Far-right political groups could use rising poverty to attract support for their extremist policies, leading international commentator Noam Chomsky warned today.
Professor Chomsky met students ahead of giving the annual Amnesty International lecture as part of the Belfast Festival at Queen's University.
He warned that in the US right-wing voices are trying to tap-in to grievances and he urged communities around the world to mobilise against poverty and inequality in their society as a safeguard against extremism.
"In the US, inequality has soared to unprecedented heights," he said.
"There is now a mass of people with real grievances, who want answers but are not receiving them.
"The far-right is providing answers that are completely crazy: that rich liberals are giving their hard-earned money away to illegal immigrants and the shiftless poor.
"A common reaction in elite educated circles and much of the left is to ridicule the right-wing protesters, but that is a serious error.
"The correct reaction is to examine our own failures. The grievances are quite real and should be taken seriously."
The leading intellectual said history showed that it would be a mistake to fail to answer those calls.
"If the protesters are getting crazy answers from the hard-line right-wing extreme, the proper reaction is to provide the right answers, and do something about them," he said.
"An organised public can achieve a great deal, as we see right now in many places.
"In South America, there are at last serious steps to confront poverty and other severe human rights abuses. The driving force is mass popular movements.
"They are beginning to address what Amnesty calls 'the unheard truth': that 'poverty is the world's worst human rights crisis, this generation's greatest struggle'."
Amnesty International's Northern Ireland programme director Patrick Corrigan said Noam Chomsky's message is as relevant for people in Belfast as it is for those in Beirut, Baghdad or Beijing.
"We all have a responsibility to stand up for justice and to stand against those who would take away the human rights of the most vulnerable," said the Amnesty spokesman.
"By standing together, through organisations like Amnesty International, ordinary people can make a call for justice which will be heard in all the world's capitals."