excerpts from the book

Eqbal Ahmad

Confronting Empire

Interviews with David Barsamian

South End Press, 2000


The Israeli government is now planning roads, major highways and communication networks which link the settlements to the Israeli cities and ports and leave the Palestinian communities out. So we have these autonomous zones which are to be administered by the Palestinian Authority, over which this Authority has no sovereignty. It can't control the land. It can't protect the water. It can't even set up industries without Israel's permission. So we have a series of bantustans called Autonomous Palestinian Authority. Israel is absolving itself of responsibility for the occupied population while keeping the occupation.

It's a brilliant scheme, and it is so far succeeding ... What we are witnessing is the institutionalization of a system of exclusion, a fully contracted apartheid: separate municipalities, separate schools, separate health systems, a native economy and an indigenous substratum on the margins of the Israeli state beneath the privileged settler society.

This is a bad dream, a racialist utopia being constructed, ironically, by one of the most enlightened and historically humane people, and this with the agreement of a secular native leadership. If the trend holds, during the next decade, Israel-Palestine shall look very much like what has just past, South Africa of the apartheid era.

The twentieth has been a century most remarkable for its simultaneous capacity to promise hope and deliver disappointments. And as the end approaches, it seems to me that the century's ending in the same way in which it began: renewed hopes of a just and peaceable world order are being overwhelmed by politicians and warriors whose political minds remain rooted in the past.

For 300 years before the twentieth century dawned, the world had been transforming, a transformation brought about by modern science, technology, and imperialism. It was through this age of capitalist and European expansion that a world system came to be dominated by the West and the international market came to be controlled entirely for the West's benefit. This sounds rather benign, as though the free market was really free and worked merely to the advantage of the fittest. Far from it; Western domination was achieved by force so widespread, institutionalized, and legitimized by religion and morality that to date the epistemology of this universal violence still shapes relations between the Western and non-Western worlds

... the truth has to be repeated. It doesn't become stale just because it has been told once. So keep repeating it. Don't bother about who has listened, who not listened... the media and the other institutions of power are so powerful that telling the truth once is not enough. You've got to keep repeating different facts, prove the same point.

Israel's fundamental contradiction was that it was founded as a symbol of the suffering of humanity ... at the expense of another people who were innocent of guilt.

The primary task of revolutionary struggle is to achieve the moral isolation of the adversary in its own eyes, and in the eyes of the world...

Obviously you couldn't morally isolate the regimes of Hitler or Stalin. A strategy of moral isolation assumes that the adversary has based its own legitimacy on moral grounds. Gandhi understood this rather well with regard to British colonialism. He understood the contradiction of British colonialism, which justified itself on liberal principles and was violating them.

Centrist Zionism's primary contradiction was its principles of Iegitimacy were moral and its practices were immoral.

The PLO leadership has committed itself to peace with Israel. The terms of peace have been spelled out in the Oslo agreement. This agreement is extremely unjust, because it doesn't respond to any of the fundamental issues in this conflict. It offers no compensation, no restitution, no return to the half of Palestine's population who are now refugees. It offers no settlement of the issue of water rights in the occupied territories. It offers Palestinians no right to self-determination. It offers Palestinians no protection from expanding Israeli settlements. It offers Palestinians no solution or Arabs generally of the problem of Jerusalem, which is as holy to Muslims and Christians as it is to Jews. So in a very genuine sense, Oslo leaves open all the fundamental questions that have defined the Arab-Israeli conflict.

At the moment, there are four or five people who are foreign affairs columnists of the New York Times, the newspaper of record. Two of them, A.M. Rosenthal and William Safire, are right-wing Zionist supporters of the Likud Party. The third is Thomas Friedman, a centrist Zionist supporter of the Israeli Labor Party. A fourth, Anthony Lewis, is a liberal and a putative Zionist. Of all the foreign affairs columnists of the New York Times, there is not one that would take an independent position on the issue of the Arab-Israeli conflict, much less ... one that would comprehend the aspirations, the needs, the feelings of the Arab or Palestinian people. The same pattern is repeated in the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, and other major papers.




Where do you trace chronologically when Islam, Muslims, Arabs become targeted as a threat or an enemy of the West?

This is not a completely new phenomenon.... In the tenth century, for the first time you saw a certain notion of demonizing Islam. At that point, it wasn't so misplaced from the European point of view, because Islam was an expansionist civilization, and therefore considered ... a threat and a menace. The Crusades witnessed the first instance of demonization along religious lines, that is, demonization of Islam itself rather than of Arabs or Turks.... Next you notice it in the period when British and later French colonialists encountered Muslim resistance.

There was the case of the Mahdi, who besieged and killed General Charles George Gordon in 1885 in Khartoum. That particular moment saw a great deal of emphasis on Islamic fanaticism. Colonial battles were never remembered unless a Custer was killed or a Gordon besieged. Millions of people may die, but the memories are of Custer and Gordon.

This is the third time ... in the last 1,400 years that there is this organized attempt to demonize Islam. This time it's more organized and sustained, because the means have changed. Today there is mass communication.


Does this process of demonization come from a shared consensus that is not articulated ? Or are people meeting at Harvard and saying, "OK, we have to get together and demonize Arabs and Muslims?"

I don't think there is a conspiracy.... Great imperial powers, especially democratic ones, cannot justify themselves on the basis of power or greed alone. No one will buy it.... Modern imperialism needed a legitimizing instrument to socialize people into its ethos. To do that it needed two things: a ghost and a mission. The British carried the white man's burden. That was the mission. The French carried la mission civilisatrice, the civilizing mission. The Americans had manifest destiny and then the mission of standing watch on the walls of world freedom, in John F. Kennedy's ringing phrase. Each of them had the black, the yellow, and finally the red peril to fight against. There was a ghost and there was a mission. People bought it.

After the Cold War, Western power was deprived both of the mission and the ghost. So the mission has appeared as human rights. It's a very strange mission for a country which for nearly a hundred years has been supporting dictatorships in Latin America and throughout the world. Chomsky and Herman wrote about this in The Washington Connection and Third World Fascism.

In search of menace, they have turned to Islam. It's the easiest, because it has a history.


It's also the most vulnerable.

It's vulnerable. It's weak.... Islamic countries are home to the oil resources of the West. The West has encountered resistance in Algeria, Egypt, among the Palestinians, and with the Iranian revolution-enough to arouse anxiety that Western interests ... are threatened. And there is a history of demonization. All these things fall into place. And there are enough vested interests to take advantage of it.


Media coverage of Islamic fundamentalism seems to be very selective. There are certain types that are not discussed at all. For example, the Saudi version, which may be among the most extreme. Americans hear a lot about Hezbollah and Hamas and groups in Egypt, like the Akhwan.

This is a very interesting matter you are raising.... Saudi Arabia's Islamic government has been by far the most fundamentalist in the history of Islam. Even today, for example, women drive in Iran. They can't drive in Saudi Arabia. Today, for example, men and women are working in offices together in Iran. Women wear chador, but they work in offices. In Saudi Arabia, they cannot do it. So on the basis of the nature and extent of fundamentalist principles or right-wing ideology, Saudi Arabia is much worse in practice than Iran. But it has been the ally of the United States since 1932, so nobody has questioned it.

But much more than that is involved. Throughout the Cold War, starting in 1945 when it inherited its role as a world power, the United States has seen militant Islam as a counterweight to communist parties in the Muslim world. During this entire period, the Muslim brotherhood in Egypt was not an enemy of the United States.... The U.S. government actually promoted and supported the Islamic regime that is now in power in Sudan. General Muhammad Gaafar al-Nimeiry was allied to the Islamic movement of Sudan and was a friend.

America's two major leverages on its allies in Western Europe and Asia-the nuclear umbrella and economic superiority-had drastically diminished by the early 1970s. The U.S. was looking for new leverages over its allies. They picked the Middle East because this was where the energy resources for the industrial economies of Japan and Europe came from. An established, unchallenged American influence in this region ... could control prices and show Europe and Japan, "We can give you cheap oil. We can make your oil expensive. We hold your economic lifeline."

This was the time of the Nixon Doctrine, namely, the use of regional powers to police the region for the United States. In the Middle East, they chose Iran and Israel. In the Pentagon, throughout most of the 1970s, they were called "our two eyes in the Middle East." In 1978, after having or perhaps because of having taken some $20 billion of military hardware from the United States, the shah of Iran fell under the weight of his own militarization. The 1979 Islamic revolution threatened American interests deeply ... materializing in an uglier form during the hostage crisis.

Within a year, quite ironically, something totally the opposite happens. The Soviet Union intervened in Afghanistan. In Pakistan, an Islamic fundamentalist dictator promoted, with the help of the CIA, an Islamic fundamentalist resistance against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Now what you had was Islamic fundamentalists of a really hardcore variety, the majahideen in Afghanistan, taking on the "evil empire." They received billions in arms between 1981 and 1988 from the United States alone. Add additional support from Saudi Arabia, under American encouragement.... American operatives went about the Muslim world recruiting for the jihad in Afghanistan, because the U.S. saw it as an opportunity to mobilize the Muslim world against communism. That opportunity was exploited by recruiting majahideen in Algeria, Sudan, Egypt, Yemen, and Palestine. From everywhere they came. They received training from the CIA. They received arms from the CIA. I have argued in some of my writings that the notion of jihad as "just struggle" had not existed in the Muslim world since the tenth century until the United States revived it during its jihad against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.

Since then, almost every Islamic militant, including those in Israel, Algeria, and Egypt ... has been trained in Afghanistan. The CIA people call it "Islamic blowback."

These are aspects that the American media is not willing to touch on. The New York Times' four foreign affairs columnists are neither qualified nor would they want to be qualified to comment on these realities.


What side effects have U.S. support of the mujahideen had on Pakistani society?

One is the extraordinary proliferation of drugs and guns. Something like $10 billion in arms was pumped into Pakistan and Afghanistan. Half of it at least rebounded and became part of international trade. Much of it ended up in Pakistan. So, you have a situation in Pakistan where almost every third man is armed ... with automatic weapons, Kalishnikovs and grenade launchers. What used to be small crimes have now become big crimes, because petty thieves are armed with weapons that can lead to killings if they feel threatened. In 1979, at the advent of the Afghanistan revolution, there were an estimated 110,000 drug addicts in Pakistan, mostly addicted to opium, some to hashish. Today, we have 5 million addicts. Opium has become a big trade through Pakistan. It comes from Afghanistan and Iran. We have an estimated $4 billion trade in Afghan drugs. In a country whose total foreign exports were $6 billion before all this, you introduce $4 billion in trade in drugs. We have created in Pakistan an entire class of rich drug dealers who are paying off this politician here, that bureaucrat there, that port authority there. The political system of the whole country has become enmeshed with the drug mafia. It is not quite as bad as Colombia yet. But it's very close to it.

The third effect is probably the most serious. Pakistan is a very heterogenous society. There are six ethnic groups living together with a combination of antagonism and collaboration. The antagonism consists of something like, "You speak Baluch. I speak Urdu. Our children play together. They have quarreled with each other. My child has beaten your child.... We get into an argument over whose child was worse." Previously, it was an argument. Today, bullets can fly. So what used to be, because of ethnic differences in our society, completely minor, local, street arguments, are now made with guns.... After a while these little things accumulate and create ethnic warfare...



Moving to Afghanistan and the evolving situation there. The Taliban movement, you suggest in an article, has connections with not just Pakistan but also with the United States.

Afghanistan has suffered criminal neglect at the hands of the United States and its media. In 1979 and 1980, when the Afghan people started resisting Soviet intervention, the whole of America and Europe mobilized on their side. For the media, it was such a big story that CBS paid money to stage a battle that it could broadcast as an exclusive. Afghanistan was in the news every day. It disappeared from the news the day the Soviets withdrew. Then, Afghanistan was abandoned by the media, by

the American government, by American academics, and as a result by the American people. These people who fought the West's battle with the West's money and with the West's arms, and in the process distorted themselves, distorted Pakistan, and contributed to the demise of the Soviet Union, found themselves totally abandoned after the Cold War. The Taliban's rise takes place in that vacuum.

The Afghan majahideen fell to fighting with each other. They were all both warriors and drug smugglers. They were known to the CIA as drug smugglers.... There are ten factions shooting at each other, and something new develops. The Soviet Union falls apart. Its constituent republics become independent. Among those are the six Soviet republics of Central Asia: Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Kirghizstan, and Azerbaijan. These six Central Asian republics, whose majority population is Muslim, are very close to or bordering on Afghanistan, and also happen to be oil- and gas-rich states. So far their gas and oil has passed through the Soviet Union ... but now a new game starts: How is this oil and gas going to go out to the world? At this point, American corporations move in.

The American corporations want, obviously, to get hold of the oil and gas. After the Cold War, who controls which resource at whose expense and at what price? Corporations like Texaco, Amoco, and Unocal start going into Central Asia to get hold of these oil and gas fields. But how are they going to get the oil and gas out? . .. Through Turkey and via Afghanistan to Pakistan are two possibilities. Iran is the third, but they don't want to put any pipelines in Iran because Iran is an adversary of America. Therefore, Pakistan and Afghanistan become the places through which they are likely to take pipelines. And then they can cut the Russians out.

President Clinton made personal telephone calls to the presidents of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Azerbaijan, urging them to sign pipeline contracts that together amount to billions. These pipelines would go through Turkey and via Afghanistan to Pakistan and take oil to the tankers that would meet them at the ports. The pipeline would go through Afghanistan. Both Pakistan and the United States .. . pick the most murderous, by far the most crazy of Islamic fundamentalist groups, the Taliban, to ensure the safety of the pipelines.

The Taliban are anti-women. Some of the highest U.S. officials have been visiting and talking to them. The general impression in our region is that the United States has been supporting them.


The U.S. concern is not who is fundamentalist and who is progressive, who treats women nicely and who treats them badly. That's not the issue. The issue is who is more likely to ensure the safety of the oil resources that the United States or its corporations could control?

The U.S. government officials lie when they talk about human rights. They're a bunch of hypocrites and liars. You can't take it seriously.

There are several countries that are human rights violators of extreme proportions: Indonesia, South Korea, Israel, and Turkey, and they all remain deeply tied to the United States.

What do you think about the future of Israel?

In the short run, seemingly bright and powerful. In the long run, very dark.


Why do you say that?

The Israeli government, to my total surprise-or not so much surprise, I think we could have expected it-has been missing its chance for the last ten years to make peace with its Arab neighbors. For forty-five years, Israeli officials talked about wanting to be recognized. That was the only basis for peace. Now every Arab government, plus the PLO, openly recognizes Israel's right to exist. They have removed the Arab boycott. Egypt, the largest Arab country, has reached full peace with Israel. The PLO has reached full peace with Israel. King Hussein of Jordan has reached full peace with Israel. But the Israelis are continuing to take Palestinian lands and build settlements.

Their policies are to convince the Arabs that no matter what they are willing to give, Israelis want peace on their terms-more territory and more humiliation of Arabs. More expansion. It can't last that way. Israel is a small country, 5.5 million people. The Arabs are many. They are at the moment weak, disorganized, demoralized, and a bunch of country-sellers are ruling those places. That's not a permanent condition. Someday the Arabs will have to organize themselves. Once they have done that, you will see a different history beginning again, and it won't be a pretty one...

Franklin D. Roosevelt ... understood .. that a modicum of safety, of security, of distributive justice and the stimulation of hope in people is necessary for stability. It is this lesson that the current generation of American rulers is violating. They are going to bring upon this country some sort of an upheaval.

Social movements are the most unpredictable of historical phenomena. No one, no scholars have yet found a formula for predicting revolutions or upheavals.



You used to write fairy frequently for the New York Times. It's been literally years since you had an op-ed in the paper. What happened there?

It is rather ironic, I think, that the New York Times was publishing me quite frequently during 1978 to 1980, when A.M. Rosenthal, a right-wing Zionist, was its editor. The ban on us, including Edward Said, has occurred generally speaking from the time that Joseph Lelyveld, a very liberal Zionist, came in as editor. I am suggesting, then, that a change of personnel might have had something to do with it. Because Rosenthal was a right-wing Zionist, he probably felt that he would be freer from attacks of bias if he used a few tokens like myself or Said.

There is a second reason, I think a larger one. There has been a very deep shift in the climate of this country toward the right. It is this change that defines this extraordinary phenomenon that a twice-elected American president from the Democratic Party [Clinton] has been the one to effectively abolish the gains of the New Deal and is yet by and large applauded despite all his dissimulations, lies, and undignified behavior. What is remarkable is that the liberal Democratic establishment, including the media, have mostly been favorable to Clinton. Two days after admitting that he had committed perjury and had lied about having sexual relations with a twenty-one-year-old in the Oval Office, he launches a military attack on Afghanistan and Sudan without giving reasonable proof of anything. He engages in an untrammeled unilateralism, and the newspapers, including the New York Times, come out editorially to say that he is now acting like the commander-in-chief of the United States. There has been a shift in this environment toward intolerance of dissent, toward defining once again the boundaries of dissent, which had been broken during the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement. It's the breaking of those boundaries by young people that allowed us to become visible in the mainstream. Those boundaries have been redrawn, and we are on the other side of it. That's the larger question than the personnel issue of Rosenthal and Lelyveld.

Lastly, intellect as a whole is under assault in America, and social intellect in particular. The scientist can do whatever he wants to. But the social intellect is under assault in very insidious ways. The publishers are not really publishing radical works. The media are extraordinarily full of vacuous talk. People sit around on television and radio talk shows and pontificate on Islam, China, Japan, India, the Arabs. None of them that I can recall knows a single language of these places on which they are pontificating, can identify five central dates of our history, can look at the roots of any struggle. We happen to be talking at a time when Osama bin Laden is a central figure of the news and discourse in America. To date, no one has examined what has produced Osama bin Laden. There have been hints that he worked with the CIA, that he first engaged in violence because he was brought in to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. There are hints that he was recruited into the jihad by the CIA. The United States and the Saudis financed it. But this is not enough. No one has identified how his country, Saudi Arabia, has been robbed by Western corporations and Western powers. No one has identified what bin Laden grew up seeing. The Saudi princes, this one-family state, have handed over the oil resources of the Arab people to the West and its investment firms. He has seen it being robbed. All through this time, he had only one satisfaction: his country is not occupied. There are no American, French, or British troops in his country. Then he realizes, in the early 1990s, that even this small pleasure has been taken away from him. He has already been socialized by the CIA, armed by the Americans, and trained to believe deeply that when a foreigner comes into your land, you become violent. You fight. That was what the jihad in Afghanistan was about.

This whole phenomenon of jihad as an international armed struggle never existed in the last five centuries. It was brought into being and pan-Islamized by the American effort.

I think we should begin by recognizing that Pakistani and Indian rulers are caught in medieval militaristic minds. They are no more modern than the Clintons and the Bushes, who see power in terms of military prowess. We are living in modern times throughout the world and yet are dominated by medieval minds.

Thomas Friedman of the New York Times said that the terrorists "are driven by a generalized hatred of the U.S.

Thomas Friedman is a New York Times columnist. One does not associate either intelligence or depth with a New York Times columnist. Thomas Friedman writes without information or knowledge. It's an ignorant remark. It's a waste of time to try to respond to it. He actually in that article said that they hate America because America is so wealthy. He said that they hate America because it has technology and science and their children are all imitating America. This is nonsense. This is not analysis. This is witchcraft.

David Anderson is a senior lecturer at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. He comments that this battle will be a "long, perhaps never-ending, attritional war. Pandora's box has been opened, and it won't be closed again," discussing this issue of retaliation, counter-retaliation, an eye-for-an eye.

I don't see anything as historically permanent. Nothing in history has been permanent. Frankly, I don't think American power is permanent. It itself is very temporary, and therefore its excesses are impermanent and reactions to those excesses have to be, by definition, impermanent. If Anderson means the next five years, then he's right. If he means the next fifty, he may not be right. America is a troubled country, for too many reasons. One is that its economic capabilities do not harmonize with its military capabilities. The second is that its ruling class's will to dominate is not quite shared by its people's will to dominate.

What's the evidence for that?

The evidence is massive. If the American people had a will to dominate the world, they would have Iynched Bill Clinton at the first sign of his hanky-panky in the White House. I'll tell you why. Britain had a will to dominate in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Britain punished for very small crimes its most famous empire builders. Robert Clive was impeached and Warren Hastings was impeached, because an imperial society instinctively knows that it will not command respect on a global scale unless it shows uprightness at home. Unless it shows uprightness at home, it cannot commit excesses abroad. That's why imperial countries very often tended to be puritanical societies. The people of America don't want Clinton to resign because they think he's been a good president. They can separate his being commander-in-chief from his personal behavior. This is not a people with a will to rule. This is a people with a will to violence, yes, but not a will to dominate.

You can take other examples. A will to dominate means a willingness to sacrifice, to pay the price of it. The American public does not want American boys dying. So, in Somalia, when American Marines were attacked, the United States pulled out and sent in Pakistanis to do their dirty work and clean up the mess. They don't want to send troops abroad. They don't want to die in foreign lands. That is, they don't want to pay the price of power abroad, which they were willing to do during much of the Cold War. This changes after Vietnam. In that sense, George Bush notwithstanding, the "Vietnam syndrome" is very much alive.


Iran now has someone who is considered a "moderate" president, Mohammad Khatami. There have been some openings between the United States and Iran. What's your assessment of what's going on now inside Iran itself politically and externally? Does this signal a possible normalization of relations with the United States?

There has not been any opening between the United States and Iran yet. There have been gestures. The American wrestlers went there and the Iranian wrestlers came here and that kind of thing, but there has been no substantive opening between the two countries. Mohammad Khatami's government is being challenged by the radical conservatives in Iran. Therefore, what you are witnessing in Iran today is a struggle for power between two brands of Islamic politics. It's Islamism in both cases. One is more democratic than the other. One is more moderate, the other more radical. One has been in power, the other has not.

Khatami is new. He comes in with new social forces behind him. It is a very interesting struggle because beneath it are very fundamental issues about the future of Iran or the future of any third-world, particularly Muslim, society. Issues of the nature of the relationship between civil society and the state. Issues of the nature of culture and the relationship of culture to power. The issue of the nature of power itself: how is it to be made more accountable to the citizen, to the public? What is the nature of public discourse, the nature of the relationship between faith and politics? Those are all very fundamental issues at stake in the current struggle for power in Iran.

Khatami's group, if we are to use Western terminology, and it is not always applicable, represents an enlightened liberal view of the relationship between power and civil society. This group would like to see women freer, with fewer constraints than have been imposed on them under the present Islamic rule. They would have more freedom of speech and association than was allowed by the revolutionary system under Ayatollah Khomeini or than would be allowed by the conservative groups. They would seek more normal relations with Western countries and with America than the previous leadership. For all those issues, even in terms of the overall expression of Iran's politics, this is progress over what had preceded Khatami's administration. But remember that this government is the product of an election. Iran has continued to hold free elections, with fewer choices, but still free elections, which is not true of Saudi Arabia.

One would think that the Islamic theocracy in Iran would be sympathetic and supportive of a neighboring theocracy in Afghanistan, the government of the Taliban. But that's not the case at all. Iran is actively supporting what is called the "northern alliance" under Ahmed Shah Masood. What's going on there?

There is nothing surprising there. For one thing, we should not see Islamic movements as monolithic. There is a large variety of them. They range from the very modern to the totally primitive-in fact, so primitive that in the whole of Islamic history there is no parallel to them. The Taliban, for example, are literally unique in Islamic history in many respects. They are a product of modern times, of a certain social disease. The immediate reason for Iran to feel antipathy to the Taliban is that they are viewed by Iranians as suffering from two terminal defects. The first is that the Taliban were supported by the United States.



Until recently, actually. They will again be supported by them once this Osama bin Laden issue disappears. The second is that they are sectarian, orthodox Sunni Muslims. The Iranians are Shiites. As sectarian Sunni Muslims, they hate Shiites. It's like fundamentalist Catholics up against fundamentalist Protestants, both trying to set up a theocracy. Obviously there will be conflict between the two. It's a bad analogy, but it comes closest to what I can cite to you.

Recently there have been a number of advertisements and articles from U.S. commercial interests questioning the policy of sanctions and isolation of Iran. Particularly the U.S.-dominated oil, gas, and chemical multinationals are lobbying the government to reconsider its position. What do you make of this particular situation, where it seems that ideology is trumping commercial interests? Usually the commercial interests dominate, but here several U.S. administrations have seen it more important to isolate Iran diplomatically and to pay whatever economic cost that incurs.

It's an interesting problem. This is one of the myths of the left. Sometimes non-commercial vested interests get the better of commercial vested interests. A very good example would be the China lobby in the 1940s and 1950s. They were primarily responsible for blocking the United States from opening up to China-which the United States has done now, but almost twenty-five years too late-despite the fact that it was not in the American interest to maintain the blockade on China.

Something similar is happening in the case of Cuba, especially after the fall of the Soviet Union. A lot of American companies are interested in getting into Cuba. It's ninety miles away from the American coast. It has nearly 95 percent literacy, a skilled labor force, and an educated middle class. It would make a very good export platform because it also has very cheap labor; yet it remains closed because of the Cuban lobby. The lobby is very powerful. It bribes Congressmen. It has political action committees. So, it's a case of the tail wagging the dog.

The same is true of Iran. The Israeli government still doesn't approve of Iran. It feels that Iran is a big Middle Eastern country not wanting to accept Israel's control of Jerusalem. Therefore, Israel says Iran is dangerous and must be isolated. I think the Israeli lobby has done a lot to keep Iran isolated.

The New York Times had a front-page story on Iran testing a medium-range missile with a range of 800 miles. The headline says it is able to hit Israel and Saudi Arabia. They could have mentioned Turkey, Pakistan, or Afghanistan. Why the choices?

Because Israel is a strategic ally and Saudi Arabia has a strategic position. By saying that, you are creating a public opinion. The American public doesn't care if Iran hits or doesn't hit Pakistan. It cares if it hits Israel or Saudi Arabia, although it has less reason to hit Saudi Arabia and Israel than it has to hit Pakistan. It's not about to make war on either.

Let's go back to that idea you expressed about commercial interests vs. non-commercial ones. For example, in Guatemala, the United Fruit Company had an enormous economic interest there, and it was able to influence the 1954 coup.

I didn't say it's always the case. Occasionally it is the case. The norm is that commercial interests get their way. Their pressure groups are very strong. But occasionally you'll get a situation in which a very strong pressure group forms and creates for itself a cultural legitimacy. A convergence occurs between the rhetoric of the state and the pressure group. Take Cuba, for example. Cuba has been portrayed for almost forty years as a bad boy in the rhetoric of American officialdom. The media have by and large supported that. A lobby has developed along with that. It's incredibly strong in some ways. It's very focused. It has I only one goal: to prevent the resumption of normal relations between Cuba and the United States.


What are your views about recent events in Turkey? There seems to be a struggle between some Islamicist formations and more secular ones.

It has been nearly eighty years now since Turkey declared itself to be European. Turkey's identity has developed for the last eighty years away from the Middle East. Its ruling class doesn't want to be part of the Middle East. Turkey therefore has found itself making an alliance with Israel. On the other hand, the people generally know that they are not really Europeans, after all, and recognize that even more now. You have an Islamic movement that has taken hold in Turkey. It's a strong movement; in fact, it was the party in power and was dismissed unconstitutionally by the intervention of the army. Turkey is a troubled country because it is falling between the Middle Eastern stool and the European stool, and it doesn't seem to fit the crack.


What's the logic behind Turkey's military alliance with Israel?

The logic of that is that Turkey has at this moment one major ally and benefactor: the United States. The U.S. has helped forge the alliance between Turkey and Israel. The logic is really to encircle the Arabs. The Arabs are at the moment, if I could use the term, the true captive peoples. At the same time, they are a people who are showing signs of not wanting to remain captive. Therefore, the United States fears that they may rise again or they may learn to resist. When they resist, the U.S. will need a strong policeman to put them down. Israel and Turkey ~ <t are very good allies. ~ e'


The genocide of the Armenians in 1915 by the Ottoman Turks is called the first genocide of the twentieth century. Turkish governments continue to deny it to this day.

You may disagree with me on this one because I don't think it was done by the Ottoman Turks. The Turkish genocide of Armenians was the first expression of Turkish nationalism. The caliphate was still there, the Ottomans were still ruling, but they were already ceasing to be Ottoman rulers and becoming Turkish nationalists, which is why they lost the Middle East. They lost the loyalties of the Arabs because they turned to nationalism. Armenians had lived with the caliphate in relative safety until this particular ideology of difference, that is, nationalism, took hold. The ideology was that anyone who was not a Turk by blood was the Other. The Armenians were not killed for being Christian. They were killed for being Armenian. The Armenians in a very genuine sense were the first victims of the rise of nationalism in the Middle East. The Jews were the last victims of the rise of nationalism in Europe. And I hope that the Kurds are the last victims of the rise of nationalism in the Middle East.


Princeton University has now a chair funded by the Turkish government on Turkish history. Its principal function is to refute the genocide of the Armenians.

Is that really true? My God. All I can say, in that case, is that it's one more thing that Princeton is doing that I'm ashamed of. I think that the Turkish people will not be a free people until such time as it comes to terms with its own history, especially its modern history, which includes the genocide of the Armenians.

To say that it was a civil war is like saying that Turks were not a majority people. It is also like saying that Turks were not the upholders of power. Power was in their hands; a majority was in their hands; and the territory was theirs. They cannot dismiss it all as a civil war. They will be a bigger, greater people if they acknowledge this, just as I think the Germans are a bigger people today because they acknowledged the Holocaust. The Israelis would be a bigger people today if they acknowledged that they have committed a crime, a massive crime, against the Palestinians. The same is true of the Turks with the Armenians.


What you're suggesting is something that makes some Israelis very uncomfortable, the symmetry you were outlining there, the genocide of the Armenians, the Holocaust, and the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians.

It has been the destruction of a people. I should have added the Americans with American Indians. It's my failure that I did not remember the American Indians. But all that the Americans can say, if they want to say it in their favor, is that they didn't do it all at one time in a specified time and space frame. All that the Israelis can say is that they didn't really build gas chambers. For God's sake. They took lands from people; they took away water; they destroyed a culture. They are still doing it. A people doesn't survive if you take away from them their land, water, and culture. They drove people away. This is what the Israelis did in Palestine. True, the bloodshed was not the same; the number of heads chopped off was not the same; the number of deaths was not the same. Yet deprivation of a homeland, an attempt to obliterate a people from their soil, was there. Unfortunately, this is still going on. So, yes, I know how much the comparison must grate on the Israelis, and perhaps also on the Armenians. In fact, I found it striking that the Armenians I met in the Middle East, particularly in Palestine and Lebanon, were so strongly pro-Palestinian precisely because they knew instinctively that there was not symmetry, that these four cases are not symmetrical. They may be asymmetrical, but they are on the same terrain. One is a higher peak than the other, but the terrain is the same.


Your views on Zionism are largely I think shaped by your earlier comments on opposition to exclusivity and "the pitfalls of national consciousness. " i9

I praised earlier the Indian nationalism of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, because it was not exclusionary. It did not envisage a Hindu India in which there was no space for Muslims or Christians. In Israel today, even today, after the majority of the Palestinians have been either driven out or expelled-or are remaining as an occupied people-those Palestinians who are given citizenship rights are still third-class citizens. They don't have full citizenship rights. You speak to any American Jew here and ask him if he would like to live in America under the conditions that the Arab lives in Israel. His answer would be no. Don't say I'm making a comparison with Israel, because then his answer may change. Say, "Supposing as a Jew your property could be taken over by the state for security reasons while the same thing can't happen to the Christians." Say, "As a Jew you cannot join the armed forces, but the Christians can. Therefore, as a Jew you will not have access to the housing, to the educational scholarships, to the welfare system, to those lands to which Christians have access. Would you call yourself a citizen of America? " His answer would be no. It's an exclusionist state, a racialist state. I'm sorry.



You write about "the tenacity with which colonial culture has, after decolonization, held out and tightened its grip on Pakistan and India as a case in point. Its persistence is defined by the failure of the post-colonial elite to spawn alternative values and styles as foundations of a new culture. "

The post-colonial state is a bad version of the colonial one. The structures of the post-colonial state are the same, that is, a centralized power, a paternalistic bureaucracy, and an alliance of the military and landed notables. The structure of the state has remained the same; but new problems have emerged, and this old system cannot work....

The colonial state was not about being of service to the colonized. It was about exploitation and extraction of resources. The post-colonial state is exactly the same. This intelligentsia, this bourgeoisie-the propertied class of the third world-is as heartless in its lack of concern for the poor, in some ways even more so, as the colonial state. There has been a near breakdown of the institutions of higher learning. A new intelligentsia, rooted in that soil, informed of the country's problems, having some sense of responsibility as to what is happening to people, has not been produced. They are now sending their children to American universities, just like Iranians did a bit earlier. There were 60,000 Iranian students studying in the United States at the time of the Iranian revolution in 1979. There are 15,000 to 20,000 Pakistanis studying here now. More will be coming. Even the middle class, the intelligentsia, is cut off from the problems of the people. They are building a system of apartheid in which the poor are separated from the rich and the rich are connected to the West, to the metropolis. It's a bad situation. I hope it will change. I should not give you as bleak a picture, because there are people who are trying to turn this tide in a different direction or stop it; they are small, but they are trying.


Yeats wrote about something you're describing in his poem "The Great Day ": "The beggars have changed places but the lash goes on. " So, even with independence, there hasn't been significant change. Didn't Frantz Fanon say liberation is not merely changing one policeman for another?

I don't remember the exact quote, but that was roughly his argument also: unless we think in terms of alternatives that empower people and make alternative plans for economic growth, then the future remains quite bleak. Fifty years after the start of decolonialization, I think we are turning around to admit that it was a necessary step but not a sufficient one. We have not gone from the necessary to the sufficient.


Groups like the Third World Network, based in Penang, Malaysia, suggest that through the mechanisms of so-called free trade agreements, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank, the hegemonic powers have to some extent recolonized the former colonies.

I agree with the argument, but I have one difficulty with it. It seems to me that we are always reinventing the wheel in which we have been caught anyway for a long, long time. I don't think that we are going through a process of recolonization because we never really went through the process of decolonialization. Take my country. Pakistan is a large country; it has a population of 140 million now. The British ruled this area with the help of three institutions: the army, the bureaucracy, and the feudal landlords. The army and the bureaucracy had top commanders who were English. Top civil servants were often English. Just below them there were a large number of Indians serving them. See the structure. The reality was that our economy was tied to the metropolitan economy. We produced to supply Britain. We bought our consumer goods mostly from Europe or the industrialized world.

Now take a look at Pakistan for the last fifty years. It's exactly that situation. A British-trained army, a British-trained bureaucracy, and the same feudal landlords who had collaborated with the British constitute the triangle of power. We buy most of our armaments from the West and China. We produce very little on our own. Most of our big products come from industrialized countries. The numbers have increased. Previously imports came from Britain. Now it is mostly America, plus Japan and Germany. Globalization has increased the number of buyers and sellers in our countries. Nothing else has changed. So, the economic reality has not changed and the political reality has not changed. Why, then, should we talk about recolonization? Pakistan never became a decolonized country. Never. And it is not being recolonized in the period of globalization. Globalization is merely changing the structure of the international economy. It is not changing the structure of our economies.


The Indian environmentalist and activist Vandana Shiva told me a story. She went to a village and was describing globalization, the expansion of multinational corporations into India and elsewhere. A villager wasn't quite getting it. Then all of a sudden he said, "Oh, now I understand. The East India Company has returned."

That's a very good story. The Company Bahadur, they used to call them.


The East India Company being perhaps the first of the multi-nationals.

There was the Dutch East India Company and several others. The East India Company was the ultimate winner in India. Today, of course, the intensity and scope of multinationals have increased vastly. The means of communication and production have increased. The rapidity of production and the power and capabilities to reproduce have expanded enormously. With increasing volume, the number of traders and producers has increased. But the structure has not changed. I'm afraid that I'm more conventional in this regard. I go with the Monthly Review group's argument that the structure of capitalism has not changed significantly. Its intensity and scope have.


PBS is very strange. The BBC did a very successful film on Edward Said and his work, The Idea of Empire, and they did this documentary on me. They are both American documentaries in some ways. Both of us have lived here and made some name here, Edward of course much more than me. We have played a role in American history: I in the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements, and other things, and Edward in the academy particularly. Yet PBS and no other American network has ever thought of replaying them. A lot of money has been spent in doing these documentaries by the BBC. PBS takes things like Masterpiece Theater from the BBC but nothing serious like this.




Let's move on. 1998 is the l50th anniversary of the Communist Manifesto. There are various symposia and conferences being held around this event. What are your thoughts on the relevance of Karl Marx and his legacy today?

First, Marx focused our attention on the poor and the working class. Second, Marx and Frederick Engels rather brilliantly warned of and chalked out the exploitative oppressive patterns of capitalist development and the workings of the capitalist system. That capitalism has not been defeated or changed and continues to demonstrate a great deal of resiliency and dynamism are both true and were actually argued by Marx rather consistently; but it doesn't take away from the fact that capitalism is an exceptionally unjust system. We still have to figure out how to do away with it, or at least its worst features. That challenge remains, and that challenge was posed by Karl Marx.

Finally, the biggest achievement of Marx and Marxism may have been to offer us the methodology of analyzing social and historical realities. I do not think anyone has so far come up with a substitute for historical materialism as an explanation for the turns of history, the processes of history. Nor has anyone elaborated the idea of dialectics into a methodological system in the way that Marx and Marxism did. These are not mean achievements. These are high achievements, and were made within the context of focusing the minds of the educated class, or at least a certain sector of it, on peoples other than themselves-the poor, the working class, the oppressed, the weak, even the distant ones. This had never happened before.

The history of humanity is replete with the rejection of the Other. It is replete with callousness toward the Other, toward the habit of and traditions of and the intellectual outlook of that which is not you or not yours. Marx and Marxism focused the intelligentsia's attention in a positive way on the Other, the poor, the weak. And at least a section of the intellectual class, the intelligentsia as a whole, students, others, saw it as their moral and intellectual responsibility to comprehend reality in order to change it, to make the world better for all and not for themselves only. I don't think there had ever been such a class in history before. Once such a culture was created, you had a completely different view of producing literature and producing cinema, which we see, for example, in the films of Vittorio DeSica, Satyajit Ray, or, for that matter, people like Jean-Luc Godard. These are works of artists of the 1930s, 1940s, into the 1950s, replete with the idea of the Other viewed in positive, empathetic, and sympathetic ways. It introduced the notion of kindness, of a non-narcissistic outlook on life. These are not minor achievements. To the extent that these existed before Marx, to the extent they existed at all, they were associated with the religious person. This was the first time you saw secular intellect focus on issues of the common good.



What accounts for capitalism's relative resilience, its ability to survive as an economic system?

It's a powerful system based on two important premises. One is that human beings are greedy. Greed is the strongest singular drive in the human animal. Greed for everything-money, power, accumulation, things to consume. The second is that reproduction is possible and good, and therefore, to organize for reproduction is the epitome of human endeavor. It's a very dynamic system. It takes unusual individuals who wouldn't be caught in it.


Do you have a sense, being outside the United States after living and working here for so many years, that your perspective on the country is changing?

Not really. I come. Often I spend two or three months each year in the United States. The country is changing. My perspective, I don't think, is changing very much. It's a country that has lost most of the gains that it had made from the New Deal, from the civil rights movement, and from the peace movement. These were major gains that I did not expect America to squander.


What do you attribute that to?

For one thing, those long years of Ronald Reagan and George Bush, but those long years themselves indicate that something had changed. Then the coming to office of someone as visionless and as unreliable as Bill Clinton. Finally, and it's important, this is too comfortable a country. Where there is so much comfort possible, especially for radicals and former radicals, a softening with age essentially occurs. There are very few hard nuts that don't change, like Noam Chomsky or Howard Zinn. You can't expect everyone to be that tough.



The argument is made that the Jewish people have been persecuted historically for millennia and have only one homeland: Israel. On the other hand, there are more than twenty Arab states. The Palestinians could go to any one of them, speak Arabic, and be culturally at home. How do you respond to that?

This is a polemical argument. It's very difficult to respond to it without sounding polemical. It is a historical fact that the Jewish people suffered unique forms of persecution all over Europe. They confronted prejudices even in the United States until very recently. It is also historically known and fully recognized by the best of Jewish scholars that, in relative terms, Jews had a much better time in the Islamic world. So that right up to the nineteenth century we spoke of the Judeo-Arab civilization in the same way as during the last half of the twentieth century we speak of the Judeo-Christian civilization. European anti-Semitism, which was not anti-Semitism of the Arabs, climaxed in the Holocaust. If the establishment of a Jewish nation within a specific territory and statehood was called for because of this persecution, it should have occurred in the Western world-in America or Europe-and not in the Arab world. The Arabs were not guilty of persecuting the Jews. The guilt was here, and therefore its expiation should have occurred here. I don't believe that expiation is a proper answer to such problems, but if expiation was needed, perhaps the Allies could have decided that a Jewish state would be founded in a part of Germany. Or they could have decided that it would be in a part of Poland or America. Why displace the Palestinians, who have lived in Palestine for more than 2,000 years, who have tilled that soil, who have built cities there, why displace them to accommodate the guilt of Europe? That's one answer. Sounds polemical.

But my real answer is that statehood, nationhood, is not a solution to the problems of our time. Black people have been persecuted here for a very long time. They were brought in as slaves. They were kept as indentured labor. They have remained in one way or another discriminated against in this country. Is the answer the creation of a black state in the South? Shall we turn Alabama and Mississippi into two black nations? No. The answer is: end the discrimination, overcome the prejudices, bring about integration of two peoples, restore democratic rights, create binational states, and build multicultural entities. The answer to evil is removal of evil, not its consolidation into statehoods.

So, you create a Jewish state. What comes out of it? What comes out of it, really, is a state in which I honestly think any self-respecting American or European Jew would not want to live. I will tell you why. If the United States had laws that Israel has, no self-respecting Jew would live here. It would discriminate against the Jews. They would not be able to buy property in the same way as the Christians do. They would not be able to join the army. They would not work in the civil service. In Israel today there are two categories of citizens. There are Jews and Arabs. The Arabs are third-class citizens without all the citizenship rights that Jews enjoy. Is that a statehood that the Jews would like to have here? The answer is no. I wouldn't want any Jewish person or black person or Muslim person to live in an America that discriminates against them. The solution is multiculturalism, binationalism, and equality of citizenship. It's not exclusionary statehoods.


The United States has sowed in the Middle East and South Asia very poisonous seeds. These seeds are growing now. Some have ripened, and others are ripening. An examination of why they were sown, what has grown, and how they should be reaped is needed. Missiles won't solve the problem.



One of the terms you've coined is "pathologies of power" in postcolonial states. " What do you mean by that?

By that I mean the fact that third-world politicians and institutions, individuals who hold power and the institutions they run, do not express themselves most of the time in reasonable ways.

Saddam Hussein of Iraq requiring typewriters to be licensed is pathological. Saudi Arabia opening universities, which is a good thing, but fearing that the students shouldn't get together-because they might talk politics or revolt-and therefore doing everything to prevent the students from discussing matters, from meeting together, and from collaborating-this is the exact reverse of what universities should be.

Third-world writers are among the most endangered species in the world. Nearly all Arab writers today are living in exile of one form or another. The only great novelist Saudi Arabia has ever produced in its entire history is Abdelrahman Munif. He has been divested of his citizenship. It is as if a body politic, a social body, is cutting itself off from something important, something creative. Munif lives in exile in Damascus. Adonis, another important writer, is a Syrian. He lives in exile in Paris or sometimes in Beirut. In Pakistan, since independence, I think there has not been a major literary figure who has not served time in prison. To me these are all examples of sickening behavior on the part of the state which expresses an illness, a pathology. These are not natural ways of behaving.


There's the case also of the Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasrin.

Taslima Nasrin is one of the recent examples of what is happening. This is not normal, especially when you think of the fact that most of these writers, a majority of them, are really not saying or doing anything that is threatening. Taslima Nasrin is not a great writer. She wrote a novel in which she portrays the risks that the Hindu minority runs in a majority Muslim Bangladesh. She is alleged to have given an interview in which she said something to the effect that she does not believe that the traditions of the prophet Muhammad are binding on Muslims. Whether she said it or not, we do not know. She denies it, and for that she's been driven out. These are all pathological behaviors.

I can cite many more. Benazir Bhutto, in the space of three and a half years as prime minister, stole nearly $2 billion from a poor country like Pakistan. That's pathology. She doesn't need that kind of money. She was already a rich woman.


Nawaz Sharif says that he thinks the introduction of sharia, Islamic law, would be a good thing for Pakistan.

I wrote about this as soon as Sharif proposed a fifteenth amendment to the constitution. I argued that Islam has been, in Pakistan and also in other Muslim countries, a refuge for weak and scoundrel regimes and rulers in modern times. Whenever they feel threatened and isolated-and are losing their grip, losing popularity, and losing the consensus of the people-they bring out Islam from the closet and use it as a political weapon. That's what Nawaz Sharif is doing. He has been in office now for nearly two years. Pakistan's economy has not improved. It's in very bad shape. He tested nuclear weapons and Pakistan's security has not improved. The perception of security has not improved. Our basic disputes with India have not been resolved. He supported the Taliban in Afghanistan, which has brought us in conflict with Iran, as if we needed one more hostile neighbor. And there are very serious allegations now, starting with an article that appeared in the London Observer, that in his first government in 1990 he had stolen a lot of money and transferred it to foreign banks. Under these conditions, Sharif pulls Islam out from the closet and he starts the process of "Islamization." This is a typical use of religion for political purposes.


Switch on your television. All the advertisements are about your individual comfort, consumption, and pleasure. It is drilled into children and adults day in and day out. It has an effect that shapes our minds. The notion of solidarity beyond self and beyond family, beyond the small group, has become increasingly alien in modern consumer-oriented American society.

The United States has a $7 trillion dollar economy. One trillion dollars, one-seventh of the economy, is spent on marketing.

If we do not take risks we cannot serve the common good.

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