Two hours beforehand, a crowd was already pressing the gate outside Ewart Hall on the Tahrir Square campus of the American University in Cairo. When American linguist and author Noam Chomsky arrived on stage, the packed audience of twelve hundred rose in a thunderous standing ovation. Few Americans could expect a hero’s welcome in Cairo, but Chomsky has long been a cult figure here for his stinging critiques of American imperialism and Israeli treatment of Palestinians.
The 84-year-old sage did not disappoint his admirers. Topping the list of Chomsky’s concerns is the possibility of an American-backed Israeli military attack aimed at destroying Iran’s nuclear program. The irony, Chomsky said, is that people in the Middle East and even Europe believe it is the U.S. and Israel, rather than Iran, which represents the greater threat to international peace. He noted that despite the focus on Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, Iran is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, while Israel, widely believed to be a nuclear weapon power, is not. To Chomsky, the U.S. and Israel are “two rogue states that disregard international law and are powerful enough to get away with it.” He called for serious negotiations toward a nuclear-free Middle East as a means to avoid a war with Iran.
Chomsky cast the struggle with Iran as part of America’s efforts to reverse a precipitous decline in its geostrategic position in the world. The waning of American power, he explained, can be mirrored in the rise of China, the growing independence of Latin American states and, more recently, in the Arab Spring. Said Chomsky: “Movements to independence and democracy are the biggest threat to [American power]. U.S. foreign policy and control interests rely on dictators that ensure that public opinion does not democratically manifest in policy.” Chomsky, author of more than one hundred books and Institute Professor and Professor of Linguistics (Emeritus) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said his political writing is motivated by a genuine concern about the “world we are bequeathing to our children and grandchildren.”
It is, in his estimation, “not a pretty picture.”