can’t see the forest

MIT on the ME

Recently, via Noam Chomsky’s website, I came across two excellent videos of talks given at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology over the past several months. Each of them pertains to geopolitics in the Middle East, and while each is something of a commitment in terms of time, I’d heartily recommend them for anyone interested in discerning viewpoints on the subjects at hand. The information presented is insightful, valuable, and constructively forward-looking—in other words, you won’t find it on a network newscast or in a major metropolitan daily.

The first, dated April 9, 2006, is a talk from the MIT Culture and Technology Forum hosted online by WGBH-TV. It is given by Robert Fisk, veteran Middle East correspondent for Britain’s The Independent. Mr. Fisk has resided in Beirut for the past 25 years and has covered (on location, not from hotel rooms) many of the crucial events which have shaped the sociopolitical landscape of that region during the past several decades. After an introduction by Professor Chomsky, Fisk discusses the bland, sanitized, uninformative and self-referential nature of US journalism on the Middle East in the context of the history of Anglo-American involvement in the region, beginning with the close of World War One. He tells of his encounters with individuals in the region and examines, through case studies, an appalling lack of concern for the human welfare of Iraqis and other Muslims in the war-torn Middle East—a condition he feels is coerced by liberal-intellectual attitudes in America and elsewhere.

The second, from November 22, 2006, is a talk given by Noam Chomsky and is hosted online by MIT World. In an unusually thorough and candid fashion, Dr. Chomsky discusses the escalating geopolitical crises in the Palestinian territories, in Lebanon, and in occupied Iraq, and gives his thoughts about the possibility of the development of an explosive situation concerning US-UK policy toward Iran. Chomsky makes it quite clear that the key to breaking apparent gridlock in the peace processes is, perhaps more than any other factor, the understanding of Westerners of the roles they play as citizens in supporting hegemonic policies and practices throughout the Middle East. In other words, the Middle East does not exist in some sort of vacuum outside of the influence—interference, rather—of Western government. These governments are of course, in turn, supported by their citizens.

Both of these talks will be invaluable to anyone seeking to learn more about the causality and policy behind much of the “senseless violence” and unrest plaguing the region. Both Mr. Fisk and Mr. Chomsky illustrate clearly and exhaustively that the crises in the Middle East, while daunting, catastrophic, and vastly unjust and imposing upon the lives of many of the region’s people in a variety of ways, are not really that mysterious. They demonstrate that many of the answers to these quandaries may be found, first and foremost, in the exercise of democracy west of the Bosphorous.


4 Responses

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  1. peoplesgeography said, on 12/5/06 at 7:52 pm

    As you know I’m quite familiar with Chomsky and Fisk and even now, listening to the Chomsky talk in audio while I’m working, I’m getting all fired up again. The worse-than-apartheid settler state of Israel has been the biggest threat to regional and world peace and stability since its inception; I welcome the opportunity to witness more Americans see what their tax dollars are doing.

    Chomsky’s quiet grandfatherly voice really belies the fact that he still packs a punch, speaking truth to power indefatigably. He once gave a marathon 4 hour combined address and Q&A talk at my alma mater well over a decade ago now.

    The first questioner in the Q&A segment has just now made me laugh, his all too predictable parroting of the official Zionist version of history just proves why voices such as Chomsky are so appreciated and urgently needed. I felt like giving this questioner a good kick up the backside. Chomsky gave him a good walloping of good sense but sounds like the idiot prefers his propaganda to being disabused of his prejudices. Luckily the other audience questioners demonstrably have more sense.

    With the Fisk talk, having attended three of his guest lectures in 2005-6, it is worth noting that most are variations of the same address, down to the same quips and turns of phrase. In this talk however, a couple of new insights crop up towards the end, so its a good selection.

    Appreciate Fisk as much as we do (for those of us with a critical interest in the region), it is also worth reading critiques of his work by Jonathan Cook (a very worthwhile read) and others. Here’s the general articles link from Cook’s site and if you have a minute also take a look at my friend the Fanonite’s site. One can successfully negotiate a critical appreciation that does not succumb to hagiography methinks. Oh, and the writing of the late Edward Said is also highly, highly recommended.

    If you’re at all still interested on my thoughts on Lebanon, I haven’t forgotten about it, just a bit snowed under at the mo. I’ll send you my cure-for-insomnia response soon enough, I’m sure. ;)

  2. Curtis said, on 12/5/06 at 9:32 pm

    I wondered if you might have something to say about Chomsky’s first questioner. If it weren’t so appallingly mindless it would be comical. Totally transparent. Parroting is the word, indeed. I mean, I don’t turn my ears off, you know? I try to be sympathetic, not to hold preconceptions. But it’s just blatant nonsense, that kind of revisionism and twisted logic, and I’m not ashamed to say that it is.

    Also appreciated are the pointers to Cook and Said.

    Some of the subtleties and complexities of the situation in Lebanon still escape me. My knowledge is pretty much limited to things I’m sure aren’t helping, if you know what I mean. I’ve heard before that Fisk tends to repeat himself, but this was the first address I had seen, previously having read only a few of his columns. I admire his tenacity and his relentless pointing-out of the relationship between policy and turmoil, but I do question some of his conclusions, so informed criticism is something in which I’ll take interest.


  3. peoplesgeography said, on 12/5/06 at 10:57 pm

    Thanks Curt, and I do know what you mean. Its good that you endeavour to listen to people and engage with them in good faith; its all too easy to become jaded and battle weary and you only win people over by being unremittingly sympathetic and patient even in the face of belligerent nonsense.

    And none of this is to deny that many of the Arab regimes are crash hot when it comes to human rights either, most notably the US-backed Saudi regime (which Chomsky is on record being duly critical about). Nevertheless the topic at hand was Israel, and the first questioner’s claim was ridiculously incorrect – it simply is wrong that its Arab neighbours have not been prepared to recognise Israel in exchange for a just settlement of this conflict.

    This propagated notion that Israel lies in a hostile sea of countries sworn to its destruction of course just fuels the paranoia and pretext for the (over)arming of the state and its military adventurism, nay invasions. The first questioner’s crude tactic of attempting to minimise, deny and/ or deflect attention away from the crimes perpetrated by the state of Israel is what I have witnessed time and again. Fortunately, I feel that the tide is turning, albeit slowly.

    It is also heartening that, as you note, upon a modicum of consideration the region is really not that mysterious to comprehend. In your acquaintance with the topic you have already demonstrated an impressive sizing up of the issues, IMHO.

    There’s hope yet …

  4. mosquito said, on 12/6/06 at 2:38 pm

    Love your blog…BTW, you might want to check out the DISH network. They have two wonderful channels LinkTV and FSTV (you can google these and check out their programming…LinkTV even offers some live streams of their programs on the web)

    Imagine television with the likes of folks like Noam Chomsky, Robert Fish, Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales….etc etc…

    Better yet…Dish is NOT owned by Rupert Murdoch (he’s directtv) and they are cheaper than cable…24.99 for 10 months is the basic package and this includes fstv and link….as well as up to 4 or 5 recievers depending on the number of tv’s that you have…

    Check it out…btw, I love Chomsky….buzz…buzz…

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