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Nov 172013
The interview, “Syria and Our Educational System” (https://chomsky.info/interviews/20131013.htm; obtained on 11-16-2013), in which “Noam Chomsky, Richard Falk, Lawrence Davidson and Ilan Pappé interviewed by Daniel Falcone” was published in “Truthout October 13, 2013″. The interview ended the following way:
“DAVIDSON: … Most of the time, teachers who talk about the Middle East do not know the history, culture or present context of the problems they are discussing. So they go to the media, which quote government or academic ‘experts’ (who often are no such thing) or journalists who, by virtue of working for the media, are supposed to know what they are talking about. In the end they know little or nothing beyond a standard line that reflects the perceptions of the US government and its special-interest supporters. That is what the students get. Indeed, that is what we all get. 

PAPPÉ: While in the American academia the knowledge production on the Middle East in general and Syria in particular has been considerably transformed in recent years, the dissemination of these more updated views fails to reach the conventional educational system. For two main reasons: Politics can still subdue and censor views that are not endorsed ideologically, and academics have still not learned how to write openly, directly and, one should say, courageously about these issues.

FALCONE: Can you recommend articles, authors and book titles that can help teachers break the traditional mold of textbook teaching that tend to conceptualize the Near East narrative incorrectly?

DAVIDSON: Well, the best textbook on the market is the one I co-authored with Arthur Goldschmidt, the Concise History of the Middle East (Westview Press). Students and teachers also now have access to web sources that often give an alternate point of view, such as Al Jazeera English and Electronic Intifada. One can balance the standard line on events if one does a bit of searching.

FALK: The literature on the region is generally not very good. The writing on individual countries is far better. There are some books edited by the Iraqi scholar teaching in Canada Tareq Ismael that give good and balanced overviews of regional issues, and I would suggest Edward Said for the cultural underpinnings of misperceptions relating to the region.

FALCONE: Another observation in US media is the marriage of the word terrorist with Muslim. In other words, after last week’s shooting at the D.C Naval Yard, news anchors would say, ‘We still don’t know if the suspected killer is a terrorist.’ What kind of impact might this habitual commentary have on our educational system?

CHOMSKY: The intended meaning is clear: Demonize Muslims, and deflect attention from the obvious but unutterable fact that the US has been the leading terrorist state in the world for many years.

DAVIDSON: The continual linking of the notions of terrorist and terrorism with Muslims and the Middle East is, essentially, an act of propaganda that cannot help but promote ‘Islamophobia.’ Shooting down a dozen innocent people (as happened in Washington, DC, last week) at random is an act of terrorism, no matter who does it. What possible justification can there be to restrict the definition to adherents of a particular religion? If the reply is 9/11, the counter fact is that 99.5 percent of the world’s Muslims were as appalled at that event as everyone else.

PAPPÉ: Similar demonization of Muslims was done in Norway in the first hours after the massacre carried out by a white supremacist. The demonization has been in the US, long before 9/11, as Edward Said’s Unveiling Islam has shown. Films, media, educational system and arts portray Muslims in a racist and negative way. The more interesting question, for which we have no time right now, is who is behind these images.

FALK: There is no doubt that this fusion of terrorist and Muslim feeds virulent forms of Islamophobia, which is also encouraged by such incidents as the Westgate Mall massacre in Nairobi and the Anglican Church bombing in Pakistan. 9/11 greatly intensified this tendency toward fusion, but it had also been nurtured by Israeli propaganda that portrayed their Palestinian and Arab adversaries as ‘terrorists.’ In fact, the US government approach after 9/11 was modeled in many of its features on Israeli tactics developed during the long occupation of Palestine.

FALCONE: Have you ever been invited to speak at a high school on the Muslim world? Why might this be so unlikely to happen? 

CHOMSKY: I think you know why it’s unlikely. I’ve occasionally been asked to talk on Israel-Palestine. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it elicits hysteria in the community.

DAVIDSON: I have not been invited into a Muslim high school, but I have been invited to speak to college classes in the Muslim world. I think this is simply because I am better-known in college and university circles. There is no inherent reason why I would be unwelcome at the high school level.

FALK: I have been invited a few times over the years, usually at the initiative of student groups, not the school administration or faculty. This seems unlikely to happen both because of bias and fear of controversy. 

PAPPÉ: Yes, but mostly because those who invited me did not know who I was.

FALCONE: Do you read the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs? What are your thoughts on the publication?

CHOMSKY: Not trustworthy in my opinion, though I often agree with their conclusions.

DAVIDSON: Yes, this is a very good source of information. It is one of those sources that people should use to get an alternative view of what is going on in the region and what are the consequences of US foreign policy. 

PAPPÉ: Excellent and informative publication.

FALK: I believe that the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs is a valuable resource, probably the best offset to the mainstream treatment of the region. It consistently publishes insightful commentary on delicate issues of US foreign policy bearing on the Middle East and also interprets developments in the region in a more illuminating way.”


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Louis DeCola, Jr.  © 2013                                    The Hygiology Post ®