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Chomsky Addresses Crisis in Middle EastAlive and Well, Professor Emeritus Speaks to Packed Audience in Kirsch Auditorium

Priya Ramaswamy

By the time I fought through last Thursday’s crowd in front of Kirsch Auditorium, 32-123, the auditorium was already packed with people, young and old, waiting to hear Noam Chomsky’s lecture on the Middle East crisis.

Even after a last-minute relocation from 54-100, many had to be turned away well before the speech began. Others tried to sneak in, claiming they had friends reserving seats in the already overflowing lecture hall. Of the people who fought for seats that evening — staff professors wanting to hear a colleague speak, passionate political science majors yearning to absorb the guru’s words, strict conservatives wanting to put the liberal on the spot — one person had even arrived two hours early for a front row seat to listen to a voice he hated.

However, there were also those who came just to listen — they wanted to be in a room with MIT’s most controversial man: Dr. Noam A. Chomsky, professor emeritus of linguistics.

Invited by the MIT Arab Students Organization and the MIT Muslim Students Organization, Chomsky spoke of Western media bias of the Middle East. In the two-hour presentation, Chomsky detailed the history and present day conditions in Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, and Iran.

Among many strong critiques made during the speech, Chomsky called Iraq “a hideous catastrophe” and alluded to the United States’ role in the Israel-Palestine conflict, saying “we don’t see [the] destruction of [a] nation … because we are carrying it out; it is invisible.” Chomsky said that he defended his stance using information that Western media fails to publicize.

Chomsky starkly criticized Western media and the United States for its affairs in the Middle East. He sympathized with countries like Palestine, a nation categorized as an enemy by the US and Israel.

Speaking of American foreign policy, Chomsky said, “first we fix the outcome, then we do the negotiations.” Some audience members nodded their heads, while others shook them in disappointment. Chomsky also turned some heads, stating that for Iran’s neighbors, the “US military presence in Iraq is ranked a greater threat than Iran’s nuclear weapons.”

Following his speech, Chomsky fielded several questions concerning the MIT community. When asked of CIA recruitment at MIT and what should be done about stopping that practice, Chomsky answered that this is not a new issue and that in the 1960s “MIT Poli. Sci. was funded by the CIA.” Chomsky added that the CIA later went across the street to Harvard. Short laughter followed his comment.

One audience member, probably a Harvard student, asked why there is no Harvard professor who teaches students to challenge authority. Several audience members responded and comically advised the questioner to come to MIT instead. Looks of glee shot across the faces of many MIT students attending the lecture.

Many of the listeners attended Chomsky’s lecture because the seriousness of the topic intrigued them. Samuel H. Poon ’09, who has read several of Chomsky’s political books, said the professor “bases his opinion on valid evidence.” Poon also believes that “the Western media fails to cover the whole side of the story,” and that Chomsky works “to really reveal the other side of the story.”

“Many people hear the name Chomsky and no matter what the topic of discussion is, they come,” Iman Kandil ’09, a member of both organizations that planned the event, said in an e-mail. She also mentioned that “Chavez’s comment about Chomsky having died probably made many people come.”

However, the real root of the issue is helping the MIT community understand the conflicts occurring in the West and “promoting Palestinian Awareness on campus,” according to Kandil.