Across the Bay

Monday, May 15, 2006

Chomsky and the Chomintern

Lee Smith wrote a really good, and really funny, piece on the truly pathetic and absurd visit of Noam Chomsky to Lebanon.

If only you'd read the kind of garbage that Chomsky spewed during that visit. Anyway, Lee has his number. Here's a sample:

At its best, Chomsky's political analysis strikes me as though it was written by a sensitive, deeply disillusioned teenager who has just found out from someone's older brother that states pursue interests. At his worst, Chomsky's just a vicious sensationalist, like when he asserted that the United States' demanding Iran cease its interference in Iraqi affairs "is like Hitler calling on the Americans to stop their interference in the affairs of a Europe pacified under German occupation." Is it really like that, professor? Don't be naïve. Do you have any facts to back up that rhetoric, professor? Don't be naïve.

In short, Professor Chomsky is the kind of luxury that only the U.S. can afford.

Lee has some choice words for the newly endowed Prince Al-Walid bin Talal center where Chomsky "spoke truth to power," and where MESA president Juan Cole made a hajj in December (which he did not advertise on his blog, yet he did make sure to precede it with a fawning puff piece in Salon praising the "devout" King Abdullah, "who has the smile and goatee of a genial beatnik"). It might give people an idea of what may come at the newly endowed Al-Walid centers at Harvard and Georgetown.

Apparently, so is the AUB, which receives between $3 million to $4 million dollars every year in American taxpayer money. If I didn't know better, I'd think that the university still took its role seriously as a bridge between the U.S. and the Arab world. As such, it would try to present a fuller range of American political discourse and intellectual life, an especially useful calling at this time in our shared history. But recent invited speakers and conference attendees like Chomsky, University of Michigan professor Juan Cole and Mark LeVine of the University of California, Irvine, suggest that the only American voices worth hearing on Bliss Street are from a left decidedly hostile to current U.S. Middle East policy. Wouldn't it be instructive to hear other voices? Does everyone, even in Lebanon, think American policy in the region is really sinister? Or is it just every academic invited by the AUB who thinks so?
But at the American University of Beirut's American studies lecture series, the oldest and largest democracy in the world is represented by a left-wing professoriate that believes their country has been hijacked by an extremist right.
So, how is the AUB educating Arab students at a time when it is pretty useful to have a close understanding of the American political process, cultural and intellectual life?

Careful Lee. There are quite a few MESAns in your neck of the woods. Remember how they reacted to people bringing up the issue of ME studies in the US and federal subsidies and such. Now if you're trying to do that in Lebanon, well... then you're just an Orientalist, racist, hegemonic, neo-imperalist, neo-colonialist, McCarthyite, neocon laying siege to academia in the "East," which you're essentializing and reducing to serve your power structures. Does this sound like a good "Edward Said lecture"?