Culture of resistance

The New York Times has called Noam Chomsky "arguably the most important intellectual alive".

Published : Feb 25, 2005 00:00 IST

Noam Chomsky. - K. GAJENDRAN

Noam Chomsky. - K. GAJENDRAN

THOUGH The New York Times has called Noam Chomsky "arguably the most important intellectual alive" he holds a marginalised position as a political critic in the academic world. Those opposed to him are of the opinion that he should confine himself to linguistics and not dabble with a discipline he is not trained in.

But if The New York Times considers him such an intellectual giant why should he not be taken seriously as a political thinker? Chomsky draws attention to the remark: "If you go back and look at the context of that remark, the sentence was: `Arguably the most important intellectual alive, how can he write such nonsense about international affairs and foreign policy?'" His books are rarely published in the United States; Editors of The New York Times or The Washington Post are reluctant and afraid to answer calls about their alienation with Chomsky. These papers along with "experts in legitimation" limit themselves to information that goes only in favour of the elite power structures.

On the other hand, intellectuals such as Chomsky constantly "undermine this legitimation and thereby the individuals and interests associated with this particular position". These privileged educated elites, including journalists, academics and public relations officers, all "have a kind of an institutional task, that is to create the system of beliefs which will ensure the effective engineering of consent".

Chomsky hits out at such a "secular priesthood", to use Isaiah Berlin's phrase, that engages in this kind of state adulation. He goes on to explain: "This means worship of the state religion, which in the Western democracies incorporates the doctrine of submission to the masters of the system of public subsidy, privatisation, and profit, called free enterprise. The people must be kept in ignorance, reduced to jingoistic incantations for their own good."

Over the years, Chomsky's resistance to the U.S. and his sincere revelation of truths about its involvement in various countries have been much appreciated by Edward Said, Howard Zinn, John Pilger and many more eminent scholars around the world. On the other hand there are a few writers, rather offensive, who have contributed to the Anti Chomsky Reader with the marked aim of disparaging all his work, may it be in the area of West Asia politics, Latin American violence or his main professional area of linguistics. Belonging to the Far Right, they refuse to believe anything Chomsky has to say. They make Chomsky out to be "an intellectual crook".

The writers in this collection lack sufficient data to counter Chomsky's facts, which if "fabricated" or "misquoted" would by now have come out in the open. If these allegations had some truth in them he would have been exposed long ago; various international bodies as well as the state governments whose role he interrogates would not have taken "lies" about their credentials lying down.

If Chomsky has equated the U.S. with the Soviet Union, or has lent full support to the anti-U.S. sentiment he has taken full pains to marshal minute facts carefully picked from the past 100 years of American history, laying bare, to cite Edward Said, "a panorama of futile violence, intellectual dishonesty, and political immorality".

Ronald Radosh and David Horowitz discuss Chomsky's gloating reaction in this anthology of essays to the September 11, 2001, attack. Linguists Paul M. Postal and Robert E. Levine examine Chomsky's linguistics and find the same imperfections there that others see in his politics: "A deep contempt for the truth, descents into incoherence, and verbal abuse of those who disagree with him." Levine and Postal, in an essay aptly entitled "A Corrupted Linguistics", are likewise critical of Chomsky's overstated findings. In both his linguistic and political writings they find "a monumental disdain for standards of enquiry, a relentless strain of self-promotion and a penchant for verbally abusing those who disagree with him". When asked about the established results of his findings, Chomsky is known to have evaded the answer, arguing: "My own view is that everything is subject to question. Even in the advanced sciences, everything is questionable." He has been accused of hypocrisy and the inability to produce any sound linguistic theory. Apart from this scathing attack on his professional abilities, Steven Morris, Thomas Nichols and Eli Lehrer provide powerful critiques of Chomsky's political writings on Vietnam, Cambodia, the Cold War and the news media.

In one of the essays on West Asia, Paul Bagdanor claims that in Chomsky's work "falsehoods are disseminated in the belief that few readers will want to research the facts". Bagdanor seems to believe that the Jewish National Fund, an independent charity, is as much available to the Arabs as to the Jews. He conveniently remains unaware of the fact that Arabs are excluded from nine-tenths of the territory. Chomsky's dissidence, it has to be realised, is not baseless and it must be understood that it is he who has inspired sincere journalists such as John Pilger, who salute him for teaching them to "breach walls of Orwellian `truth' that often conceal the machinations of power in our `free' societies and the source of suffering of those throughout the world who pay for our `freedom'". In this context Chomsky's analysis of Zionism is rather relevant to grasp how misguided Bagdanor is to not recognise how discriminatory the Jewish state has been towards the Palestinians.

It all boils down to one land and two nations of Israel and Palestine demanding self-determination and national institutions. The world community, on the other hand, does little to reprimand Israel in the unending West Asia conflict. Does Bagdanor not realise that there is worldwide anger with America's domination and menacing manipulation of events around the world? This is so especially in West Asia where it ruthlessly tramples on a weak and defenceless adversary and at the same time dominates Israel to the extent that the domestic politics do not escape its interference. Even the Israeli Opposition cannot act without a nod from the Americans. In this context Chomsky is of the opinion that intellectuals must not hesitate to voice a serious concern for the basic problems of discrimination and oppression, racism and truculent aggression that have been central to the violence of national conflict and mutual massacre in this region.

Those in the anti-Chomsky camp must know that Israel continues to terrorise and bomb at will. The occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 war had led to the slow process of entrenching a form of colonialism with all its overconfidence and callousness. This has irked many, including Chomsky, who "hope to go beyond propaganda to an understanding of the world of social and historical fact". Chomsky judiciously unveils the deception and the lies that underpin state policy in Israel. His arguments about the ban on "interdenominational marriage" and the predominance of religion which oversees even the selection to the "Israeli basketball league" indicate the Israeli eyewash of its commitment to equal rights for citizens. Chomsky supports the Palestinian cause without supporting the suicide bombings. For him, Israel has the right to exist but only on the principles of democratic coexistence with different ethnic minorities inside and outside Israel. Chomsky's notion of "binationalism" has been, therefore, totally misunderstood by his detractors who have not tried to understand his independent and honest advocacy of moral uprightness in international politics.

This group of anti-Chomsky scholars, headed by David Horowitz, one of the editors of the book, through their views on various issues regarding U.S. foreign policy and antipathy to the workings of the Left, expose their deep Far-Right indoctrination. According to them, if some progressive thinker engages in intelligent independent thinking, he must be "weeded out as radical" on the grounds that "there's something wrong with them". These dissidents are the troublemakers who have to be checked, if the system is to run smoothly without any contradictory stands. Thus the easiest way is to exist like the "liberal intelligentsia" within a system that encourages compliance at the cost of individuality. Chomsky views American society as "one of the most deeply indoctrinated societies in the world, and one of the most depoliticised societies in the world and one of the societies with the most conformist intelligentsia in the world, in this respect more so than in Western Europe".

The role of the intellectual, however, both in Europe and in the U.S. is akin to the Leninist model where the individual stands for the welfare of the state, but underlying this is the obsession with "a justification for the acquisition of state power by the revolutionary intelligentsia, who, as Bakunin perceptively observed a century ago, will exploit mass popular struggles to contrast a regime of terror and oppression. As he wrote, `they will beat the people with the people's stick'." Chomsky belongs to the European tradition in which individuals do not hesitate to criticise the capitalist system. He is an anarchist who believes in the struggle to find forms of social organisation that are viable alternatives to organised government and its legal and political institutions that are inherently coercive. He believes in the community of free association where people would act not according to the established hierarchical order but with a sense of creativity and freedom, leading to the development of a free society. Apparently, the reality of this view is easily comprehensible to the common man. There is really no other theory underpinning Chomsky's politics.

The exploration of Chomsky as a political activist amounts to acquiring an insight into American power, an exposure, which would not have come into the open if it had not been for his intensive substantiation of his arguments with evidence. It mirrors the pattern of resistance and oppression that has underpinned the growth of powerful nations in the `New World Order'. But nothing seems to have changed. John Pilger writes: "What Chomsky has made vivid is the truth that Western political leaders, respectable people whose `moderation' contains not a hint of totalitarianism, can at great remove in physical and cultural distance, kill and maim people on a scale comparable with the accredited monsters of our time." The history of 500 years since Columbus has been one of subversion, aggression and brutal genocide that was inherent even in the Cold War. With the demise of the Cold War, things stand where they are, though now the West is given a free reign in its imperial designs which had some deterrence in the pre-glasnost era.

For instance, Chomsky's book What Uncle Sam Really Wants takes us to the heart of this hard-nosed foreign policy emanating from a "democratic" state that is contemptuous of democracy. Some do consider the U.S. as the defender of democracy, but Chomsky shows how its blatant involvement in international politics is incredibly brutal and neo-fascist. He exposes this through massive evidence, as is clear from the footnotes and references that are completely authentic and reliable. The Editor's foreword maintains: "In a saner world, his tireless efforts to promote justice would have long since won him the Nobel Peace Prize, but the committee keeps giving it to people like Henry Kissinger."

Chomsky's detractors need to refer to the 1950 hard-line extreme document of National Security Council Memorandum 68, which Chomsky draws attention to with the idea of exposing the need to bring about economic and political deterioration in the Soviet Union to gain the upper hand in the balance of power as well as adhere to the policy of "sacrifice and discipline", which would involve more expenditure on armaments and a severely cut down budget on welfare service. And as regards the working of democracy in different parts of the world, it was decided to put down "too much of dissent". This is interestingly similar to the declaration in September 2002 of its National Security Strategy that allows the government to take pre-emptive action against any state that "surpasses or equals the power of the United States with the view to maintaining its supremacy as the world's most powerful country". It also ensures a very large military budget to enable it to maintain "full spectrum dominance". Woodrow Wilson, the so-called great apostle of liberty and self-determination, had many decades ago explained that the Monroe Doctrine had only one motive: "The United States considers only its own interests". Haiti and the Dominican Republic were invaded during his time, and after heavy bloodshed, the U.S. corporates were allowed to entrench themselves in the economy of the countries, with the final profits finding an easy but a subterranean route into the U.S.' exchequer.

This policy was implemented, Chomsky maintains, way back in the late 1940s when the U.S. hired the services of Reinjhard Gehlen, the director of Nazi intelligence on the Eastern Front, to supervise espionage in Eastern Europe. A Nazi-U.S. alliance was to take shape in interfering in and controling much of Latin America. Hitler's armies in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe were to receive full military support from this joint venture.

The entire globe from Western Europe to South Asia, from the Far East to South America comes under the grand plan of the U.S. foreign policy. It would shock many that President Roosevelt appointed Jean Darlan, a leading Nazi collaborator and the "author of the anti-Semitic laws promulgated by the "Vichy government (the Nazis' puppet regime in France) as the Governor General of French North Africa". Similarly, the peasant and workers union in Italy, which had successfully overpowered six German divisions during the Second World War were completely annihilated by the allied forces so that a fascist regime was finally installed, a strategic move of returning to the pre-War fascism that suited U.S. foreign policy. In Nicaragua, in El Salvador and in Guatemala, U.S. forces used "brutal, sadistic torture - beating infants against rocks, hanging women by their feet with their breasts cut off and the skin of their faces peeled back so that they'll bleed to death, chopping people's heads off and putting them on stakes". This unusual punishment was given with the purpose of crushing "independent nationalism and popular forces that might bring about meaningful democracy". Vietnam too was certainly not a threat to world peace, but the Vietnamese nationalists had to be put down as they could set a wrong example, which might snowball into a movement of national independence in the region.

This is not the end of Uncle Sam's catalogue of brutalities. Chomsky goes on to write about Laos, Grenada, Iran, Chile, and the invasion of Panama and the Gulf War, all with the purpose of informing people around the world of the misdeeds that they are so unaware of. His motive is to change consciousness, increase insight and understanding of the larger interests of hegemonic powers, so that the culture of resistance can some day bring about freedom and decency in human existence. Weeding through the crap, Chomsky takes you where few have the courage to tread.

Clearly, there is a crisis of legitimacy in the world; lawful governments need to fight terrorism and stand up for human rights. There seem to be no rules of the game but exploitation and grabbing power by prioritising an agenda that is self-promoting. Regimes in Central Asia are totalitarian: this, and not terrorism, poses great danger. Central Asia will remain the epicentre of chaos in the coming days if regimes do not change their political structures and the U.S. does not stop supporting them. Aid is being lavished on them with scarcely any pressure to amend their policies. One-man dictatorships have to go, as apparently, they work against all fundamental human rights. As Bob Dylan would say, "the times cry for the truth... and people want to hear the truth". One man alone cannot make a difference. Chomsky and his kind stand unintimidated in the face of high-powered Western hegemony, which ostensibly fights terrorism but, as recent case studies in different parts of the Third World indicate, aid militant terrorism. People long for peace in Afghanistan, in Bosnia, in Kashmir, in Iraq and in West Asia. Chomsky has been ardently fighting for it, a life-long crusade that the disbelievers in him cannot but concede.

The Anti Chomsky Reader, editors Peter Collier and David Horowitz; San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2004; pages 260, $17.95.

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