The famed leftwing political activist says that using the threatening letter as evidence of a coup is “meaningless”!
I have for long admired and followed Prof. Chomsky’s work. Among the people he has never met, I am probably one of the few with whom it was Prof. Chomsky who initiated an email correspondence! Well, technically. Here’s what happened: Anyone remember ZNet? Any leftist worth her salt surely does! Back in the day ZNet was the biggest lefty online site. It had a sustainers program under which you could become a paying member and then get to ask Prof. Chomsky questions on the ChomskyChat forum/message board. Unlike today, his email address was not then widely available, and I admit I became a sustainer only to ask Prof. Chomsky questions. I was 20-21 at the time, and I remember asking him a naïve question on the forum to which Prof. Chomsky kindly replied (also on the forum). However, it was three days later that I got one of the biggest surprises of my young life. An email from Prof. Chomsky in my inbox, not on the forum! Not only had he written to me but he was asking for my help! He was due to visit Pakistan and said that he knew very little about Pakistan’s situation on the ground and wanted to “learn from my insights” on Pakistan’s then current situation. I was both excited and petrified: excited that I now had his golden email address, and petrified because I was fully cognizant of how out of my depth I was. Fortunately, I decided not to use my “infinite wisdom” and instead asked my father, Ahfaz-ur-Rahman, a senior left activist, journalist and former president of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists, to draft a reply, which I sent to Prof. Chomsky on his behalf.
Today, many years later, I decided to communicate with Professor Chomsky again. As most readers would know, there is a widespread conspiracy mania in Pakistan right now according to which Imran Khan was ousted in a US backed coup. Even some western leftists have joined in. There are some usual suspects like Benjamin Norton but even someone like Justin Podur, whom I have always admired, has also been peddling this conspiracy theory. Naturally, Pakistani leftists are dismayed by this as the brave left activist Ammar Ali Jan tried to make clear in this Jacobin article. Of course, as expected, Prof Chomsky naturally is not among such western leftists. However, it appears to me that mainstream Pakistani journalists who are (rightly) against this conspiracy narrative have started including Prof. Chomsky among those western leftists who are claiming that there was a coup in Pakistan. This could be the reason why the popular Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir retweeted a series of smear tweets by the ugly smear artist Idrees Ahmed in which Idrees “chastised” Professor Chomsky and the western left for seeing everything through the prism of American imperialism and in doing so, as usual, misrepresented Prof. Chomsky completely. Much to my dismay, Cyril Almedia also retweeted those tweets. So the first reason that I decided to mail Prof. Chomsky was to take his views on this alleged, supposed coup, because even though he surely does not need my help, I still wanted to set the record straight on his behalf.
The second reason is anti-imperialism and how Prof. Chomsky often gets misused by rightists and centrists in Pakistan in particular, and global South in general. So it has to be conceded that many of those PTI supporters who are now chanting anti-America slogans and decrying the “American coup” have either directly or indirectly been influenced by a perceived Chomskyan worldview (which Chomsky himself rubbishes and derides) according to which the US is all-powerful and controls everything like a puppet-master. As Chomsky has said repeatedly:
“The US is powerful, but not all-powerful. There is a tendency to attribute everything that happens in the world to the CIA or some diabolical Western plan. There is plenty to condemn, sharply. And the US is indeed powerful. But it’s nothing like what is often believed.” (Emphasis added)
To set the record straight, I wrote to Professor Chomsky and in reply to my questions about the alleged “coup” against Imran Khan’s government, Professor Chomsky said that while it was not impossible, he hadn’t seen “any meaningful evidence” to support this assertion. When asked what he thought about the cable from the former ambassador to the US, Mr Asad Majeed as evidence, Chomsky said that he did not regard that as “substantial evidence“.
Finally, when asked how would he respond to people who regard the cable as solid evidence of a coup, and who could retort to him, how else does regime change work if not by issuing such threatening messages, Professor Chomsky responded:
“By that logic, there are regime changes being planned constantly all over the world. Meaningless” !!
So the centrists and rightists (and even some leftists) who take inspiration for their “anti-imperialism” from Professor Chomsky, or the perceived Chomsky (and not the actual one) should take heed that all their triumphant pronouncements of a coup, based on the “threatening letter” are deemed to be meaningless by the biggest critic of American foreign policy and one of the leading anti-imperialists in the world.
In the end I just want to note that this post is not aimed at pleasing any political party in Pakistan or the army, the so-called establishment. Our fortunes won’t change drastically under any of them. The challenge today, as Ammar Ali Jan rightly says in his above-mentioned article, “is to locate an independent politics that stems from the needs of the working classes and links the struggles against authoritarianism with a social revolution against the structures of neo-feudalism and capitalism. In Pakistan, unity among trade unions, farmers associations, student activists, women, minorities, and professionals can build a strong coalition that no longer relies on support from “electables” to win elections and can pose a durable challenge to imperialism.“
*For those interested, here is my Twitter handle: https://twitter.com/RRahman2022
*Update at 25/4/2022: Despite the last paragraph of this post, in fact the entire gist of this post, which kept strictly to the conspiracy narrative, I have received a slew of deranged correspondence. On the other hand, many people have asked for screenshots of the conversation. They really don’t help, as I can already see many doctored screenshots going around on Twitter. Screenshots are not going to convince anyone. However, for those willing to be convinced by screenshots of the correspondence, I present something better. Please see below (it seems people have been asking Prof. Chomsky about the veracity of his quotes in the above article:
Update at 26/4/2022: Several people have been asking to see the correspondence again. The fact is that all of Professor Chomsky’s quotes are already in the interview. The line which may have been omitted by some media outlets running the story was as follows: “It’s not impossible, but I haven’t seen any meaningful evidence” and this was reflected in the above article as follows:
Of course no sane person would reject such a serious allegation out of hand. The main point is/was that the diplomatic cable which is/was being touted as evidence of coup, is not substantial evidence and it is meaningless to tout it as such.