Chomsky speaks in Edinburgh

Chomsky speaking in EdinburghBig event today – Chomsky spoke in the McEwan hall (extraordinarily grand and impressive but with lousy acoustics). He spoke not once but twice – the first time at an activists’ meeting sponsored by the Palestince Solidarity Campaign amongst others (including Scottish Jews for a Just Peace), the second time as Gifford Lecturer for the University (video feed). I’ll just pick out a couple of themes from the morning talk. One was his frequent references to the “Memory Hole” – this is a really useful idea borrowed from 1984, in which it serves as an oubliette for inconvenient items of history. Examples from his talk included Sadat’s offer of a peace treaty in 1971 (before the Yom Kippur war) the Saudi plan of 2002 offering full recognition by all Arab states in exchange for a full withdrawal from the OT, the assessment by top Israeli intelligence officers before the second intifada that Arafat was committed to the diplomatic path and would use violence only to get out of a diplomatic dead-end, and so on.

The second theme was his emphasis on the political weakness of the ruling elites of the United States and Western Europe. He believes that the only way in which they can maintain their policies – particularly in respect of Israel-Palestine – is by lying about them. For example, public opinion in the US would strongly support the Saudi plan if people understood what it offers. This is why the media, especially in the US, has to be so biassed and limited in how it reports the Middle East – there’s a lot at stake. It also explains whose interest is served when conflict is moved from the arena of political debate to the arena of physical force, in which the state is incomparably stronger than we are. Remember that when you read the dire predictions about the G8 summit demonstrations – how the police are arming themselves with rubber bullets and teargas.

As for the event itself: setting aside the adulation, it was very encouraging to see the McEwan hall filled – twice in one day! – with people who appreciate and share a left-wing (read: humane and rational) view of international relations. And although some people criticise Chomsky’s upbeat approach as facile, I appreciate the encouragement he gives. Asked what we should be doing, he answered “Whatever you like! People in the West have more freedom than ever before in deciding how to act”. The triumph of their propaganda has been to convince us that we are helpless.

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