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Chomsky Is Still … Being Chomsky

Intellectual condemns Bin Laden raid, compares al-Qaida favorably to U.S.

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Noam Chomsky at Jordan University a year ago.(Khalil Mazraawi/AFP/Getty Images)

Noam Chomsky had an, um, provocative response at the end of last week to the U.S. killing of Osama Bin Laden. In the technical, deliberately flat and casual prose style he tends to adopt when making such pronouncements, he argued that the “planned assassination” was “multiply violating elementary norms of international law” (actually, even a planned assassination of this legitimate military target in a regular theater of war was legal); questioned whether Bin Laden was responsible for 9/11 (he facilely notes that Bin Laden’s own confession doesn’t necessarily mean much but fails to note the boatloads of reporting that have established the Sheik’s responsibility for the attacks); and wrote of President George W. Bush, “Uncontroversially, his crimes vastly exceed bin Laden’s, and he is not a ‘suspect’ but uncontroversially the ‘decider’ who gave the orders to commit the ‘supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole’ (quoting the Nuremberg Tribunal) for which Nazi criminals were hanged.” It is only to Chomsky’s further discredit that, I suspect, those “uncontroversiallys” are not even meant with much irony!

Anyway, this is in my opinion risible stuff, but readers who want a glimpse of Chomsky, who for all his bomb-throwing political statements remains one of the most important American intellectuals of the 20th century for his contributions to linguistics, discussing genuinely uncontroversial matters like his Jewish upbringing in pre-World War Two Philadelphia can check out his Tablet Magazine interview from late last year. It is also notable that even where Chomsky does dip into this sort of thing—largely by apologizing for Hezbollah—he distinguishes himself among leftists of a similar stripe for the way he holds Israel to exactly the same standard as he does the United States.

Noam Chomsky: My Reaction to Osama Bin Laden’s Death [Guernica]
Related: Q&A: Noam Chomsky [Tablet Magazine]
Bin Laden: The Rules of Engagement [The New Yorker]

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Hasn’t linguistics been moving away from the Chomsky paradigm for a while now?

Dan Klein says:

@FW Yeah, but kind of in the same sense that psychology has moved away from Freud, or Physics from Einstein–They can build away from the foundations, because the foundations are there in the first place.

fw says:

Understood, although Einstein is still central to physics. At least one prominent anthropologist, profiled a few years ago in The New Yorker, claims Chomsky set the field back years. I know Steven Pinker, a onetime disciple I believe, has also been an apostate, as it were.

Steve Stein says:

I have nothing whatsoever against the assassination of bin Laden, but I don’t think Pakistani soil qualifies as a “regular theater of war” – I mean, they are supposedly our “ally”. (Yeah, I know that’s problematical, but still.)

michaelira says:

It may be impossible to be in two places at once, but it is very possible to be brilliant and a jerk simultaneously. Chomsky demonstrated this long ago.

Dani Levi says:

Who care’s?
Watch him, he will pull a Helen Thomas on us before it’s all over.

boo says:

He was, is, and always will be a know-it-all jerk.

Shalom Freedman says:

Chomsky is a headline- seeking embarassment.An American citizen who takes full advantage of the freedoms of American democracy to continually favor and flatter its enemies; has he no decency whatsoever?

Dani Levi says:

I just read the article! The man writes as if he is an east German border guard who smoked some very strong sprayed weed. Legendary! I’d hate to read Judith Butler when she is his age. Oh boy, I will be around then.

Isn’t the fact that Chomsky claims that there is a lack of evidence linking bin Laden with the 9/11 attacks reason enough to not take anything that follows seriously? If one denies the existence of all extant evidence, then what does one have left but conspiracy theories?

Does Chomsky believe that the evidence points to another suspect? Does he care to fill us in? Why has he been holding out on us all these years? Notice that he’s careful not to answer the obvious follow-up question; he may be willing to enable the “truther movement” but doesn’t want to be identified with it.

Gibson Block says:

Marc, your title is dishonest. Chomsky didn’t say anything favourable about Al Qaeda but your title implies that he did.

Gene says:

Chomsky is a usual leftist demagogue and hypocrite (not much different from the others). According to his own logic he himself is a criminal and immoral person because he lives on the stolen from the local Indians land and has no intention to return it to the true owners. But has enough arrogance to criticize others for doing the same things.

Daniel says:

@Gibson Bock: I don’t see how there is anything dishonest in the title, because Chomsky did in fact “compare al-Qaida favorably to U.S.” Chomsky said Bush’s crimes “uncontroversially” exceeded Bin-Laden’s.

We always knew that Chomsky was at least somewhat sympathetic to al Qaeda. The more remarkable thing is that Chomsky just came out as a 9/11 Conspiracy theorist.

tillkan says:

“We always knew that Chomsky was at least somewhat sympathetic to al Qaeda.” We always knew Netanyahu was at least somewhat sympathetic to al Qaeda: he said so in the days after Sept 11.


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Chomsky Is Still … Being Chomsky

Intellectual condemns Bin Laden raid, compares al-Qaida favorably to U.S.

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