Noam Chomsky and the terrors of the earth

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By Alexander Carpenter

Noam Chomsky is the Institute Professor Emeritus of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Chomsky is credited with the creation of the theory of generative grammar, considered to be one of the most significant contributions to the field of linguistics made in the 20th Century.

In the BBC interview below, Chomsky discusses his thesis on terrorism, explicated in his book, Pirates and Emperors, Old and New: International Terrorism in the Real World.

This updated edition of Noam Chomsky's classic dissection of terrorism explores the role of the U.S. in the Middle East, and reveals how the media manipulates public opinion about what constitutes "terrorism."

Chomsky starts by tracing the changing meaning of "terrorism," examining how it originally referred to violent acts by "governments designed to ensure popular submission." He calls its current application "retail terrorism," practiced by "thieves who molest the powerful." Chomsky argues that appreciating the differences between state terror and nongovernmental terror is crucial to stopping terrorism, and understanding why atrocities like the bombing of the World Trade Center happen.

In comparing the "war on terror" launched by George W. Bush to that of his father and Ronald Reagan's administrations, Chomsky recalls Winston Churchill's summation of the terror by the powerful: "The rich and powerful have every right to demand that they be left in peace to enjoy what they have gained, often by violence and terror; the rest can be ignored as long as they suffer in silence, but if they interfere with the lives of those who rule the world by right, the 'terrors of the earth' will be visited upon them with righteous wrath, unless power is constrained from within."

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at