One of the problems of the left is that it is preoccupied with the wrongdoings of the West, especially the USA, and in the Middle East of course, Israel, whereas some of its basic values, such as adherence to human rights, protection and emancipation of minorities, a fair allocation of goods and property, women's freedom etc. are most blatantly violated by non Western dictatorships in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Some celebrated left-wing intellectuals like Noam Chomsky prefer to ally themselves with 'liberal' organizations like Hezbollah or Hamas rather than with 'rogue states' like the USA or Israel. If the USA and Israel are bad, then their enemies must be good, or "the enemy of my enemy must be my friend", seems to be their logic. Hezbollah strives for an Islamic state in Lebanon along the lines of the Iranian regime, and its TV station Al-Manar has been banned in several Western countries for broadcasting anti-Semitic shows citing the 'Protocols of the Elders of Zion'
. It seems hard to imagine how Chomsky, a leftist and secular Jew, could support such a group. Yet he seems to have no trouble doing so.
During a recent visit to Lebanon Chomsky met with Hezbollah leader secretary-general Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, and explained why Hezbollah needs its weapons as a deterrence against potential violence. When asked about the U.S. list of terrorist states, which also lists Hezbollah, Chomsky said that "if the U.S. was to stick to the clear and precise definition of terrorism in its code of laws, it would be the leading terrorist state."
He also demanded all Israeli and USA prisoners to be released. As Al-Manar TV reported:
The leftist intellectual chose to stand in front of a destroyed Israeli vehicle and declare that all the prisoners in the world must be released, whether in Israel or in American prisons.
Apparently there are no prisoners in Syrian, Iranian or Chinese prisons, or they don't need to be released, or maybe he doesn't consider them to be part of the world. Anyway, I think it a bad idea if all prisoners in the USA and Israel would be released, as I am sure there are some really bad criminals in their prisons, or does Chomsky think that all criminals are in the government and serve the army and all the good guys are locked up? Probably there are some good guys in prison and some bad guys in the government and the army, but I am quite sure that things would be worse if the prisoners would run the state and the army.
Chomsky's fondness of provocative and bold comparisons is demonstrated even more clearly by this one
... he asserted that the United States' demanding Iran cease its interference in Iraqi affairs "is like Hitler calling on the Americans to stop their interference in the affairs of a Europe pacified under German occupation."
So the Third Reich and its occupation of Europe is compared with the US occupation of Iraq. I wonder if Chomsky, a Jew, has been thinking for one moment what he is saying. If the USA and European countries would have fought Hitler before he became too strong instead of appeasing him, they would have prevented a disaster and some 20 million deaths. What disaster would be prevented if Iran interferes more actively in Iraq?
Obviously being provocative and upsetting the American Jewish community seems to be more important than saying things that make sense.
However, not all Lebanese are happy with his 'support' and a commentary in the Daily Star
says quite accurately:
The snapshot of Noam Chomsky communing with Hizbullah's secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, was a powerful symbol of the poverty of the secular Western left when it comes to Middle Eastern affairs. With dour attention being directed at the American right because of the Bush administration's tribulations in Iraq, it has become less obvious how morally destitute are those on the other side of the political aisle.
Alighting in Beirut, Chomsky admitted he didn't know much about Lebanon, broadcasting that he would discover it from the back of a taxi. That didn't prevent him from taking a muscular position in support of Hizbullah's retaining its arms, unaware of, or indifferent to, how little sympathy his assertions garnered in a country where a majority regards those arms as, variously, a perilous Iranian deterrent, a domestic threat, or further confirmation that Hizbullah sits atop a state within a state.
The left also has nothing to say anymore on the role of the Middle Eastern state as an economic actor capable of redistributing wealth evenly among its people. Defeat was conceded long ago, with the left usually and specifically ignoring the kleptocratic streak in states opposed to the U.S. For example, has it lately focused on the debilitating corruption in Syria? Has it really inquired whether Iran's apparent nuclear arms program is necessary in a country where the money would be better spent on the poor (a protest routinely raised to oppose arms build-ups in the West)? In this the left is no more hypocritical than the right, of course, but economic redistribution is a cornerstone of the progressive approach it favors, and it was at the very heart of the "Arab socialist" endeavors undertaken during the 1950s and 1960s.
That this critique has been all but abandoned shows how far the left has strayed from the single issue that once best defined it.
Iraq has been falsely depicted as spawning a new ideological battle in the West over the Middle East. Watching Chomsky cuddle autocratic Islamists who once persecuted the left shows how nonsensical this is. The reality is that neither side of the broad ideological left-right divide has presented meaningful alternatives to the policies being pursued today. It is surely easy to list the blunders of the Bush administration, but there are no guarantees that the left can inherit the aftermath. The right is tarnished but, with the exception of a few atypical examples, the left has flatlined.
Yet Chomsky is very popular within the (secular, Western) left and human rights movement, also (or especially) in Europe, and recently gave the annual Amnesty International Lecture in Dublin. He explained that Syria is no rogue state at all, and it has been very cooperative in 'the war on terror', and Syria was put on the list of terror supporting states by the USA because it refuses to give up its right on the Golan Heights and make peace on Israeli terms. No word about its involvement in Lebanon and the killing of Hariri and other politicians and journalists, nothing about its support for organizations like Islamic Jihad (oops, I forget, they are liberal freedom fighters like our resistance against the Nazi's during WWII), nothing about its massacre of 20.000-30.000 people in Hama because they resisted the government. I am a member of Amnesty International and value their work very much, even when it is critical to the USA and Israel, and I think there are a lot of famous and excellent people who would be willing to provide a speech for their annual meeting. Why they chose Chomsky to do this honor is really, really beyond me.
One of the 'traps' of the left is that they side too easily with the (perceived) weaker side. The USA, in their view, is very powerful, arrogant, using blatant double standards and pursuing its own interests while talking nice words about democracy. However, pursuing its own interests is something every state does, and states who don't would not live long. Imagine just for a second that not the USA but China or Iran or Russia would be the leading world power. Things would not be better, but worse. Contrary to these states, the USA is a democracy and has to take into account what the people think and want. It cannot lock away everybody who is against the government or even supports its enemies or forbid anti-American media. Chomsky's freedom to travel around and say what he wants is just one example of that. If he where a Chinese or Russian or Iranian citizen he would not have such freedoms.
This is not to say of course that the USA doesn't deserve fierce criticism, but there is no point in defending totalitarian states and terrorist organizations, just because they are enemies of the USA and Israel.
The Euston Manifesto
, a leftwing initiative by people who are disturbed by these double standards, says quite rightly regarding this:
We hold the fundamental human rights codified in the Universal Declaration to be precisely universal, and binding on all states and political movements, indeed on everyone. Violations of these rights are equally to be condemned whoever is responsible for them and regardless of cultural context. We reject the double standards with which much self-proclaimed progressive opinion now operates, finding lesser (though all too real) violations of human rights which are closer to home, or are the responsibility of certain disfavoured governments, more deplorable than other violations that are flagrantly worse. We reject, also, the cultural relativist view according to which these basic human rights are not appropriate for certain nations or peoples.
We are opposed to all forms of terrorism. The deliberate targeting of civilians is a crime under international law and all recognized codes of warfare, and it cannot be justified by the argument that it is done in a cause that is just. Terrorism inspired by Islamist ideology is widespread today. It threatens democratic values and the lives and freedoms of people in many countries. This does not justify prejudice against Muslims, who are its main victims, and amongst whom are to be found some of its most courageous opponents. But, like all terrorism, it is a menace that has to be fought, and not excused.
A promising initiative that deserves our support (everybody can sign their Manifesto), and I hope will be heard of in the future.
Maybe the worst aspect of the failure of the left, is that people like Chomsky do not contribute anything to peace in the Middle East, and do not help the Palestinians either. On the contrary, as I have written previously, a peace that is totally just for both sides is not possible and everybody who supports the extremists of one side in their demands and violence, contributes to the problem rather than to the solution. Ratna Pelle
For another good response to Chomsky's visit to Lebanon see Lee Smith's article 'From Gulag U.S.A., a tenured dissident'
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