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I have been a fan of Noam Chomsky ever since my interest in linguistics led me to his groundbreaking contributions as a professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But my greatest admiration for him began in earnest after reading some of his more than seventy publications on socio-political issues.
Chomsky can best be identified as the grand champion of political dissent in the United States. His analytical exposition of America’s foreign policies rise above the usual criticisms of the typical left-wing liberals. Chomsky’s approach is meticulously structured, well reasoned, and supported by a vast amount of research data, no doubt with the help of a dedicated volunteer staff. We can summarize Chomsky’s principle issue with the American foreign policies in one word, hypocrisy.
Don’t hold your breath until you see Chomsky on any mass media channels. The commercial network channels are monopolized by the highly sellable trash, mouthed by the likes of Bill O’Reilly who is a legend in his own mind, or the pompous windbag, Rush Limbaugh, and others who cater to mass mediocrity for the sake of the treasured bottom-line, celebrity and fortune.
But, what is Chomsky or other intellectuals of the Left-Liberal mindset trying to accomplish? Addressing admiring audiences at Harvard, MIT or Cambridge, or writing books and articles that appeal to the already ‘enlightened’ is like selling the merits of altruism to Mother Teresa! In other words, those who stand to benefit the most from exposure to these ideas are the least likely to welcome such exposure.
At the same time, knowledge of the facts does no more than confuse and agitate the minds of the ‘ditto’ crowds whose votes count exactly as much as those of the intellectual and the worldly–this is the essence of democracy, isn’t it? Is democracy in action, then, no more than an illusion, a necessary illusion, to borrow from one of Chomsky’s best-known books of the same title? If that is in fact the case, isn’t hypocrisy or a system of mind control an effective means of creating first the mindsets, and then implementing policies of the state that cater to that mindset?
If the truths were only publicized in the public domain, many policies of the various administrations, drummed up to be in the nation’s best interest, would not have received the support of the public at large. But, the disinterested and the oblivious far outnumber the curious and the skeptic. This picture has not changed from the time of the great Greek philosopher, Plato, who also believed that there had to be a fundamental disconnect between the rulers and the ruled. The non-elected wise had the quite natural right to plot the course for the future of civilization, and the masses, the disenfranchised and the proletariat, had to be led along that path by the advantaged lot and the bourgeoisie. Neither Prince Machiavelli nor Karl Marx, or especially the father of the new American neoconservatism, Leo Strauss, proposed anything fundamentally different.
The ancient Greeks are believed to have invented the concept of democracy. Athenian democracy worked, as long as only the male landlords and slave owners had the right to decide public policy. The Iranian Emperor, Darius, is said to have pondered on the type of governance for the vast empire he had just usurped. He wisely determined that the only logical and workable solution was a benevolent, authoritarian monarchy. A participatory democracy, even in the limited Athenian version, Darius argued, would be impractical in a vast empire. Any oligarchy or feudal system, he thought, would lead inevitably to rivalries and confrontations, and to the disintegration of the empire. But, argued a close companion, what if the Emperor proves to be less than benevolent? Too bad for the nation, Darius had supposedly responded!
Darius’s remarks were truly cutting through the proverbial crap and calling a spade, a spade. In our modern democracies, liberal or otherwise, no government can afford to be that honest. This brings us back to the intellectualism of Noam Chomsky and his criticism of America’s grand hypocrisy. His arguments fly against what the political philosopher, Leo Strauss, advocated in his teachings and writings over fifty years ago, and whose disciples, the neocons, are promoting today. Those of us who have problems with the foreign policies of the Bush Administration blame the likes of Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, and other neoconservative Hawks, most of them disciples of Leo Strauss, for charting a path for the nation that, in our opinion, is about as un-American and antithetical to what this nation constitutionally stands for, as one could imagine. This is exactly why the term hypocrisy is so appropriate in this context.
The term hypocrisy applies because the truths about the agendas, and the means undertaken in achieving the objectives, have of necessity gone through a transfiguration process in order to appear attractive and acceptable to the public mindset. The philosophy behind such modus operandi is embarrassingly quite simple: A father must use his better judgment to decide the best course of action for his immature children, as does a wise leader to guide the masses submerged in the mediocrity of everyday life? Methods employed in accomplishing this task in a democracy are different from those in a totalitarian regime. In a democracy people participate in the decisions of the state by voicing and voting their opinions, albeit in blissful ignorance.
At dinner at a Persian restaurant recently, an acquaintance of mine was trying to explain to his wife why the restaurant had both Persian and Greek foods listed on the menu. “Greece and Persia used to be one and the same in the olden days, you know!” He proceeded to explain. “Then the Shah showed up” he continued, “and changed Persia to I-Raq.” This truly wonderful gentleman, about seventy, is a Navy veteran with a high school education, has a wonderful family and a fairly decent lifestyle. He is also quite patriotic, admires George W. Bush, and votes at every election.
In the small community where I live in rural San Diego, the town’s only newspaper, now nearly thirty years old, is owned and edited by one man, an older fellow whose editorial and opinion column is very humbly titled ‘The RIGHT Stuff.’ Next to Jesus Christ, this self-declared political pundit considers “Dubya” (short for George “W.” Bush), as the greatest hope for the salvation of humanity.
When I objected to some of his acrimonious, even outright stupid, commentaries about Iran and the Middle East, he gave me his ironclad reason why my opinions didn’t matter to him: His paper was doing well enough, with increasing subscriptions and advertising revenues; so, he maintained, why fix it when it ain’t broke! This fellow also votes, and so do most of his readers of similar mindset. In our democracy each of their individual votes count exactly as much as does Mr. Chomsky’s!
Noam Chomsky objects to the rampant hypocrisy that has characterized America’s foreign policies in every region of the globe. He goes as far as to accuse America of almost every crime against humanity that America has been accusing others of committing. His criticisms are so bitter, sharp, and profoundly reasoned, that his audiences are basically limited to academic centers or the liberal intelligentsia. Most of what he says, although in a mellow and measured tone, would offend the average listener who’d rather be watching a mindless sitcom or sports program anyway. So, what would Professor Chomsky like to see happen to improve our system to where the votes of a well-informed or enlightened majority would be instrumental in determining vital policies? Or, what would Mr. Chomsky propose that might alleviate the Administration’s propensity or even need for resorting to public deception or hypocrisy in dealing with foreign policy issues? A better question is, Why would he want to?
The President, in his latest speech on Thursday, November 7, stated that there was going to be a change in America’s foreign policies; no longer would America be supporting autocracies that do not partake in the principles of freedom and democracy. The main theme of his speech was an expression of America’s moral objectives of promoting the ideals of freedom and democracy throughout the Middle East. This, of course, sounds just wonderful, and the American people must undoubtedly feel proud of the high moral ideals of their leader. But such moral pronouncements are nothing new. Didn’t former President Jimmy Carter, in his state visit to Tehran during Christmas 1977, praise the Shah for his friendship and leadership, and call Iran the seat of stability and positive reforms in the region? This was only months before all hell broke loose in that seat of stability, and that same symbol of friendship and good leadership was not even admitted to the United States for medical treatment! Was Jimmy Carter hypocritical, or was he simply ignorant?
What makes George W. Bush’s grand gestures of political altruism different from his predecessors’ hypocritical statements? There are some who honestly believe that this President truly means what he says; but does he really understand the ramifications of his bold and cavalier statements, such as the foot-in-mouth thing about the Axis of Evil? Does he really think that the invasion of Iraq, the quagmire of Afghanistan, blind support for Israel, and allowing Israeli interests to dictate America’s Middle East policies, are all to promote democracy, peace and prosperity in the region? Reverend Franklin Graham, the illustrious son of old Billy, the visionary Evangelist who called Islam a religion of terrorism, is also of the opinion that the road to salvation for the Islamic Middle East is for all Moslems to become born again in Christ. There is no doubt as to this man’s sincerity, blind faith and devotion to a horribly distorted version of Christianity. But, one cannot accuse this fellow of deliberate mischief or malevolence; young Franklin is, to put it quite frankly, genuinely ignorant!
Franklin Graham and other bigots like him are not hypocrites; they truly mean what they say. Hypocrites are those who know fully well that what they preach is intended as the means of achieving what is antithetical to what is preached. This is what Noam Chomsky has spent his adult life to flush out. He would never waste his time commenting on what the likes of Par Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Franklin Graham, or my dinner partner at that Persian restaurant, have to say about world affairs. In his criticism of America’s foreign policies, Chomsky seldom pointedly attacks the President’s statements as hypocritical. Perhaps it is because he does not think that they are. Instead, he points his accusing finger at the Administration and its strategists, all the way down to the Congress. When questioned as to whom he would hold ultimately responsible for this trend, he points back at the questioners for their complacency, those who do have the savvy to understand such issues, or wouldn’t be there listening to his lecture instead of watching TV.
Every free and open society needs a Chomsky or two to flush out and challenge ruthless dictatorships, runaway autocracies, and hypocritical democracies. But, even in this Land of the Free and Home of the Brave, how far and how wide does Chomsky’s voice reach before it vanishes in the firestorm of mediocrity fanned by the opportunistic media entrepreneurs or close-minded fanatics?
There is a lot philosophically wrong with Leo Strauss’ ideas of governance; but there is an aspect of practicality or no-nonsense pragmatism in his thoughts that can hardly be denied. The most influential proponents of the Straussian philosophy, his true disciples, can be found at the Washington think tank, Project for the New American Century. Their statement of objectives, influencing the opinions reflected in the publication, The Weekly Standard, can be summarized sequentially and syllogistically as follows: There is a vacuum of power and leadership in the world. America is the sole superpower capable of filling this vacuum. America is logically entitled, and morally obligated, to assume the role of global leadership. America’s moral and ethical values are universal, applicable to all humanity. What is good for America is, by definition, good for mankind. Those who object to or resist America’s leadership role must be overcome by force if necessary.
What the old Greek philosopher, Plato, implied as the rule by the wise in the small world of his times, was espoused and amplified by Leo Strauss as applicable to the complex world of today. If the Platonic ideals of hyper-elitism was intended to address the issue of governance in a city or island state, the modern disciples of Strauss, our neocon gang, have already allocated the twenty first century world to their vision of an American Empire.
The blueprint created by this gang of the wise came out of the drawing room with the election of the religious-conservative George W. Bush as President, and launched into action right after September 11, 2001.
Professor Chomsky stands for honesty and integrity in all aspects of government and public policy. He wants to expose deception and hypocrisy so that the American public may gain the true perspective of world events and America’s response to these events. Just picture this: After the disaster of 9/11, the President appears on national television, standing amidst the rubble in Manhattan, addressing the frightened, angry, and anxious crowds. What kind of truths is the President, himself a neophyte in world affairs, privy to or find satisfactory to express on such an occasion? What about the plain truth? Could the President, even if he knew the facts, have admitted to decades of misguided policies in the Middle East that finally brought the fury of anger and frustration back to our own shores? How would his speech on such a somber occasion have been received if he had admitted that our support for dictators and tyrants in that region to buy their allegiance, or our preferential treatment for the Zionist state because of the political influence of its lobby, finally exploded in our face? How would the public have reacted to those truths?
Instead, he said what he personally believed: With the sincerity of a non-actor, he declared that the terrorists’ motive was their disdain for freedom, democracy, and our way of life. He said that they hated America because of our moral values, our sense of fairness, justice and liberty, etc., etc. He finished by promising to smoke them out and bring them to justice, those who were the perpetrators of this act of terrorism, and those who harbor and support them. He said all the right things, and the nation rested in anticipation of the Messianic victory of good over evil.
Was the President being deceitful or hypocritical? Hardly! He had stated his position based on the information provided to him by his very capable staff. This same capable staff, under the guidance of the wise, has been guiding us along in the pursuit of the terrorists, their hideouts and their supporters. We have thus far re-destroyed Afghanistan and ‘liberated’ them further back into the Stone Age they were already in; we have invaded and created for ourselves a new quagmire in Iraq, are threatening Syria, and are about to make a potentially disastrous mistake in dealing with Iran. The Afghanistan that we bombed to dust and are still involved in had nothing to do with perpetrators of the 9/11 episode; Saddam Hussein’s Iraq never threatened the United States and did not have those dreaded weapons of mass destruction; and Iran and Syria we are threatening now are simply annoyances for Israel, not us. We are losing friends and creating enemies at an unprecedented pace.
In spite of all this, not only does George W. Bush have a good chance of being reelected for a second term next year, his opposition, the Democrats, although obviously in disagreement with his domestic policies and certain aspects of his strategies in his war against terrorism, are generally espousing the same lies and hypocrisies regarding the core issues of our foreign policies. How could a Democratic Party challenger stand a chance for election by turning against the prevailing public sentiments, as misguided and wrong as they might be? Would any candidate dare shun or alienate the Israeli lobby in a political atmosphere where money and publicity make or break a candidate’s chances?
How did all this come about, where the greatest democracy in human history survives by yielding to a system of mind control and deception, where the public remains in a state of euphoric oblivion, busy with the fluctuations in the stock market, weight-loss diets, and credit-card miles? What does Noam Chomsky propose to do about that?
How did this gang of the wise manage to get itself into such position of power and authority? What motivates Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz or Douglas Feith, all State Department or Pentagon strategists, to relentlessly push the Administration toward a confrontation against Iran? Are they really concerned about the safety and security of the United States? Is it just a coincidence that they, and a great majority of others of the same mindset, enjoy close ties with various Israeli interests and organizations?
Even if we were to accept the hard fact of life that, in the final analysis, it is the wise that must chart the course, and it is the hero, the patriot, the brave and the entrepreneur that then shall lead the masses along the charted course, the question becomes, Who are the wise and how do they achieve such positions? Clearly, they cannot be democratically elected, as the whole concept would be an oxymoron. Are the wise chosen from among their own peers as are the Popes in Catholicism; do they assume this righteous title after usurping power through their superior cunning, intellect or diplomatic maneuvering, as did Darius of Persia and practically every other national leader ever since; or do they simply rise to eminence as though divinely ordained, as do Grand Ayatollahs, to become unchallenged sources of jurisprudence?
Historically, no successful rule, from small states to huge empires, those that have lasted longer than the lifespan of the ruler, have ever been liberal democracies, practicing democratic egalitarian principles within their own borders, and promoting the same ideals abroad. The strength and prosperity of successful empires have always depended upon preserving or ‘conserving’ the empire’s economic superiority and strategic advantage over rival states. Is it any surprise that it is almost always the conservative ranks that comprise the flag-wavers and chest-thumpers, the self-declared ‘real’ patriots?
Now we hear that the wise are officially promoting reforms toward freedom and democracy throughout the Middle East. How could such aspirations not sit well with all Middle Easterners with a history of repression under totalitarian rules? But one can only be skeptical because of historical reasons. One can be suspicious of the motives behind these altruistic gestures because, implying that what is happening in Afghanistan or Iraq is leading to democratic reforms is as hypocritical as calling Iran the biggest threat to the peace and security of the world, while the world regards Israel, America’s own so-called friend and ally, to be exactly that.
And, why would we really want to jeopardize our control over the lifeline of the industrialized world, oil resources of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and now Iraq, by promoting democratic reforms in those states, reforms that, by their very nature, might lead to our former serfs deciding to take the reigns in their own hands?
Isn’t it more logical to think that such grand altruistic gestures, doubtless masterminded by the wise, are intended to cause greater agitation and instability in the region, while trying to justify and moralize our activities in that area and, at the same time, convince the American taxpayers of the Administration’s humanitarian mission in the Middle East in the course of war against terrorism? Not bad; killing three birds with one stone!
Finally, how many leftwing liberals and champions of human rights and fair play do we know who’d be willing to jeopardize their inordinately high standard of living they have come to regard as their birthright, through a less hypocritical approach to our foreign policies? We criticize the hypocrites, but enjoy the fruits of their methods nonetheless. We are still paying less for a gallon of gasoline at the pump that we do for four quarts of drinking water–and we are complaining! Now, that’s hyper-hypocrisy!
KAM ZARRABI is a writer, Lecturer, former President of World Affairs Council of San Diego, North County. This article originally appeared in Payvand.