After demands for retraction, to fire the journal editors, to fire and blacklist the author, and to revoke his PhD.
This post is a follow up to a story we ran earlier this week, Third World Quarterly publishes “The Case for Colonialism” leading to censorship demands.
An article (pdf) by Portland State University’s Bruce Gilley, in Third World Quarterly arguing the “Case for Colonialism” provoked a backlash that was professionally threatening to the author. Here is the abstract of the article:
For the last 100 years, Western colonialism has had a bad name. It is high time to question this orthodoxy. Western colonialism was, as a general rule, both objectively beneficial and subjectively legitimate in most of the places where it was found, using realistic measures of those concepts. The countries that embraced their colonial inheritance, by and large, did better than those that spurned it. Anti-colonial ideology imposed grave harms on subject peoples and continues to thwart sustained development and a fruitful encounter with modernity in many places. Colonialism can be recovered by weak and fragile states today in three ways: by reclaiming colonial modes of governance; by recolonising some areas; and by creating new Western colonies from scratch.
Gilley’s critics were so outraged that they called for the article’s retraction, as well as for removal of the journal editors and a public apology. These demands were set out in two petitions (here and here), each garnering thousands of signatures.
One of the leaders against Gilley was Syracuse University professor Farhana Sultana, who has since turned her social media accounts private. (It’s still partially captured in Google Cache.)
Meanwhile, Gilley himself was called a “white supremacist,” with calls to fire him, even going so far as calling for Gilley’s Ph.D. from Princeton to be revoked.
The piece in question appeared as a “Viewpoint” article, suggesting it was making unorthodox claims inviting a discussion or debate on its content. This, however, proved too much for the self-styled high priests of the academic discourse on colonialism (which in the current academy includes an enormous portion of the humanities). Astoundingly, calls to quash the blasphemous piece were made in the name of protecting those ‘marginalized’ in the academy from apparent closet white supremacists. The censors pretend not to realize that they rule.
Third World Quarterly Responds by Defending Decision to Publish
On September 18th, Third World Quarterly’s Editor in Chief, Shahid Qadir, released a statement on the publisher’s homepage defending the decision to publish the piece:
As a peer reviewed, scholarly journal, our Aims and Scope sets out that TWQ “…examines all the issues that affect the many Third Worlds and is not averse to publishing provocative and exploratory articles”. Throughout its 40 year history, TWQ has been at the forefront of shaping development discourse, with Viewpoint essays enabling challenging opinions to be tested through rigorous double-blind peer review and then debated upon publication by fellow researchers. As with all articles in the journal, this Viewpoint did undergo double-blind peer review and was subsequently published.
…by publishing this article we are not endorsing its procolonial views, as would be the same for any Viewpoint piece. We are however presenting it to be debated within the field and academy, which this justifiably has been. We will now continue this debate by publishing contradicting anti-colonial Viewpoints, to firmly challenge this opinion in the very best academic tradition. We invite academics from across the field of development studies, or related fields, to submit serious responses to the Viewpoint essay …TWQ’s vision for nurturing post-colonial scholarship remains, and balanced debate of development studies will continue to dominate its pages.
Resignations at Editorial Board
On the following day, fifteen members of the editorial board resigned. In a public resignation letter posted on Facebook (also here) by Vijay Prashad (a Marxist historian at Trinity College in Connecticut). The letter began by stating “deep disappoint[ment] in “the unacceptable process” surrounding the publication of the essay.
The letter alleges that, despite Qadir’s claim, the article did not pass the double-bind peer review process (i.e. that it was published despite the referees’ recommendation to the contrary). The editor in chief’s statement is described as ‘not truthful’.
As for the piece itself, the signatories write:
We all subscribe to the principle of freedom of speech and the value of provocation in order to generate critical debate. However, this cannot be done by means of a piece that fails to meet academic standards of rigour and balance by ignoring all manner of violence, exploitation and harm perpetrated in the name of colonialism (and imperialism) and that causes offence and hurt and thereby clearly violates that very principle of free speech. (emphases added)
It was not easy for me to resign from the board of this 40 year journal with considerable history in the Third World Project.
— Vijay Prashad (@vijayprashad) September 19, 2017
Preshad, meanwhile, in an article, and in a series of tweets, justified his call for retraction by special appeal to the history of Third World Quarterly, citing its historic commitment to an “anti-imperialist agenda” and to “an international order based on justice”. Whether such commitment to an agenda in an academic journal should preclude debate on these matters is left unanswered.
Signatories: Falk, yes; Chomsky, no
Notable among those who did not sign was Noam Chomsky.
In an interview with Inside Higher Ed, Chomsky said it was:
pretty clear that proper procedures were not followed… retraction is a mistake – and also opens very dangerous doors. … Rebuttal offers a great opportunity for education…
In an interview with The College Fix, Chomsky called on Qadir to apologize, but not retract, predicting that otherwise the journal is likely to be destroyed.
The College Fix claims that “Several academics are trying to blacklist Gilley from publishing further articles and threatening to destroy academic journals that consider his submissions”, implying that this is the reason that Gilley backed down.
While it is plausible that such blacklists are in the works, it is difficult to see how Gilley’s backing down would help. Does anybody believe that such potential ‘blacklisters’ would be more favorably inclined towards Gilley if the article were retracted?
Gilley’s Portland State colleague, Peter Boghossian, commented:
One consequence of this is that scholars will stop publishing in controversial areas. If difficult issues are discussed at all, it will be from a point of view that’s morally fashionable.
Arguably, Boghossian is being a little liberal with the word “consequence”. This phenomenon is clearly already underway and has been for quite some time. The casualties will not be limited to those with unorthodox views. Rather, those academics with more fashionable views live in an ever more sheltered bubble, increasingly immune from dissenting voices. As the impregnability of their bubble walls increases, so does their isolation from reality.
Gilley Requests to Withdraw
It is not clear what occurred behind the scenes in the interim, but on Thursday September 21st, Gilley announced that he had asked Third World Quarterly to withdraw the article:
I regret the pain and anger that it has caused for many people. I hope that this action will allow a more civil and caring discussion on this important issue to take place
The author is a graduate student who must write under a pseudonym for fear of retribution from faculty.DONATE
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