The irresponsibility of intellectuals

By SETH J. FRANTZMAN

There is a new film called The 50 year argument about the New York Review of books. In one scene towards the end they discuss how the magazine became more critical of the Vietnamese government after the fall of Saigon.  Prior to 1974 it’s writers had taken a pro-North Vietnam stance when the Vietnamese were the victims of what they saw as American power and aggression.  Noam Chomsky and others talked about conscience.  But a year after the fall of the south word came back of hardships, abuses and mass killings.  The duty of speaking truth to power, means to keep fighting against those same abuses that the Americans did, when it was Vietnamese doing them.  But now, the film explains, the readers didn’t want to hear about the “good” North Vietnamese doing bad.

This is the irresponsibility of the intellectuals. Where was Chomsky in 1975, and Jane Fonda? They were tourists on the suffering of others, the white privilege of Michel Foucault to go meet the Ayatollahs, but not their victims. Jimmy Carter met Hamas leader Khaled Meshal and Bashar al-Assad and then walks away.  He met Palestinians abused by Israel, but didn’t tour Assads gulag.

The intellectuals such as George Bernard Shaw take tours from Stalin, but don’t stand with victims. They tend to demand free speech in the West, but deny it to others. Those who love Castro don’t care about dissidents.

Intellectuals don’t pay the price for their support of extremism, murder, terror, bigotry, genocide, mass murder, suppression and other crimes. They can actively fly in like a jet-set of superhumans from one dictatorship to another and never pay the price.

This is their irresponsibility.  We have abrogated responsibility from this class. Academics and thinkers have no responsibility. No checks and balances on their antics and behavior.  We call it “free speech” and won’t say no to it. But why should one have the freedom to suppress another, to advocate suppression, to whitewash suppression?

Why should not those who sit down with the Stalins and with the North Vietnamese abusers, not have to stay there and pay for it. Why do our societies allow them to come and go without demand responsibility. If they like the Ayatollahs, then go to Iran. Don’t sell us “reform” and “moderates” when the only reform in Iran is the type of rope used in hangings.

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