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Scholar withdraws article “The Case for Colonialism” after social media and professional attacks

Scholar withdraws article “The Case for Colonialism” after social media and professional attacks

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)

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 the signatories was Princeton University professor emeritus and former UN special rapporteur, and apparent 9/11 truther Richard Falk

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.


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Progressives and Chinese communists excepted. The political myths, and environmental and labor arbitrage, respectively, have afforded each disparate allowance and leverage.

No debate, no discussion, no scholarship at all. Just a public flogging. This is what academia has become.

What a shame, the book burners win.

Academia remains a cesspool in the grip of the PC Nazi cadres.

Only in America can people this incredibly soft flourish to the extent that they have. They can’t seem to tolerate any manner of discomfort whatsoever. Under truly calamitous real world circumstances these invertebrates would be the first to perish.

I really appreciate his point of view, because for a few years, I’ve been mentioning to friends, that I believe we should make Mexico a colony or territory – WITHOUT VOTING RIGHTS IN U.S. ELECTIONS.

This would enable us to begin the process of altering the culture of Mexico which is permeated with deadly corruption, and the beginning of the process to make Mexico habitable for its poorest people, which would decrease their interest in moving to the United States.

They clearly want better government; we should give it to them, whether it saves Vincent Fox’s face or not.

Same for Africa. They have slavery in Africa. It’s very sad. They have tremendous assets, the Chinese are beginning to get involved there and Africa would be far better off with Western, not Eastern, social and government forms.

Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.

4th armored div | September 22, 2017 at 9:55 am

i recently binge watched ‘star wars’.

it seems that the ‘dark side’ has won.
if not for the accidental election of Donald Trump, we would well be on the road to perdition, with no panacea.

the posts author writing under a pseudonym for fear of retribution is an indication that this election may not be enough to start a road back from the edge.

perhaps i should retract this comment before the academe decides that i need to be sequestered for everyone’s protection /sarc

Frankly, Preshad did the right thing by resigning.
Unfortunately for those who have dedicated their careers to the colonial/post-colonial genre of history, their careers are over. This genre is now bogus. Their works worthless.

Libs insist they want a “conversation about race,” but whenever anyone brings up a compelling idea or argument, they are called a racist, tarred & feathered and sent packing.

“Intellectual diversity” was always a fraud. It was designed to give cover and protection to hard leftist radicals while they went about taking over the academy.

Let’s face it….Orwell and Huxley were too optimistic.

So much for “speaking truth to power”… there were the eras of colonialism, post-colonialism and now the rise of neo-tribalism.

“I regret the pain and anger…”. Oh come on! “Yes, your emotional blackmail in the service of blatant anti-white and anti-western racism and hatred is more important than the truth or anybody’s rights. I submit. Inshallah.” NEVER SURRENDER!

Well, now, this is a pity. I lauded Professor Gilley for publishing his piece in the first place. Not that he cares, particularly, but his withdrawal of the article takes him down several notches in my estimation.

Good Lord! Whatever happened to having the courage of your convictions?

Academia is a cesspit of intolerance. The political world is not the only one with a swamp that needs to be drained. Academia, the media and the entertainment industries are arguably worse.

    notamemberofanyorganizedpolicital in reply to topcat69. | September 22, 2017 at 9:33 pm

    Cutting off all government funding and all tax deductions for contributions to “colleges” would be a good first start.

“On the following day, fifteen members of the editorial board resigned.”

It should be that easy to get rid of SJW’s …

The antithesis of Academia. Heh.

Cowards, the lot of them. It was a good article.

How many of these out-of-the-way “journals” are there that we (99% of us) had never heard of? But now, thanks to the internet, they can get world wide coverage so they can beat their chests and their drums to show the rest of the world how “open-minded” they are when they disagree with your view and believe you should curl up in a ball and die.

    How many journals? There seem to be thousands of them. And they resist an Internet presence, because the revenue model is based on subscription costs. Very high subscription costs. And those go away if just anyone can access a paper gratis. The “better” academic libraries are “better” because they have more journals; they’re where you end up going when you’re trying to track a paper down, because the lesser libraries won’t have it. So the “better” libraries are the ones with more funding for subscriptions. Of course there are other costs—they need shelves, lighting, and librarians, but none of that matters if they don’t have the journals in the first place.

    Part of the academic game is writing a paper, then modifying it slightly—most usually by repeating the work, but with the assistance of a different grad student each time, then adding the student as a co-author, and submitting it to yet another journal—and the more obscure, the better; nobody’s going to be impressed by yet another paper in Physics Review Letters. In years past I spent some serious time tracking down papers and digging them out of academic libraries, only to find that they were essentially same damn paper.

    Academia is a game with its own rules. Violate them at your peril.

Great comments. And let’s be clear that we are not suggesting that it’s somehow OK for countries and entities of means to return to colonial practices (Putin, Google, Facebook shouldn’t expect a pass on those practices either). For me, I think it’s intriguing to assess what benefits might have accompanied the detriments in having western civilization imposed on colonial peoples. Alexander the Great colonized the known world, and exposed people everywhere to Greek language and scholarship, then Rome picked up where Alexander left off. But leftist ideology refuses dialogue in this matter and goes straight to repression — just like the brutal conquistadors they supposedly abhor.

Gilley’s statement—

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.

—is the only really surprising thing about all this. It’s just plain bizarre.

Professional academia is not what the man-in-the-street imagines. It’s a strange and artificial institution which demands that its acolytes jump through a series of hoops (which they call degrees, dissertations, defenses of dissertations, etc). And if they show a willingness and ability to do so, they may be inducted to the monastery and assigned a cell, where they can go through the prescribed rituals at the prescribed times. And anybody who gets that far into the process knows this.

This paper is the sort of hand grenade an eminent old emeritus with unassailable tenure would toss out immediately before retirement, when neither the hierarchical priesthood nor the lower minions would have a chance to exact revenge for his apostasy.

Gilley doesn’t seem to be in that position. Rather, his position is vulnerable; but to be in even that position he can’t have failed to learn what the rules are, and know what the penalty will be for violating them. So, why the act? Unless this reaction was not unexpected, but he submitted the paper anyway. Which would be even weirder.

In any case, the second sentence (I hope that this action will allow a more civil … etc) is obviously complete hooey. He’d have to be brain-dead to actually think that.

All very odd.

Char Char Binks | September 23, 2017 at 4:46 pm

Aren’t Africans supposed to be proud of their ancient empires, and the same for Arabs, Indigenous Americans, and Asians with theirs? Imperialism only gets denounced when it moves from west to east, or north to south, or more to the point, when it means lighter skin dominating darker skin — the other way around is just fine.

How exactly does he expect a “caring and civil discussion on this important issue to take place” when one side of it must be silent? Who is going to make the case on his side if not him?