States, the leaks of Edward Snowden, U.S. meddling in Venezuela and the thawing of U.S.-Cuba relations. We began by asking Professor Chomsky how the U.S. should respond to the self-proclaimed Islamic State.
NOAM CHOMSKY: It’s very hard to think of anything serious that can be done. I mean, it should be settled diplomatically and peacefully to the extent that that’s possible. It’s not inconceivable. I mean, there are—ISIS, it’s a horrible manifestation of hideous actions. It’s a real danger to anyone nearby. But so are other forces. And we should be getting together with Iran, which has a huge stake in the matter and is the main force involved, and with the Iraqi government, which is calling for and applauding Iranian support and trying to work out with them some arrangement which will satisfy the legitimate demands of the Sunni population, which is what ISIS is protecting and defending and gaining their support from.
They’re not coming out of nowhere. I mean, they are—one of the effects, the main effects, of the U.S. invasion of Iraq—there are many horrible effects, but one of them was to incite sectarian conflicts, that had not been there before. If you take a look at Baghdad before the invasion, Sunni and Shia lived intermingled—same neighborhoods, they intermarried. Sometimes they say that they didn’t even know if their neighbor was a Sunni or a Shia. It was like knowing what Protestant sect your neighbor belongs to. There was pretty close—it wasn’t—I’m not claiming it was—it wasn’t utopia. There were conflicts. But there was no serious conflict, so much so that Iraqis at the time predicted there would never be a conflict. Well, within a couple of years, it had turned into a violent, brutal conflict. You look at Baghdad today, it’s segregated. What’s left of the Sunni communities are isolated. The people can’t talk to their neighbors. There’s war going on all over. The ISIS is murderous and brutal. The same is true of the Shia militias which confront it. And this is now spread all over the region. There’s now a major Sunni-Shia conflict rending the region apart, tearing it to shreds.
Now, this cannot be dealt with by bombs. This is much more serious than that. It’s got to be dealt with by steps towards recovering, remedying the massive damage that was initiated by the sledgehammer smashing Iraq and has now spread. And that does require diplomatic, peaceful means dealing with people who are pretty ugly—and we’re not very pretty, either, for that matter. But this just has to be done. Exactly what steps should be taken, it’s hard to say. There are people whose lives are at stake, like the Assyrian Christians, the Yazidi and so on. Apparently, the fighting that protected the—we don’t know a lot, but it looks as though the ground fighting that protected the Yazidi, largely, was carried out by PKK, the Turkish guerrilla group that’s fighting for the Kurds in Turkey but based in northern Iraq. And they’re on the U.S. terrorist list. We can’t hope to have a strategy that deals with ISIS while opposing and attacking the group that’s fighting them, just as it doesn’t make sense to try to have a strategy that excludes Iran, the major state that’s supporting Iraq in its battle with ISIS.
AMY GOODMAN: What about the fact that so many of those who are joining ISIS now—and a lot has been made of the young people, young women and young men, who are going into Syria through Turkey. I mean, Turkey is a U.S. ally. There is a border there. They freely go back and forth.
NOAM CHOMSKY: That’s right. And it’s not just young people. One thing that’s pretty striking is that it includes people with—educated people, doctors, professionals and others. Whatever we—we may not like it, but ISIS is—the idea of the Islamic caliphate does have an appeal to large sectors of a brutalized global population, which is under severe attack everywhere, has been for a long time. And something has appeared which has an appeal to them. And that can’t be overlooked if we want to deal with the issue. We have to ask what’s the nature of the appeal, why is it there, how can we accommodate it and lead to some, if not at least amelioration of the murderous conflict, then maybe some kind of settlement. You can’t ignore these factors if you want to deal with the issue.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask you about more information that’s come out on the British man who is known as “Jihadi John,” who appears in the Islamic State beheading videos. Mohammed Emwazi has been identified as that man by British security. They say he’s a 26-year-old born in Kuwait who moved to the U.K. as a child and studied computer science at the University of Westminster. The British group CAGE said he faced at least four years of harassment, detention, deportations, threats and attempts to recruit him by British security agencies, which prevented him from leading a normal life. Emwazi approached CAGE in 2009 after he was detained and interrogated by the British intelligence agency MI5 on what he called a safari vacation in Tanzania. In 2010, after Emwazi was barred from returning to Kuwait, he wrote, quote, “I had a job waiting for me and marriage to get started. But know [sic] I feel like a prisoner, only not in a cage, in London.” In 2013, a week after he was barred from Kuwait for a third time, Emwazi left home and ended up in Syria. At a news conference, CAGE research director Asim Qureshi spoke about his recollections of Emwazi and compared his case to another British man, Michael Adebolajo, who hacked a soldier to death in London in 2013.
ASIM QURESHI: Sorry, it’s quite hard, because, you know, he’s such a—I’m really sorry, but he was such a beautiful young man, really. You know, it’s hard to imagine the trajectory, but it’s not a trajectory that’s unfamiliar with us, for us. We’ve seen Michael Adebolajo, once again, somebody that I met, you know, who came to me for help, looking to change his situation within the system. When are we going to finally learn that when we treat people as if they’re outsiders, they will inevitably feel like outsiders, and they will look for belonging elsewhere?
AMY GOODMAN: That’s CAGE research director Asim Qureshi. Your response to this, Noam Chomsky?
NOAM CHOMSKY: He’s right. If you—the same if you take a look at those who perpetrated the crimes on Charlie Hebdo. They also have a history of oppression, violence. They come from Algerian background. The horrible French participation in the murderous war in the ’90s in Algeria is their immediate background. They live under—in these harshly repressed areas. And there’s much more than that. So, you mentioned that information is coming out about so-called Jihadi John. You read the British press, other information is coming out, which we don’t pay much attention to. For example, The Guardian had an article a couple of weeks ago about a Yemeni boy, I think who was about 14 or so, who was murdered in a drone strike. And shortly before, they had interviewed him about his history. His parents and family went through them, were murdered in drone strikes. He watched them burn to death. We get upset about beheadings. They get upset about seeing their father burn to death in a drone strike. He said they live in a situation of constant terror, not knowing when the person 10 feet away from you is suddenly going to be blown away. That’s their lives. People like those who live in the slums around Paris or, in this case, a relatively privileged man under harsh, pretty harsh repression in England, they also know about that. We may choose not to know about it, but they know. When we talk about beheadings, they know that in the U.S.-backed Israeli attack on Gaza, at the points where the attack was most fierce, like the Shejaiya neighborhood, people weren’t just beheaded. Their bodies were torn to shreds. People came later trying to put the pieces of the bodies together to find out who they were, you know. These things happen, too. And they have an impact—all of this has an impact, along with what was just described. And if we seriously want to deal with the question, we can’t ignore that. That’s part of the background of people who are reacting this way.
AARON MATÉ: You spoke before about how the U.S. invasion set off the Sunni-Shia conflict in Iraq, and out of that came ISIS. I wonder if you see a parallel in Libya, where the U.S. and NATO had a mandate to stop a potential massacre in Benghazi, but then went much further than a no-fly zone and helped topple Gaddafi. And now, four years later, we have ISIS in Libya, and they’re beheading Coptic Christians, Egypt now bombing. And with the U.S. debating this expansive war measure, Libya could be next on the U.S. target list.
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, that’s a very important analogy. What happened is, as you say, there was a claim that there might be a massacre in Benghazi, and in response to that, there was a U.N. resolution, which had several elements. One, a call for a ceasefire and negotiations, which apparently Gaddafi accepted. Another was a no-fly zone, OK, to stop attacks on Benghazi. The three traditional imperial powers—Britain, France and the United States—immediately violated the resolution. No diplomacy, no ceasefire. They immediately became the air force of the rebel forces. And, in fact, the war itself had plenty of brutality—violent militias, attacks on Africans living in Libya, all sorts of things. The end result is just to tear Libya to shreds. By now, it’s torn between two major warring militias, many other small ones. It’s gotten to the point where they can’t even export their main export, oil. It’s just a disaster, total disaster. That’s what happens when you strike vulnerable systems, as I said, with a sledgehammer. All kind of horrible things can happen.
In the case of Iraq, it’s worth recalling that there had been an almost decade of sanctions, which were brutally destructive. We know about—we can, if we like, know about the sanctions. People prefer not to, but we can find out. There was a sort of humanitarian component of the sanctions, so-called. It was the oil-for-peace program, instituted when the reports of the sanctions were so horrendous—you know, hundreds of thousand of children dying and so on—that it was necessary for the U.S. and Britain to institute some humanitarian part. That was directed by prominent, respected international diplomats, Denis Halliday, who resigned, and Hans von Sponeck. Both Halliday and von Sponeck resigned because they called the humanitarian aspect genocidal. That’s their description. And von Sponeck published a detailed, important book on it called, I think, A Different Kind of War, or something like that, which I’ve never seen a review of or even a mention of it in the United States, which detailed, in great detail, exactly how these sanctions were devastating the civilian society, supporting Saddam, because the people had to simply huddle under the umbrella of power for survival, probably—they didn’t say this, but I’ll add it—probably saving Saddam from the fate of other dictators who the U.S. had supported and were overthrown by popular uprisings. And there’s a long list of them—Somoza, Marcos, Mobutu, Duvalier—you know, even Ceaușescu, U.S. was supporting. They were overthrown from within. Saddam wasn’t, because the civil society that might have carried that out was devastated. He had a pretty efficient rationing system people were living on for survival, but it severely harmed the civilian society. Then comes the war, you know, massive war, plenty of destruction, destruction of antiquities. There’s now, you know, properly, denunciation of ISIS for destroying antiquities. The U.S. invasion did the same thing. Millions of refugees, a horrible blow against the society.
These things have terrible consequences. Actually, there’s an interesting interview with Graham Fuller. He’s one of the leading Middle East analysts, long background in CIA, U.S. intelligence. In the interview, he says something like, “The U.S. created ISIS.” He hastens to add that he’s not joining with the conspiracy theories that are floating around the Middle East about how the U.S. is supporting ISIS. Of course, it’s not. But what he says is, the U.S. created ISIS in the sense that we established the background from which ISIS developed as a terrible offshoot. And we can’t overlook that.