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Michelle Haimoff

Michelle Haimoff

Posted: December 3, 2008 10:10 AM

My Uncensored Interview with Deepak Chopra


I recently wrote an article entitled "Deepak Chopra on Mumbai: Too Controversial for CNN?" about Chopra's November 26th interview on CNN, which CNN had possibly edited. Within a week of the interview, Dorothy Rabinowitz of the Wall Street Journal wrote an article entitled "Deepak Blames America," and Elisabeth Hasselbeck of The View called him "Glitter glasses whatshisface" and mumbled "Go light a bowl of incense." On December 2nd, I interviewed Chopra by phone and gave him the opportunity to speak candidly about censorship in the media, the new patriotism, and latent anti-Muslim racism in the United States. The unedited podcast of the interview can be heard at http://michellehaimoff.podomatic.com/.

Chopra started off by clarifying what happened in the CNN interview. "The interview actually went on for another ten minutes when I was doing it but it was a tape. So it wasn't a live interview. It was taped because I had just finished Larry King and I had to go somewhere. So the actual interview was ten minutes longer than what you saw. Even the online interview version that you saw did not have the total interview because in my interview I talked about -- I take the vow (of non-violence), etc, etc -- I talk about a lot of things which were not there on the transcript."

As far as what was cut, he says, "I spoke about how we are funding both sides of the conflict through our military-industrial complex, which is a huge industry and we fund it through our petrodollars, through the Saudis who then buy weapons from all over the world, but including from us. And these weapons end up in the hands of terrorists as well, so willy-nilly we are participating in the funding on both sides."

In the interview, he mentions petrol dollars going to Saudi Arabia through Pakistan. He explains: "Saudi Arabia funds, among other things, the Mujahidin, Taliban and ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence). So our dollars end up funding these terrorists. And if you are aware of the history, at one time we were funding these people directly -- you know, Taliban, ISI, Mujahidin. It started with the Mujahidin which became the Taliban, which are in turn supported by ISI, which is independent of the Pakistan government, even though it's part of the Pakistan body, you know, they don't have direct control over it. And ISI is well known to enlist the help of Taliban Mujahidin and also give them help. In fact, when we went to Afghanistan and wanted to go after the terrorists we would seek the help of Pakistan government who would pass on information to ISI, who then passes it on to the terrorist groups. So, in fact, instead of helping us, they were basically abetting and co-conspiring with the terrorists."

"It's a very complex situation." He says. "What I've discovered is that, if you start to tell the truth in that atmosphere that -- are you recording this?"

"Yes." I say.

"If you start to tell the truth or even want to know the truth, the atmosphere that has been created in the last eight years in the Bush administration and also with the patriot act and so on... if you start to even look in that direction in the last eight years it has become extremely dangerous because you, first of all, are accused of not being patriotic. You probably want to see the US government overthrown and you are a traitor. I've got some really good friends at CNN and other places... The good people are scared. They've been scared. It's very different to snap out of that mindset."

Chopra hopes that the Obama presidency will encourage freedom of speech, honesty and integrity, and that the media will no longer view critical citizenry as treasonous.

"I have lived more years in this country than I have lived in India. My children are born here. They're citizens of this country as much as Obama is. And I get hate mail from tons of people, hundreds of people everyday saying, 'You should go back to India. You're a traitor. You're this or that.' It's an atmosphere that has been created for eight years. It does a great disservice in the United States to have that atmosphere. And I'm just feeling right now that opportunity to really test if we can speak our truth and not be afraid. Otherwise we might as well live in the former USSR or in China or something. Even in India you can speak your truth and not have to be afraid of being accused of these things by the government or by special interest groups."

But why would a network like CNN censor itself for fear of seeming unpatriotic? What are they afraid of?

"Michelle, we have to be very careful that we don't assume that," he said. "That CNN is afraid. Then we'd be doing the same thing that other people do -- just making assumptions. My perception is that journalists at large are not comfortable by raising sensitive issues... News is sold as a commodity these days and the more sensational it is, the better it is."

He later continued: "I just want to clarify one thing. I don't want to imply that the reason that the interview was cut off suddenly was because of some policy decision. If anything, CNN is more open than anybody else." For example, he says, it could have been a segment time issue.

Does he really think that CNN is more open than anyone else?

"I think CNN definitely. FOX and the Wall Street Journal are cheerleaders for the old paradigm. They're cheerleaders for right wing extremism and right wing fundamentalism... in a sense two institutions that do more disservice to our country than anybody else."

Chopra's understanding of Islamic extremists provides a much-needed glimpse at where these fundamentalists are coming from, but does the violence stem from a culture war or are terrorists settling the score for a perceived crime?

"Here is my analysis of it." He said. "There are 1.8 billion Muslims in the world. That's about 25% of the world's population. By no means are the majority of these people violent or fundamentalists either."

Chopra, who is a senior scientist at Gallup, was part of a team that conducted a poll of 600 million Muslims (about half of the Muslim population of the world). Countries polled included Pakistan, Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia. What he concluded in the poll is that the vast majority (92-95%) of Muslims are moderates, and they admire the West for their entrepreneurship, business and modernism. A small minority (<5%) are extremists, and of that we don't know how many are actual terrorists. His guess is very few.

Based on the survey, the cause of terrorism is "a rage that comes from humiliation, lack of respect, and also from factors that we are unaware of, generally uneducated about."

He cites Wikipedia estimates of the number of people that have died in Iraq since the war, ranging from 400,000 to over a million. "When we initiated the war on Iraq we forget to remind ourselves that the Iraqis had nothing to do with 9/11. Nothing to do with 9/11. We also know that the Iraqis had no weapons of mass destruction. We now say that Saddam Hussein was a mass murderer. That he used torture and that he needed to be out. We should remind ourselves that we knew this a long time ago and we have used him as our ally for a long time. He was in the senior Bush administration before the first war. You know, much before that... And then we decided to make him our enemy. Nothing changed. He was definitely a mass murderer. He was a torturer. When we did the Shock and Awe campaign. The Shock and Awe. Listen to the words. We're bombing Baghdad and many parts of the country we're calling it the Shock and Awe campaign."

"FOX News actually produced the Shock and Awe campaign as a theatrical production. They hired a musical director. They had symphonic music. And when you saw it on TV it was a glorious, glorious attempt to liberate the people of Iraq. It's easy for a person sitting in a plane 32,000 feet above sea level to press a button. When he looks at the map he presses a button. And you know, we're seeing it on screens. We're calling it Shock and Awe and we hear this beautiful music - sounds almost like Mozart - while this is happening, while on the ground there are grizzly scenes which we don't see in the media, of people being mutilated. People in the throes of death. Bodies all over the place. And gruesome scenes the American public is totally unaware of, but people in the Muslim world are very aware of... We are very self-absorbed."

The deaths that appear in our papers are Western deaths. The women, children and non-Jihadis that die are not part of our conversation.

"I think this kind of mentality that demeans the life of somebody who is perhaps brown, Muslim, inferior, is not that important, but it enlists huge amounts of rage. It takes some of the moderates and certainly makes them fundamentalists. It takes some of the fundamentalists and certainly makes them terrorists."

"Imagine you're on the streets of Baghdad you see planes going up in the sky. You hear in the news this is Shock and Awe and bombs are falling your relatives are killed. Your brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, parents are killed and it's called Shock and Awe. Would you not call that terrorism? Just because the person is in uniform and pressing a button and is calling it shock and awe and doing it to music, is that any worse than a beheading? It's worse because you're not aware of the damage that's being done."

Chopra and his son, Gotham, are involved in Chat the Planet, an organization that encouraged dialogue between New York-based American children and Iraqi children before the Iraq War about ways to prevent the war from taking place. After the US bombed Iraq, the Chopras couldn't find many of the kids who were involved in the project because some had died, while others had lost a parent, brother or sister. "This is the kind of thing that enlists rage in that world," Chopra said.

"Despite that, there are millions of Muslims that admire the US, that would love to have economic partnerships with the US. Would love to learn business leadership skills. Would love to know what makes an entrepreneur. You know, the vast majority of people in the world of any religion want a decent life want to send their kids to school and want to be at peace. And the terrorists are as much a threat to these people as to anyone else."

Chopra's deeper understanding of the reasons for terrorism has been misconstrued of late, most notably in the Wall Street Journal's "Deepak Blames America" article.

"I didn't blame America," Chopra says and then elaborates that placing blame is complex and that Pakistan is suffering because of the people that don't want Pakistan to have a relationship with a nuclear-armed India. "The worst thing India could have done is to have a nuclear deal and to be part of a nuclear club... Why are we selectively choosing to have nuclear deals and making the rest of the world feel unsafe?"

"We have a very self-righteous attitude towards the rest of the world. We have no understanding of how these violent ideologies are born. We want to just go to war and kill the terrorists. Well, the bad news is you can kill as many terrorists as you want, but you cannot kill terrorism. In order to kill terrorism it's gonna have to be a 50-year Marshall Plan to not build war torn cities, but to build ideas. To rebuild violence torn minds. To educate them, to help them, to cooperate with them, to create economic partnerships so that the rage disappears, and to understand them. There are very simple rules for having a dialogue. You respect your enemy. You talk to them with the attitude, 'Yes. We understand that you also have injustice and we also feel injustice. Can we have a room here for forgiveness on both sides? Can we refrain from belligerence?' The more belligerent we get, the more belligerent the radicals get."

Chopra says that, according to Rabinowitz, "I'm a purveyor of aromatherapy, enemas, I say happy thoughts make people happy." He touches on Elisabeth Hasselbeck's comment that he should "go light some incense." He takes personally when the media dismisses thousands of years of wisdom and traditions, and is patient in explaining that aromatherapy and incense work through neuro-associative conditioning. If anyone bothered to ask, he would mention that he is a neuro-endocrinologist and that everything he studies has a medical basis. "If you really examine this, this is racism. This is bigotry. This is hatred. This is prejudice. And this is total lack of knowledge of another person's culture." You can almost hear him rolling his eyes when he says, "The only time I've prescribed enemas is when somebody has constipation."

So what is the nature of his expertise?

"What's an expert? Who's an expert?" he asks. "I have not been indoctrinated by the US government to a particular point of view." But he has the unique perspective of someone with emotional ties to the East and the West. His inner circle includes a CIA agent, his son, Gotham, a former a war correspondent in war torn regions ("He sat across the table with Taliban leaders and had mangoes with them"), and the Muslims that comprise his world ("I come from a culture where Hindus and Muslims for the most part live peacefully").

Chopra wants us to understand about Muslims that which we don't yet understand -- that they have a value system but that it's different than ours. In the Gallup Poll Chopra helped design, Muslims talk about taking care of the elderly and the poor. Despite the terrorism, the crime rate of Saudi Arabia and most Arab countries is much lower than that of LA or DC. Perhaps taking care of the elderly and the poor helps keep crime rates so low.

After Rabinowitz's scathing Journal piece, he received a number of invitations from the conservative talk show circuit, but when he appeared on Hannity and Colmes, Hannity shot him down for comparing a recent Scientific American article about cancer to terrorism. Evidently, when we treat cancer too aggressively, cancer cells hijack normal cells and make them co-conspirators in spreading the cancer. "Do you see an analogy there?" he said. To him, the collateral damage of the war on terror has caused some people to get hijacked by terrorists to become co-conspirators in spreading the terrorism.

Bill O'Reilly asked him to come on The O'Reilly Factor too. "I will appear on your show on two conditions," he emailed O'Reilly. "Number one: You will not raise the volume of your voice. And number two: You will not interrupt me. And I will not raise the volume of my voice and I will not interrupt you." O'Reilly has yet to reply.

"A terrorist has an ideology." He says. "That ideology is savage. It's brutal. It's primitive. It is the worst ideology you can imagine because it's ancient. It's not relevant to our normal times. When you kill a terrorist you do not kill the ideology."

He repeats twice that on Hannity the other night, former Secretary of Defense William Cohen quoted Donald Rumsfeld as saying, "Are we creating more terrorists than we are killing?"

The US has the best weapons and intelligence in the world and yet we can't seem to eliminate terrorism. According to Chopra, this is because we have yet to understand it in its historical, economic and psychological contexts. Economically, the conditions in Pakistan are so abysmal that the poor flock to the Mujahid simply so they can eat. Psychologically, young boys in ghettos in Europe turn to terrorism because they have been marginalized by racism. When one has no sense of identity one may seek identity by joining a radical group.

"Marginalized people get radicalized." Chopra says. "When you have marginalized people living in ghettos who feel humiliated and enraged, when you have poor people living in third world countries and you have people who have no sense of identity, these marginalized people get radicalized by special interest groups which happen to be the terrorists. You cannot get rid of these terrorists without getting the help of the majority of the Muslims in the world who are peaceful people. They're like anybody else. We know that from our own surveys. You can't say that a quarter of the world's population is insane and Jihadist. The terrorists are insane and Jihadist. You can not get rid of an idea... The only way ideas can be given up is if you educate people, if you help people, if you have a conversation with people and if you recognize that other people have a sense of perceived injustice. We don't recognize even that there is a sense of injustice in these people. We also have an ally like Saudi Arabia, and we fund money to Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is controlled by very few people who live a very opulent lifestyle. It is to their advantage to channel money to these terrorists and to divert it from the gross inequities that exist in their own countries. Spend a little money and divert and other people are killed and you're getting money from the US anyway, who's your ally. And they will be your ally as long as it is to the US's advantage."

"Why don't we remember? We have such short memories that Saddam Hussein was a CIA sponsored thug that our CIA brought out of exile, put into power after a coup in Iraq. Then George Bush Sr. flooded billions of dollars into Iraq in his support, all the while knowing full well about his torture chambers and rape rooms. It didn't bother us because the US policymakers thought they could use him to their advantage. When they found out not, now he suddenly becomes this evil person which he was all along."

"A state official was once asked, 'How do you abandon your friends so easily?' And he answered, 'We don't have friends. We have interests.'"

So where are all the Islamic moderates? They don't seem to be getting much airtime these days. Perhaps that's because their voices are too quiet, but perhaps it's because we don't want to hear them.

"One of the things we have to do now is ask the moderates to speak out," Chopra says. "I think one of the reasons the moderates don't speak too much is that they're defensive. They're defensive of things they did not do but they're being at least perceived as having participated in it. This is the attitude of people that feel attacked and judged against. And we do nothing to prevent that from happening. If we were actually to reach out to the moderates and say, 'You have nothing to be defensive about. You don't have anything to be guilty about. We are not judging or humiliating you. Or demeaning you.' When is the last time we said to the moderate Islamic world? 'We want your help?' We said it belligerently when we said, 'Either you're with us or you're against us.'"

One of the comments on "Deepak Chopra on Mumbai: Too Controversial for CNN?" was the suggestion that, just as we wear red ribbons to support AIDS awareness and pink ribbons for breast cancer awareness, we should wear a ribbon to show condemnation for acts of terrorism and see Muslims wear it openly. Would something like this be an effective way for Muslims to demonstrate their stance against terrorism?

"I think something like this would be symbolic for sure." Chopra said, but then quickly adds, "It would not get to the root cause that's contextual and relational. You're not gonna solve this the day after tomorrow. If you really want to solve this we have to work at it for 50 years."

On Friday, The Wall Street Journal is printing versions of letters from Deepak and Gotham Chopra responding to the Rabinowitz article. Here are advanced, unedited versions of the letters from the Chopras:

Letter from Deepak

Letter from Gotham