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Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2002

Just stop and think about it

When it comes to U.S. foreign policy, one of the leading voices of leftist dissent is that of MIT professor Noam Chomsky, an academic whose work in the field of linguistics is respected enough that he can't be dismissed as a crackpot. However, his views can be, and have been, virtually ignored by the mainstream media. While Chomsky's books have been in wider circulation in recent years, you're still about as likely to see him on TV as you are to find Osama bin Laden sipping a cup of mint tea in Harajuku.

News photo
Noam Chomsky in a scene from John Junkerman's "Chomsky 9-11"

Chomsky's favored means of address is still the campus lecture or the community Q&A, speaking to people directly and engaging in dialogue with them. "Chomsky 9-11," a documentary by Tokyo-based filmmaker John Junkerman, follows Chomsky on one of his recent speaking tours across the United States. as he gives voice to the concerns of citizens troubled by their government's reaction to the Sept. 11 terror attacks. As is apparent from these encounters, people have a lot of questions that need addressing, and Chomsky's analysis tackles some hard truths.

"Why do they hate us so much?" was America's collective question after the attacks, and many Americans were dissatisfied with George Bush's Manichaean, good-vs.-evil answer, rooted in the language of evangelical Christianity. Chomsky provides an answer rooted more in the real world, that terrorism against the U.S. is a boomerang effect of the government's support of repressive regimes around the globe, including -- lest we forget -- Saddam Hussein and the Taliban. Chomsky's prescription is simple: "Everyone's worried about stopping terrorism. Well, there's a really easy way: Stop participating in it."

Junkerman's documentary was made on the fly, partly because Chomsky is constantly on the move these days, and partly to get this message out while it's still timely. It's mostly a talking-head film, but it should prove a useful introduction to Japanese audiences unfamiliar with his writings, as Chomsky's core themes of political double-standards and hypocrisy all get an outing.

Speaking of the Bush administration, Chomsky says, "They can't comprehend that we should apply to ourselves the moral standards we apply to others." Noting the emotional American reaction to the events of Sept. 11, Chomsky notes the utter nonreaction of the U.S. press and public when over 3,000 civilians were killed by indiscriminate use of firepower by the U.S. armed forces in Panama City when Bush Sr. went after Manuel Noriega in 1989. Terrorism is what happens to us, says Chomsky, adding, "if we do it to others, it's normal."

This sort of stuff will enrage as many as it illuminates, but in the end, whether you agree with Chomsky or not doesn't matter. In these times of impending war and chaos, however, no one's belief system should go unchallenged by his ideas.

"Power and Terror" screens today at The Japan Foundation Forum in Akasaka at 2:30, 5 and 8:20 p.m., with a panel discussion from 6:40-8:20 p.m. Tickets are available from Ticket Pia, or call Siglo at (03) 5343-3101. The film will be the morning show at Eurospace in Shibuya from Sept. 28.

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