A Review of Noam Chomsky’s interview with Mehdi Hasan and Can the terms “Liberal” and “Left” be used synonymously?

NO, is the short answer to the question asked in the heading.  But why do I need to review this interview to make this point? Let me explain.

Al Jazeera English, put up the above mentioned interview on their youtube channel on the 25th of November, 2016. It is a 25 minutes long video and the interview is around 20 minutes long. But if you just watch the first 3 minutes of this video you will realise that something is very drastically wrong.

This led me to the comment section of this video to see if others have also noticed it. Now, as everyone knows the comment section of youtube is a cruel, nasty and unforgiving world. But what I found underneath this video in the comment section was strange. Yes, the comments were cruel, nasty and unforgiving but they were coming from all over the political spectrum. That in itself is not a strange thing, people from both the right and the left have been known to criticise the same thing but it is usually over different issues. But as could be easily seen in its comment section people with differing political views were criticising this video over the same issue- that Mehdi Hasan (the interviewer) was trying to put words in Noam Chomsky’s (the interviewee) mouth to match the interviewer’s agenda and was sounding condescending while doing so.

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On the surface the problems behind this interview are quite easy to dissect. Mehdi Hasan, a rising star amongst the liberals decides to interview Noam Chomsky, an icon of American Leftist thought. Hasan probably thought that he can easily achieve the objectives he had set for himself for this interview because after all his opinions and those of Chomsky’s were the same regarding issues like US foreign policy, US Corporate media and role of big money in US politics. But when Hasan put those questions to Chomsky, on the issues he thought he agreed with him, the answers he got were far from the ones he expected to get. So, Hasan tried to put words into the interviewee’s mouth, ask leading questions and cut off the interviewee mid-sentence when it did not meet what looked like the already set agenda of the show.

But Hasan met his match in Chomsky. Chomsky has read, analysed, researched and written on how the media operates for half a century and he knows the tricks that Hasan was using just too well. So, Chomsky kept wriggling himself out of the traps set by Hasan, all the while contradicting him and reminding him of what the context and perspective was of the questions he asked. For example when Hasan asked him whether an imminent Trump presidency got him worried more than he had been over any other presidency, Chomsky answered that the president that he was most worried about was Kennedy and how he brought the world closer to nuclear war than it has ever come.

But the problems in the interview went far deeper than just the interviewer’s unpreparedness and the interviewee’s smartness. It had to do something that I have already mentioned above- both Chomsky and Hasan seem to agree on many points but were thinking about completely different issues when talking about it- just like a left winger and a right winger criticising the same event but over different issue.

But Hasan is not a right winger, far from it. The problem with him, us the viewer and lots of people is that, at least unconsciously we have started to believe that the terms “left” and “liberal” could be used interchangeably. I personally never had this problem before but due to the consequences of the US media being the most powerful media in the world which just bombarded the entire world with their 18+ months of their Presidential Elections where they consistently interchangeably used the terms “left” and “liberal” continuously and incessantly, this confusion was sure to arise. But now it is time for the world to undergo a detoxification treatment from the US 2016 Presidential Elections and watching the above mentioned interview helped me a great deal in recalibrating my politics.

Even though there are several political parties in the world which have the name “liberal” in them- being liberal is not a political position. If you have to determine a particular political position you will have to say something like – such and such a thing is left of my position or it is right of my position- you cannot just say that you are a liberal to explain your position.

But despite this many people do explain their position as being “liberals” and this creates two kinds of problems the first is confusion and the second is the red herring of political correctness.

Let me explain the first position by a simple comparison between my beliefs and Mehdi Hasan’s belief regarding private rights of people.

When I first became aware of the movement to recognise gay and lesbian rights in the beginning of the last decade- I was quite hostile to the idea. I simply found the idea of gays and lesbians having equal rights as straight people disgusting. But towards the end of the last decade as I began to adhere more and more to the leftist ideals I realised how contradictory my beliefs towards gay rights were to the core ideals of my political beliefs which were based on egalitarianism-thus making me a hypocrite. So, I gradually decided to modify my opinions towards gay rights to better match my political ideology and now I am a supporter of equal rights for everyone regardless of their sexuality, not just for the sake of my political ideology but because I truly believe in it. So, it is clear to my mind that having a political position (be it right or left) helps to educate a person.

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But what my thoughts and beliefs are hardly matters to the world because I am not an important public personality like Mehdi Hasan. When I mention an opinion hardly anyone notices but when someone like Hasan expresses his opinion hundreds of thousands of people come to know about it. Now let us look at Hasan’s position regarding abortion. Hasan has claimed to be a leftist- but he opposes abortion. Claiming to be leftist when he denies half of world’s population the full rights to the internal workings of their bodies sounds just ridiculous.

But the confusion that Hasan experiences goes much deeper than just opposing abortion. People who see their political position as being “liberal” often times confuse Leftist ideas very easily. This is the reason why when Barack Obama was trying to propose affordable health care for all and spoke up against the lax gun laws in many parts of his country, his opponents were able to easily convince people by saying that Obama was implementing National Socialist ideas of Hitler and since the word “Socialism” is there in the term “National Socialism” and since there is no difference between “Socialism” and “Communism”, Obama’s policies would lead to USA becoming a Communist country. This sort of fragile and easily discountable political argument became very popular because of the lack of political conviction of the so called “liberals” because as I have mentioned above- being liberal is not a political position/stand.

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Source: The Telegraph[i]

In the above mentioned interview Mehdi Hasan makes an equally ridiculous interpretation of something that the Leftist/Lacanian philosopher Zizek said and presents it to Chomsky. Mehdi Hasan in the interview asks Chomsky whether he agrees with Zizek that the election of Donald Trump to the White House has been a good thing because it will help shake up the system. To which Chomsky replies that he completely disagrees with this because Trump is liable to only shake up the system in a bad way.

But did Zizek really say that? Absolutely not. Hasan pulled Zizek completely out of the context. How I know this is because Zizek made his feelings about Trump’s election quite clear since the end of the election earlier this month many times. Zizek repeatedly said that he opposes Trump in every way, but that there are two positive effects of Trump’s election to the White House. First, the annihilation of the Republican Party as it existed before the November 2016 elections (Noam Chomsky called this party “the most dangerous organisation in world history”) and secondly, the rise of more left leaning leaders of the Democratic Party like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren (something that is viewed positively by Chomsky too).

So, Mehdi Hasan completely misquoted Zizek to Chomsky and I do not believe that this is because Hasan is a journalist of doubtful integrity but because he confused the musings of a leftist ideologue. This kind of confusion can only take place when one’s political convictions are not firmly rooted like when one calls himself a “liberal”.

Now let us look at the second problem of people who name their political position as liberal. Liberals can often be found doling out imaginary righteous anger at their opponents in the form of aggressive political correctness or as the Americans like to call it “PC”. My views on political correctness is the same as those of Slavoj Zizek’s, that although some human decency must be expected from our fellow humans and differently abled people, women or minorities cannot be publicly humiliated like how Donald Trump did during the election campaign , asking people to shut up or face the threat of being called a bigot because that person belongs to a privileged section of the society or because that person seem to be criticising policies towards backward sections of the society is unjustifiable. As Slavoj Zizek says, that our society has become too aware of hurting people’s feeling with their speech which is hampering honest discussions about how to solve real world problems like poverty and racism.

Mehdi Hasan also tries to use the stick of political correctness to tame the lion (Chomsky). Hasan asks him in the interview whether he agreed with his view that Trump was like Hitler- Chomsky did not see it like that. Disturbed by his failure Hasan again asks Chomsky to acquiescence to the fact that Trump is encouraging racists and neo-Nazis across United States. To this Chomsky decides to give Hasan a consolation prize for trying and says that Trump’s victory has energised majoritarian groups across the world. Hasan takes the prize grudgingly, because he is too intelligent to fall for it as he realised that the implication of Chomsky’s comment is that factors other than Trump are responsible for the rise of these groups or else why would there be majoritarian, neo-Nazi groups in the first place elsewhere in the world especially in Europe before the election of Trump.

Probably seeing his immense failure to garner the proper responses from Chomsky in the editing room- Mehdi Hasan launches into a full on post break monologue where he tries to prove that it was not the economy but racism which turned the tables in favour of Trump in the election. Hasan uses numbers from various surveys but the survey he relies on most to make that point is the Edison Research Report which was carried out in concert with all major news channels in the US, including Fox, CNN, ABC, NBC and CBSN News. Hasan uses this report to show that Trump’s voters were on average richer than Clinton’s voters (so economy did not play a part in the way voting turned out) and that most people of colour voted for Clinton and not Trump[ii].

But, what is the Edison research report? It is an exit poll conducted by making people fill up forms in person or through telephone conversations. How many people were involved in this survey? Less than 25,000. So, immediately two problems are apparent- first- if the opinion polls (surveys before voting) conducted by all the major news channels in the US were proven wrong what is the guarantee that the exit polls (survey conducted after voting) will be right. Secondly, even if the number 25,000 sounds very big it is minute compared to the over 100 million people who voted in the US Presidential Elections.

In fact the numbers in the Edison Research are so ridiculous that one conservative commentator used its numbers and got the following conclusion:

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In their quest to become increasingly politically correct the people who call themselves liberal have sacrificed leftist politics for statistical circuses and when statistics do not agree they depend on probability and this has emerged as their greatest challenge/weakness. For example the probability that the above mentioned 25000 people would be representative of more than 100 million people. Nowadays, we see this law of probability is used by liberals to describe every social situation they encounter. This is not only a bankruptcy of ideas but is basically identical to the original capitalist propaganda in the US which was identified and aptly described by Che Guevara who said that US capitalism was run by a ruling class which dazzled the working class with the examples of a few rags to riches stories as being examples of hard work and asserting their belief that if the rest tried hard enough they could also become like them.

[i]http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/barackobama/7888741/Barack-Obama-compared-to-Hitler-and-Lenin-in-Tea-Party-billboard.html

[ii] http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/11/08/us/politics/election-exit-polls.html?_r=0

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