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Lula Visits Chomsky Recovering from Stroke: “You Are One of the Most Influential People in My Life”

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The world-renowned linguist and dissident Noam Chomsky was discharged from a São Paulo hospital in Brazil last month as he continues to recover from a stroke last year that impacted his ability to speak. His wife, Valeria Wasserman Chomsky, told a Brazilian newspaper he still follows the news and raises his left arm in anger when he sees images of Israel’s war on Gaza. False reports that Chomsky had died went viral online in June. We speak with historian Vijay Prashad, who co-authored his latest book with Chomsky, The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power, and was able to visit him twice while in Brazil. He describes Chomsky as “a beloved friend, adviser, confidant, in some ways the one who helped explain what was happening in the world for decades.” When Prashad was with Chomsky, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva also stopped by.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

As we have reported, the world-renowned linguist, activist, intellectual Noam Chomsky was discharged from a São Paulo hospital in Brazil in June as he continues to recover from a stroke a year ago that impacted his ability to speak. His wife Valeria told a Brazilian newspaper he still follows the news and raises his left arm in anger when he sees images of Israel’s war on Gaza.

Well, we’re going to spend the rest of the hour with Vijay Prashad, the historian, journalist and director of the Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, author of 40 books, including his 2022 book, written with Noam Chomsky, The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power.

Before we move to this major piece, Vijay, that you just wrote on the Congo, we’re going to ask you about your visit with Noam Chomsky. You’re joining us from Cartagena, Colombia. You visited Noam twice in Brazil. Noam is now 95 years old. I know that his family is very private, as Noam was. If you can talk about — well, share what you will with us.

VIJAY PRASHAD: Well, first, Amy, it’s great to be with you.

And what can I say? Noam, a beloved friend, adviser, confidant, in some ways the one who helped explain what was happening in the world for decades, is 95 years old. And when he was 94, he suffered a stroke, in June last year. It’s difficult for anybody to recover from a stroke. If you’re 70, if you’re 80, it’s hard to recover from a stroke. When you’re 95, it’s really hard to recover. But he is an incredible person. His body is really strong. When I went to see him in the hospital in São Paulo last year, he was undergoing physical therapy. I was there with him just about a week, maybe 10 days ago. Noam was in pretty interesting shape. He was opening his eyes. He breathes by himself. He’s not on any kind of life support. He makes very deep eye contact. He plays with his dog Gus, throws a ball with his left hand. His right side of his body is not able to move as much as the left.

And while we were there, one of the days I was there, President Lula came to visit him. I mean, Amy, it’s extraordinary. Imagine Joe Biden or any other U.S. high official coming to visit Noam Chomsky in a hospital. It’s impossible to imagine. But Noam represents something to people around the world, billions of people. And when President Lula came, he said to Noam — he held his hand. They made deep eye contact. They had met before. And President Lula said to Noam, “You are one of the most influential people in my life.” He said, “The other writer that has influenced me as much as you is perhaps Eric Hobsbawm.” It was a very moving moment. He kissed him on the forehead, and so on.

You know, Noam is 95. We wish him comfort. We wish him joy. We hold him in our hearts. He is perhaps the most important person from the United States to speak about U.S. power. And, I mean, really, you know, what can I say? It is so moving to see him there with his eyes open, reflecting on what’s happening around him. When I told him that our book on Cuba is in press and ready to come out, there was a hint of a smile. You know, it meant a lot to me to be able to hold his hand and just sit there with him for some time. So, you know, he’s there in the world. And I know that twice already, Amy, there have been rumors that Noam Chomsky is dead. You know, I was able to tell him about the obituaries that had already come out, and again he smiled a little bit.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Vijay, could you, if you could — if you could summarize what you think is the most important legacy that Noam has left to the progressive and radical and revolutionary world?

VIJAY PRASHAD: I mean, it’s an incredible contribution that he’s made. Obviously, he’s made a great contribution as a linguist. I can’t speak to that. I’m not really able to understand much of those books. But I do know that, you know, during the Vietnam War, when Noam wrote his incredible text called “The Responsibility of Intellectuals,” he really put his finger at — pointing directly at the U.S. academy, at experts who were willing to go out there and collaborate with a bloc of power that was, you know, pummeling the Vietnamese people. Noam, then, like a genuine intellectual, with that immense responsibility that he writes about in The New York Review of Books, you know, he went to Vietnam. He went to the Plain of Jars in Cambodia. He directly saw what the U.S. bombing had done. He lectured in a bombed-out building in Hanoi to university professors who had been cut off from developments around the world. You know, when he was asked by them, “What’s the latest Norman Mailer novel like? What’s the this? What’s the that?” I mean, he had to talk about everything for them.

What is important about Noam Chomsky isn’t just this book about Israel or that book about Colombia or this position or that position. It’s that immense ability of a person to stand up against the crimes of his own country, to take on the responsibility of the intellectual and not flinch. You know, I asked him once, “Noam, you know, how is it possible that you’re able to take all this criticism of you, this incredible amount of criticism that you face?” And he said, “Well, you know, I don’t pay attention to it.” And then, with the big smile, he said, “I’m arrogant,” which I thought was a hilarious statement for him to make, because if anybody knows Noam Chomsky, he’s the most humble man. There’s not even an ounce of arrogance. But what he meant was, “I have a strength of character to stand up and tell them in Washington, D.C., that, ’Listen, I read all your documents. I know what you are saying. And this is actually the contradiction that I want to reveal about your crimes.” And that “Responsibility of Intellectuals,” articulated in 1967, the year I was born, that essay, has gripped him his entire life. And I very much hope intellectuals today will take not just, again, this or that argument made by Noam, but the example of what an intellectual should be. An intellectual must be courageous, must be willing to study everything that the people in power say and write, and then talk back to them with confidence and clarity.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Vijay, we want to thank you for your thoughts on Noam. Again, Vijay Prashad has just visited Noam Chomsky. He was just released from a hospital in São Paulo. He suffered a stroke about a year ago. Vijay is director of the Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research and author of 40 books, including two with Noam Chomsky, the 2022 book, The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power. Vijay and Noam’s new book, based on conversations they had before Noam’s stroke last year, is out this month. It’s called On Cuba: Reflections on 70 Years of Revolution and Struggle. And as Vijay said, when he was visiting Noam Chomsky, the Brazilian president, Lula, stopped by to visit professor Chomsky, as well.

When we come back, we’ll talk with Vijay Prashad about the Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo. It was 64 years ago this week that Patrice Lumumba gave the historic speech marking Congo’s independence from Belgium. Back in 20 seconds.

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Vijay Prashad: Resource-Rich Congo Still Fighting for Its Own Wealth 64 Years After Independence

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