Human Rights Lawyer Maria LaHood on Israel’s Suppression of Criticism in the US

This is another video from the conference ‘Israel’s Influence: Good or Bad for America?’, organized by the American Educational Trust, which publishes the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs; and Middle Eastern Policy, Inc. The speaker in this piece is Maria LaHood, a deputy legal director at the Centre for Constitutional Rights, who works to defend the constitutional rights of Palestinian civil rights activists in the US. In this clip she describes some of the cases she’s worked on defending Palestinian and pro-Palestinian activists from legal attack by the Israel lobby. These includes the case of the Olympia Co-op, Professor Stephen Salaita, and filing Freedom of Information Act Requests to obtain government documents about Israel’s attack on the Freedom Flotilla to Gaza. The speaker also says she works on the Right to Heal Initiative, helping Iraqi civil society and veterans seeking accountability for the damage to Iraqis’ health from the last war. She’s also challenged the American government over the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki and Caterpillar over its sale of the bulldozer used to kill Rachel Corey to Israel. Before joining the Centre, she also worked campaigning for affordable housing in the Bay area of San Francisco.

She begins by talking about attempts to harass, prosecute and suppress pro-Palestinian students and professors at US universities.

The first case she talks about is Professor Stephen Salaita, an esteemed Palestinian-American lecturer, who had a tenured position at Virginia Tech University. He was offered a position at the University of Illinois, Urban Champagne on its Native American Studies programme, which he accepted. He was due to begin his new job at the University of Illinois in the summer of 2014. During that summer he watched, horrified, Israel’s devastation of Gaza and tweeted about it. Two weeks before he was due to take up his post, he received an email from the Chancellor telling him not to bother because he would not be accepted by the Board of Trustees. The professor and his family were thus left without jobs, an income, health insurance and a home.

Salaita lost his job due to a self-declared Zionist, who’d been following his tweets. These were published on the right-wing blog, Legal Insurrection. Professor Salaita was also targeted by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, the Jewish Federation and the Anti-Defamation League. Also, wealthy donors to the uni threatened to withdraw their money. The Chancellor and the Board later stated that they withdrew his job offer based on those tweets, which they considered uncivil, and anti-Semitic. LaHood states that accusations of anti-Semitism is commonly used to silence criticism of Israel. Christopher Kennedy, who led the Board’s rejection of Salaita, was later given an award by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre.

CCR sued the university, the trustees and top administrators. The court found in his favour, and the Chancellor resigned a few hours later the next day, and the Provost resigned a few weeks later. LaHood states that last autumn (2015) Salaita became the Edward Said Chair at the American University of Beirut, and settled his case for $875,000 against the university. LaHood paid tribute to the immense grassroots support for Salaita, with thousands signing petitions, five thousand professors boycotted the university, and 16 U of I departments voted ‘no confidence’ in the administration. The American Association of Professors also censured the university. Salaita went on to talk about his experience to more than 50 unis, and his works on Israel and settler colonialism are more popular than ever.

The Olympia Food Co-op is a local food co-op in Olympia, Washington; a non-profit organization, it has been very involved in social work and political self-determination. It has adopted a number of boycotts, and in 2010 the board voted by consensus to boycott Israeli goods. Five of the co-op’s 22,000 members voted to prosecute the 16 board members, who’d passed the vote, over a year later. Six months before the lawsuit was filed, the Israeli consul general to the Pacific northwest, based in San Francisco, travelled to Olympia to meet the co-chairs of Stand With Us Northwest, the lawyer representing those suing, and some Olympia activists. Stand With Us is a non-profit organization supporting Israel around the world. It is one of the groups trying to suppress free speech on Israel in the US. It maintains dossiers on Palestinian rights activists. The five issued a letter to the board members telling them to rescind the boycott or else they would be sued and held personally accountable. They were accused of violating the co-op’s governing principles, and the board asked their accusers how they had done this, and invited them to put their proposal to a membership vote, according to the co-op’s bye-laws. The accusers refused to do so, and went ahead and filed the suit. After they did so, Stand With Us put it out on their website that they had brought the suit in partnership with the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, spearheaded by the Deputy Foreign Minister, Danny Alon. Alon admitted that the Israelis were behind the lawsuit, and using it to amplify their power.

CCR then sued, using an anti-SLAPP motion. SLAPP stands for ‘Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. Half the states in America have legislation to deter the abuse of laws to chill free speech. The trial court dismissed the case as a SLAPP, held the Board had the authority to initiate the boycott, and awarded them each $10,000. The accusers launched an appeal, this was turned down, and they then appealed to the Supreme Court. The Washington Supreme Court turned down the anti-SLAPP motion, and referred the case back to the trial court. The CCR’s motion to dismiss the case again was denied. The case goes on, and the board members, most of whom are no longer in their post, have been subject to discovery and intimidation. The boycott of Israeli foods continues, however.

LaHood states that these are not isolated incidents, but only two of numerous cases where those, who speak out on Palestine are attacked. In September 2015 the CCR and their partner, Palestine Legal, issued a report, The Palestine Exception to Free Speech: A Movement Under Attack in US, documenting the increasing attempts in the US to silence and punish advocacy in favour of Palestine and speech on Israel, including BDS. The report details to the tactics and many cases studies, and is available on both of the organisations’ websites. In 2015 Palestine legal dealt with 240 cases of suppression, including false accusations of terrorism and anti-Semitism. 80% of those incidents were against students and professors at 75 campuses, and this is only the tip of the iceberg. She talks about some of these tactics and cases, such as that of the Irvine 11, who were criminally prosecuted for walking out of a speech by the-then Israeli ambassador to the US, Michael Oren. Several schools have been given complaints by the Zionist Organisation of America, claiming that advocacy on campus for Palestinian rights creates a pro-anti-Semitism atmosphere on campus. Even though these complaints are unconstitutional, universities respond by investigating those accused and cracking down on speech.

These complaints are not only brought by the Z of A, but also the Brandeis Centre, the Ampline Centre, Sheriat Hedin, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, the Anti-Defamation League amongst others. Netanyahu has launched a full attack on BDS, which Israel has declared to be the biggest threat it faces. Movements to divest from Israel across America have been accused of being anti-Semitic. The American Studies Association was received death threats when they voted to endorse the call to boycott Israeli academic institutions. Sheriat Hedin, the Israeli law centre, threatened to sue them if they didn’t end the boycott. Sheriat Hedin admits that it takes advice on which cases to pursue from Mossad and Israel’s National Security Council. Also in response to the ASA’s decision, legislatures around the country voted on bills to withhold state funding from colleges that used any state aid to fund academic organisations advocating a boycott of Israel. Mobilisation of public opinion prevented these bills from being passed, but now 15 states have introduced anti-boycott legislation. Some states have also passed non-binding resolutions against the BDS, but those have no legal effect. Last year (2015) Illinois passed a law demanding a black list of foreign companies that boycott Israel and compelled the state pension fund to divest from those companies. Florida passed a similar bill in 2016, which also outlaws state contracts with such companies for amounts over a million dollars. New York has even worse legislation pending.

The US Congress has introduced legislation to protect these state laws from federal pre-emption challenges, but these cannot prevent challenges under the First Amendment. Anti-Boycott provisions were introduced into the Federal Trade Promotions Authority Law, making it a priority to discourage BDS from Israel and the Occupied Territories. More information can be found about anti-BDS legislation at righttoboycott.org. Anti-BDS isn’t confined to the US. Israel has anti-boycott damages legislation and France has criminalized BDS. And people have been arrested for wearing BDS T-shirts.

She states that these laws are an extension of Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians. They have no defence, so they attempt to stop the debate. Free speech and free inquiry is essential to the functioning of democracy, especially at universities, and open debate helps shape public attitudes. Campus opposition helped turn the tide against the Vietnam War, Apartheid in South Africa and will eventually do the same against Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians. The mounting opposition to people working against the occupation and other violations of international law shows how strong the pro-Palestinian movement is, and how it will eventually win.

Jeremy Corbyn on Arms to Saudi Arabia, the Environment, the Living Wage and University Education

This is a short video from RT of just under two minutes, in which the Labour leader gives his views on Britain selling weapons to Saudia Arabia, Donald Trump’s disastrous attitude to the environment, the living wage, and that university education should be free.

Arms to Saudi Arabia

Addressing the Labour party conference, Corbyn states that whilst he obvious wants us to send all the aid necessary to deal with the consequences of the war and the bombing, the best thing to do is to stop the war altogether and to begin that by ending our supply of arms to the Saudi coalition that is undertaking that bombardment.

The Environment

Corbyn explains that Donald Trump is saying that he wants to walk away from the Paris climate accord and tear up all those decades of environmental campaigning that got us over that hurdle to that place, are totally wrong. Corbyn states that our movement has to be as strong on environmental protection and eco-protection as it is on social justice, because that is the way we protect the future for all of us.

The Living Wage

He declares that he does not think there is anything particularly extreme in saying a living wage should be for all workers at ten pounds an hour. You should have rights at work from the time you start your work.

On University Fees

He admits that Labour’s proposal is expensive, but he thinks it’s the right way to invest our money. It was to end college and university fees in order to make further and higher education free for everyone that wants to undertake it.

These are excellent policies and are certain to draw fire from the Tories and Blairites. There was a piece in the I this weekend about the massive growth in British arms exports. It’s supposed to have grown by 83 per cent last year.

And it was under Thatcher and Major that student grants were axed, and tuition fees introduced under Tony Blair, though they were raised massively by the Tory – Lib Dem Coalition.

As for Trump’s position on the environment, this is almost omnicidally dangerous. Some environmental scientists, according to the press, believe that we may actually only be ten years away from the tipping point where global warming is irreversible. We have to protect the environment, if we are not to bequeath our children a ruined, poisoned, dying world.

Now watch the Tories, the Lib-Dems and the right-wing press go absolutely berserk telling everyone that this’ll all be bad for the economy, that businesses won’t be able to afford it, that it’ll make our exports uneconomical, and repeat all the old tropes about ‘high spending Labour’ and that this will lead to more tax rises ad nauseam. Of course, none of this will be connected to the fact that very many Tory MPs have strong links to the arms and petrochemical industries, and that too many MPs across the House are millionaire managing directors. Quite apart from the fact that any tax rises Labour may make will be placed on the extreme rich, not the poor, who can’t afford it. It’ll be the complete reverse of what the Tories and New Labour have done.

In a globalised and networked world, what is the unique value a university can bring? Introducing Open Knowledge Institutions

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 17/09/2018 - 8:00pm in

Digital ubiquity has disrupted the traditional university model. The internet has shifted the balance of a tension between control and disorder in knowledge production, with many of the opportunities the web brings leading directly to many of the challenges we now need to address. Lucy Montgomery and Cameron Neylon advocate for the idea of universities as Open Knowledge Institutions, which […]

‘Look on My Works, Ye Mighty, and Despair!’, by Bruce Buchan

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 04/09/2018 - 9:52am in

 I met a traveller from an antique land,

Who said—‘Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert… Near them, on the sand,

Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;

And on the pedestal, these words appear:

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;

Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.’

—Percy Bysshe Shelley, ‘Ozymandias’ (1818)


We sit amid the ruins and desolation and wonder how the verities of our age became a ‘colossal Wreck’. Our illusions have been snatched away by the course of world affairs. Rights, abrogated. Democracy, denied. Lives, suspended. Not so long ago we were told that we stood at ‘the end of history’, on the cusp of a ‘new world order’. Now that vain boast echoes the mandate of Ozymandias: ‘Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!’ As if on cue, the political class who drove us to this despair have gleaned from among the ruins of their governance and taken up ‘these lifeless things’ in service to that most predictable of refrains: the defence of civilisation.

Over recent months Australia has played host to a rancorous debate about the purpose of teaching Western Civilisation (Western Civ) and the prerogatives of philanthropists to shape a curriculum to their own liking. I will not add to that particular debate, because Dirk Moses, Richard Denniss, Nick Riemer and others have already so eloquently made the points I would now merely repeat. So let me instead offer a different reflection.

Australians are inhabitants of ‘an antique land’. For us Western Civ appears as once mighty Ozymandias, a tumbled monument from a former time when the claims of civilisation were thought to justify the horrors of colonisation. Now the ruins have been exposed by the actions of our own governments, which have invoked civilisation in more recent service to power: deceit to justify the ‘Forever War’ on terror; spurious security to justify brutality on our borders. Like the ‘two vast and trunkless legs of stone’ standing in the desert, how are we to understand the ‘colossal Wreck’ of civilisation resuscitated for our times?


Western Civ emerged as a curriculum at a range of Ivy League American universities in the first half of the twentieth century. As Europe demonstrated its refined civilisation in the trenches of the First World War, students at Columbia pillaged the ancient world in search of the origins of European genius. As the Great Depression unleashed by the commercial genius of the American stock market plumbed new depths, students at Chicago considered European literature and philosophy as the summits of civilisational aspiration. As the world grappled with the horror of the Holocaust, Stalinist terror and the mushroom-cloud shadow of civilisation’s nemesis lingering in the wake of the Second World War, students at Harvard considered history as a progressive path towards liberation.

The ideas embodied in the curriculum were themselves the product of a longer trajectory of intellectual development that included Victorian anthropology, Scottish political economy, German idealist philosophy and even—it can’t be denied—a smattering of Marxist historical materialism. I will come back to these deeper roots shortly. The early-twentieth-century development of the American curriculum was a response to the perceived need for a course that presented all commencing students across disciplines with a common grounding in the liberal arts. In meeting that need Western Civ privileged a form of knowledge—best described as ‘panoramic’ in its scope and ambition—assumed to provide a foundation for democratic citizenship. This knowledge was dependent not simply on the mastery and repetition of dates and facts but on the absorption of a normative interpretation of the supposed trajectory of Europe’s ascent to political, diplomatic and cultural global dominance, and of the inheritance of that mantle by the United States.

The organising concept of this knowledge was that of ‘civilisation’. As it was used in Western Civ courses and its textbooks, civilisation referred to a globally significant culture that subsisted in the salient institutions, norms and values that transcended the petty divisions between language groups, empires, nations, churches and ethnicities. Inherently, however, Western Civ gave voice to a fundamental assumption that civilisations were also hierarchical. While many cultures may at different points have been significant, the civilisation of Europe was the most desirable because only that civilisation gave expression to the highest yearnings of the human spirit for freedom, humanity and truth.

This inherent normativity was built into the very purpose and structure of the courses. That explains much of the success and wide appeal of the curriculum but also its great weakness as a pedagogy. The normativity of the courses created a fissure in their credibility. Western Civ was supposed to be an account of a process of development adorned by Europe’s invention of humanity itself. Democracy, human rights, liberty, science, the Renaissance, artistic beauty, poetry and literature, architecture, and the self—these were all located in the narrative of Western Civ as originating in Europe and transmitted to the rest of the world. And yet from its inception Western Civ was not merely a narrative of development; it was also an assumed telos or end point of that process of development. It was not just history; it was also and at the same time its culmination.

The schizophrenia of Western Civ as both process and end point was mirrored in the instability of its pedagogical design. The various courses and the array of textbooks that accompanied them were an uneasy compromise between a form of history wedded to the organising principle of chronological integrity and a form of literary studies that privileged a canon of ‘great books’ whose timeless greatness transcended European provincialism. These fissures and tensions were papered over by what appeared to be the trend of world history that seemed to consolidate the impetus of America’s global ascent. The experiences of world war, first and second, and the Cold War seemed to confirm that the United States had ceased to be merely a scion and beneficiary of Western Civ. It had become its crucible.

Western Civ provided another useful purpose in appearing to stitch together from the disparate threads of history and culture a modern constituency—The West—for world leadership. Western Civ provided a narrative that located American leadership of The West in the deep roots of the past, even though The West was a concept unknown in it. Western world leadership was thus pulled from a supposed tradition of Western Civilisation—like a rabbit from a magician’s top hat—as a fully formed imperial bequest. The curriculum of Western Civ was the means of knowing the terms of that bequest rendered palatable to modern tastes in either airy rhetoric (the ‘free world’) or parochial realism (the ‘Anglosphere’).

‘Half sunk a shattered visage lies’.

Many have forecast the impending decline of the Western Civ curriculum, but nothing suits the proponents of civilisation more than the prospect of decline. In part, the continuing appeal of Western Civ lies in the panoramic ambition to provide integrated knowledge that reads the past as a linear unfolding towards the present. Another part of its appeal is its resistance to what is widely perceived as the relativistic trends exemplified by critical pedagogies and its explicit disdain for those alternative approaches in humanities and social-science scholarship and teaching. While these alternative approaches have in recent decades provincialised and problematised the Eurocentric-cum-trans-Atlantic narrative of civilisational ascent, Western Civ has continued to provide the comforting glow of normative absolutism. The West is still the best.


Proponents of Western Civ like to portray themselves as the last genuine moral absolutists waging an unrelenting war against an ever-rising tide of cultural relativism, which they uniformly see as an ideological affectation fostered by scholars in the humanities who have fallen from the faith. As they see it, the hallowed halls of academe are now infested by intellectual heretics who have come to prefer the sanguinary sniping of ‘identity politics’ in a relentless cultural genocide perpetrated against the faithful. These heretics (variously identified as relativists, poststructuralists, postmodernists, feminists or ‘cultural Marxists’) have one aim: to tear down the edifice of Western Civ. What has been erected in its place is seen as a plethora of incoherent or indulgent ideological preferences that not only exaggerate the darker episodes in the story of Western Civ (slavery, imperialism and colonialism, nationalism, world wars, fascism, Nazism and so on) but also impugn the hallowed values of Western Civ itself.

Yet moral relativism is inscribed in the very fabric of Western Civ. That its proponents cannot begin to perceive this is a function of the pre-inscription on their field of vision of the ontological binary between civilisation and its opposite. Every affirmation of civilisation is in fact a re-animation of that opposite which must be identified and re-identified in order to sustain the edifice of Western Civ. Western Civ is an intellectual reflex of a constitutionally neurotic outlook bifurcated in Manichaean opposition.

Throughout its relatively short history, Western Civ has been shadowed, mirrored, paired, indeed joined at the hip with its opposite, sometimes called ‘savagery’, sometimes ‘barbarism’. Critics of Western Civ have suggested that this pairing was the product of the emergence of anthropology as an organised discipline of knowledge in the latter half of the nineteenth century, as European empires sought forms of expertise in dealing with subject populations they assumed to be far inferior. Anthropology developed in this context as the systematic study of diverse human communities in a continuing state of pre-modernity, usually more condescendingly described as ‘primitive’. Over time anthropology came to focus on the study of human cultures of different communities as the dynamic interrelationships of norms and beliefs produced from the universal confrontation of humans with the forces of nature, and the interactions between human groups.

Anthropology therefore seemed to step beyond history, or to pull open a curtain that had long separated the known historical record from the untold centuries of human evolution that came before it. As one scholar put it, with the development of anthropology ‘the bottom dropped out of history’ as the study of humanity receded ever further back into the mists of deep time, before writing, before civilisation. This was the ultimate conceit of Victorian anthropology: that primitive savagery was destined to recede before civilisation, and that the barbarians would be civilised. This confrontation of history with prehistory thus offered a validation of the claims of civilisation. Humanity’s evolution from prehistoric origins would have a historic culmination. Prehistory was the ugly blank canvas onto which the present projected an image of the past as it wished it to have been, in confirmation of the image it wished for itself. As the great historian Eric R. Wolf, author of the path-breaking critique of this vision of the past Europe and the People Without History (1982), explained of his own education in Western Civ:

Many of us even grew up believing that this West has a genealogy, according to which ancient Greece begat Rome, Rome begat Christian Europe, Christian Europe begat the Renaissance, the Renaissance the Enlightenment, the Enlightenment political democracy and the industrial revolution.

But this was history as fantasy, a neat exculpatory metanarrative leached of the specificity of historical context and rendered eternally serviceable by the incoherence deeply ingrained in the very concept of civilisation.


‘Civilisation’ was a neologism coined in France in the 1750s. As a term it proved useful to a range of intellectuals who were engaged in trying to analyse the historic forces (economic, geopolitical and intellectual) reshaping French society and mores, even while its legal and political infrastructure ossified and its imperial stature declined. As they saw it, civilisation referred to the process by which a whole society changed its mores to become more modern, more refined, more civil (civilité, civilisé), thanks to the beneficial, pacifying effects of commerce and a renewed appreciation for science, the arts and learning. Although identified primarily with France and with the aspirational and cosmopolitan outlook of its political classes, ‘civilisation’ was also thought to encompass a process of historical transformation working its way across the nations of Western Europe, largely by emulation.

It was apt, then, but unexpected, that the concept would find a new home in Scotland. Here, a range of enormously influential intellectuals adopted and applied the term in ways that reflected Scotland’s own fractured modernisation, involving a geographical separation infused with a temporal dissonance along the Highland line. A bustling, prosperous and actively modernising South was matched by what many came to regard as an archaic, fractious and savage North. It was the Scots, therefore, who gave to the concept a scaffold of historical credibility. Referred to as ‘stadial theory’, this Scottish invention provided the means for the universal—indeed global—application of civilisation. According to the theory, all of humanity was destined to develop through a series of stages (usually four) from the supposed simplicity of ‘savage’ tribes, to the hordes of ‘barbarous’ pastoralists, to settled agricultural villages, and then on to commercial civilisation.

Scottish stadial thinking appeared to provide a universally adaptable means of knowing the world of ‘humanity’. As empires and commerce brought peoples across the globe into ever-closer contact and interdependence, stadial theory enabled Europeans not only to locate peoples geographically but also to situate them temporally on a scale of universal human progress. Civilisation. And savagery. Savagery subsisted fitfully on the fringes of the European imagination, in peoples deemed uncivil, violent, uneducated, irreligious, primitive, or just not white enough. Originally the savages were those who resided beyond Europe’s hinterlands—the Irish, Scottish Highlanders, or the Sami. As Europe’s global ambitions and entanglements grew, savages abounded across the plains of Tartary, in the heart of Africa, among the forests of America and on Australia’s distant shores. Civilisation was a neat formula that proved able to accommodate the intellectual conviction that humanity was universal alongside the pragmatic assumption of great divides in development and capability within humanity. All was made explicable by reference to history unfolding before the eyes of Europeans who presumed to know who it was they were looking at.

The formula’s neatness, however, belied a fundamental confusion. As we have seen, civilisation referred to both a process of historical development and its end point or culmination. As such, various Scottish intellectuals filled the concept with lacunae that defied easy explanation. Adam Smith, often considered the inventor of stadial theory in his Lectures on Jurisprudence (1762–63), presented an ambiguous account of its motor force in the nebulous interplay between the instrumental pursuit of more rational means of subsistence and the ‘manners’ (beliefs and attitudes) appropriate to each stage of economic development. His friend Adam Ferguson, in his masterpiece An Essay on the History of Civil Society (1767), thought civilisation inevitable but shadowed by the ever-present threat of personal moral corruption and national enervation. Their colleague and contemporary William Robertson, the historiographer royal, applied stadial thinking and the concept of civilisation in his ground-breaking History of America (1777). He was puzzled as to what to make of the apparent signs of civilisation among the otherwise savage Inca and Aztecs (Mexica), and what, presumably, to make of the stagnated civilisation of China and the supposedly decayed civilisation of India. The unsettling implication of his thought was that civilisation was not one but many. It was a Frenchman, the comte de Volney, who drew out this implication in his contemplation of the ruins of Egypt, The Ruins, or Meditations on the Revolutions of Empires (1791). Empires, and the civilisations they encapsulated, would come and go. The historical record was a pabulum of eternally collapsed, collapsing and reproduced civilisations.

What, then, was the purpose of history and where was it leading us?

European intellectuals in the eighteenth century answered the question exactly the same way as American intellectuals did in the early twentieth. The purpose of history was to serve as intellectual confirmation of the already apparent direction of world affairs. The abbé Raynal provided one influential version of this answer in his (collaboratively written) Philosophical and Political History of the Settlements and Trade of the Europeans in the East and West Indies (1770). He argued that by means of empire the ‘commercial states’ of Europe had ‘civilised all others’. The idea that they had done so by means of benign commerce and a spontaneous love of Europe’s ‘civilisation’ was of course a nonsense (as Raynal knew). His multivolume study was a landmark in the history of Europe’s growing awareness of the global implications of its imperial and colonial ambitions and the unspeakable atrocity of slavery on which they rested. At its heart lay the most naked of presumptions: that the white men and women of Europe could possess the globe and reduce its lands, waters and inhabitants to their dominion. Could they not see it? If some did, many others appeared not to notice. In the 1790s, in the very early days of the British colony at Sydney Cove, the marine lieutenant William Dawes asked his companion Patyegerang, a young Eora woman, why the ‘black men’ around the colony were so ‘angry’. Her response was eloquent in its brevity. ‘Because the white men are settled here.’ A just riposte might have been to ask him what gave the white men the right. Civilisation?

As William Robertson started his career as a historian in the 1750s, he attributed the emerging global dominance of Europe to divine providence. It was a common enough salve for the festering wound opened by the question of right. But as the global contexts of engagement, communication and interdependence between peoples multiplied, the exposure of the wound became intolerable. When the Scottish colonial traveller Mungo Park found himself lost and alone in the interior of Africa, he was befriended, fed and housed by a benevolent group of poor African women. In his Travels in the Interior Districts of Africa (1799), Park acknowledged his debt to their spontaneous humanity, so far from the realms of his civilisation. The women lamented his plight in song, and their refrain seemed to puncture the civilisational arrogance of white Europeans in other climes: ‘Let us pity the white man’, they sang, ‘no mother has he’. The song Park recounted was later crafted and set to music by Georgiana Cavendish, the duchess of Devonshire, and deployed to aid the Abolitionist cause: ‘Go, white man, go; but with thee bear / The Negro’s wish, the Negro’s prayer, / Remembrance of the Negro’s care’. Civilisation had eagerly pressed slavery into its service, and could as easily live without it—but only on Europe’s terms. If he had begun his career imagining those terms to be providential, William Robertson ended it in the 1790s invoking (à la Raynal) Europe’s inevitable ascent in more prosaic terms. The ‘commercial genius of Europe’, Robertson wrote in 1791:

has given it a visible ascendant over the three other divisions [Africa, Asia and America] by discerning their respective wants and resources, and by rendering them reciprocally subservient to one another, has established an union among them, from which it has derived an immense increase of opulence, of power, and of enjoyments.

By the early years of the nineteenth century, as Anna Barbauld envisioned it in ‘Eighteen Hundred and Eleven: A Poem’, Britain’s global civilising mission would ensure that the Americas became the new seat of white-skinned peoples and their imperious ideas:

If westward streams the light that leaves thy shores,

Still from thy lamp the streaming radiance pours.

Wide spreads thy race from Ganges to the pole,

O’er half the western world thy accents roll:

Nations beyond the Apalachian hills

Thy hand has planted and thy spirit fills:

Soon as their gradual progress shall impart

The finer sense of morals and of art,

Thy stores of knowledge the new states shall know,

And think thy thoughts, and with thy fancy glow;…

Civilisation was no longer Europe’s, or merely Britain’s, gift. It would become in course of time America’s prerogative.


The recent promotion of Western Civ in Australia is a purely political posture in the precise sense invoked by the former Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt. The purpose of its promotion is to draw a new battle line between ‘friend and enemy’ (one is tempted to say civilised and savage) in the Sisyphean culture war that now permeates global democratic politics. In the new dispensation of ‘politics as culture war’, the objective is to imbue each new front of struggle with the existential significance of a visceral political imperative to conquer. Service to this all-consuming imperative is now the sole function of the political partisan, whose task is to perpetually unsettle opponents by means of any specious fabulism that can be used as a battering ram. Western Civ is simply a new and serviceable weapon in that merciless fight. It is especially useful because beneath the tattered cloak of its preposterous absolutism and strained universalism lurks the triumph of the identity politics its partisans claim to oppose. Western Civ is the ultimate form of identity politics: a normative insistence on group identity dressed in the garb of historical immanence but subsisting in pure, unmitigated preference.

The belligerents on the side of Western Civ, with ‘wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command’, castigate scholars for their criticisms of both the proposal for a Western Civ curriculum and the explicitly disdainful and elitist pedagogical model being proposed to teach it. As the belligerents present it, it is not enough that scholars show an interest in the sources and texts taught as part of a Western Civ curriculum; they should be active partisans on behalf of Western Civ, as if the belligerents’ own claustrophobically narrow view of political right were fit for universal prescription. Putting aside the political maliciousness informing this representation, it is a requirement that no self-respecting historian should accept. If historians are partisans of anything, it should not be Civilisation but Context.

The task of the historian is to trace the contours of events, ideas, personalities or impersonal forces as they occurred in place and time. The objective is not to read the present into the past, nor to translate the past as if its unfolding were destined to lead us to where we now are. Western Civ is the misbegotten residue of a narrativising of the past in which context is made to serve the interests of linear normativity. Western Civ is an anachronism—a historical anathema. It is a creation of the present reflected back onto the historical past in circular proof of the necessity of its own existence. In a weird kind of cultural narcissism, proponents of Western Civ suppose that by gazing long and hard enough at the past they will see themselves reflected there.

To what other end, but to affirm the arrogance of right?

Western Civ is now and has always been simply inconceivable without the projection of savagery or barbarism to call it into existence. Where once whole domains consigned to the savages and barbarians could be construed as fresh fields into which civilisation could advance, now savagery and barbarism have to be created afresh to stir civilisational presumption from its slumbers. The West can still be the best, if only it could remember where it put its savages.

The twentieth was a century of genocides of unprecedented magnitude. At almost its very dawning, Europe’s colonial presumption instigated a genocide among the Herero in Africa. Genocidal colonisation was by that time nothing new to the First Nations of America or Australia, but the perfection of industrialised genocide in the very heart of Europe was something novel. In its wake, Hannah Arendt warned in The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951) that in an age of globalised industrial civilisation ‘savages’ would have to be created anew. With a prescient foreboding, she feared that engineered statelessness would provide a potent wellspring of modern ‘savages’. She could not have foreseen the weaponised hatred of Muslims unleashed by the ‘war on terror’, a new crusade—our ‘Forever War’ for ‘civilisation’.

There are few more corrosive delusions in contemporary political discourse than the mindless presumption that an autochthonous genius we label ‘Western Civilisation’ actually exists. Western Civ is a monumental game of global bluff in which we are invited to pretend that the Rest owes the West a duty of beholden obligation for the benefits it uniquely invented and benignly bestowed. The moral corrosion that spreads like a stain from the breathtaking arrogance of this presumption is inscribed in bloodied fingerprints all over the not-so-distant histories of colonial conquests, plunders and dispossessions, slaveries, genocides, induced famines and engineered civil wars. For too long the partisans of Western Civ have tried to convince themselves that these were just the unwanted excrescences of a Western tradition more nobly minded and intentioned.

In 1768 Voltaire responded to what he perceived to be the horror of atheism by quipping: ‘If God did not exist, we would have to invent him’. God was simply too important a prop for society, for the sanctity of order and command, to do without. Exactly the same can be said of the tedious re-invention of Western Civ by elements of our political class. There is no coincidence in its present regurgitation. Across the putatively democratic world the neoliberal governing consensus is now in steep and irreversible decline. That consensus formerly bound elites and masses in a political project oriented towards free markets, free trade and a libertarian social program of privatisation and commodification of all vestiges of common purpose and common good. The crisis in which we are now engaged is one of government without consent. The neoliberal project is dead, but its objectives (free finance, privatisation, and commodification of labour) live on in governments that have moved decisively to animate mechanisms of the police state (consider the number of laws passed in recent years that enhance the powers of states to act not just within but beyond national borders). We have watched as the world took Australia’s lead in using these powers to demonise and to persecute those deemed ‘illegal migrants’. Now, the supposed leader of the ‘free world’—the American Ozymandias—has employed those same means to separate and incarcerate children in ‘tender age’ camps.

No wonder, then, that at this darkened juncture in world affairs a most tawdry of presumptions from our past has been dredged up again by those who seek a cloak of legitimacy for their outrages.

This is the way the world ends, Not with a bang but another course on Western Civ.

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;

Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.

The 1968 Belgrade Student Revolution

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 12/08/2018 - 2:50am in

image/jpeg iconbelgrade68.jpg

An interview with Sonia Licht about the student protests she took part in at Belgrade University against the `Red Bourgeoisie` in1968.

We understood that the right to rebel should be a basic Human Right, but it isn’t. And that this so-called socialism cannot be reformed, it has to be destroyed.

Sonia Licht

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Left contests union elections at Sydney Uni

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 15/07/2018 - 4:01pm in

Union branch elections at Sydney University are seeing a political contest over strategy, led by the left activist network, Union Action.

At the end of last year, the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) campaign at Sydney Uni for a better enterprise agreement (EA) came to a halt all too early. While two days of industrial action won us some concessions and fought off attacks from management, a vote was put to the members to accept management’s offer before we had won our core demands of a better pay offer, no forced redundancies, no teaching-only advertised positions, and equal superannuation and sick leave for casuals.

Parts of the current NTEU leadership argued to wind up the strikes and reached an in-principle agreement behind closed doors without the majority support of the branch committee. Their arguments for ending the campaign included the fear that our agreement would be terminated as occurred at Murdoch University, that our demands were “too radical” to achieve, and that we would face “burn out” from further strikes.

Activists who are now running with Union Action argued to continue the campaign.

Our campaign was growing in strength with more members joining the union and well-attended picket lines. Around one-third of members at a meeting of more than 400 voted with us –despite considerable pressure from the officials to settle.

Our sector is plagued by job insecurity and intensifying workloads. Unless we fight to defend jobs and working conditions the situation will only worsen.

This has been reinforced since finalising the agreement. Casuals in several areas have faced significant delays in contract renewals. In another work area, there was complete lack of transparency when long-term casual staff attempting to convert to permanent positions had their applications turned down. With restructuring across the university underway, the issues are only going to grow.

Outside the EA bargaining period, we cannot take legal industrial action, leaving us in a weaker position to challenge management decisions over restructures, refurbishments and rosters.

Staff are being left to fight in isolation in their individual departments as issues arise. The strategy of the branch continues to be one of negotiations behind closed doors. What we need is public campaigning and solidarity across the campus to push back management.

Union Action is running on a platform of confronting the top-down corporate model of university governance, for a campaign against casualisation, greater member involvement in decision-making, and action in solidarity with the wider union movement. The ballot opens in August. Both vice-president positions (professional and academic) as well as branch committee positions are being contested. NTEU members at Sydney Uni are encouraged to get involved in the campaign.

By Vivian Honan

To contact Union Action visit the Facebook page or website below

The post Left contests union elections at Sydney Uni appeared first on Solidarity Online.

Ramsay Centre a new tool for right’s ideological offensive

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 15/07/2018 - 3:58pm in

The Ramsay Centre is a private body wanting to establish “Western Civilisation” degrees at major universities. It has a huge fund of $3 billion left to it by private health magnate Paul Ramsay when he died.

Thanks to a staff and student campaign, the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra has been forced to end talks with the centre. It had demanded an “effective veto” over course content and how it was taught, as well as influence over staff appointments, according to ANU Vice-Chancellor Brian Schmidt.

The back-down has created a political storm, with Malcolm Turnbull even coming out in its support, saying, “I find it very hard to understand why that proposal from the Ramsay Foundation would not have been accepted with enthusiasm”.

Sydney University is now, shamefully, in talks about establishing a course there.

The people on the Ramsay Centre board alone should make its agenda clear. They include Tony Abbott, who says its Western civilisation course is inspired by the Rhodes scholarship, created by a bequest to Oxford University by Cecil Rhodes to help create “a generation of men for the world’s fight”.

Rhodes was a firm supporter of British colonialism, growing rich from the exploitation of its African colonies, and helped begin the policies that led to South African apartheid.

John Howard, another board member, has tried to downplay the frontier wars and violent dispossession of Australia’s First Nations people.

Though the board directors, ridiculously, claim that “critical thought and enquiry” are exclusive achievements of the West, there will be no critical engagement with the history of Western civilisation through its courses.

Racist project

The content of this course will be a dogmatic, uncritical celebration of the West.

Abbott himself has claimed that what is, “absent from the contemporary educational mindset is any sense that cultures might not all be equal.” In other words non-western cultures are not only less worth studying but are inherently inferior.

This is a form of racism which denigrates people from non-Western “cultures” rather than explicitly targeting them in terms of racial biology. But the result is the same.

Rhetoric about defending “Western Civilisation” has become a key way to promote Islamophobia in particular. It presents Islam as a threat to “our way of life”, “our values,” and the achievements of the West, lauded by the Ramsay Centre’s CEO Simon Haines as including, “representative democracy, pluralism, equality.”

But these were not simply invented by European ruling classes. They had to be wrenched from them through struggle. They did not exist for the black population in the colonies ruled by Cecil Rhodes. They were only won in South Africa by overthrowing Apartheid through mass struggle. There wasn’t even universal suffrage in England until it was torn from the hands of the ruling class by workers’ struggle in the early 20th Century.

And the racism at the heart of the Ramsay project isn’t just a historical white-wash; it has real consequences today. It is the same racist mythology that our ruling class has used to justify wars in the Middle East, imprison refugees, scapegoat minorities and continue the dispossession of First Nations people.

The implementation of the Ramsay Centre at Sydney University will only serve to justify these kinds of policies.

The far right is on the rise across the world—with fascist parties gaining ground in Europe, Trump waging a racist offensive in the US and our own government stooping to new lows in its treatment of refugees. Opposing racism is as important as ever.

The neo-liberal university

The fact that Sydney University Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence is even engaging in talks with Ramsay, despite the fact that ANU rejected them due to the centre asking for an “unprecedented” level of influence over the course, is appalling.

Michael Spence’s justification for his talks with Ramsay is that money is on the table. But universities are only in need of money because of the Liberals’ savage attacks.

The Ramsay Centre promises scholarships, and well-resourced small classes, to students with university entrance scores above 97 who show what the centre considers “political leadership”.

Students pursuing studies in other areas, or as Abbott describes them those, “pervaded by Asian, indigenous and sustainability perspectives”, are left with less resources. Sydney University’s art school, Sydney College of the Arts (SCA), for example, was shrunk and moved to main campus in 2016.

Just as students fought to stop the closure of SCA and saved half the jobs, we must fight for universities to be fully publicly funded, and free. We must fight to make universities communities of learning, research, critical thinking, and a place to challenge hegemonic ideas and institutions. Billionaires and conservative politicians should not be able to buy influence over curriculum and staffing, in order to prop up their racism through shrouding it in appreciation for “western culture”.

By Jordi Pardoel

The post Ramsay Centre a new tool for right’s ideological offensive appeared first on Solidarity Online.

The “Moral Panic” of Campus Free Speech

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 15/06/2018 - 12:30am in

People get awfully solemn in the United States about the civic function of our institutions of higher education. They talk about college as the nursery of democracy and the care that we must take with our young people. As educators, the future is in our hands. I believe it is worth puncturing this solemnity with some awkward questions.

That’s Jeremy Waldron, University Professor at New York University, in a review of several books on questions regarding free speech on college campuses in The New York Review of Books.

He writes:

There’s a sort of moral panic going on: writer after writer, politician after politician, says we ought to be frightened about what’s happening on campuses because that is where the future of free speech will be determined.

Waldron discusses several different concerns of those worried about free speech on campus. One of these is that “colleges and universities cannot work as institutions of higher learning unless there is a spirit of unfettered inquiry in the research they undertake.” Here’s an excerpt:

“Speech, including controversial speech, is central to teaching and learning,” [Sigal] Ben-Porath writes. [Erwin] Chemerinsky and [Howard] Gillman devote a lot of attention to this as well. Historically the university has been a special domain of freedom, they say, and students are selling this heritage short when they shout down visiting speakers: “Campuses cannot censor or punish the expression of ideas, or allow intimidation or disruption of those who are expressing ideas, without undermining their core function of promoting inquiry, discovery, and the dissemination of new knowledge.” Claims like this sound more convincing than they are. Is the free research of mathematicians or philosophers or physicists really in peril because of how one group of students responds to an invitation to Ann Coulter or Milo Yiannopoulos? Most of the free speech issues on campus have nothing to do with the lectures, laboratories, or seminars in which academic freedom is implicated.

Aside from commencement addresses, a college or a university rarely invites or hosts speakers itself. Academic departments sometimes do, but few of the incidents that people complain about have involved speakers invited as part of a classroom series. Mostly it’s students showing off and trying to provoke and annoy one another. So we have to ask: What’s the connection supposed to be between the rough-and-tumble of student politics and academic freedom in the disciplined research undertaken in the schools and departments of the university?

I ask this because sometimes the complaints about student protests are quite absurd. Here’s a report from January 2016 in The Guardian: “Chris Patten, the chancellor of Oxford University, has told students involved in the campaign to remove a statue of Cecil Rhodes that they must be prepared to embrace freedom of thought or ‘think about being educated elsewhere.’ Patten accused students who had criticised Rhodes, who regarded the English as racially superior, of trying to shut down debate. He said that by failing to face up to historical facts which they did not like, students were not abiding by the values of a liberal, open society that ‘tolerates freedom of speech across the board.'”

This is nonsense. The students weren’t trying to shut down debate; they were trying to open it up. A dreary statue of Cecil Rhodes on the front of Oriel College is hardly a focus of higher learning. (I don’t remember tutors taking their charges out onto the High Street to study it when I was at Oxford. If they had, why on earth wouldn’t a debate about Rhodes’s views on imperialism have been a perfectly appropriate learning experience?) It is typical of a moral panic to run together all the issues that make us uneasy. Patten’s comments here are an egregious instance of that. He is worried about students disrupting provocative political speeches and he is worried about students questioning the value of cherished memorials. He wants us to believe that the questioning and the disruption are the same thing, whereas they are more or less polar opposites.

The whole review is here. Readers may also be interested in remarks by Jacob Levy (McGill) on how “freedom of speech is not a value of universities.”

(via Mary Fratini)

Robert Rauschenberg – Statue of Liberty

The post The “Moral Panic” of Campus Free Speech appeared first on Daily Nous.

The Rabbinical Condemnation of Gossip and Slander

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 04/06/2018 - 6:38pm in

I found this passage on the condemnation of gossip by the rabbinical sages of late antiquity in the book, Knowledge Goes Pop, by Claire Birchall (Oxford: Berg 2006). Birchall is, or was, a senior lecturer at Middlesex University, and the book, subtitled ‘From Conspiracy Theory to Gossip’, is about popular knowledge, such as conspiracy theories and gossip and how it is formed and shapes the way people see the world. The book also examines how valid it is compared with official knowledge, and the question of ‘why does such (mis)information cause so much institutional anxiety?’.

The chapter on gossip contains a discussion of its condemnation in the Bible in both the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and the New Testament, before going on to describe how it was also attacked by the great Jewish sages of the Talmud. The passage reads

Editors of The Encyclopedia of the Jewish Religion explain that the rabbis of classical Judaism in late antiquity warned against gossip in the most heightened terms. For example, the rabbis claimed that slander, talebearing, and evil talk were worse than the three cardinal sins of murder, immorality, and idolatry. Indulging in lashon ha-ra is seen to be akin to denying the existence of God (see the entry for ‘Lashon Ha-ra’ in Zwi Werblowsky and Wigoder 1986). Of note for our discussion later concerning the unstable verity of content transmitted through gossip is that while Judaism distinguishes between slander (lashon ha-ra) which refers specifically to true talebearing, and motsi’shem ra (causing a bad name) which applies to untrue stories, ‘both are totally forbidden by Jewish Law’ (Zwi Werblowsky and Wigoder 1997:648). Here, then, the verity of the gossip is not at issue, but rather the very act of passing potentially damaging information on whether true or false. (Pp. 98-99).

In Mike’s case, and those of the countless other decent people like him, who have been libelled by the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism and the Jewish Labour Movement, the truth of the accusations made against them is very much the issue. In the case of these decent, anti-racist people, the stories and claims made by Gideon Falter’s outfit and the JLM are very much a case of motsi’shem ra – causing a bad name – as they’re intended to be. They’re intended to smear and provide grounds for the expulsion from the Labour party of critics of Israel and left-wing opponents of the Blairites.

This passage also shows how the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism and the Jewish Labour Movement conveniently forgot these moral injunctions when they decided to vilify and malign those of opposing viewpoints. And this includes self-respecting Jews, who have lost relatives in the Holocaust, and/or have been subject to real anti-Semitic abuse and violence themselves.

But this doesn’t alter anything: their tactics of smear and libel are nevertheless condemned in the Talmud, no matter what specious stories they may make, claiming to be defending Jews, or rather, Israel, from anti-Semitism.

AAUP and AAC&U Issue Statement in Defense of Liberal Arts Education

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 01/06/2018 - 11:07pm in

“We believe that institutions of higher education, if they are truly to serve as institutions of higher education, should provide more than narrow vocational training and should seek to enhance students’ capacities for lifelong learning”

That is an excerpt from a joint statement on the value of a liberal arts education issued by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and the Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U).

The statement, covered in today’s editions of Inside Higher Ed and The Chronicle of Higher Education, takes issue with the mainstream perception of the liberal arts:

In recent years, the disciplines of the liberal arts, once universally regarded as central to the intellectual life of the university, have been steadily moved to the periphery and increasingly threatened—by some administrators, elected officials, journalists, and parents of college-age children. The study of the history of human societies and forms of human expression is now too often construed as frivolous, and several colleges and universities have recently announced the wholesale elimination of liberal arts departments. Politicians have proposed linking tuition to the alleged market value of given majors. Students majoring in literature, art, philosophy, and history are routinely considered unemployable in the technology and information economy, despite the fact that employers in that economy strenuously argue that liberal arts majors make great tech-sector workers precisely because they are trained to think critically and creatively, and to adapt to unforeseen circumstances.

The associations urge resisting moves that would have the effect of denying all but the elite an opportunity for a liberal arts education:

The disciplines of the liberal arts… foster intellectual curiosity about questions that will never be definitively settled—questions about justice, about community, about politics and culture, about difference in every sense of the word. All college students and not solely a privileged few should have opportunities to address such questions as a critical part of their educational experience. And the disciplines of the liberal arts are central to the ideal of academic freedom, as well, because the liberal arts, by their nature, require free rein to pursue truth wherever it may lead. As a result, they provide an intellectual bulwark for academic freedom.

The whole statement is here.

Victor Vasarely, “Black Circle”


The post AAUP and AAC&U Issue Statement in Defense of Liberal Arts Education appeared first on Daily Nous.