On my Chomsky's meeting

Sitting next to a linguist, philosopher and cognitive scientist, means that you are ready for a scientific banquet that may never get you saturated. And indeed that’s what happened to me when I sat next to the “father of modern linguistics”, Noam Chomsky, talking with him about languages, poetry, imagination, and other things.

We were in the main conference hall at the Islamic University of Gaza (IUG), surrounded by dozens of students, doctors and professors from Lebanon, Algeria, France, Canada, the U.S., Britain, Malaysia and China.  I was the youngest one in the first class seats and felt like an alien.  But Dr. David Heap, French and Linguistics professor, welcomed me, and though certainly not in attempt to cross the laws of Islam that prohibit women and men from sitting side by side, he generously offered me his seat so I would be right next to Prof. Chomsky…and I accepted.

I turned to Chomsky and said, “Hey.” Chomsky smiled subtly and said “hi”. “I read almost all your books and I’m in love with your mind,” I said artfully.  I glimpsed a sense of pride glittering in his eyes. “Thanks, but let’s talk after the lecture…” he said.

However, I couldn’t focus on listening to the speaker, so I went on talking. “What do you think…”  But Chomsky interrupted me saying, “Give me your notebook.”  I gave him my notebook and he wrote down, “it is ‘fiendishly’ difficult to identify the genetic basis for a trait.” Fiendishly? I had no idea what this word means, but felt it means extremely difficult or obscure, and I was excited that the Prof Chomsky would write such a sophisticated word for me (later I looked it up and saw that it means: diabolically cruel and wicked.)  But back to our conference at IUG.  Having written in my notebook, Chomsky got back to his deep silence, listening to the speaker on stage, but I pushed him to talk more, and he soon “left the lecture” and continued to talk to me

In short, he said that imagination is the essence of poetry, and that poetry is not innate to human nature. Because tastes vary, he said, and not everyone strives to create beauty. Moreover, not everyone is gifted with the ability to look inside and discover the poetry..

Regarding the Arab Spring, Chomsky wasn’t exited about it, and said that the U.S. does not want real democracy in Middle East.

It was my second and final meeting with Chomsky. Then he had to leave the main conference hall (as I understood and knew he had an urgent meeting with Ismail Haniya, the senior political leader of Hamas).

He obscurely smiled at me, and quietly vanished away behind the door. I could see the white field of almonds on his head.  It was his white hair and his peaceful spirit.

My meeting with Chomsky was a great experience, although I disagreed with him about his view that One Democratic State Solution is not a good idea to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, adding that he’s against the international and Palestinian calls to boycott Israel academically and economically. Because that will strengthen support for Israel, he claimed.

Let me ask you, why doesn’t the world support the Palestinians who have been beaten by the Israelis in Jerusalem, Hebron, Gaza and everywhere, everyday?.

Boycott of Israel is a minimal punishment to a violent occupation that has no mercy!.

2 thoughts on “On my Chomsky's meeting

  1. Not everyone strives to create beauty…

    This is so true!

    And wow, what a post – my aunt and uncle have referenced his writing a few times in emails, and even if you don’t agree on everything, as you say, it was still a wonderful opportunity.

    This world is full of voices and powers that do not always align with what people think in their hearts. There’s a lot of hyperbole out there, a lot of manipulation of information. As I was growing up, Kawther, I never saw how much it was that way – but as I moved around to different places, the view changes.

    I keep hoping that with the world – the internet, the ability for people to speak more freely with each other around the world, that the human race will take advantage of this opportunity for people to see past “what they are told” and instead look themselves for a deeper and more complex reality.

    Even so, though, I think people feel powerless to change what they dislike about the world – even in their own homes, their own towns – and even less in a far away place they have never been, or seen. So much greed, so much corruption – and, particularly in the West – so much distraction, clever distraction.

    Buy this. You will be happy.
    Do this. You will be happy.
    This is right.
    That is wrong.
    You will be happy.
    These are the good guys, these are the bad guys.

    Like a children’s book, where the answers are simple, so people feel comforted. It’s a lie, of course, but people like lies sometimes.

    And these people, who may seem innocently cruel, they are mostly guilty of being only able to look most closely only at what is in front of them, and shape the world to fit their eyes.

    Does that make it right? No, and the situation in which you find yourself is unjust, and wrong, but you must never forget that many, many people in this world – MILLIONS of people – know there is more to this than “one side is right, one side is wrong”.

    Seeing the world with philosophical eyes instead of political ones —-this is a dying art! And it is hard, and sometimes I worry too few people understand that not only is it important to be able to do that, it’s essential in a small world like this one.

    Thousands of years of history, and we still haven’t learned to stop killing each other, stop hurting each other, stop judging each other, stop telling each other who to be, what to think, how to feel, what to wear, what to eat, drink, believe….

    As always, writing to you brings feelings of helplessness, but hope.

    We break the cycle by living as examples of what is possible. I do not know a better way.

    I remain your friend, and remain hopeful.


  2. Kawther,
    How wonderful that you sat next to Noam Chomsky and had this personal and philosophical conversation with him. Few people have such an experience. I own his book, Gaza in Crisis written with Illan Pappe. He is a man of great principal, the founder of MECA for Peace and someone very much on your side, even though what he says may not align exactly with your desires. I am impressed with your academic insight, your courage and your desire to learn from such a master linguist and philosopher. You are an amazing woman and I am proud to know you.
    Salam x,


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