It all started with a single email. A graduate class I’d been taking on colonialism and imperialism cited Noam Chomsky so I figured, Why not? Send him an email and see if he responds. Much to my surprise, Noam Chomsky did respond. We conversed for about a month and when all was said and done I felt like a kid in a candy store. It wasn’t that I saw eye-to-eye with him on much (I really didn’t), but I was afforded the privilege to correspond with perhaps the most significant and vocal intellectual of the New Left; I wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity. In the process, I learnt much about my views, about the sharpest criticisms of my positions, and most importantly, what true mastery of a subject requires. Say what you will about Noam Chomsky, but he knows his history like few others.
My impression of why his political leanings are quite radical stem from a very simple assumption: his worldview. Chomsky is often defined as an anarcho-syndicalist, which in a cursory explanation, translates to the belief in upending capitalist society relying on labour unions with the ultimate objective of achieving a non-hierarchical society. I know, heady stuff eh? As such, if you see the world through such a lens, you may likely come to share many of Chomsky’s conclusions.
But back to the topic at hand. To name a few, Chomsky and I debated Israeli-Palestinian history, identity politics, American foreign policy, the Cold War, the media, propaganda, and sports. I’ve attached a few of our emails trading barbs which, I feel, capture the experience and will hopefully become the source of future posts seeking to deconstruct and unravel some of the controversies we encountered.
Following this rather fruitful exchange with Chomsky I decided to test my luck and send out some more feelers to commentators who I thought would be interesting to engage with: Bret Stephens, Maajid Nawaz, Sam Harris, Jeffrey Goldberg, and Norm Finkelstein. Guess who responded? That’s right, of all those I emailed Norm Finkelstein was the only to respond! Finkelstein was really engaging, and although I did not venture into the realm of Israel/Palestine, our discussions of political correctness, the state of free speech today, and university campuses was productive. I, like Finkelstein, am a free speech purist. I believe that it is a terribly slippery slope and whether the label is ‘anti-Semite’ or ‘Islamophobe’, both are equally destructive in promoting open dialogue. That’s not to say that there aren’t people who are genuinely anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim – unquestionably there are. What is it to say is that aimlessly labelling people as such (which I have witnessed repeatedly) dilutes the term’s potency and silences debate. Once we devolve into the ‘you’re a racist/sexist/homophobe conversation’, it’s over. Engaging such rhetoric only strengthens the accusation and ignoring it, evidently, concludes the discourse; so where does that leave us? Again, attached below are emails between myself and Norm Finkelstein which I expect to engender future posts about free speech, anti-Semitism, and the academic ‘establishment’.