Meet Noam Chomsky, film critic.

Chomsky – also a MIT linguistics scholar, public intellectual, and professional controversialist -- sees a direct causal link between the events which inspired the film American Sniper and what he labeled “Obama’s global assassination program”.

An academic gymnast, Chomsky took the occasion of a Cambridge public forum on the trial of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to refocus public attention on what he considers root causes: how terrorism is defined, what inspires terrorism, and acts of government sponsored and executed terror.

Chomsky opened his remarks with a reference to a  New Yorker review of the 2014 film American Sniper, expressing mild surprise at its box office success and positioning as a family movie. Chomsky questions why that story of a military sniper is lauded and what we understand of the fallout for taking violent actions. 

Chomsky points out that he hasn't seen American Sniper, based upon the autobiography of Navy SEAL sharpshooter Chris Kyle, nor does he bring up the film's theme of internal conflict and trauma caused by war. But he doesn't have to, as he sees cause for concern when we believe our military actions to be  justified while those of the opposition have no justified cause for their actions.

"The more we can blame some crime on some enemy, the greater the outrage. The more we are responsible for it, and therefore can do something about it—to end it—the less the concern," Chomsky asserted. "These questions directly concern what we can do about terrorism. It’s serious. It’s a serious problem. What can we do about it? One easy suggestion comes to mind at once: we can stop participating in it. We can stop carrying out large scale terrorist atrocities….by doing so, we would also reduce that small component of terrorism that’s worked its way into living memory."

Chomsky goes on with this point throughout the hour-long discussion, and refers to the attacks on the offices of the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris this month to again illustrate that acts of violence don't come from nowhere. Our government's strategic choices seed more violence and our lack of will to stop it makes us all culpable. “[The terrorists in Paris] made it very clear that what incited them to jihadism were things like Abu Ghraib and the US attack on Iraq.”

During the Q & A of the forum in Cambridge, hosted by The Bafflermagazine at The Lilypad, Chomsky was asked how young people can do something about police brutality and government surveillance today. He referred to the 2014 film Selma—which he says more people need to see. Like the brave few then who sat at lunch counters, and more who rode the Freedom busses, and even more who marched arm-in-arm from Selma to Montgomery, he advised people to begin by taking some action. He didn't say change comes easy. "Selma was brutal and vicious, but it did get national attention, enough so that it was possible to create large-scale public pressure that it got Congress and the President to put through legislative measures that did improve things," Chomsky said.

Ultimately what matters to Chomsky is how we respond individually and collectively to the violence we experience. To prevent fomenting hatred by curbing our own actions and by responding with justice towards those who do us harm, he sees our potential to resolve this growing problem. What we must not do is ignore how violence begins, something we've done so often, he event quotes Orwell's observations from the 1930s: "'The Nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about it.' But Orwell didn't go far enough," Chomsky continued. "We even have a remarkable capacity for denying them, or even lauding them."

This public forum, featuring Noam Chomsky and Kade Crockford, Director of the ACLU’s Mass. Technology for Liberty Project, was recorded by   WGBH's Forum Network and will be posted soon on their website.