By Abraham H. Miller, Originally posted in the Jewish Exponent
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.