To the leadership of the ISA,
The events unravelling in the United States have led many members of the ISA to reevaluate their decision to attend this year’s conference in Baltimore. Throughout my short academic career I have adamantly opposed academic boycotts, including those against my own country, Israel. This opposition stems not from my agreement with the policies of a specific government but from my belief in the academic endeavor. For it is within academia that we dare question the most controversial issues, or address the most contentious policies or challenge the most divisive notions.
A boycott on academia is thus a boycott on pluralism itself.
However, when the values of academia come under attack, it is incumbent on academics to defend them. The reason being that the academic endeavor is not divorced from society. Rather, academic ideas diffuse through society and in so doing they shape society. Thus, the silence of academics in times of crisis is more deafening than the roar of thousands of protestors.
And surely we are now in a moment of crisis. The events unraveling in Washington, New York, Dallas and Baltimore are not restricted to the US. The winds of hate, and the chimes of ignorance, are felt in Oxford, Paris, Ankara and Cairo. The rise of fiction, and the demise of fact, alongside the resurgence of the familiar dichotomy between “traitors” and “patriots” is global.
It is at moments of crises that the young look to the elder and that is what I am doing now, having read the ISA’s most recent comment on President Trump’s Executive Order.
I do not ask that the ISA condemn any one government or elected official. I am not hoping that the ISA denounce a certain spokesperson or strategist. But I am asking that the ISA speak out, with a clear voice, against the attack on our community’s core values.
These are first, and foremost, the value of pluralism. For without pluralism, how can the academic endeavor survive? The second value is equality. For surely the ideas of a female academic are just as novel and inspirational as those of her male colleague. The third is tolerance, for academia by its nature asks us to listen carefully to our most ardent opponent so that we may comment on his own ideas. The fourth is religious freedom, for surely the methodology and brilliance of a Muslim academic are equal to those of a Jewish or Hindu scholar.
It is these values of pluralism, equality, tolerance and religious freedom that are now in peril- in Boston and Tel Aviv and Manchester and Islamabad. It is due to this peril that our response must be vocal and unequivocal. Where others espouse hate, we must espouse compassion; where others spread bigotry, we must fight for acceptance and where others build walls we must continue to build bridges. Now is the time to remain true to the words of Dr. King who said that violence only breeds more violence adding darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
We must, as a community, come to realize that we are not fighting in the name of political ideals, but societal values. Values that we all cherish.
As someone who has had the opportunity to grow up in the United States, I have always felt that America’s strength comes not from its naval power or economic strength but from its ability to inspire others. It is my hope that I have been modestly successful in inspiring you, the leaders of our community, to foil the attack on our values, communities and societies.
PhD Candidate, University of Oxford
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