World will emerge from pandemic at terrible cost: Chomsky

Published December 8, 2020
Professor Noam Chomsky said that no crisis that the world is facing is inevitable. — AFP/File
Professor Noam Chomsky said that no crisis that the world is facing is inevitable. — AFP/File

KARACHI: No crisis that the world is facing is inevitable. There are feasible solutions, and they are in hand. But it’s not enough to just have academic knowledge of what to do. Somebody has to take the knowledge and work with it.

This was said by internationally renowned scholar Professor Noam Chomsky in his talk titled ‘Reflections on the future of democracy: nuclear threat and the looming environmental catastrophe in a post-Trump world’ organised online by Habib University here on Monday evening.

Prof Chomsky said the election that took place in the United States recently was not over. He said eminent scientists and thinkers had tried to encapsulate their conception of the world security situation by a clock called the doomsday clock. When the clock reaches midnight that means termination of the species. The clock was set in motion shortly after the dropping of the atomic bombs in 1945; then it was set on minutes to midnight.

Every year that President Trump has been in office the minute hand has moved closer to midnight. Two years ago, it moved to the closest that it has ever been. Last January the analysts abandoned minutes and moved it moved to seconds. They [scientists] mentioned three crucial issues — the threat of nuclear war, the threat of environmental catastrophe and the deterioration of democracy. The scholar then added a fourth — the pandemic.

At an online talk, renowned scholar terms US presidential election total disaster

Prof Chomsky said the Trump administration continued with its project of dismantling the arms control regime which was of some protection against the threat of nuclear war. Any war [for example] between Pakistan and India will be essentially terminal. The Trump administration is also continuing to open up new areas in the country to fossil fuel exploration, continuing to dismantle the regulations which impose some constraints on fossil fuels and protect the people from emissions which can extremely harmful to health, particularly in this period when people are facing respiratory diseases.

On deterioration of democracy, Prof Chomsky said the Trump administration had purged the executive branch of the government of any independent voices. The Congress installed inspectors general to monitor the performance of the executive offices for corruption. He [Trump] took care of that by just firing them.

The scholar said the election on Nov 4 was a total disaster. The Republicans are not that different from Trump. They have drifted off the political spectrum years ago. They are ranked alongside the parties in Europe with neo-fascist origins. They are a party of environmental denialists, ultranationalists, evangelical Christians, militarists, xenophobic, racist and white supremacists.

On the mismanagement of the pandemic, Prof Chomsky said the world was suffering from it severely but it was the least of the four crises. “We will emerge from the pandemic at a terrible and needless cost. We can see that some countries have dealt with it. By Jan 10, Chinese scientists had identified the virus rapidly. By Jan 10, virologists all over the world knew what they’re facing, knew the kinds of measures that had to be taken. Some places the measures were taken, others not.

“We can see the difference. In China, life is pretty much back to normal. South Korea dealt with it expeditiously and effectively. Europe waited too long but finally most of Europe began to take significant measures. Others didn’t. India, Brazil, France and the US didn’t. These are the countries in the lead in facing the pandemic catastrophe.

“In the US the government has simply given up. The public has been inundated with propaganda from the right wing which says it’s a hoax. China has a vaccine which is in the advanced stage of testing. It hasn’t even been mentioned in the US.”

On the US presidential election, Prof Chomsky said the Republicans won the election at every level; the only office they didn’t win was the presidency. That was just hatred of Trump, not love of Joe Biden. Signs suggest that Trump will never concede that he lost by six million votes. He will presumably leave office on Jan 20, without conceding.

On the subject of democracy under threat from reactionary forces, the scholar said one of the developments in the past couple of years had been the growth of a reactionary international. It’s not formalised but is taking shape with Trump in the White House. It includes the most reactionary states in the world, the ones most bitterly attacking and destroying democracy. In the western hemisphere the leading member is Bolsonaro of Brazil. In the Middle East it includes the most reactionary states — the Gulf emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel. Israel has gone very far to the right. It is maybe the only country in the world where Trump’s popularity was overwhelming. It’s maybe the only country where the younger population is more reactionary than the older one.

To the east, he added, Narendra Modi’s India was destroying the remnants of Indian secular democracy, crushing Muslim rights, placing Kashmiris under a vicious and brutal rule. Pakistan is not too far behind.

On what will happen when the Biden administration comes in, the professor said it’s not very clear. The Democratic Party is torn between two groups. One is the management of the party. Then there’s the popular base, mostly younger people, who are in the American context called the radical Left.

With reference to the Panama papers, he said there’s been an enormous robbery of the general public. It’s not going to the top 10 per cent, most of its going to the top 0.1pc tiny fraction of the population which has doubled the share of their wealth over the last 40 years. This has had a harmful effect on the functioning of democracy.

After the talk, Habib University president Wasif Rizvi, who co-hosted the event with Christopher Taylor, the university’s academy affairs president, put a question about the possibility of a strike on Iran. Prof Chomsky said it’s a possibility. The sanctions against Iran have absolute no legitimacy. So what’s the threat of Iran?

The threat is that it’s a possible deterrent. Countries that want to rampage freely in the region don’t want deterrents, and there are two of them — the US and Israel. The US doesn’t want the Israeli nuclear weapons to be inspected. It doesn’t even officially recognise that Israel has nuclear weapons.

“Will there be a strike? Nobody knows. The Trump administration is in a state where it is willing to do almost anything. If the US were to attack Iran it won’t be an invasion; it would be an attack from a distance. It’s possible that Iran could respond. It has ways to respond. Weak military, but they do have missiles. The missiles can reach northeast Saudi Arabia. If they attack [it], the results are extraordinary not just for Saudi Arabia but for much of the world. If that happens it will be a massive war and then we’re basically finished,” he added.

Published in Dawn, December 8th, 2020

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