What's this blog about?

As a result of a combination of factors, culminating in the shameful UCU boycott-in-waiting of Israel, I've grown alienated & silenced, working here in one of the UK's finest universities all the while feeling like a Boycotted British Academic, alone in facing some dilemmas of the moment. In this generally chilling environment, it's hard to speak out and be heard, and hear others...and I find myself writing this blog.

What's it about? At present, it seems to me like a rather tortured articulation of the state of being silenced & mute, beyond words; struggling for the right even to use them, for a voice which can still be heard. When it started, all those successive boycott motions ago, I'd hoped it would function as a blog forum of support & solidarity amongst academics similarly-situated to BBA, to help us break through the boycott movement's silencing strategies. That hope remains notwithstanding this silence... Perhaps it lives in trying to articulate beyond the filter of these coping mechanisms of old (denial, avoidance, withdrawal); by way of this labour of finding the words, this voice...
[A forum of sorts has also arisen in the blog's comments, in which others have adopted the BBA moniker in case of need (e.g.
here
and here exposing the racist hate speech which masquerades as UCU solidarity activism).]

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

In the Whirl of the Walt & Mearsh Show: Some Dilemmas

Over two weeks have passed since my last post. This just won't do. Not daily, not weekly; nor even bi-weekly! I would have let you know had I known myself - there's no simple explanation.

I've pinned up a big note behind my computer screen, in bold red marker pen, which reads:

Don't blog. Forget the boycott, CiF etc. WORK!!

That's the explanation: I've been desperately trying to mitigate the damage of this summer of boycotting belligerence, scrambling to meet, in the final hour, some pressing publication deadlines which were forced until now to slip behind the boycott in priority. As usual, I imagined I'd meet them more easily and in a shorter time-span than has proven to be the case. I thought it'd be but a brief blogging interlude...

Also, it was obviously an error to think I could have the luxury of being able to ignore all this - the boycott always stood as symbol for something much larger and that something is ever enlarging and the larger it gets, the more distracting it becomes and the more impossible it is to concentrate on my academic writing.

The latest distraction comes by way of the Walt & Mearsheimer show coming to a campus soon near ... ME! (that should be flashing neon, in an academic sense of course!). Coming to my campus, to be precise. The very campus from which I've grown to feel boycotted, the hosting of W&M being just another sign of my hostile & exclusionary working environment.

[apologies for the photo & the scatological expressions which ensue, this is upsetting and the photo cheered me up when I found it, as does the scatology it has inspired. In my defence, please know that you find me a pauper for want of other ways of dealing with this. A feature which makes this whole period we're living through all the more frightening for, at each juncture of speech, my right is withdrawn, whether by way of being branded a lobbyist apologist or dismissed as paranoid or otherwise psychologically-traumatized. And in the end, all I'm left with is sick humour. Muzzlewatch my you know what!]

People, it's really hitting the fan around here, getting flung around far & wide up and down our campuses, and coming no doubt to a campus near you, for these guys are putting themselves about, turning up here & there: two central London campuses, an Oxford college, and on and on. I have too many connections with those I've highlighted than I am comfortable with, both as a staff member & alum. And, to top it all, W&M are even lecturing Whitehall. So much for coursing one's way through the rivulets of power!

The authors have insisted that they stand uncontested on the podium, alone & free to state their incendiary thesis without the possibility of being challenged by an authority able to do so - on a panel with experts in their field, able to demolish their thesis as anyone expert in the field would. Walt justified this condition to the New York Times: "when you’re promoting a book, you want to present your ideas without appearing with someone who is trying to discredit you." Good one!

Here's a little thought-experiment: imagine Dr James Watson** had been accorded freedoms of speech comparable to those granted by all and sundry to W&M, in this case, to promulgate an abhorrent thesis making connections between race, genes & intelligence. In fact, Watson was prevented from speaking because of the outrage his thesis provoked but just imagine, for the sake of this analogy, that the freedom of speech which gets W&M invited to all these supposedly prestigious universities were applied equally to Dr Watson. Do you think for one minute that he'd have been given the right to speak, uncontested, without at least someone of like stature & authority on the podium alongside him, able to contest his obnoxious contentions?

It is obvious what would have happened - this just wouldn't have been allowed. He wouldn't have been afforded the freedom to speak, as we know by how events turned out; and he certainly wouldn't have been invited to speak in such a protected, cosseted setting. But in the comparable case of W&M, it's another matter entirely and the onus & burden of resistance & contestation is placed on those harmed by such speech: those who experience this speech as racist, or worry about its obvious incendiary ramifications for a particular group known to experience racism. It's for the victims to speak out & challenge this speech. I'd like to think there'd be widespread audience revulsion against the W&M thesis, or it would be laughed-out, but I've been following this too long to rely on this being the case - the opposite is, sadly, just as plausible. Probably more so, hence the trepidation to turn up.

And perhaps, were I to muster the courage and will to do so, it might well be only to discover that these 'bold & daring' scholars have insisted on not taking any questions from the floor or on only taking questions which have been vetted in advance to ensure that nothing too tricky comes up, bringing to light the obvious bigotry implicated in their arguments. They've made their debating tactics, evasionary as they are, perfectly plain: they insist on speaking uncontested, so this would come as no surprise.

Readers, what should I do? Should I go and voice my protest, in possibly the most stressful context: my own university, my own campus, surrounded by my peers & students? Should I go and risk seeing my colleagues join the throng of fans adulating these ' brave' theorists, some of whom, frightening as this prospect may be, I might hitherto have respected? Should I stick around to hear the audience applaud their 'courageous' thesis and possibly boo & hiss even louder at those like me who object to this toxic posturing? Should I risk doing this even when I know it'll only exacerbate this already potent boycotting effect? Or should I stay away, just as I stayed away all those years from UCU (and the AUT beforehand)?

As I contemplated all this, getting distracted yet further from those damned deadlines, I've been hunting around for inspiration. Obviously, Engage is always a brilliant source (the link is to a compendium of the critiques W&M's book has attracted - as you will see, there's much to wade through, such are the problems with this familiar and now rejuvenated hate-screed). Then I came upon a rather shocking chart, which says it all with a simple juxtaposition of text extracted, on the one hand, from the W&M book and, on the other, with comparable passages from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and Henry Ford's International Jew (p.4 of the link).

Please help. The decision is imminent...

~~

** I chose the links on the Watson debacle deliberately: they are all pieces criticizing Watson's views on race & intelligence and arguing he shouldn't be offered the freedom to advance such an incendiary thesis since it risks reigniting racist claims we'd hoped were long-buried. The author of these op-eds is significant: he just so happens to be the very same man who, along with his wife, was the original instigator of the wave of UK boycotts against Israel. The Steven Rose who started it all (yes, it was the Roses, and not - as has been widely claimed - the Palestinian unions!). Oh the irony, the travesty... But what do you expect from someone who, although rightfully indignant against certain forms of racism, dismisses one particular form of racism as 'the cheapest rallying cry of Israel's Zionist apologists'?!

Here are some extracts from the linked comment pieces by Rose, with slight modifications, substituting one racist claim for another: replacing the racist claim about race & intelligence with the racist claim about Jewish world domination. Rose, and apparently the academic consensus on these campuses which invited W&M to speak uncontested, see a problem for racism in one case but seemingly not in the other:

New Statesman
Every time we think we have buried...racist claims about Jewish world domination, some attention-seeker attempts to re-ignite them.

But the scholar’s glamour means that his words, which are without scientific merit, will reignite an otherwise long-buried fight over Jews and power, bring cheer to racists and must be firmly rebutted.


CIF Oct 21st
As for freedom of speech, these freedoms are and must be constrained. We don't have the right to casually cry fire in a crowded theatre, or to use hate speech - at least in Europe, as opposed to the US. If even two of the world's most distinguished academics, speaking with the authority of their academic appointments, are not allowed to get away with such racist assertions, maybe this shameful episode will prove to be a final nail in the coffin of the long and inglorious history of such racist claims.

CIF Oct 24th
I think human rights trump free speech rights... freedom of speech should not be used to abuse and encourage prejudice or violence against minorities for this may damage the human rights of these minorities.

10 comments:

The Contentious Centrist said...

Hi, BBA:

I think you should go. I don't know that you, personally, have to take upon you the onus of protesting. Pre-prepare a question or two that challenge their thesis and if they take questions, try to ask them. There is merit to attending such an event and witnessing first hand what they are in fact saying and how what they are saying is received by their audience.

I am very curious how they explain their claim that the Lobby is responsible for getting America involved in Iraq. Since Israel was quietly against it, their explanation that Israel wanted this war out of the way so that US would attack Iran next sounds very much like a theory hastily manufactured in lieu of their first theory, which had been dispoved. There is a gaping hole there which only the very very willing and gullible can swallow.

If you are short of ideas, you can consult Stephen Colbert who asked Mearsheimer some very hard-nosed questions, albeit with great humour.


Best,

Noga

CM said...

Although it will be unpleasant, you should go, if only to know exactly what arguments they are putting forward. Do you know anyone else who agrees with you about this and can go with you? You'll be desperate to discuss the experience with someone sympathetic afterwards.

If you don't know anyone, perhaps if you manage to ask a pointed question a couple of supporters might reveal themselves...

One question I'd like some brave soul to ask them is: if the Zionist lobby is so all-powerful, how come they've got all these prestigious gigs lined up in the UK?

Shachtman said...

As there have been several articles / reviews which show how flawed W & M are in their writings (putting it mildly) , why not print out some copies of your choice of reviews and hand them out ?

Mira said...

Yeah, go - and leaflet like Shachtman says.

Please go - I want to read your write-up on it.

Anonymous said...

Certainly a worthwhile opportunity, if one that - as an earlier poster suggested - would be best experienced in the company of a sympathetic co-attendee; returning to take your seat in the midst of glowering "anti-imperialists" will be no great pleasure. Making the query calmly and curiously, rather than combatively, will help both the audience and the authors respond to its substance, rather than to its sentiment.

And you might get edifying replies to a few questions:
1. Your definition of the Israel lobby encompasses groups that range from Americans for Peace Now to Americans for a Strong Israel - that is to say, most any group that advocates military support, conditional or unconditional, for the Zionist regime; given that you've made very clear your belief that the United States should come to Israel's aid if its neighbors threaten its existence, would we be correct to consider you part of the Israel lobby? (see Walter Russell Mead's review in Foreign Affairs for a similar notion)

Optional addendum: Does your book, then, represent a covert ploy by the Israel lobby to infiltrate and subvert anti-Zionist circles by placing its own members at the core of its ostensible "opposition"?

2. Benny Morris, the Israeli revisionist historian, has written a less than glowing evaluation of your use of his research. How did you decide which writers, sources, and events to emphasize, and which to deemphasize in determining whether Israel's behavior has presented a moral case for American support?

3. Since the release of your book, the term "Israel lobby" has replaced "Zionists" and "neocons" as the collective appellation of choice for the group charged with offenses as diverse as dominating Western foreign policy, controlling the American media, and even simultaneously backing and opposing the US Congress' bill recognizing the Armenian genocide. Are you concerned that, in spite of your clearly non-racist intentions, the term "Israel lobby" might become a racist pejorative and prompt people to dismiss your book?

Clayton said...

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It's an easy process to get on board, and I can be reached at clayton@verveearth.com for questions or feedback. If you resonate with the vision of painting a global canvas of voices, please give VerveEarth a mention.

Cheers! -Clayton

Dr. Irene Lancaster FRSA said...

Steve Rose has been quietly dropped from Radio 4's flagship programme, The Moral Maze (Wednesdays Radio 4 8.00 pm) which he used to use as his podium for attacking Melanie Phillips: not her views, I might add, but her person.

How a mere neuro-psychologist purports to be an expert on Judaism and Israel, I have no idea.

But such is the arrogance of Rose and his ilk, that nothing should surprise us any more.

But it should come as no surprise that Rose's absence has greatly improved The Moral Maze. It is actually tackling some of the difficult questions.

Anonymous said...

Hi BBA

I suggest you go. And if I can find the time, I will too.

If you do get the chance to ask a question, I would ask them how the Saudi Arabian lobby works and if they consider it to be more powerful than the Israeli version.

Danny Smircky

Boycotted British Academic said...

Thanks to all of you for your excellent advice & comments! It really helps - thank you!

Damned deadlines? Yeah, right! When I've not been drafting the next instalment of being in the whirl of the W&M show, distracting as all this continues to be... Coming soon.

In the meantime, Engage linked to this post (what an honour!) and it's been picked up elsewhere, which has inspired more great blogging:

http://ignoblus.newsvine.com/_news/2007/11/06/1077727-double-bind-antisemitism?last=1194386073

http://fleshisgrass.wordpress.com/2007/11/06/walt-and-mearsheimer-at-large/

Thank you, all.

ignoblus said...

Hi, BBA:

Glad you posted a link to my article when I wrote it. But, for some awkward reasons, I've reposted it here. Just here to leave the new link.