World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010

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What are the responsibilities of academics as public intellectuals? (035) - NOT_DEFINED activity_field_Panel

· NOT_DEFINED date: MON 19, 5.00-7.00 pm

· NOT_DEFINED institution: Birzeit University (Palestine)

· NOT_DEFINED organizer: Samia Batmeh

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description: In the past century educational institutions have been at the center of the storm created by the idea and reality of “modernity.” The role of education in the project of nation building is a well explored phenomenon. Equally important is the role of education (and its institutions) in colonial and anti-colonial movements. As a part of this work people have asked, what role do scholars and local institutions play in anti-colonial struggles? What are the responsibilities of academics as public intellectuals? Should their academic work aim at unmasking the structures of power—including colonial power—with a view to their dismantlement?

This panel will challenge conventional thinking about the role of the university in our contemporary colonial and post-colonial environment. Part of this discussion, of course, will necessarily challenge the constructs of “colonial” and “post-colonial” as we explore the place of the university in political struggles and the politics of academic activism.

Academics have been involved in two major contemporary struggles for liberation in the past century, those of South Africa and Palestine. During the Apartheid regime in South Africa, a basic and stable element of the civil society response to oppression was to construct and support a boycott campaign. A fundamental component of this campaign was an academic and cultural boycott. More recently, Palestinian civil society activists have been urging the adoption of a broad campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions, including an artistic and academic boycott of Israeli institutions. This panel will explore the idea and practice of an academic and cultural boycott as a response by civil society to oppression.

In addition to investigating the South African and Palestinian examples, this panel will reflect on the theoretical issue of boycotts, including the issue of intellectual and artistic freedom. Many opponents of academic boycotts—in both the South African and Israeli cases--have argued that boycotts are inimical to the full exercise of academic freedom. These arguments will be examined and their implications explored.

Chair: Samia Botmeh (Researcher Birzeit University - Palestine)

Paper presenter: Salim Vally, Senior Researcher, Faculty of Education, University of Johannesburg: "The Slippery Side of the Academy: from Ivory Tower to Market Mill"
This presentation examines solidarity actions by students and staff in the academy during the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa with solidarity action in support of the calls made by Palestinian civil society today. The presentation will show how the impact of corporate globalization works to erode notions of solidarity. It will argue that
the latter is best served by a defense of higher education as a public good and an autonomous sphere of critical and productive democratic citizenry as well as resistance to the imposition of commercial valuesto subvert the purpose and mission of our institutions. It concedes that the academy has to be accountable not only to the collegiums but also to the constituencies ‘outside’. It attempts to identify these
constituencies and suggests that they together with progressive academics and students can influence the university.
The presentation calls for a self-critical look at the practices of management and some academics by employing Edward Said’s notion of the public intellectual. It will also highlight crucial initiatives by colleagues in some universities that point the way toward transforming the academy for the common good and who strive through their praxis to
contribute to genuine social transformation and solidarity.

Paper presenter: Lisa Taraki, Associate Professor of Sociology, Birzeit University, Palestine: " In the Service of Oppression: the Complicity of the Israeli Academy"
Universities are among the most important ideological arenas where state power and prevailing social and political hierarchies are reproduced and legitimized. In Israel, a close partnership has existed for several decades between the academy and the political-military-intelligence establishment. Disciplines such as history, demography, archaeology, anthropology, and even architecture have served to further the colonial project, whether directly or indirectly. This paper will explore the various facets of the complicity of the Israeli academy, and will argue that it is firmly entrenched in the structures of domination over the Palestinian people. The presentation will also discuss the case for the academic boycott of Israel as one means in the struggle to make Israel accountable under international law. The paper will also reflect on the issue of academic freedom, which is claimed by many opponents of academic boycotts—in both the South African and Israeli cases—to be violated in such boycotts. These arguments will be examined and their implications explored.

Paper presenter: Marcy Newman, Associate Professor of English, Amman Ahliyya University, Salt, Jordan: "The American Front: Political Action, Academic Boycotts and the Legacy of the American Liberal Academy"
In the summer 2006, as bombs fell on Gaza and Lebanon, I first wrote to the American Studies Association (ASA) executive committee, of which I was a member, to ask them to support the Palestinian call for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. I forwarded PACBI's call to the group to request support from my American colleagues. Naively, at the time, I imagined that the ASA's history of being a space where radical ideas could flourish--especially when it comes to radical critiques of U.S. foreign policy--meant that it would also act when it came to such matters. Instead, there was a flood of email discussion, particularly from prominent scholars, threatening to quit the organization. When the savaging of Gaza began last year I revisited the question with the executive committee and was met with the same response. Many of these responses offer the typical "liberal" American academic's response about to an academic boycott limiting academic freedom of Israelis without, of course, considering the lack of academic freedom (or any other freedoms for that matter) of Palestinians. Moreover, rather than look to PACBI as a guide, many faculty members felt that until Jewish American scholars like Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein endorsed the call for boycott that they should refrain from doing so

Paper presenter: Sharif Elmusa, Associate Professor, Political Science Department, The American University in Cairo, Egypt: "The Arab "Hard" Boycott: AUC as a Case Study"
My paper argues that the academic boycott campaign needs a double-pronged strategy, one “hard,” for the Arab world, and one “soft,” for the rest of the world. By hard is meant that the boycott must be complete, including institutions and individuals, irrespective of their views on Palestine. The soft boycott is selective, and includes institutions and individuals who do not recognize the rights of the Palestinians as they are defined by international law. The reason for the hard boycott is that the majority of the people in the Arab world do not want to establish relations until the Palestinian issue is resolved. Another is that normalizing relations on a daily level with the Arab people would deal a mortal blow to the Palestinian struggle. I will focus on a resolution passed by the American University in Cairo’s Senate on May 14, 2008—rejected at once by the university’s Board of Trustees-- that effectively upholds the academic boycott. I will analyze the politics leading to it, and the passage and the arguments by opponents and proponents to illustrate the arguments for and against such a move. That resolution is significant because it was the first by an international university in the Arab world, was covered prominently in the oppositional

Paper presenter: Sue Blackwell, Lecturer in English Language, University of Birmingham, UK: "Academic Boycott and the Question of Academic Freedom"
An argument which is often raised against the tactic of academic boycott is that it undermines the concept of academic freedom, which scholars all over the world regard as sacrosanct. This paper challenges the concept that academic freedom is an inviolable principle which can be upheld in isolation from any other principle, such as human rights or resistance to an illegal occupation. It argues that academic freedom is indivisible and that there is, in fact, much evidence of hypocrisy and double standards in the arguments which have been raised against academic boycott of Israel, since the most basic academic freedoms of all - the rights to study and teach - are routinely violated by the Israeli occupation, and yet the protests about such assaults on Palestinian academic freedom are mute in comparison with the clamour which has greeted every attempt to promote a boycott of Israeli universities, which would have a relatively mild effect on the academic freedom of individual Israeli scholars. The paper will be illustrated with examples from the academic boycott movement within the British trade unions AUT, NATFHE and UCU since 2003.

Paper presenter: Rana Barakat, Assistant Professor of History, Birzeit University, Palestine: "The Internal Story of an Academic and Cultural Boycott: how Palestine Imagines Liberation”
This paper will explore the function of Palestinians – in particular, intellectuals and academics – and the role they play in political engagement. Modern (and post-Modern) schools of thinking are often related in historical context to a time and place where intellectuals were required to engage their contemporary circumstances. This was true of intellectuals in the late twentieth century where colonial empires were crumbling. Palestine – and its unique state of political, cultural and intellectual affairs – is the site of a new space of intellectual production where ideas of colonialism, power, and resistance are challenged by the idea, reality and experience of Palestine. This paper will focus on how the concept and practice of boycott has been articulated, practiced and challenged within Palestinian academia. Moreover, this paper will use the concept of boycott to challenge liberal notions of "academic freedom." I will also question whether the notion of boycott – and its academic practice - can be read as resistance within the contemporary and very complicated matrix of colonialism in Palestine.