Chomsky and His Enemies
Noam Chomsky is a great hero to young people on the Left. The student newspaper of the CUNY Graduate Center, the Advocate, is serializing an interview with Chomsky. The interviewer, Andrew Kennis, explains the series is being done in order to "give Chomsky the attention and space that needs to be given to intellectual dissidence and social criticism." 1
Let us consider this intellectual dissidence. Chomsky is opposed to the role of the United States is playing in Colombia. He claims that American policies have nothing to do with controlling the production of drugs but are part of a war against the revolutionary group called FARC (Columbian Revolutionary Armed Forces). He objects to the use of airborne weapons to destroy coca plantations2 and asks the following questions:
Chomsky is doing here what he does everywhere: he is comparing the United States with a repressive regime (in this case, China) in order to show how the United States is as bad or worse. But Chomsky's equation doesn't balance. The Chinese government has no interest in stopping the production of tobacco; China is not opposed to smoking. In fact, the manufacture of cigarettes is a state monopoly in China and a major source of revenue. In fact, China has executed citizens for smuggling cigarettes into the country and thus competing against the government.4
Elsewhere in the interview, speaking about Israel's response to the current Intifada, Chomsky says:
A slow massacre? Carefully and finely tuned? What Chomsky is doing is accusing Israel of genocide, albeit slow genocide. When the Israeli Army talks about the humanitarian goal of limiting casualties, Chomsky makes the words sound sinister by saying "not in English, but in the Hebrew press." Chomsky must know that those who are calling for genocide are not Israelis but Arabs. For example, on October 13, 2000, the day after the lynching of two Israeli soldiers in Ramallah, in a sermon broadcast live on the television station of the Palestinian Authority, Ahmad Abu Halabiya, former acting rector of the Islamic University in Gaza, said the following words:
There is a connection between Chomsky's apparent ignorance of China's exploitation of smoking as a source of revenue and his silence about genocidal statements made by Muslim clerics: Chomsky is loyal to the enemies of his enemies. Chomsky's enemies are the United States, which has made alliances with repressive regimes, and Israel, which has resorted to violence in its efforts to preserve its existence. Chomsky cannot forgive America and Israel for these offenses, and will therefore ignore the very much more blatant crimes of Marxist and Islamic forces.
The most grotesque example of Chomsky's defense of an enemy of his enemy was his chapter on Cambodia in After the Cataclysm, a book he co-authored.7 The authors question and play down reports of mass murders and government-engineered mass starvation. They fail to understand that Pol Pot, in an attempt to create a totally communist society, forced the Cambodian people to commit auto-genocide. All the stories of atrocities, according to Chomsky, are merely arguments to be used by America to persuade countries under Western domination to obey their masters:
Having just accused America and the West of saying "Questions of truth are secondary," Chomsky and Herman go on to say the following:
A few quotations will not suffice. I urge everyone to go out and read this evil book. Even when discussing mass murder, Chomsky and Herman select and modify facts in order to cover up what Pol Pot did and to show that America is worse. Nevertheless, the United States, to its eternal discredit, opposed the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia that toppled the government of Pol Pot. Once America and Pol Pot were on the same side, Chomsky was free to write of "Pol Pot's atrocities" and to say that "the US supported the Khmer Rouge in its continuing attacks in Cambodia."10
Something very strange is going on here. Chomsky continues to follow the policy of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" no matter where it leads him. Sometimes, as a matter of fact, it leads him to do good. In the days when he was still trying to make Pol Pot look less bad, Chomsky wrote about the murders that Indonesia was committing in East Timor, arguing that Indonesia, an ally of America, was even worse than Pol Pot. We need not agree with Chomsky that Indonesia was indeed worse than the Khmer Rouge or that one atrocity excuses another. We must agree, however, that Chomsky was correct to point out what was happening in East Timor. Chomsky was one of those who brought East Timor to the attention of the world. His words may have made a difference.
There can never be an answer to a question beginning, "What would have happened if ..." That need not stop us from posing such questions: When Ayatollah Khomeini took power in Iran, the rights of women, members of the Baha'i faith, and nonbelievers were destroyed. The world took little notice. What would have happened had Chomsky written and spoken about the issue? Would there have been an international outcry? Might Iran have modified its policies in response to public opinion? Would radical Islam have grown and spread without the model of a fanatic Iran? Would Taliban have come into existence? We can never know the answer. But we do know that a political activist as famous as Chomsky should have spoken up.
Chomsky, of course, did not speak up. Khomeini overthrew the Shah, and the Shah had been put into power by America, by President Eisenhower, who, working with Great Britain, had toppled the government of Mohammed Mossadegh. No American president ever made a worse mistake. Had there not been a Shah, there wouldn't have been a Khomeini. The Shah was bad, but nowhere as bad as Khomeini. Khomeini, however, hated America and Israel, which was enough to insure Chomsky's silence.
Khomeini has died, but Iran continues to finance Hezbollah, an organization determined to oppose any peace agreement with Israel. Hezbollah's raids and rockets against towns in northern Israel are what led to the Israeli 1982 intervention in south Lebanon in the first place. Will Chomsky speak out against Hezbollah? Will he point out Iran's role in the conflict? He will if, by some wild chance, Iran becomes an ally of the United States. In the meantime, he says that "regular Israeli attacks on Lebanon have left tens of thousands dead."11
Why has the Middle East been untouched by the spread of democracy throughout the world? Why have Arab states, with their obscene wealth, not brought a decent standard of living to their people? The answer is no doubt that harsh dictators can always wrap themselves in the mantle of anti-Zionism. Opposition to Israel is so strong, so automatic and so mindless that it excuses domestic repression and violence.
Who needs more enemies? Saddam Hussein, facing the active enmity of the United States and a coalition of 28 nations officially or actually at war with Iraq, launched SCUD missiles against Israel's population centers, in order to have an extra army fighting against him. The courting of new foes ought to surprise us, even in this irrational world we live in. No one is puzzled at all, however. We all know the reasons: Saddam Hussein wished to divert attention from his unpopular invasion of Kuwait by wrapping himself in the mantle of anti-Zionism.
Chomsky too is wrapped in the mantle of anti-Zionism. He has nothing to say about slavery in Sudan, for example. To be sure, one individual cannot deal with all the evils taking place in the world. But Chomsky has devoted a great deal of time and energy to the Middle East. As we saw above, he described Israel as guilty of a "slow massacre." A person who writes about that part of the world should recognize the implacable hostility that Israel faces from radical Islam, to say nothing of the lethal persecution that women in Afghanistan and Christians in Sudan have suffered because of this fanaticism.
Sudan, Afghanistan, Hezbollah--these are all the enemies of Chomsky's enemy, just as Pol Pot was, for a while. Chomsky is consistent, but his consistency makes no sense. Chomsky, unlike the United States or any nation state, is not a country. He is a public intellectual and a loner. He doesn't need to make alliances. Furthermore, he hasn't made any alliances. He has never made a deal with the Khmer Rouge or Hezbollah, nor would he. Besides, they would not make a deal with him. Chomsky is the victim of pacts he has not made and would not make. Nevertheless, he is bound by them. He will not say anything against a radical Islamic or radical Marxist monster because he will not violate the alliance--the non-existent alliance--that imprisons him. Andrew Kennis, as we saw above, admires Chomsky for his intellectual dissidence. Chomsky's problem, however, is precisely his lack of dissidence, his total loyalty.
Loyalty in general, and nationalism in particular, is not something Chomsky approves of. We all know how destructive loyalties--national, religious, political, etc.--have been. Nevertheless, loyalty may be a human universal, although its object may vary: one's family, friends, country, or cause. Perhaps the tendency to be loyal is innate.
The issue of innateness brings us to Chomsky's contribution as a linguist. Languages are vast, complicated systems. Most people who study foreign languages never fully succeed in mastering them. Children, on the other hand, learn how to use all the phonological, morphological and syntactic rules of their native languages without being taught. Chomsky has argued that the ability to learn language is innate. Like so many of the things Chomsky has said about language, the idea of innateness is both obvious and yet original with Chomsky. His theories about language, the most important of subjects because it is the way we understand all subjects, are what made him famous. Indeed, he is the most famous linguist who ever lived.
The fame of Chomsky the linguist is one reason that the views of Chomsky the political activist are taken seriously. Furthermore, once Chomsky became recognized as a political thinker, his political writing contributed to his fame as a linguist. Oddly, despite his fame, his writings about Cambodia in After the Cataclysm are relatively unknown. Incidentally, his co-author, Edward S. Herman, as late as 1998, was comparing Pol Pot to Suharto in an effort to show that Pol Pot wasn't so bad.12
There is a second reason why Chomsky the political activist is respected: much of the world believes that the left is morally superior because it is more humane. Karl Marx, in particular, has been exempt from criticism--even though his disciples, Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong, have been recognized as monsters. Many people think of Marxism as a kind of liberalism or socialism. But Marx never really described what he meant by socialism and was explicitly against liberalism or any system that encouraged human variety. Chomsky, who does not describe himself as a Marxist and does not write about economics, is nevertheless admired by all those who think that Marxism is a kind, gentle philosophy and that it is only a coincidence and an accident that Marxist leaders turned out to be so cruel. Chomsky, like Marxists, ignores the fact that radical Islam is the least least liberal and most anti-woman system of belief on earth today. Marxists, like, Chomsky, are imprisoned by their loyalty to extremists and Islamists, to all groups that are anti-Zionist and anti-American.
(1) Andrew Kennis, "Talking With Noam," Advocate, February 2001, p. 1.
(2) See Noam Chomsky, Rogue States. Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2000, p. 74.
(3) Cited in Kennis, p. 12. Chomsky, in the interview as printed, does not refer to bombing in Colombia, nor is it clear that he is talking about killing coca plants.
(4) See my "Rule by Thieves," The Weekly Standard, September 18, 1995, pp. 20-22.
(5) Cited in Kennis, p. 11.
(6) Cited by Efraim Karsh in "Intifada II: The Long Trail of Arab Anti-Semitism," Commentary, December 2000, p. 49.
(7) Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman, After the Cataclysm: Postwar Indochina & the Reconstruction of Imperial Ideology. Boston: South End Press, 1979.
(8) Ibid., pp. 292-293.
(9) Ibid., p. 293.
(10) Chomsky, Rogue States, p. 45.
(11) Ibid., p. 5.
(12) Edward S. Herman, "Pol Pot vs. Suharto," EXTRA!, September/October 1998.
This essay appeared in the May/June 2001 issue of Midstream.