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September 23, 2020

Chomsky’s warning

Opinion

September 23, 2020

Noam Chomsky, the sage of our times, has spoken up. Employing his usual candidness, he has delivered a dire warning to the world about the potency and the nature of challenges it faces.

In a recent interview with the ‘New Statesman’, the 91-year-old American academic listed the climate change crisis, the looming threat of a nuclear conflict, and rising authoritarianism as the most daunting threats that are capable of leading mankind to extinction.

His comparison of the present crisis to what the world faced when the Nazi ideology threatened to overpower humankind and unleash a new reign of terror underscores how ‘current perils exceed those of the 1930s.’

A sign of turbulent times is the cacophony of the voices that are trying to make sense of the disorder that has afflicted the world post 9/11. By capturing the spirit of the contemporary rage, Chomsky has provided much-needed clarity to the intellectual discourse and raised a red flag about what lies ahead if the world does not wake up and act in unison.

Among the factors that are shaping the reality of our world is the increasing absence of global leadership. The US, under President Trump, has presided over the weakening of whatever was left of the rule-based global system.

While the concerns about the inability of the international system to deliver were already there, Trump precipitated the process of undermining, if not completely disintegrating it, by pulling out of international pacts such as the Paris climate accord. He has framed his populist slogan of ‘Making American great again’ as an antithesis to globalization.

The withdrawal of the United States from the Paris climate agreement, which was put together after long-drawn-out negotiations and painstaking efforts, meant that the political ownership needed to make the accord a success is not there.

Likewise, not content with the ‘response’ of the World Health Organization, the Trump administration cut the funding of the international body at the height of the corona pandemic. This happened at a time when there was a massive need for global cooperation, not just in terms of availability of resources but also sharing the knowledge, information, and data to fashion a collective response to the pandemic.

While referring to the ravages caused by the coronavirus, experts have warned about the next bigger tragedy of climate crisis waiting in the wings with more unimaginable consequences than what the world has experienced so far. The global agenda to counter the climate threat still lacks the kind of momentum necessitated by the enormity of the challenge.

Trump’s outreach to North Korea with an express aim to dissuade Kim Jong-un from upping the nuclear ante has not met with any tangible success. Beyond the optics, the much-publicized summits between the American president and Chairman Kim failed in their primary objective.

If anything that the summits achieved was in the opposite direction: the Trump’s olive branch to Pyongyang was interpreted as a grant of some kind of legitimacy to the brutal North Korean regime that further emboldened it to stay the nuclear path. In the absence of a comprehensive disarmament agreement, the Korean Peninsula remains exposed to a nuclear conflict.

Likewise, the US’ dismantling of the Iran nuclear deal smashed whatever hope was left of a possible return of normalcy in the West’s relations with Tehran. The message that Iranian leadership got was that without developing nuclear deterrence, they would not be taken seriously by the American political and strategic community.

In the broader South Asian context, given the fraught situation arising out of the illegal annexation of Occupied Jammu & Kashmir and the subsequent armed clashes between Chinese and Indian forces at the LAC, there is a real possibility that a tactical mistake can lead to a full-scale war between nuclear-armed Islamabad and New Delhi. For all practical purposes, IOK has become South Asia’s biggest nuclear flashpoint.

The third and foremost issue, as highlighted by Chomsky in his interview is a gradual decline of democracy around the world. This issue remains at the heart of the potential existential crisis facing humanity. According to Chomsky, the weakening of democracy has consequences for the international community’s ability to deal with the combination of nuclear threat and climate crisis, since robust democracy provides the forum on which complex issues are debated and consensus crafted to deal with them. In what could be considered as a lethal attack on Donald Trump, Chomsky holds the US president responsible for aggravating the crises. He calls him the symbolic leader of “reactionary international” that consists of India, Egypt, Israel, Brazil, and Hungary.

From Europe to Africa to Asia, authoritarianism is sweeping across the continents. This surge of authoritarianism is powered by right-wing populism and narrow nationalism that privileges majoritarianism based on sub-national identities.

Recent years have witnessed a growing disaffection with democracy worldwide. The attack on core democratic values such as pluralism, freedom of the press, and fundamental rights has led to the weakening of democratic institutions in countries such as the US and India.

President Trump’s four years in office have been marked by continuous attacks on American media. He introduced the pejorative of a ‘fake media’ to express his strong disapproval of critical and independent voices. His dislike for the media borders on contempt and he seems in no mood to shun it.

Likewise, the meteoric rise of Narendra Modi on the Indian political landscape is owed to the power of right-wing religious nationalism, often described in ideological terms as Hindutva. From being known as a butcher of Gujrat in 2002, he has emerged as an unquestioned and absolute leader of India who is seen as a larger than life figure by his followers, someone who symbolizes centuries-old yearning to make India a Hindu-only country.

Popular nationalism, which is fluid, and expanding in scope both in the East and the West has challenged the progressive ideals and cornered the democratic voices. Chomsky recommends the power of the ballot to be used in support of those that stand up to such regressive forces and mindsets especially in a two-party system. He advocates the need for sustained activism and engagement to push the progressive voices to work for democratic ideals and programmes.

The importance of Noam Chomsky’s sharp and incisive analysis of our present-day world lies in the clarity and forcefulness of his argument. He has prescribed a set of clear choices not only for those at the helm of affairs but also for the global citizens with each choice leading to diametrically divergent outcomes.

Only a public intellectual of his stature could frame the conversation about the future of the world not just as a matter of political urgency but also the one that has a pronounced moral purpose behind it.

The writer, a Chevening scholar, studied International Journalism at the University of Sussex.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @Amanat222