Our obsession with Noam Chomsky


I don’t understand the obsession that a lot of educated Pakistanis have with Noam Chomsky, the linguist-cum-radical intellectual from the United States.

Calling the MIT professor his mentor and guru, Habib University President Wasif Rizvi quoted him at the Corporate Philanthropy Summit held on Wednesday.

Rizvi lamented about the “dysfunctional system” and quoted a line from Chomsky to support his argument.

When I looked up the actual quote later on the internet, it turned out that Rizvi had chopped off a single line by Chomsky in half apparently to drop his bashing of the corporate sector.

Here’s the line that Rizvi referred to — only partially though — during a panel discussion at the summit.

“They’re sequestered in the pockets of the very rich and the corporate sector and therefore inaccessible for these purposes, so you have eager hands, lots of work, plenty of resources, and the system is so dysfunctional it can’t put them together.”

It is understandable why Rizvi would quote Chomsky selectively at a public event. As the name of the summit suggests, it was about corporate social responsibility (CSR), a term that companies use to describe their spending on social causes and community service. Wouldn’t it be awkward for him to say bad things about the corporate sector in front of the corporate sector?

Repeating Chomsky’s sweeping statements about the evil that the corporate sector is would be challenging for Rizvi also because Parvez Ghayas was among the speakers. Ghayas is CEO of Indus Motor Company, which is one of the only three auto-manufacturing enterprises operating in Pakistan.

Indus Motor Company is among the most successful concerns of the House of Habib, the business group that built and funds top-notch Habib University where Rizvi works as president. The sponsors of Habib University, led by its chancellor, own and run some of the large corporations in sugar, auto, banking, insurance and numerous other sectors of the economy.

Moreover, Rizvi was introduced at the summit not just as president of Habib University, but also CEO of the Institute for Advancing Careers and Talents (iACT). It is a non-profit career development centre, backed by Habib University Foundation and the local government, offering subsidised skills-based education on a public-private partnership basis.

Quoting Chomsky selectively was clearly wrong on Rizvi’s part. In fact, I believe quoting Chomsky at all made little sense for him. You don’t sit atop a 60-million-dollar private university to badmouth the corporate sector that built and still funds it.

People get a kick out of quoting Chomsky. It elevates their ego momentarily. That should be OK to an extent. Many people hold political ideas that don’t match with the kind of jobs they have to keep to put food on the table.

But that excuse seems less plausible if you’re already an accomplished intellectual of sorts. Harvard-educated Rizvi is no small fish who could justify his (plump) private-sector job for a lack of opportunities elsewhere.


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