noam chomsky:

In Response to Cornel West and Noam Chomsky’s Criticism of the Killing of Osama bin Laden










Noam Chom­sky and Cor­nell West have used their posi­tions as twenty-first-century Amer­i­can philoso­phers to not merely cri­tique our nation’s han­dling of Osama bin Laden, but also to label it as an exe­cu­tion and an assas­si­na­tion. Chom­sky even goes to the extent of call­ing bin Laden a vic­tim.

West uses the issues of social jus­tice to con­jure dis­dain for America’s focus on bring­ing bin Laden to jus­tice. He jux­ta­poses the injus­tices of poverty and hunger in Amer­ica with the nation’s quest for jus­tice against bin Laden and con­cludes that our pri­or­i­ties are warped. Chom­sky attacks the issue at a more fun­da­men­tal, albeit con­spir­a­to­r­ial, level by sug­gest­ing that Amer­ica had no con­crete evi­dence that Osama bin Laden was actu­ally the mas­ter­mind behind the attacks on Sep­tem­ber 11, 2001. He calls Pres­i­dent Obama a liar and then chal­lenges us to con­sider how we would feel if Iraqi com­man­dos landed out­side of G.W. Bush’s ranch, exe­cuted him, and then dumped his body in the ocean. These two care­fully crafted com­men­taries serve only to bring atten­tion to the authors; they do noth­ing for the cause of our nation or the cause of the jus­tice that West and Chom­sky claim to champion.

Dr. West con­flates two entirely dif­fer­ent issues that are arguably mutu­ally exclu­sive: the killing of Osama bin Laden has noth­ing to do with the eco­nomic injus­tices that many Amer­i­cans clearly suf­fer on a daily basis. Does Dr. West sug­gest that we forgo national secu­rity mat­ters until we have reme­died all of our inter­nal social ills? Should we com­mit our troops to build­ing homes for the home­less with­out regard to pro­tect­ing our inter­ests abroad? Would the dol­lars spent cap­tur­ing Osama have been bet­ter used by insti­tut­ing a new social pro­gram or per­haps even repa­ra­tions? These propo­si­tions are equally as fool­ish as Dr. West’s comments.

Chom­sky insin­u­ates that Amer­ica is the cul­prit and, in this case, bin Laden was yet another vic­tim of our impe­ri­al­is­tic and cap­i­tal­is­tic machi­na­tions. He then plays to his base by allud­ing to Bush’s atroc­i­ties and ask­ing how we would react if the shoe were on the other foot. I would ask Chom­sky if bin Laden’s crimes were absolved because of our crimes. Are we as a nation so eter­nally stained that we have no right to exe­cute jus­tice on our ene­mies? If this is the case, then surely Amer­ica is damned; how­ever, I would remind Chom­sky that just as we rise together as a nation, so too shall we fall. He is just as much a ben­e­fi­ciary of our nation’s bless­ings as the cap­i­tal­ist on Wall Street; as he con­demns our nation because of our crimes, he inex­tri­ca­bly con­demns himself.

As to his ques­tion of the shoe being on the other foot, surely he is intel­li­gent enough to under­stand that bin Laden was not the cur­rent head, nor the for­mer head, of any state. Surely he knows that in regard to inter­na­tional law, bin Laden and Bush are oranges and apples. This ques­tion serves no pur­pose other than to stir the lin­ger­ing anger of his con­stituents against Bush and the neo­con­ser­v­a­tive move­ment. Notwith­stand­ing his ques­tion, there is some­thing to be said here about nationalism.

As much as I dis­agreed with Bush, he was my pres­i­dent. I would take up arms with other patri­ots to avenge, revenge, and exe­cute jus­tice on any act against the pres­i­dent of the nation of which I am a citizen—not because of the indi­vid­ual, but because of the posi­tion. This is our nation, and an attack against it is an attack against me. Per­haps that is too patri­otic for Chomsky’s tastes. This is a free coun­try. There­fore, he has the right to play the role of the per­pet­ual dis­senter and even to do so from his ivory tower at MIT, as though he iden­ti­fies with those of us who truly are, and have been, the oppressed.

Like­wise, we too have the right to dis­agree with two of the pre­em­i­nent schol­ars of our day. How dis­ap­point­ing it is that they would resort to appeal­ing to the pathos of their devoted dis­ci­ples when they are fully aware of the fact that this is the exact type of manip­u­la­tion that we must help the aver­age cit­i­zen, such as I, rise above. It is bad enough that we are com­pet­ing against the onslaught of deceit from talk radio and the blo­gos­phere; do we now have to com­pete against those who are sup­posed to help enlighten us? Amer­ica deserves bet­ter than intel­lec­tu­als who stoop to the level of talk show hosts and use the pul­pits they have erected in the halls of acad­e­mia to for­ward their per­sonal careers.

After all is said and done, the poor will still be the eco­nom­i­cally exploited, and the hun­gry will still be search­ing for their next meal. More­over, West’s and Chomsky’s com­ments will do noth­ing to rem­edy these prob­lems any more than America’s killing of Osama bin Laden. At least the lat­ter is an accom­plish­ment that ben­e­fits the entire world and not just the per­sonas of two schol­ars of whom I am for­ever a stu­dent. This com­men­tary is merely a dis­sent in the same spirit they have inspired.

© 2011 Ben­jamin P. Dixon.

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