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September 30, 2017

The limits of tolerance


September 30, 2017

Late in September, the admin of an academic list-serve sent a message to the list in which he requested a pdf copy of a recently published scholarly paper he identified as: ‘The Case for Colonialism’ by Bruce Gilley (Third World Quarterly, September 2017). Soon a couple of list members obliged and sent the admin and everyone else on that list two separate PDF copies of this article.

As soon as the PDF was circulated signs of trouble emerged: “I needed to breathe deeply several times while reading this,” one list-serve member said, “It’s VERY disturbing.”

“I am disturbed by the author’s call for re-colonization with the purpose of civilizing post-colonial countries,” another member soon added, “and by his recipe for ‘making colonialism acceptable to colonized’... I wonder how this paper could pass external peer review? Why would TWQ publish this?”

Soon the admin of the list-serve who had initiated this cycle of comments chimed in, identified the author of this essay as “a colleague of mine ... and I think he is more honest and genuine than some of the Middle East Studies scholars in the West.”

As the list-serve members continued to respond in piecemeal, it became clear that a career opportunist professor had published an article in a leading academic journal that prides itself on being ‘peer-reviewed,’ and in which he (based on shoddy scholarship) not only unapologetically defended the colonial savagery Europeans had visited upon the Earth but, in fact, he called for its renewal in our own time.       

That there is an academic careerist who has sensed which way the political wind is blowing in the US and Europe and perfectly in tune with the spirit of the age of Trumpism is seeking to cash in and jump on the already overstuffed bandwagon of racists is not surprising at all. Senior scholars like the blatantly racist, imperialist Niall Fergusson of Harvard or his colleague Samuel Huntington, or before them the top-notch Zionist propagandist Bernard Lewis and his Lebanese sidekick, the late Fouad Ajami, have all been singing the same tunes and enjoyed the full privileges of a first-class university since George W Bush’s “war on terror” commenced – and in fact, long before that.

What is far more troubling than a non-entity seeking instant notoriety by going against the massively accumulated archival evidence of human suffering European colonialism has caused and scholarly arguments mapping out the planetary calamities of the white supremacists’ conquest of the world is this bizarre bourgeois etiquette and liberal politesse that invariably rise obsequiously to meet such obscenities. Oh, he is our ‘colleague,’ the professoriate proffer. “Let us invite him for a ‘dialogue’,” they generously gesture. We need to respect freedom of expression - ad nauseam.

To be sure, there were enough courageous, principled, informed, and emphatic people on this list and beyond who came forward and mopped the floor with this opportunist charlatan. But they did so by defying the bleeding-heart liberals of the inane mantra, ‘Oh, I disagree with you but will give my life to defend your right to say it’ persuasion.

What are the limits of liberal ‘tolerance’? At what point will noble anger, utter disgust, principled indignation, and moral outrage overcome this banal bourgeois gentility?

We justly and correctly have ostracised Holocaust deniers. The slaughter of six million Jews and the suffering of the survivors of the Holocaust are not matters of ‘scholarly debate.’ But in the US, if you write defending the genocidal legacy of colonialism, you get yourself published in a ‘peer-reviewed’ journal, even move up to become full professors at an Ivy League university, and a band of your peers get together politely to discuss and debate your ignorant stupidities with courteous and gentle demeanours.

Since this debacle, most of the editorial board of the journal have resigned, its chief editor was scandalised for having lied that he had run the article through peer review, and even the author has retracted his own article and asked for it to be removed from the journal. But all of this spectacle has, in fact, increased the public cachet of the author and his article. Those who have objected to this obscenity can now be charged with intolerance and ‘political correctness’. For all we know, Donald Trump might soon invite this professor and appoint him as his next education secretary.

This article has been excerpted from: ‘Moral paralysis in American academia.’



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