The Tribune - Spectrum


, August 18, 2002

Contradicting a bogus image
Shelley Walia

Chomsky’s Politics
by Milan Rai Verso, London. £10.95, Pages 225.

Chomsky’s PoliticsMILAN RAI, an activist in the international peace movement, worked with Chomsky during the early 90s of the last century. In his all-inclusive study of the politics of Chomsky, he investigates in this book his ardent political intervention which has been of immeasurable motivation to radicals all over the world to hold up the flag of self-determination against the absolutism of the state. The status quo is never shielded, and in Hegelian terms, the ‘rational becomes the real’ for all supporters of a libertarian worldview. What is ‘rational’ has a claim to becoming ‘real’; the critic’s objective becomes a reasoned critique of all institutions in order move towards the rational, and thus more real. Against political supremacy, Chomsky calls for progress in freedom. With this overriding view in his works, he has attained political following as well as a furious bitterness from the powers that be. The arena that he has provoked consists of open-minded socialists versus corporate mafia of the media and the deceitful foreign policy of the US. Rai examines the sub-text of American involvement in world politics that unmistakably contradicts the bogus image of the guardian of human rights and democracy. The book is valuable to those who have of late come to Chomsky, as well as to scholars who are familiar with his vast output but somewhat confused by his outlook.

It focuses on resistance to the existing order. It speaks of the aspiration of a writer to record not only resistance but compliance and then demonstrate their relevance to contemporary politics and the overpowering workings of ideology. To accomplish this, Rai argues, Chomsky draws on the ‘essay’ as a forceful and effective vehicle of exploration to make a case in a manner that is not limited or stilted by any rigid ideological positions as is seen in any flamboyantly academic discourse.


Chomsky began to think about politics early in his life in response to United States policies in Southeast Asia. Around the 60s, he divided his interests and time between linguistics and writing about the function of the media and academic communities in shaping the sanction of the people for U.S. policies. He also took cognizance of the impact of U.S. foreign policy and laid it on the intellectuals to show some responsibility by disapproving of government policies that they find depraved and to work out useful lines of attack on such policies.

Engaged in political activism, Chomsky has moved from the USA’s involvement in Vietnam to East Timor, from Afghanistan to various political and social issues. As Agio Pereira, the executive director of the East Timor Relief Association writes: "His range of influence transcends the boundaries of campaigns for social justice and self-determination. But this is not only lip service or armchair involvement."

Chomsky’s active pursuit of freedom and fundamental justice is responsible for bringing about change in international opinion that now realises that America must transform its foreign policy and not show a bias towards its client regimes such as Indonesia, or display an unqualified support for Israel. For instance, the Pentagon runs the government in Afghanistan. And what is amazing is that America has failed to realise the deep-seated and wide antagonism towards it. All it is concerned with is al-Qaeda while the reconstruction of Afghanistan is not a priority. The need to rebuild Afghanistan and also an independent media must be essential motives of any country that is sincere in its political intervention. Perceptions have to change and be changed by the media in the region. Surrounding areas need to be developed and peace introduced by the concerned bodies. Regional countries have to be brought on a forum with the underpinnings of a peace process. But that is what stands suspect, especially with the media being clearly one-sided and the American networks going out of their way to support a pro-American establishment.

Clearly, there is a crisis of legitimacy in the world; lawful governments need to fight terrorism and stand up for human rights. However, riddled with corruption these regimes have alienated the world. There are no rules of the game but exploitation and grabbing power by prioritising an agenda that is self-promoting. Regimes in Central Asia are totalitarian: this, and not terrorism, poses the great danger. Central Asia will remain the epicentre of chaos in the coming days if regimes do not change their political dominance and America does not stop supporting them. Aid is being lavished on them with scarcely any pressure to amend their policies.

One man dictatorships have to go as apparently they work against any norm in keeping with human rights. As Bob Dylan would say: "the times cry for the truth… and people want to hear the truth." Rai, in this book, gives Chomsky’s truth with all his arrogance, authority, "a giddy whirlwind of exploration, bravery, dissonance and pain." One man alone does not make a difference. Chomsky and his kind stand unintimidated in the face of high-powered western hegemony which ostensibly fights terrorism, but, as recent case studies in different parts of the third world indicate, aid militant terrorism. People long for peace in Afghanistan, in Bosnia, in Kashmir and in the Middle East.