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.

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