2016•11•10 Barcelona, Spain
Professor Noam Chomsky’s visit to UNU-GCM in Barcelona provided an exciting opportunity to exchange with one of the world’s great intellectuals. During two public events organized by UNU-GCM, Professor Chomsky provided a critical analysis of contemporary international challenges, particularly in relation to migration.
On November 5th, Professor Chomsky gave a lecture on “Crises of Immigration” to an audience of over 1,400 people at the Palau de Congressos de Catalunya. UNU-GCM also hosted a graduate masterclass with Professor Chomsky for a smaller audience of 200 participants on November 7th at the Sant Pau Modernist Site, with reflections on his work by Professor Paula Casal, University Pompeu Fabra and Dr. Paul Bou-Habib, University of Essex.
Professor Chomsky opened his lecture by reiterating Pope Francis’ words: “Migrants are not a danger — they are in danger” as the essence of the “immigration crisis”. He argued that such crises are in fact moral crises in wealthy Western states, noting that those countries with the least responsibility for creating refugees are those handed the most responsibility for welcoming them. For example, in Lebanon some 40% of the population are refugees, and in comparison Western countries can surely do more. Professor Chomsky offered a rich analysis of historical examples of forced migration and displacement, and the painful and enduring legacies of colonialism, slavery and military intervention by powerful states, which are at the very roots of the challenges that we face today.
During the masterclass, questions posed by Professor Casal, Dr. Bou-Habib, and attendees gave Professor Chomsky the opportunity to delve into concepts in a more theoretical way. Professor Chomsky linked his work on linguistics to his work on human rights by discussing the parallels between a universal linguistic grammar and a universal moral grammar.
Professor Chomsky detailed his justification for Western states having a responsibility to refugees as partly due to their ability to help, and partly due to their culpability for creating situations that produce refugees. Western states have the ability to help because of they have been the beneficiaries of past crimes for which they are responsible, in addition to their present culpability. Through this lens, the distinctions between political, environmental and economic refugees and migrants break down. Professor Chomsky argued that applying different policies to different groups cannot be justified once the culpability of certain states in creating political, economic and environmental crises in other parts of the world is recognized. He paid particular attention to climate change, emphasizing the potentially catastrophic environmental and human consequences. He raised the specific example of Bangladesh in this context, and spoke about an imminent refugee crisis in South Asia as a result of climate change.
Many students sought wisdom for the future, wondering how best to deal with the crises the world is facing. Professor Chomsky said one key question, to which no one has the answer, is whether the global capitalist system is flexible enough to enable us to deal with contemporary crises. Still, he believes there is hope for the future, instructing individuals to take advantage of the freedom to inform themselves, discuss and take collective action.
The text of Professor Chomsky’s lecture is available here, and videos of both events will be made available on the UNU-GCM website.