‘Welcome and important’: academics on decolonising education

Cyclists and pedestrians move along Trinity Street past St Johns College, part of the University of Cambridge

The debate sparked by a group of undergraduates at the University of Cambridge, on how and whether to “decolonise” British tertiary education by incorporating more black and minority ethnic voices, is spreading rapidly across universities and academic disciplines.

Paul Gilroy, professor of American and English literature at King’s College London, tweeted an image of Batman proclaiming “Decolonising the humanities isn’t just about Oxbridge”, and commented: “The caped crusader speaks for many of us.”

Malachi McIntosh, a Cambridge research fellow and expert on 20th and 21st century Caribbean literature, sees traditional curricula as damaging – and not just to literary understanding.

“Arguably, the narrowness of our curricula – at all levels of education – has fuelled the current political status quo, where a crude understanding of ‘us’ and ‘them’, built on a sepia-tinged nostalgia for a past that never was, is inspiring grand acts of national self-harm,” he says.

“In my eyes, the question is simple. Do we want to educate young people so that they understand the full range of experiences and perspectives that have contributed to world history? If our answer to that is yes, then we, at least in principle, support repeatedly reassessing who is read and studied and questioning what experiences and perspectives are left out. If our answer is no, then, in principle, we support limiting the exposure of the next and subsequent generations to the realities of the world they occupy.”

Emma Smith, professor of Shakespeare studies at the University of Oxford, is shocked at the venom of some of the media coverage of the debate, and links it to other recent attacks on academic freedom. “We are all in defensive mode, I think, as if whatever we say will be wrong, what with ‘Brexit lecturers’ and ‘leftie heads of colleges’ and ‘social apartheid’,” she says.

Smith, who three years ago led an initiative at her college, Hertford, to replace the portraits of long-dead men with newly commissioned photographs of female alumni, welcomes the debate on broadening the syllabus, including in her own discipline – Shakespeare studies is one area that the Cambridge students singled out as meriting a postcolonial approach.

“I think this is exciting and prioritises new ways of seeing the canon, as well as bringing in new writers,” she says. “Decolonising to me is about developing and employing the critical, historical and conceptual tools to see how ‘English’ literature – like other ‘English’ things like tea and St George – is deeply, richly, problematically interconnected with ongoing histories of travel, colonisation, empire and migration.”

Gurminder K Bhambra, professor of postcolonial and decolonial studies at the University of Sussex, is amused – almost – that it took a row at Cambridge to get the issue widely reported in the media. She has created a website, Global Social Theory – now being contributed to by academics, students and people interested in the subject from all over the world – precisely to provide a wider view.

“Some of us have been working in this area for many, many years,” Bhambra says. “However, the debate the students have started is welcome and important, if it helps more people to understand that this is not about narrowing, it is about broadening.”

source:-theguardian

Turkey’s academics pay heavy price for resisting Erdogan’s militarised politics

Turkey’s academics pay heavy price for resisting Erdogan’s militarised politics
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While the EU and the US have turned a blind eye to the Turkish government’s brutal clampdown in Kurdish regions, Turkish academics who have spoken out about the regime’s increasingly dictatorial policies have faced punishment and even imprisonment.

A petition published in early January by the Academicians for Peace initiative, criticising the Turkish state’s political and military attacks against the Kurdish people, raised a red flag with its signatories stating: “We will not be a party to this crime.” They wrote:

The Turkish state has effectively condemned its citizens in Sur, Silvan, Nusaybin, Cizre, Silopi, and many other towns and neighborhoods in the Kurdish provinces to hunger through its use of curfews that have been ongoing for weeks. It has attacked these settlements with heavy weapons and equipment that would only be mobilized in wartime. As a result, the right to life, liberty, and security, and in particular the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment protected by the constitution and international conventions have been violated.

In response, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan immediately demanded that all institutions in Turkey take action: “Everyone who benefits from this state but is now an enemy of the state must be punished without further delay.”

Academics targeted

Following this, Turkish federal prosecutors have investigated 1,128 of the signatories with33 academics from three Turkish universities in Bolu, Kocaeli and Bursa being detained because of their alleged propaganda for a terrorist organisation and insulting the Turkish nation, state, government and institutions.

Turkey’s top higher education body, the Higher Education Board (YÖK), has called for university administrators to impose disciplinary sanctions against the academics. Subsequently, 109 academics from 42 Turkish universities were subjected to dismissal, discharge, suspension, termination and forced resignation.

A government-backed counter-petition, Academics Against Terror, has also been organised. The Grey Wolves, also known as Idealist Hearts, a formal youth organisation of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) in the Turkish parliament, has even marked the office doors of signatories and left written threats.

Despite this, immediately after the government’s response, the number of academics participating in the campaign increased from 1,128 to 4,491. There has also been a public reaction against the government’s tactics.

Within just two weeks, independent petition campaigns organised by a variety of civic and professional organisations have collected more than 60,000 signatories, and supporting statements have been released by 65 organisations that have millions of members across the country.

The original petition has also created much-needed international solidarity with more than 60 international institutions, organisations, leading academics and politicians issuing messages of support and ten international petition campaigns being organised worldwide.

The recent clampdown on academics characterises the scope of the new “counterterrorism” strategy of the Turkish state. This “new” doctrine is again promoting a military solution to the Kurdish question by concentrating state violence against the Kurds and supporters of Kurdish rights.

Political plotting

After a period of fragile negotiations with the hope of ending the decades-long conflict, the new doctrine has emerged since the June 2015 Turkish general elections, when Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) failed to win a majority in parliament for a single-party government.

The government introduced the strategy after the June elections in an attempt to win back the votes of Turkish nationalists in the MHP, a long standing ultra-nationalist political party, and the “borrowed votes” of Turkish dissidents who temporarily collaborated with the HDP, a pro-Kurdish and pro-minority political party.

The Turkish state is also using the Syrian refugee crisis and military intervention against the so-called Islamic State to gain international support from the EU and the US.

In line with the “new” doctrine, the ongoing ceasefire agreement and peace negotiations between the Turkish state and the PKK (Kurdistan Worker’s Party) were officially suspended in July, with a state of emergency and curfew declared in Kurdish territories by the AKP government.

According to a report in Turkish by the Human Rights Association in Turkey, between June and November, 602 people (including 41 children) were killed, 1,300 people were injured, 1,004 people were jailed and 5,713 people were taken into custody during the military operations in Kurdish towns. There were also 134 people killed and 564 injured in two suicide bombings in Suruç and Ankara.

This campaign seemed to pay off for the AKP, with a significant increase in support within the six-month period. The AKP won 49.50% in a second parliamentary election called on November 1 2015, returning their single party majority.

Entrenching positions

It seems that Turkey’s “new” anti-Kurdish doctrine is a strategic, precautionary manoeuvre to maintain the popularity of Erdoğan’s regime. The government is aiming to avoid potential resistance, such as that experienced in the Gezi Park uprising in 2013, which unified a wide range of dissidents including leftists, Turkish nationalists, capitalists from the upper classes and religious groups.

Through its anti-Kurd strategy, the government is simultaneously deepening localised political and social tensions in Kurdish regions and reunifying right-wing nationalist civil society and political organisations under the flag of Turkish chauvinism.

In this light, the petition by Academicians for Peace is not only a revolt against the government’s Kurdish policy, but also a very effective swipe at the crucial point of the “new” strategy. It draws academics, students, intellectuals and other urban professionals together throughout the country, sending a wake-up call to the international public that Erdoğan’s new political and military strategy cannot be tolerated.

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