Friday, April 07, 2017

Favorite obscure countries: Laos

I have always loved maps and history.  Growing up in the USA in the early 60s, the Southeast Asian war gave me the opportunity to learn geography that the vast majority of Americans knew nothing about.  Laos was one of the obscure countries that was promoted to the first section of the newspaper (I doubt that it ever made page 1)

Sometime in 1961 or 1962, a map roughly like this appeared in my local paper, showing not only the exotic international boundaries of Laos but also indicating who controlled what on the ground (or so it claimed).

Despite the considerable strategic importance attributed to Laos at that time, not much news of Laos everappeared in the papers. I have to admit I never systematically explored Laotian history.  But today when I was leaving our local public library, I spotted a book by Joshua Kurlantzick.  A Great Place to Have a War: America in Laos and the Birth of a Military CIA.  

Interesting that Kurlantzick has also written a book on "the world-wide decline of representative government."



Image: The mysterious "Plain of Jars." Named and designed by Jack Vance?



Sunday, April 02, 2017

Richard Watson Gordon parades an amazing ignorance

Gordon is talking up an art exhibit on the subject of 19th century prostitution in Paris:
 It was a subject that interested them. Why? The obvious answer is that they were men, but another reason was that prostitution was linked to the idea of modernity. People had moved to the city, which was in itself a new concept, where the moral strictures of the village had disappeared. 
Gordon is a professor of fine arts.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Another oddball medieval name from the Chronicle of the Good Duke

During my years with the Good Duke I have run across a number of surprising and amusing personal names: Bliomberis Loup and his brother, for instance (follow the "names" label to find him).

I don't recall this classic name of an English knight involved in the Duke of Lancaster's chevauche in 1373:

Sir Jean Bulle.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

If walls could talk: A BBC history of the home

My friend Nick Russon alerted me to the existence of a BBC 4 History of the Home now showing on Youtube. I have just watched the first of four episodes and I really like it. Part of it of course is the entertaining Lucy Worsley, who was made to be a TV presenter, but there's also the fact that the production quality is very high and we get to see a wide variety of (in this case) living rooms from many different angles. I don't doubt that other experts than Worsley and those who actually appear might disagree with some of the interpretations offered here, but at least you get a good detailed look at what they are talking about.

Fun!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Some people you just don't want to fight...

...because some people are just scum.

During the first half of the Hundred Years War, when France was in chaos, disbanded soldiers often struck out on their own to fill their purses and their stomachs by capturing both warriors and civilians and ransoming them back to their lords or families.  These were not nice people, as this story of the Good Duke makes clear. Duke Louis, who had himself been captive in England for seven years, was determined to rout out these outlaws.  Duke Louis' men had if anything a lower opinion of these "English" (who may not have been English in fact).

Duke Louis told them:

They have made a pit at Beauvoir , and when they have taken someone who they do not wish to or cannot ransom, they say " put them in hell" and they are thrown into this pit full of fire, of which everyone was so terrified, so that when anyone became a prisoner, he gave out that he was rich for fear of being thrown in hell. Therefore Duke Louis required, that all of his company should take part in the attack.

They all replied "Most redoubtable Lord, we are ready to go where it pleases you and we desire nothing else. But we pray you humbly, that it please you that you personally should not go there; for it would be too much of an honor to such people as they are, that such a Prince as you are ought to go there. For they are excommunicated by the sentence of the Pope, and are men of the companies, and without absolution; but if you please order us to go there." Therefore the Duke agreed with them and with great pain, as to him who always wished to be with them.
They won...
all those at Beauvoir were killed except the captain, Le Bourg Camus, who was taken to Molins, and the others were thrown into their hell.
Image: This might be a later version of Beauvoir castle.

Back to the Good Duke


After some months of writing other material, I am back to translating The Chronicle of the Good Duke, Louis II of Bourbon.  (I am astonished to see, by the way, that I started this translation in 2010.)  It's a fascinating view of one of the great warrior-princes (no, not Xena) of the first half of the Hundred Years War.  The best part of the chronicle is, however, what it says about the knights and squires who fought in Louis' service.  I've written an article about the Chronicle in the Journal of Medieval History, if you are fortunate enough to be near a library that carries it.

The Chronicle has its challenges.  It was written by an obscure hanger-on of the Bourbon family, one Cabaret d'Orville, who doesn't seem to be the master of the French language that he might be.  He is excessively fond of sentences that begin with "and."  I once told a friend that if I simply eliminated every "And" that began a sentence -- just the "and" not the sentence -- the Chronicle would be a third shorter.

Well, I tested that theory yesterday when I set up MS Word to search for an initial And.  And it told me that in 240-some pages there were 707 Ands I could get rid of.

Done and dusted.  Simplest bit of editing I've ever done.

Image:  Yes, that's him, as the 15th century remembered him.

Friday, March 24, 2017

A flash of truth cuts through the overheated rhetoric

A Guardian column on "alt-right" celebrity Katie Hopkins' carpetbagging critiques of London stumbles into an important truth. Marina Hyde:
For now, it falls to her [Hopkins] to explain London to the Americans. “Londoners can’t even be honest about these attacks,” she told Fox News. “Because it would mean everything they believed in was false.” >Ah, the false idols of the decadent metropolis! Had Katie spent more than 10 minutes in the World History aisle of Wikipedia, she would know there have always been people who hated cities for what they stood for. The metropolis has at many times served as shorthand for a kind of moral decay and wicked permissiveness that requires (usually forcible) regression.

“This place where monsters lurk and steal lives away in an instant,” thunders Katie of the capital’s wickedness. “For nothing.” Dear, dear – it does all seem rather terminal. I wonder what Katie would do with the failed, corruptive experiment that is London? The Khmer Rouge decided that the only solution was to empty the cities, and send their suspiciously educated denizens to the countryside. Come Katie’s revolution, perhaps Londoners will be forcibly migrated too.
Quite right, Marina. Don't forget that anyone wearing glasses will be labeled as a dangerous intellectual and eliminated.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

La fin de l'Empire romain d'Occident. Rome et les Wisigoths de 382 à 531, by Christine Delaplace,

I return to my old interest in Late Antiquity today, thanks to Michael Kulikowski, who has written an illuminating review of Christine Delaplace's La fin de l'Empire romain d'Occident for the Medieval Review. A boring title, says Michael, and one would not be surprised if the interpretation offered was a hundred years out of date.

Ah, but it's not. Says Michael:
Perhaps the single most important thing here is the authorial willingness to define terms and exercise a realistic parsimony of interpretation with the evidence. For instance, her exhaustive treatment of treaties and their related vocabulary (pax, foedus, deditio, amicitia) usefully demonstrates that the frequent scholarly attempts to normalize the semantic content of that vocabulary are completely untenable; so too is reading back a normative definition from Procopius and Jordanes into the fourth and earlier fifth century.

Such observations are not wholly new, but actually applying their analytical insight to the narrative evidence exposes the role that fixed definitions of Roman treaties/foedera play in traditional narratives of Gothic history--thus producing a spurious aura of inevitability stretching from 382 to the settlement of some Goths in Aquitaine forty years later and on into the sixth century. In a similar vein, Delaplace correctly notes that Alaric and all the barbarian generals and condottieri of the late fourth and fifth centuries were primarily leaders of armies; their royal status was secondary, indeed often quite notional, and rarely a meaningful factor in their power. In this approach she strengthens Guy Halsall's demonstration that only Roman military office and magisteria constituted success for such people. To fall back on claims to royalty signified failure.

Perhaps the most insightful part of Delaplace's account of the early fifth century follows from the recognition that--whether or not you read Alaric's following, or those of other barbarian leaders of the time, in ethnic terms or instead as relatively heterogeneous mercenary armies--you cannot read them in terms of external diplomacy, or foreign foes. The more precise historical analogy is the late Roman Republic, when the Senate had to deal with rival armies loyal primarily to their generals rather than the state. Mutatis mutandis (for "Senate," read "imperial court"), the endless back and forth of 395 to 418 operated according to the same dynamic. Ethnic difference, still less "foreignness," are not what was at issue.

The book's systematic successes are in a similar vein. A ruthless refusal to retroject later evidence means that the Gothic settlement in Gaul is judged at its correct worth: there was nothing new about 418 that had not been at least implicit in the treaty of the king Wallia and the magister militum Constantius in 416. Wallia's (and then Theoderic I's) Goths were in effect a mercenary army, contracted by the Roman state because they were less likely to slip into the usurpation to which rebellious Gallic armies had long been prone. The Gothic zone of action effectively displaced the western Rhine limes south to the Loire, where, from Aquitaine, the Gothic army could operate in any direction necessary, against barbarians and potential usurpers alike. Thus, there was no kingdom of Toulouse for the better part of a century. There was a Gothic rex (who very rarely used that title) and there were sortes Gothicae, but there was no regnum till the fifth century had run its course.

Again, Delaplace has a firm grip on later fifth-century events. In particular she rejects the lionisation of the general Aëtius as "the last of the Romans," a sort of incomparable bulwark against the encroaching barbarian tides. Aëtius, she demonstrates, fundamentally weakened the Roman state, perpetuating constant rivalries in Gaul and Italy that militated against coherent policy. She shows how the "Gothic wars" of the 430s and 440s should not be read as a Roman defence against aggressive barbarian expansion, but rather as an extension of the civil war that brought Aëtius to power, the initial rivalry of Boniface and Aëtius, allied respectively with Theoderic and the Amal Berimond, was perpetuated in the next generation by Sebastianus (son of Boniface) and Witteric (son of Berimond), supported respectively by Theoderic and Aëtius. The peace of 439 is not a Romano-Gothic peace, nor a taming of the unruly federates by Rome, but rather a final settlement of two decades of rivalry: Sebastian was expelled by Theoderic, Witteric disappears from the pages of history (murdered, one imagines), and Aëtius married a daughter of Theoderic, having repudiated his second wife Pelagia, herself the sister of Berimond and widow of Boniface.

... The book concludes with a more cursory survey of the period from 477-531, but here too, the guiding principles are correct. In particular, Delaplace considers the battle of Vouillé as a stage in the sorting out of post-imperial factions that characterizes the earlier sixth century, rather than as a caesura in Gothic history. Greater detail in this section would have been welcome, but that was not the author's primary goal. One would not have thought it possible to write a strikingly novel history of the last century of the western empire, but that is precisely what Delaplace has done. It is a grand accomplishment.
Think of Attila as John Hawkwood!

Saturday, March 18, 2017

A newspaper series you might want to know about

Keen-eyed reporters at the Globe and Mail became aware that a lot of sexual assault cases in Canada were being dropped as "unfounded." Unfounded is supposed to mean that nothing happened. That sometimes 40% of complaintants, people who went to the police knowing that such complaints often go nowhere, were being turned aside and not believed -- this made the reporters suspicious that the category "unfounded" was being misused.

Sure enough, a large-scale investigation has established just that. Likewise the Globe and Mail's efforts have cast new light on the issue of consent. Well worth reading.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Did the Irish save civilization? The reviewers of the Medieval Review weigh in

The Medieval Review

Flechner, Roy, and Sven Meeder, eds. The Irish in Early Medieval Europe: Identity, Culture and Religion New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016. Pp. 288. $39.99. ISBN: 978-1-137-43059-5.

Reviewed by Alexander O'Hara

University of St Andrews

alexanderjohara@gmail.com

One needs to be wary in reading and assessing this book. There is much good in it with some fine contributions, but it is deeply flawed.The editors Roy Flechner and Sven Meeder seek to debunk so-called myths: in this case the influence of Irish monks and scholars in early medieval Europe.

In a previous publication, Flechner suggested that Saint Patrick was a tax dodger, arguing that he came to Ireland as a tax exile to avoid the fiscal burdens his decurion father would have bequeathed him. Flechner manages to sound convincing despite the fact that the imperial tax system was obsolete in Britain by the time Patrick came to Ireland, while blithely dismissing Patrick's own testimony in his two surviving written accounts.

We see a similar deconstructionist vein at work in this volume which seeks to present "an academization of the debate" vis-à-vis the more gullible work of previous scholars of a "bygone golden age when religious piety and intellectual endeavor could coexist happily...one would like to steer away from crippling biographical reverence and engage in some debunking of myths" (1).

The first myth to be debunked is that of the image of Ireland as an island of saints and scholars, which the editors claim only gained currency from the seventeenth century onwards and which they pass off as an early modern phenomenon. This is false. Already from the seventh century Irish monks who travelled to the Continent were self-consciously shaping this image of their homeland.
It can be seen in the poem on Ireland, written probably by one of Columbanus' Irish monks, which the Italian monk Jonas of Bobbio inserted at the beginning of his Life of Columbanus and in Jonas' comment that the Irish flourished in Christianity more than any other people.

The perception of Ireland and the Irish as a holy island and people can be followed like a thread from Jonas to Bede's comments on Ireland at the beginning of his Ecclesiastical History to Ermenrich of Ellwangen's riff on Bede's comments in which the island is presented as an allegory of the universal Church and in the poetry of Irish religious émigrés like Colman nepos Cracavist and Bishop Donatus of Fiesole. The perception of Ireland as an insula sanctorum was not invented by seventeenth-century émigré Irish Franciscans or by nineteenth-century Catholic revivalists, but is a perception that we find already in the early medieval sources.

Despite the agenda of the editors, the volume is saved by some fine contributions. The scope of the volume is comprehensive with short chapters (indeed the brevity of the chapters is one of the laudable features of the book, as is its affordable price) that encompasses communication networks, religious exile, Irish monasticism on the Continent, especially in relation to Columbanus, biblical exegesis, penance, the liturgy, science, scholarship, ethnicity, and book production.

... Meeder's bizarre statement that insular influence at St-Gall was minimal, is also found in his co-authored chapter with Roy Flechner where they write about the abbey of St-Gall that: "it does not appear that the Irish origin of their patron saint was a significant factor in the institutional identity of the abbey" (203). One wonders what sources they have been reading, given the rich hagiographical corpus on the patron saint that survives from the early medieval community. One need only read Walahfrid Strabo's Life of Gall, Notker Balbulus' Martyrology, or Ermenrich of Ellwangen's Letter to Abbot Grimald to realize that Meeder and Flechner present not only a false impression of the source material, but a skewed and inaccurate interpretation.

Also problematical are their comments on Columbanian monasticism. Their statement that the Luxeuil monk Agrestius "made slanderous remarks about fellow Irish inmates" (195) is nowhere found in Jonas' Life of Columbanus--Agrestius attacked the monastic practices and the legacy of Columbanus, not the Irish monks, most of whom had left for Bobbio with Columbanus upon his expulsion in 610. Similarly: "the Gallic episcopacy is depicted as hostile both by Columbanus and his hagiographer Jonas. In the rhetoric of the hagiography and of Columbanus's letters...the Easter controversy is portrayed as a major bone of contention" (198). While this is true for Columbanus's letters, it is not true for Jonas, who mentions nothing about the Easter controversy, because it had been such a contentious issue, and is careful not to overtly criticize the Gallic episcopacy as they were now key patrons of the communities.

The trajectory of Gallic monasticism prior to Columbanus gave no indication that a revolution in monastic foundation would take place in conjunction with secular elites in the second half of the seventh century and their attempts to play down Columbanus' role as a catalyst in this regard is unconvincing. While social trends and the formation of new elites at this time complimented and facilitated the new wave of monastic foundation, it was by no means an inevitable development without the influence of Columbanus and his Frankish monastic successors. Indeed, running throughout Meeder's and Flechner's chapter is subtly disguised racism masquerading as historical objectivity which can be detected in such remarks as "hard to swallow for some proud Irishmen", "we meet another proud Irishman" (205), the aforementioned "Whether originality, when it is present, can be directly linked to a scholar's Irish heritage is a matter of contention" (240), and in their attempt at every opportunity to minimize the distinctiveness of Irish influence on the Continent. Their eagerness in debunking myths leads them to questionable historiographical methodology and a failure to engage with the sources on their own terms. While there is much to recommend in this book, it needs careful handling, as I hope this review has shown.
Image: I'd guess that this is a maximalist view.

The Guardian tells us what will happen when Queen Elizabeth dies

For a long time, the art of royal spectacle was for other, weaker peoples: Italians, Russians, and Habsburgs. British ritual occasions were a mess. At the funeral of Princess Charlotte, in 1817, the undertakers were drunk. Ten years later, St George’s Chapel was so cold during the burial of the Duke of York that George Canning, the foreign secretary, contracted rheumatic fever and the bishop of London died. “We never saw so motley, so rude, so ill-managed a body of persons,” reported the Times on the funeral of George IV, in 1830. Victoria’s coronation a few years later was nothing to write home about. The clergy got lost in the words; the singing was awful; and the royal jewellers made the coronation ring for the wrong finger. “Some nations have a gift for ceremonial,” the Marquess of Salisbury wrote in 1860. “In England the case is exactly the reverse.”

What we think of as the ancient rituals of the monarchy were mainly crafted in the late 19th century, towards the end of Victoria’s reign. Courtiers, politicians and constitutional theorists such as Walter Bagehot worried about the dismal sight of the Empress of India trooping around Windsor in her donkey cart. If the crown was going to give up its executive authority, it would have to inspire loyalty and awe by other means – and theatre was part of the answer. “The more democratic we get,” wrote Bagehot in 1867, “the more we shall get to like state and show.”

Obsessed by death, Victoria planned her own funeral with some style. But it was her son, Edward VII, who is largely responsible for reviving royal display. One courtier praised his “curious power of visualising a pageant”. He turned the state opening of parliament and military drills, like the Trooping of the Colour, into full fancy-dress occasions, and at his own passing, resurrected the medieval ritual of lying in state. Hundreds of thousands of subjects filed past his coffin in Westminster Hall in 1910, granting a new sense of intimacy to the body of the sovereign. By 1932, George V was a national father figure, giving the first royal Christmas speech to the nation – a tradition that persists today – in a radio address written for him by Rudyard Kipling.

The shambles and the remoteness of the 19th-century monarchy were replaced by an idealised family and historic pageantry invented in the 20th. In 1909, Kaiser Wilhelm II boasted about the quality of German martial processions: “The English cannot come up to us in this sort of thing.” Now we all know that no one else quite does it like the British.

The Queen, by all accounts a practical and unsentimental person, understands the theatrical power of the crown. “I have to be seen to be believed,” is said to be one of her catchphrases. And there is no reason to doubt that her funeral rites will evoke a rush of collective feeling. “I think there will be a huge and very genuine outpouring of deep emotion,” said Andrew Roberts, the historian. It will be all about her, and it will really be about us. There will be an urge to stand in the street, to see it with your own eyes, to be part of a multitude. The cumulative effect will be conservative. “I suspect the Queen’s death will intensify patriotic feelings,” one constitutional thinker told me, “and therefore fit the Brexit mood, if you like, and intensify the feeling that there is nothing to learn from foreigners.”

Saturday, March 11, 2017

What can you say about this?

You can say, this story doesn't seem to have made much impact in the US press. It's from the Sydney Morning Herald.

Fury in Cambodia as US asks to be paid back hundreds of millions in war debts
 Half a century after United States B-52 bombers dropped more than 500,000 tonnes of explosives on Cambodia's countryside Washington wants the country to repay a $US500 million ($662 million) war debt.
The demand has prompted expressions of indignation and outrage from Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh.
The pilots flew at such great heights they were incapable of discriminating between a Cambodian village and their targets, North Vietnamese supply lines – nicknamed the "Ho Chi Minh Trail."
War correspondent James Pringle was two kilometres away from a B-52 strike near Cambodia's border.
"It felt like the world was coming to an end," he recalls.
According to one genocide researcher, up to 500,000 Cambodians were killed, many of them children.

The bombings drove hundreds of thousands of ordinary Cambodians into the arms of the Khmer Rouge, an ultra-Marxist organisation which seized power in 1975 and over the next four years presided over the deaths of more than almost two million people through starvation disease and execution.
The debt started out as a US$274 million loan mostly for food supplies to the then US-backed Lon Nol government but has almost doubled over the years as Cambodia refused to enter into a re-payment program.




"To me, Cambodia does not look like a country that should be in arrears…buildings coming up all over the city, foreign investment coming in, government revenue is rapidly rising," Mr Heidt was quoted as saying by the Cambodia Daily.




"I'm saying it is in Cambodia's interest not to look to the past, but to look at how to solve this because it's important to Cambodia's future," he said, adding that the US has never seriously considered cancelling the debt.
Cambodia's strongman prime minister Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge commander who defected to Vietnam, hit back, saying "The US created problems in my country and is demanding money from me."




"We should raise our voices to talk about the issue of the country that has invaded other (countries) and has killed children."
Mr Pringle, a former Reuters bureau chief in Ho Chi Minh City, said no-one could call him a supporter of Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia with an iron-fist for three decades.
But he said on this matter he is "absolutely correct."
"Cambodia does not owe a brass farthing to the US for help in destroying its people, its wild animals, its rice fields and forest cover," he wrote in the Cambodia Daily.
American Elizabeth Becker, one of the few correspondents who witnessed the Khmer Rouge's genocide, has also written that the US "owes Cambodia more in war debts that can be repaid in cash."
Mr Hun Sen pointed out that craters still dot the Cambodian countryside and villagers are still unearthing bombs, forcing mass evacuations until they can be deactivated.
"There are a lot of grenades and bombs left. That's why so often Cambodian children are killed, because they don't know that they are unexploded ordnance," he said.
"And who did it? It's America's bombs and grenades."
A diplomat posted in Phnom Penh between 1971 and 1974 told Fairfax Media the food the US supplied Cambodia came from excess food stocks.
"I remember well that shipments of maize were made," he said.
"Cambodians do not eat maize so it was fed to the animals."
He pointed out that the US refused to normalise relations with Vietnam until it accepted to take on the US debt of the former southern regime.

Friday, March 10, 2017

A three-part review in the Journal of World History.

Just arrived: my review of three books concerning  democracy in world history.  The point I make is that all three touch on interesting facets of democratic history, but none of them are successful at looking at the big picture.  But truth be told two of the three aren't intended to deal with the big picture.  At least, not the big, big picture.

Journal of World History, 27:4, pp.692-8
Temma Kaplan, Democracy: A world history. Oxford University Press. 2015.
Armin Mattes, Citizens of a Common Intellectual Homeland: The transatlantic origins of American democracy and nationhood. University of Virginia Press. 2015.
Christopher Meckstroth, The Struggle for Democracy:Paradoxes of Progress and the Politics of Change.  Oxford University Press. 2015.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

The truth about immigrants?

Dana Kramer-Rolls says on Facebook:

Dr. Ben Carson got into some trouble by saying that black slaves were immigrants, too. But I heard poetry and wondered what Maya Angelou would have made of it. I'm not her, but here is my take.

They came as immigrants,

Stolen by invaders, sold by their kings.

They came as immigrants,

Chained in the holds of ships, the living and the dead.

They came as immigrants,

Sold, beaten, families torn apart.

They came as immigrants,

The religion of their mothers mocked and forbidden.

They came as immigrants,

Now the chains were broken, but they were still lynched, shot.

And then it began again.

They come as immigrants.

Fleeing invaders, fleeing the bombs.

They come as immigrants,

Washed up on shores, the living and the dead.

They come as immigrants,

Their religion mocked, families torn apart.

They come as immigrants,

They think they are safe, but still they are beaten and shot.

Will it ever end?

Monday, March 06, 2017

How the Canadians saved civilization

Today's Globe and Mail has an article by two Canadian professors, Aisha Ahmad and Minelle Mahtani, who say that the "Trump immigration ban ushers in an age of academic darkness. If you are an academic yourself and your research has an important international dimension (meaning that you work with and communicate with scholars in many countries) some of the stories they tell are enough to send cold shivers up and down your spine. Some stories:
For Canadian academics, attending academic conferences and events in the United States is an important part of our work. As Canadian Muslim scholars, however, this political and legal upheaval south of our border has forced both of us to pull out of our professional conferences. Our withdrawal was not intended as a political protest. The truth is, we were both very excited about attending our conferences. Our flights and hotels were booked... Aisha Ahmad, an international security specialist ...was to receive a distinguished prize for her scholarship on the economic origins of modern jihadi groups. Her scholarship, which involves tracking conflict processes in some of roughest war zones on the planet, won the award for best security article of the year. Her scholarship speaks directly to the exact security crises that these faulty immigration bans have falsely claimed to solve.

For Minelle Mahtani, an Iranian-Canadian, had arranged a roundtable with other scholars at the Critical Mixed Race Studies conference in Los Angeles to speak about what it means to be mixed race in a Trump era. Her research would have provided essential context into the pressing problems of xenophobia, racism, and anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic violence that have worsened since the U.S. election.

Neither of us wanted to withdraw. But we felt the situation was out of control. Consider that several ordinary Canadian Muslims, who were not from banned countries, have already been improperly detained and denied entrance by zealous U.S. border agents who clearly didn’t understand the parameters of the original immigration order. ... As immigration chaos spirals in the United States and these bizarre episodes escalate, there are serious, long-term consequences. Border officials have an enormous amount of discretion in detaining travellers and denying entrance, and denial of entrance taints a travel record. So, one dysfunctional interaction with an aggressive border official can actually impede a traveller’s freedom around the world for years.

[I]it is impossible for any of us to properly calculate the risks of travelling. For academics who are principal investigators in large global projects, this is a very serious cost calculation. One unlucky meeting with a careless border guard can jeopardize the ability of a researcher to complete their fieldwork, and thus risks their commitments made to both funding agencies and global research teams.

As targeted racialized academics, we knew we were being forced to accept loss and indignity. In response to our withdrawal, several of our colleagues have started lobbying for future conferences to be held in more neutral locations. Until then, as we reflect on our own exclusion, we cannot help but think of our colleagues overseas who are explicitly barred from participation, and those like Mr. Rousso, who may not be willing to subject themselves to future humiliations. This is the greatest loss of all.

These stories are paralled by others from post-Brexit Britain, where immigration officials have in many cases notified "foreign" (EU-citizen) scholars that they will be deported, for the most arbitrary reasons. The authorities seem to no concept of how great a soft-power resource these people are. One wonders how many such purges (Nestorians chased from Syria to farther Asia?) may have taken placed in the later years of the Roman Empire.

It seems to me that both profit and duty should motivate advanced countries to invite and support as many scholars as they can manage, if not more.

Image:The library of Alexandria burns.