Road to freedom

Published : Sep 10, 2010 00:00 IST

Noam Chomsky finds hope for the world in alternative resistance movements that suggest real progress towards freedom and justice.

PROFESSOR Noam Chomsky, who recently toured Colombia, is now on a lecture tour of Asia, continuing his politically significant work with such activism that it is hard to believe that he is in his eighties. When I asked him a few weeks ago about his response to America using the Colombian leadership against Venezuela and its anti-American stance, he explained:

There has, of course, been one military coup that the U.S. supported (2002), and when it was beaten back, the U.S. turned to subversion, sabotage, etc. Colombia is the one secure base for the U.S. in Latin America, and they may well be trying to foment conflict and efforts to undermine the Venezuelan government, which is hated because it is independent and has social programmes that others might want to emulate. There are threatening moves, but I doubt that they will lead to anything more than subversion. The U.S. more generally is devoting considerable efforts to remilitarise the region, which has been slipping out of control, Colombia from which I have just returned being the one real exception, also with by far the worst human rights record in the hemisphere and the most U.S. military aid.

He goes on elsewhere to elaborate: During the past decade, Latin America has become the most exciting region of the world. For the first time in half a millennium, South America is beginning to take its fate into its own hands and resist the North which has always had selfish reasons for offering assistance anywhere in the world . . . . Washington has supported democracy if and only if it contributes to strategic and economic interests, a policy that continues without change through all administrations, to the present.

In his recent Amnesty International Lecture at Belfast, Chomsky reverted to Latin American politics: On a brighter note, South America is moving towards integration and authentic independence for the first time since the arrival of the European explorers. One consequence is that the U.S. has been expelled from its military bases, most recently from the Manta base in Ecuador. But Washington is reacting. It has recently arranged to use seven new military bases in Colombia, as well as two naval bases in Panama, and presumably intends to maintain the Palmerola base in Honduras, which played a central role in Reagan's terrorist wars. The U.S. Fourth Fleet, which was disbanded in 1950, was reactivated in 2008, shortly after Colombia's invasion of Ecuador. Its responsibility covers the Caribbean, Central and South America, and the surrounding waters. The reactivation of the Fleet understandably elicited protest and concern from the governments of Brazil, Venezuela, and others.

This is explained further in the book Hopes and Prospects, a hard-hitting analysis by Chomsky, the foremost critic of U.S. foreign policy in the world and the most widely read American voice on foreign policy on the planet today. The book throws light on contemporary politics in a world faced with many challenges: the ever-increasing incidence of disease and poverty, the notion of American exceptionalism, the disaster of Iraq and Afghanistan, the political shifts in the South, the Israeli battering of Gaza, and the recent financial bailouts, among them.

Notwithstanding the grim prospects, Chomsky is optimistic about a future redeemed by democratic resistance movements in Latin America and global solidarity movements that suggest real progress towards freedom and justice, especially in Bolivia and Haiti. Here, Chomsky shows how direct participation in action has given rise to a model of active democracy. Popular activism has repeatedly brought about substantial gains in freedom and justice, he writes. The authentic hope of the Obama campaign is that the grass roots army' organised to take instructions from the leader might break free' and return to old ways of doing politics', by direct participation in action.

The book consists of a series of lectures given in Chile and the proceedings of a videoconference at the VII Social Summit for Latin America and Caribbean Unity in Caracas, Venezuela, with the primary focus on the relationship of Washington with the subcontinent. The latter part of the book is a collection of his talks and articles from 2008 to 2009. As always, the writing remains steadfastly focussed on issues of global consequence, suggesting the Latin American model of alternative resistance movements that are deeply antagonistic to the corporate world.

Undeniably, it is a significant addition to the literature of global crises as well as political movements that are emerging today to defy the hegemony of Empire. As Chomsky remarked at the outset of his Amnesty Lecture, Hopes and prospects, regrettably, are not well aligned, even closely. The task is to bring them to closer alignment.

The essays in the book, thus, are a remarkable critique of America's rhetoric and its hegemonic empire as well as of the nature and the working of democracy in times of uncertainty and upheaval. It is a common realisation across the globe that there exists a gap between America's foreign policy and its broadcast of an ideology that is deeply theoretical and seemingly stands for principles of justice and democracy. Actions belie what the nation professes. The U.S. is indeed unusual among industrial societies in its highly class-conscious business community, relentlessly fighting a bitter class war, in earlier years with unusual levels of violence, more recently through massive propaganda offensives. (Chomsky, Remembering Fascism: Learning From the Past, Truthout, April 20, 2010.)

Another issue that concerns Chomsky is the American-Israeli assault on Gaza. The West Asian problem is now the concern of the global community and is no longer singularly within American turf. In the past, the U.S. always, without fail, rejected any such international interventions.

However, Chomsky argues, with no provision of an international vigilance force to oversee the implementation of any peace plan, Israel has the option to do what it pleases and has the support of the U.S. for its incorrigible stance of rejectionism. Sadly, the United Nations Security Council was rendered ineffective by U.S. veto, though more than 150 members in the General Assembly voted for the Palestinians' right to self-determination.

Assault on Gaza

There is no doubt that not a single military attack on Palestine can take place without the authorisation of the American government and its support of Israel. Israel is a military base and complies with the U.S. foreign policy. Control of gas wells on the borders of Gaza and expansionism have been the apparent goals of the two partners. Since the 1973 encroachment into the Egyptian Sinai, any diplomatic resolution to end the impasse between the two nations has been elusive. With the recent destruction of Gaza, the solution has become all the more difficult.

Public opinion in Israel calls for giving up land in Palestine in exchange for peace, but their leaders just look on. Their convictions as Christian Zionists seem to bestow on them the theological right to continue doing what they do despite what happens to a few million Palestinian terrorists. In the meantime, the two nations sink neck-deep into uncontrolled violence, leaving behind an unsolvable conundrum.

If Washington was sincere and committed to moving West Asia towards peace, there should have been some sign of a reprimand to Israel for its recent unprovoked assault on the Turkish-owned flotilla Mavi Marmara carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza. The U.S. has maintained a studied silence on the crisis that followed the attack on the flotilla. Paradoxically, the U.S. stands for giving humanitarian aid to Gaza but does not want to take any step to jeopardise Israeli security. Is this not a double-faced stance of the Obama government, which should, in fact, be outraged by the blockade like other democratic nations? And has not the support it has given to Israel furthered anti-American sentiment?

In the light of the recent history of peace initiatives and unrestrained violence, there seems to be only one way out: an international solution on the lines of what took place in East Timor, thanks to international opinion. One cannot change the nature of the West Asian problem through war or bloodshed, and democracy cannot come on the wings of a bomber. In the past five years or so Israel has abandoned any pretence of diplomacy and instead blatantly engaged in acts of provocation and belligerence towards Palestine so that it has become rather difficult for the beleaguered Palestinians to construct the independent state that they have always dreamt of. Gradually, Israel seems to be adopting the features of a bully.

Will the new President in the White House use his full powers to bring the two antagonists to the negotiating table and help find a solution to one of the most serious political issues of our time? Or will he continue to put forward the American propensity to befriend Israel as a priority, which would supersede an objectivity that his presidency promises to the world? The Clinton plan of bringing durable peace by returning to the 1967 boundaries, of sharing Jerusalem and permitting Palestinian refugees to return to their homes, remains a viable model for Obama to follow unless he reinvents a road map that would anticipate the end of hostility.

At the end of the day, it will all depend on the pro-Israel lobby in the U.S. to persuade the American leadership either to initiate peace or to escalate conflict in West Asia. Obama will scarcely be left with a choice against such a formidable force from within his own fortress. The world is waiting to see if he will succeed in introducing a comprehensive diplomatic initiative towards Iran along with prioritising the Arab-Israeli peacemaking process.

However, Chomsky is quite sceptical: Obama has nothing to say about the settlement and infrastructure developments in the West Bank, and the carefully crafted measures to control Palestinian existence, designed to undermine the prospects for a peaceful two-state settlement, as openly conceded decades ago. His silence is an eloquent refutation of his oratorical flourishes about how I will sustain an active commitment to seek two states living side by side in peace and security' (page 253).

Then where does the hope lie? Apparently, Chomsky sees hope for our collective future. While it cannot come from the Right in Israel, the Left remains unelectable.

In Palestine, on the other hand, there is no check on militant agitation. Peace can never come from top down; it is the people at the bottom who can put an end to violence and terrorism. The answer lies in our hands. Only an aroused public can end this folly before it ends us.

Solidarity movements and the democratic wave in Latin America give some sense of hope for freedom and justice in a world ridden by violent military fiascos and the growing gap between the North and the South. Chomsky ended his Amnesty Lecture on a positive note of hope and advice: And there are also real prospects, if we follow today's variant of the famous advice of the anarchist labour organiser Joe Hill before his execution: don't ridicule, organise.

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