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Ali Eteraz Headshot

Chomsky Dissent Not Enough

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I hope Professor Chomsky is well. Though I must warn that today I am writing not to praise, but to complain against him. At the outset, allow me to state that my respect for him should be presumed. My complaints are borne not from malice, but need. I am writing to say that the theory of dissent which has so long served Professor Chomsky, and allowed him to cast such a shadow upon the world, though still necessary, is no longer sufficient. I confess that I will always remain beholden to the spirit of vociferous dissent he articulated, but I cannot concur with the entirety of its substance. It is not true what his critics say. He does not dissent too much. Rather, if Professor Chomsky will accept a rejoinder from a meager youth: he does not dissent enough.

I say this knowing that he has been the foremost investigator of political and corporate lies over the past half century. He unearthed child labor and human slavery and laid it bare for all to behold and found all the Western agents complicit in such horror. He spoke out against Israeli aggression, and against the war in Iraq, and documented the acute inter-relationship between Wall Street, international arms trafficking, and economic exploitation. I cannot deign to list his contributions because their importance can be assumed by simply asserting that they exist.

Yet, the fact is that today, globalization, which Chomsky always said was the handmaiden of neo-liberalism, and a construction of powerful Western governments, has an equally sordid evil twin, and this is the globalized monstrosity of extremely extreme extremist Islam. By the way, when I talk about extremists, I am not referring to terrorists alone. Would it were that this globalized undercurrent of violence was merely political! There exists today a form of globalized lifestyle and cultural extremism galvanized and organized and idealized by millions. This extremism, where it is not suffocating art, scholarship, freedom and love, it is murdering, killing, and beating to death. It must be identified and spoken out against with the same gusto reserved for neo-imperialism and corporatism. Dissent against all three is not inconsistent as they each mutually feed one another and leave vast numbers of human beings without a voice, without life.

I just read that in Kurdistan a Yezidi girl was stoned to death with bricks to her head because she loved a Sunni boy; meanwhile security forces watched and people made videos on cell phones. I just read that Egyptian hardliners hold parties where the works of jurists like Abu el Fadl - who writes about the Search for Beauty in Islam - are burnt. I just read that the Taliban "Book of Rules" contains exhortations to kill school-teachers, which is usually accomplished by disemboweling. I just talked to a police officer from a Muslim country who recalled to me instances of boys raped upon stacks of Qurans by heads of religious institutions. I spoke with small business owners in a Muslim country who are regularly extorted by their religious leaders. I just read that Hezbollah is now operating in South America (quite distant from Lebanon, no?), recruiting and drug-running like common thugs, and we have known this since 2002. I just read of "ninjabis" in Pakistan - veiled women who with sticks and rage beat brothel owners, music store owners and video store clerks. I just read of Iranian police officers who kick and beat women for daring to wear earrings. I just read that in some places (Saudi Arabia) women are being beaten so they will wear the veil; in other places women are being beaten (Mogadishu) so they will not wear the veil. I just read that in the world there are over 5,000 (reported) honor killings every year including in places as forward and progressive as Turkey, Italy and England, and in most places courts routinely fail to prosecute offenders. I just read of a German judge affirming that Muslim men are supposed to beat their wives (alternate view here). I just read of a British school where the Jewish Holocaust is no longer discussed because it hurts the feelings of the Muslim students. I just read of imported Muslim brides in the West who are shackled at their new home and beaten and expected to behave like slaves, and this behavior is given legitimacy by male and female scholars of Islam that they purport to follow. I just read that a powerful Iranian cleric called for the death of a journalist who published the Danish cartoons, while an American cleric on a mosque payroll wished that a popular female thinker should be removed to a Muslim country so she could be killed for being an apostate. I just read that a journalist in Canada was beaten with cricket bats after he questioned a Pakistani cleric's metaphysical ability to reveal the face of the Prophet Muhammad on the surface of the moon.

In this list I did not include the events we already know: 9/11 NYC, 7/7 London, 3/11 Madrid, bombings in Kenya and Tanzania and Bali and Karachi, or any of the other acts of "political" violence. I wish to only make the point that at some point, extremism came to impose itself the Muslim world; it organized, became more than just political violence, and due to the mass migrations of late 20th century, globalized. Can this extremism be linked to the predation of capitalism? Of course! But that does not explain why extremist Muslim industrialists, and their wives, work diligently to create teams of religious "scholars" whose responsibility is to propagate creationism, mandate the face veil, demonize homosexuals, and create a culture of religious supremacism where everyone who is not a "Muslim" cannot even be a citizen of the state, and anyone who satires them is censored and shut down and forcibly divorced and exiled. Meanwhile, atheists, and secular humanists (such as Chomsky) are lambasted as apostates, and asked to choose between repentance and death.

People who allot great deference and respect to Professor Chomsky do so because he spoke out against the inhumanity of arms trafficking, predatory capitalism, ideological politicians, and covert wars. His moral clarity and courage in the face of his detractors galvanized a thousand and one activists and thinkers to challenge authority, question leadership, and stand firm against nation-states. It galvanized yours truly. I learned from him that dissent usually means standing alone where no one else will. I thank him for that lesson. Now I must apply it.

Given that neither he, nor those who invoke him, have added extremist Islam (specifically in its cultural and lifestyle manifestation) to the list of things to dissent against, I have to part ways with him and look around for a place to stand. I will not cease to speak out against the unilateralism of the superpower, the predation of the executive, or the murderous arms dealers. These things matter. However, I have seen too many people - my people - living lives of shame, fear, and cowardice in the face of an unchecked global predator, and I cannot stay silent because the established dissenters have not said anything about it. The current discourse of dissent is not enough. There must be more dissent. I hope that when Professor Chomsky looks across the world at the dissent he inspired, he will recognize some of himself in the rest of us.