Sunday, June 04, 2006

# Posted 10:48 AM by Patrick Porter  

CHOMSKY, A REPORT: Apologies for my lack of posts lately, am finishing an article on asymmetric warfare.

Meanwhile, a quick note on the Chomsky event yesterday afternoon in stormy New York. To his credit, he makes you think at times. He may talk bollocks, but its interesting bollocks.

My mate Najam interviewed Chomsky with great ingenuity, charm and eloquence, so that was worth waiting for. Congratulations Najam!

By contrast, the panel in the morning was marred by three weaknesses. First, it barely discussed the matter of Sunni-Shia relations, preferring to rail against Things it Didn't Like.

When the panel did condescend to discuss the actual topic, it explained away Sunni-Shia conflict as largely an American-generated problem that was not driven by doctrinal or theological differences, or by any of the divide-and-rule policies of the Baath party. They denied that there was any Sunni-Shia tension before the American-backed new constitution.

No doubt the volatile situation in Iraq exacerbates these divisions, but confessional differences themselves are powerful historical forces for conflict, and it was disappointing that this was dealt with so superficially. Moslems present told me that they had come to talk about it. They were already familiar with the arguments against the war.

Second, its lack of diversity. Political diversity, that is. It was made up of an antiwar cleric, an antiwar Iraqi emigre activist, an antiwar British city councillor, and an antiwar representative of American Moslem women. Not that I would expect that there are legions of Moslems in America who are enthusiastic about the current state of Iraq. But there was little sign of any debate or disagreement about strategies for the way ahead.

It was, frankly, a boring and unreflective echo-chamber. If they wanted to talk about America's war rather than the civil war in the Islamic world, and if their case is so compelling, as they clearly believe, why not stick some lonely neocon up on stage to defend him/herself.

Thirdly, moronic hyperbole. The word 'fascist' was used rather wantonly. There was almost no mention of the problem of Islamist extremism or persecution or atrocities. Instead, it was a world in which only America is the aggressor, and everyone else is the innocent victim.

For example, the worst that was said of the Taleban was that they were too strict about the Hijab. No mention of their ethnic cleansing, their execution of dissidents and gays, their banning of music, their draconian laws against women's rights to work, or their iconoclastic assaults on Buddhist statues and museums. None.

Hugo Chavez was praised uncritically as a hero, which is ironic given the panel's opposition to authoritarian and antidemocratic measures in America.

And, of course, in all the wide-ranging discussion, no mention at all of the catastrophe in Darfur, where Moslems among others are being slaughtered by Moslems. That would be to admit the existence of a genuine violent conflict within the Moslem world that can't be blamed on an American occupation. And it would admit our ultimate reliance on America for humanitarian intervention, and the failures of UN-centered multilateralism.

The final piece of the litany was a simplistic view of the mainstream media, a theme discussed by Amy Goodman. You wouldn't know that the mainstream media provides a wide variety of opinion on foreign policy and civil liberties. It seems to be a signature tune of modern politics, to establish one's legitimacy, it has become routine to complain that one is the victim of media exclusion and bias.

Of course, bias of all kinds abounds in the MSM. But personally, I found out about wiretapping, rendition, Abu Ghraib and Haditha via the mainstream media, and I can read the dissenting opinions of Robert Fisk and Maureen Dowd in mainstream outlets, and Cindy Sheehan hasn't exactly been marginalised and ignored in the Iraq debate.

Ironically, if there was any stifling conformity to be found, it was amongst the panel who were complaining about the homogeneity of the mainstream media.

Worst of all, it wasn't challenging. Chomsky, on the other hand, actually talked in detail about history and geostrategic politics, and his tone of voice wasn't shrill.

But he tends to rely on half-truths and glib comparisons. At one point, speaking of pre-emptive war, he loosely compared Hitler's pre-emptive attack on Norway in 1940 to America's on Iraq in 2003.

To be sure, a case can be made against any pre-emptive war. But the audience wildly applauding clearly didn't see any absurdity in comparing the Norway of 1940 to Saddam's Iraq of 2003.

Another half-truth: you wouldn't know from Chomsky's account of the Iranian situation that its leader has pledged that Israel ought to be exterminated. Instead, the only bellicosity he acknowledged was Condoleezza Rice's statement that America was considering all the options.

But Najam actually helped make it stimulating by asking difficult questions.

So, a good afternoon, a bad morning. The problem with consensual discussion panels is that their mutual masturbation is unchallenging for them and the audience. People say anything without being held to account, so the quality of discussion suffers. It becomes less a debate than a forum for displaying one's virtue in the cosy environment of fellow sympathisers.
(2) opinions -- Add your opinion

"It becomes less a debate than a forum for displaying one's virtue in the cosy environment of fellow sympathisers."

And this is what many call "intellectual."
Chomsky is good. Unlike most others on his side, his persuasive powers and organization of BS are such that it takes several seconds, or possibly a dozen, to figure out he's lying.

One would think that a self-appointed world-renowned linguist would be approached cautiously for fear he's got the communication thing going so well he could sell snow to Eskimos. Scepticism ought to be involved.

Post a Comment