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In Defense of Chomsky

Kris Schnee criticizes Professor Noam Chomsky [“Reflections on Chomsky’s Dissent,” Feb. 26] for attempting to overstep the bounds of his specialty, linguistics: “Noam Chomsky may be a brilliant linguist and will continue to improve our understanding of how we speak... as for his strange brew of socialism and anarchy -- I think I’ll stick to something more moderate.” There is absolutely no reason why someone of Chomsky’s standing should stick to his field. I hope we will rejoice in seeing an MIT professor contribute to international discussion and campaign for the rights of the poor, rather than deride him for being in beyond his depth.

Unfortunately, Schnee calls him “the ivory-tower professor, a man who spits on his country which pays his salary.” Chomsky may not see eye-to-eye with the American mainstream, but this puts his country in the ivory tower, not him. Americans have to realize that it is incredibly easy to live in the United States and be completely oblivious of things happening around the world.

Schnee objects to Chomsky’s characterization that the U.S. disregards “international law” passed by the United Nations and ignores the decisions of the World Court. “Somehow,” Schnee argues, “these laws apply to us whether we have agreed to be bound by the U.N. or not.” There is a very good reason why the U.S. should obey international law passed by the United Nations. It is because the United States expects other countries to follow United Nations resolutions.

Schnee also objects to Chomsky’s advocacy for the “parties of the poor,” hinting they’re all communist. First of all, not all parties of the poor are communist: one could say that the Democratic Party in the U.S. or the Labor Party of the U.K. are “parties of the poor” in that they favor legislation to help the disadvantaged. There’s nothing wrong with that -- and it does not make them communists. Second, just because a party is communist, it does not mean the party automatically favors oppression. There have been many far-right parties (like the regimes of Franco in Spain, Pinochet in Chile, Cordoba in Honduras and Mobutu in Zaire) that have restricted human rights. In contrast, many leftist parties are founded on workers’ rights and freedoms. Third, if a majority of a country’s citizens decide to vote in a party that is rabidly communist, the United States (and the United Nations too, according to the charter) has no right to interfere.

Unfortunately, half of Schnee’s “reflections” are an attack on Chomsky’s character and loyalty rather than on the copious facts presented at the speech. Why does patriotism have to be a reflex for Americans? I would have liked to see someone try to find political objections. I would especially have liked to see objections to the following statements: there really has been no positive socioeconomic development since 1945, the world having grown just in terms of inequality; and regulation of capital flows is needed in today’s world. Both statements are a bit on the socialist side, and I think are irrelevant to “world order” in terms of human freedoms.

We should endeavor for fairness amongst people. Basic freedoms seem to be more important than economic orchestration. No country should behave as if it were superior to others, unless it agrees to a world government and gives up its sovereignty -- in which case there would longer be a country to which to be superior.

The first step in guaranteeing basic freedoms is education and free flow of information. In many developing countries, this is starting through the inevitable entry of the Internet. In the United States, this has to happen by the people abandoning the assumptions imposed by their establishment and learning about the world beyond their borders. Sometimes the truth will be unpleasant, and some will attack messengers like Chomsky for being “unpatriotic”. But without Americans knowing the truth, America will remain to be seen as a bully and busybody.

Toh Ne Win ’02