Noam at 90

The Financial Daily - - NATIONAL -

to sup­ple­ment his aca­demic pur­suits with po­lit­i­cal activism.

Chom­sky's aim has been not just to in­ter­pret the world but to change it.

Some 30 years ear­lier, at a rally in Lon­don re­lat­ing to the Span­ish civil war, the Amer­i­can ac­tor and singer Paul Robe­son had an­nounced: "The artist must elect to fight for free­dom or slav­ery. I have made my choice. I had no al­ter­na­tive." Chom­sky felt the same way about in­tel­lec­tu­als. Co­in­ci­den­tally, his in­ter­est in world af­fairs was first re­flected in a school es­say he wrote at the age of 10 or so, lament­ing the fall of Barcelona and the tri­umph of Fran­coist fas­cism.

A com­mu­nist un­cle was in­stru­men­tal in stim­u­lat­ing teenage Noam's fas­ci­na­tion with pol­i­tics, but even as a young man he leaned more to­wards an­ar­cho-syn­di­cal­ism or lib­er­tar­ian so­cial­ism. In the 1950s, he even toyed with the idea of set­tling down in an Is­raeli kib­butz, a way of life that seemed clos­est to an­ar­chist ideals, but he and his wife, Carol, de­cided against it af­ter a month-long ex­per­i­men­tal so­journ. If Chom­sky's ac­tive par­tic­i­pa­tion in the move­ment against the US in­va­sion of Viet­nam threat­ened his ca­reer and lib­erty, his cri­tique of Is­rael af­ter the 1967 war stirred even greater ire.

It would be fair to say that in re­cent decades Chom­sky's po­lit­i­cal texts have over­shad­owed his con­tin­ued en­gage­ment with lin­guis­tics, phi­los­o­phy of the mind, etc. This is hardly sur­pris­ing, given his tren­chant cri­tique of US for­eign pol­icy, in­vari­ably laden with facts and heav­ily ref­er­enced, rapidly found a global au­di­ence.

It was the fo­cus on the Mid­dle East and Latin Amer­ica that par­tic­u­larly at­tracted my at­ten­tion two or three decades ago, be­cause it was rare to en­counter such clar­ity in ex­plain­ing ex­actly why large seg­ments of the pop­u­la­tion in th­ese parts of the world were hos­tile to the ac­tions and aims of Wash­ing­ton and its al­lies. But Chom­sky's hori­zons are un­lim­ited and his wealth of knowl­edge is for­mi­da­ble - which came in par­tic­u­larly handy in analysing the aftermath of 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

A long-stand­ing criticism of Chom­sky has been that by fo­cus­ing so sharply on US ex­cesses and out­rages, he blurs the do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional crimes com­mit­ted by var­i­ous other gov­ern­ments. It's not hard to see how such an im­pres­sion might arise, but it's im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that his in­tent is to high­light what of­ten gets ig­nored or ob­scured by the cor­po­rate-con­trolled main­stream me­dia. (The book Man­u­fac­tur­ing Con­sent, cowrit­ten with Ed­ward S. Her­man, re­mains an es­sen­tial primer for any­one in­ter­ested in the sub­ject.)

Chom­sky's aim all along has been not just to in­ter­pret the world but to change it, and he log­i­cally sees the

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Pakistan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.