By Abraham H. Miller
Drexel University presented an honorary degree to Noam Chomsky — and a lot of people saw the decision as an affirmation of hate.
Chomsky’s intellectual credentials are beyond dispute. He is, perhaps, the leading scholar of linguistics of his generation. His academic achievements and honors would require pages to adequately describe.
But there is Chomsky the scholar and Chomsky the political activist, and for those familiar with who he is, the two are inextricably bound.
During America’s wars in Indochina, Chomsky made a reputation for himself as a fierce opponent to those wars and an advocate for social justice. Chomsky’s intellectual credentials gave status to his politics.
But then something seemed to change. Chomsky seemed to be wedded to ideas of moral equivalence, which the steel trap of his syllogisms ensnared America with some of the most brutal regimes to ever desecrate the meaning of human decency.
There was a moral equivalence for Chomsky between the genocidal, fanatical regime of Pol Pot and the Indonesian invasion of East Timor. To Chomsky, America was to be indicted for selective outrage at Pol Pot but not at Indonesia, which was an ally.
That America had nothing to do with the invasion of East Timor seemed to escape Chomsky. And Chomsky’s strained exercise in moral equivalency led a number of those who previously embraced his politics to question whether Chomsky was providing a veiled justification for Pol Pot, a charge Chomsky vehemently denied. But that denial rang hollow in the face of Chomsky’s repeated attempts to downplay the extent of Pol Pot’s butchery.
Some saw it as a larger problem. Chomsky had embraced a far left view of the world, and he was reluctant to condemn leftist insurgents, whether it was the butchery of Pol Pot or the incoherent and inconsistent brutalities of Mao Tse Tung.
Solidarity with a leftist worldview superseded any concern for ethics — unless they were to be applied to America and later Israel.
A Jew, born to a Yiddish-speaking household in Philadelphia, Chomsky chose to muster his formidable intellectual skills to justify, in the name of free speech, Robert Faurisson’s publication of a Holocaust-denying screed.
Chomsky’s defense of Faurisson was, of course, manipulated to justify the content of the book. How could it not be when Chomsky’s entire essay was published as a preface to the 1980 edition?
Chomsky was accused of being a Holocaust denier, which he is not; nonetheless, he has provided legitimacy to Holocaust denial.
When the tragedy of 9/11 fell upon America, and while the nation was still consumed with shock and grief, Chomsky once again found a lesson for America in moral equivalence. Ever playing the role of the dispassionate intellectual, Chomsky made a frigid comparison of 9/11 to President Bill Clinton’s cynical bombing of a civilian pharmaceutical factory in Khartoum in August 1988.
Without an iota of proof that the Al Shifa factory was producing nerve gas and ignoring objections within his own intelligence community, Clinton bombed the pharmaceutical factory to redirect attention from the Lewinsky Affair.
It was an act that was as morally reprehensible as it was cynical. It was in keeping with Clinton’s quest for power at all costs, and the costs were massive, for the bombing deprived Africans of inexpensive life-saving drugs.
But Chomsky should have known that justifying the deaths of some 6,000 of his countrymen did not provide moral clarity; it was an abrogation of moral responsibility. It was saying that two wrongs now made a right. Chomsky is the denier of Pol Pot’s genocide, the exalter of the brutal psychopath Mao Tse Tung and the defender of Slobodan Milosevic, the butcher of Serbia.
Chomsky claimed Osama bin Laden as the embodiment of Islam’s historical grievances. Chomsky has seldom missed an opportunity to author a screed against Israel. In 1992, he saw the PLO as the embodiment of peace and ignored its wanton killings of innocent passengers in airline terminals.
He condemns the Jewish hatred of Arabs that he encountered among individual Jews, but the institutionalized hatred of Jews that is woven into the minds of Palestinian children escapes both his notice and the point of his quill.
Chomsky’s far leftist world view does not permit facts to get in the way. His positions sound remarkably like those of other leftist Jews, who, given a choice between their political ideology and their Jewish heritage, eagerly lacerate their heritage to embrace their politics.
Chomsky claims the brutal Hezbollah as a moderate force for peace, just as he showcases the Palestine Liberation Organization, ignoring their glorification of terror against innocent Israelis, their saturation of their people with propaganda that justifies the killing of innocents, and their corruption that prevents the creation of an economically viable and decent society.
The moral Chomsky of the anti-war years has long passed from us. The Jewish hater of Jews and America remains.
Drexel was free to honor whom they chose. They embraced the man who lent his pen and his rhetorical skills to excuse some of the worst acts of butchery in the history of civilization.
The public now knows what Drexel stands for, and the same freedom that Drexel exercises, Drexel’s donors are also free to exercise by voting with their pocketbooks.
Abraham H. Miller is an emeritus professor of political science, University of Cincinnati, and a senior fellow with the Salomon Center for American Jewish Thought.