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Boycotting Academic Conferences in the USA – Worthwhile or does it just reinforce Trump’s Fascist World View?

February 1, 2017

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Here’s the call for the big academic boycott.  I’m sure I’ll have signed it by the days end.

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSeNN_2HHREt1h-dm_CgWpFHw8NDPGLCkOwB4lLRFtKFJqI25w/viewform?c=0&w=

Sometimes, petitions  and campaigns gain a certain critical mass, and you have to think about whether,  on the whole, you support the kind of political momentum and energy they represent, or whether you don’t.

Here’s the blurb…

On 27 January 2017, President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order putting in place a 90-day ban that denies US entry to citizens from seven Muslim majority countries: Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia. So far, the ban includes dual nationals, current visa, and green card holders, and is affecting those born in these countries while not holding citizenship of them. The Order also suspends the admittance of all refugees to the US for a period of 120 days and terminates indefinitely all refugee admissions from Syria. There are indications that the Order could be extended to include other Muslim majority countries.

The Order has affected people with residence rights in the US, as well as those with rights of entry and stay. Some of those affected are fleeing violence and persecution, and have been waiting for years for resettlement in the US as refugees. Others are effectively trapped in the US, having cancelled planned travel for fear that they will be barred from returning. The order institutionalises racism, and fosters an environment in which people racialised as Muslim are vulnerable to ongoing and intensifying acts of violence and hatred.

Among those affected by the Order are academics and students who are unable to participate in conferences and the free communication of ideas. We the undersigned take action in solidarity with those affected by Trump’s Executive Order by pledging not to attend international conferences in the US while the ban persists. We question the intellectual integrity of these spaces and the dialogues they are designed to encourage while Muslim colleagues are explicitly excluded from them.

*In order to add your signature, please write your name and institution in the box below where it says ‘Short answer’. This list is updated manually (at least twice per day) so your signature will not appear immediately. Please do not enter your signature more than once.
As of 31 January 2017, 21.00 GMT the letter has 4500+ signatures.

 

I had to go through a bit of internal discussion though…

The Trump regime has, in a matter of days, initiated an iniquitous Muslim ban disguised as a ban on citizens from seven countries that happen to be Muslim (but aren’t involved in Trump’s own business interests).  The ban is for 90 days, but no part of me believes it won’t be extended or expanded.  Since the ban was not made in response to a shred of “evidence” from a security point of view no change in the international situation will be cited as “evidence” that it can be revoked.  Steve Bannon is in charge of policy at the White House now, and Bannon is an obscene wife-beating fascist who has devoted his life to visiting suffering on others.  Furthermore, some polls have just come out offering considerable public support for this policy of racist exclusion.  It doesn’t matter whether the polls are accurate or not.  They will be used to support the administration.

A fascistic agenda now commands not only the Presidency, but Congress, the Senate, and now the Supreme Court.  Not all Republicans are fascists, but most of them are soul-less invetebrates who will not flicker an eyelid to defend their nation from fascism unless or until a focus group tells them that fascism might be an electoral handicap.  This won’t happen until spring and summer of 2018 and in the meantime Steve Bannon will be busy making the world a more frightened, hateful  and violent place.

What will this boycott do?

The trouble is of course, that as a foreign academic, I am already poison,  from the point of view of Trump’s political power base.  The willful self-exclusion of so many academics from the United States is something that Trump and his allies will celebrate as a political victory, surely?  If Trump and Bannon ever bother to learn that international academics are boycotting conferences in the States, they will whoop and high five each other.  They will chalk it up as a victory and go about their disgusting work with a little extra spring in their steps.

And Trump’s core supporters will be equally delighted to learn that foreign intellectuals have been (self) purged from America’s shores.  “We don’t want them – we don’t need them.”  The base will be fired up and envigorated.

Of course, hostility to academia is not a uniquely American phenomenon.  It’s impossible to work in the humanities in an anglophone nation without being tarred as “metropolitan elite”.  Read the comments page of any news story regarding academic job conditions in a British or even an Irish newspaper and you’ll find scores of people who believe that however many hours academics work, it’s too few and however little they get paid – it’s too much.  Fascism’s transatlantic war on the creative life of the mind means that whatever makes an academic unhappy can to be trumpeted as a positive “anti-elitist” development.

But yes – I am going to sign this thing.  Because this boycott isn’t about influencing US policy or seeking to reverse it.  It isn’t about trying to parlay with fascists.  I don’t know how to negotiate with fascists because I don’t know how to remove the fork from their brains that has short-circuited transitive communication.

This is about influencing the apolitical.  This is about influencing decent, reasonable people who just want to get on with life as normal.  I like these people, but they have no right to go about their daily lives as normal.  There is no normal.  This petition will result in cancelled speakers, cancelled panels and cancelled conferences.  Hotels will lose business.  This kind of boycott will make explicit the fact that the world has changed and the new reality cannot and should not be normalised.  And following the boycott of unpopular people (like academics) may come other boycotts of less despised visitors.  There may be cultural and sporting boycotts.  The ability of the USA to host international events of any stature may be compromised.  As a consequence,  growing numbers of people may start to ask questions about what has happened to their country.

Singing this petition happens to be very easy for me this year.  I’m not, at present, agreed to attend any forthcoming conferences in the USA.  I haven’t booked flights and I haven’t availed myself of a superb non-refundable hotel deal.  Very often, at the beginning of February, I have done precisely these things.  And many friends of mine will have made a financial investment of this nature this year – and theirs is therefore the harder choice.  Pathetic old liberal that I am – I respect whatever choice they make.

And if Theresa May continues her warm embrace of fascism, expect boycotts to start to extend to Britain too.

 

 

 

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