Monday, 26 October 2020

Reparations to Africa

 

Reparations to Africa

The Black Lives Matter movement includes calls for reparations to African-Americans for enslavement. Many people ask whether reparations should also be paid to the continent of Africa for the slave trade. https://theconversation.com/why-reparations-to-african-americans-are-necessary-how-to-start-now-119581, https://qz.com/africa/1915182/what-reparations-are-owed-to-africa/

The last time there was much discussion of reparations to Africa was during the UN World Conference on Racism, held in Durban, South Africa in 2001. https://www.un.org/WCAR/durban.pdf  Unfortunately, that conference was overshadowed by the 9/11 attacks on the US only a few days after it ended.

Types of reparations

A United Nations document discusses the different aspect of reparations. https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/remedyandreparation.aspx# One aspect is apology for harms committed in the past.

Several Western countries have expressed regret for their participation in the slave trade. For example, at the Durban Conference a Dutch government minister expressed “deep remorse” for the slave trade and enslavement. https://www.un.org/press/en/2001/rd942.doc.htm.  But these countries usually avoid direct apologies that might entail legal liability.

Another aspect of reparations is removal of offensive monuments. In Bristol, England in June 2020, activists tore down a monument to a “founder” of that city, Edward Colston. Colston had been a prominent slave-trader https://www.bbc.com/news/av/uk-52954994

Western museums that own precious African artifacts are facing calls to return them to Africa. Some activists would like the British Museum to return the Benin Bronzes to Nigeria. suhttps://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/23/arts/design/benin-bronzes.html

Other museums present Africans and African societies in ways that that may be racist. Belgium’s Africa Museum has been accused of this. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/08/arts/design/africa-museum-belgium.html

Teaching the history of the trans-Atlantic slave trade could be part of the reparative process. Both within Africa and in former slave-trading countries, people need to learn this history.

But the slave trade was not limited to the trans-Atlantic trade.  Arabs also took slaves from Africa. Historian Paul Lovejoy estimates that about 14 million people were taken from Africa in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and about 10 million in the Arab trade. https://books.google.ca/books/about/Transformations_in_Slavery.html?id=iWUXNEM-62QC&redir_esc=y An accurate history would  have to include the Arab trade.

Nor could history teachers ignore slave-trading by Africans. The Nigerian writer Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani was shocked to learn that her great-grandfather was a slave trader, selling slaves to Cuba and Brazil after the trade was abolished by the US and Great Britain. When her great-grandfather died, six slaves were buried alive with him. https://www.newyorker.com/culture/personal-history/my-great-grandfather-the-nigerian-slave-trader 

Financial Reparations

Often we think of reparations as financial. One problem is which former slave trading and slave-holding nations might owe financial reparations to Africa. Approximately a quarter million enslaved Africans disembarked in the US between 1626 and 1875. 5.1 million disembarked in Brazil between 1401 and 1875. https://www.slavevoyages.org/assessment/estimates Does Brazil, a middle-income country, owe financial reparations to Africa?  

Similarly, do Arab countries and African slave-traders owe reparations for their part in the slave trade? The distinguished philosopher Anthony Appiah is of mixed Ashanti (Ghanaian) and British ancestry. Both his British and Ashanti ancestors traded in slaves. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/PS8VM45VbjnCB7dVP5BN62/episode-transcript-episode-86-akan-drum#:~:text=Anthony%20Appiah%2C%20who%20teaches%20at,trade%2C%20or%20some% Do the Ashanti owe reparations to other ethnic groups within Ghana from whom they took slaves?

If only rich Western countries are responsible to pay financial reparations, to what entity should they pay them?  Perhaps each Western county should try to determine the countries where the bulk of its slaves originated (e.g. Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal or Angola). They could then compensate those countries.

Nevertheless, Westerners might ask why they should pay reparations to Africa. The trans-Atlantic slave trade ended in the mid-19th century. Some scholars and activists argue that Western countries should pay reparations because without the slave trade, Africa would be much more developed today. https://www.amazon.ca/Europe-Underdeveloped-Africa-Walter-Rodney/dp/0882580965.  On the other hand, Africa might simply have remained a continent of agriculturalists and nomadic herders, with some groups growing rich from internal slavery.

Most of sub-Saharan Africa was colonized in the late 19th century, but most African countries have been independent for between 45 and 60 years. Many of their governments have been extremely abusive. Many African political leaders have suppressed democracy, exploited their own citizens, and engaged in massive corruption.

Critics could argue that Africa’s continued underdevelopment is a consequence of these leaders’ actions.

Critics could also argue that Western countries have already compensated for the slave trade via foreign aid. Much foreign aid was misused or stolen by corrupt governments. Whether reparations or aid, the same problems of mismanagement, lack of transparency, and corruption emerge. There is no guarantee that financial reparations for the slave trade would reach the people most in need of it.

Distributive Justice

Rather than sorting out who is responsible for Africa’s underdevelopment since the slave-trading days, perhaps we should focus on distributive justice rather than reparative. 

Distributive justice does not mean re-distribution, taking money from rich nations or individuals and distributing it to poor. It means that the goods everyone needs everywhere in the world—food, housing, health care, education, and social security—should be distributed to them in an equitable way.  These are international-recognized human rights, protected by the 1976 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/cescr.aspx

As the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights argues, everyone is entitled to an international order in which all their human rights are protected. https://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/ Whether or not a Western country engaged in the slave trade, it should to try to ensure that Africans enjoy their human rights. Whether or not an African is a descendant of a slave owner, she should try to help ensure her co-nationals’ human rights. And all African governments are responsible to protect the human rights of all their citizens.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, 20 October 2020

Maoist Censorship and Cowardly Capitulation: The Bruce Gilley Affair, Part II

 On June 10, 2020, I posted a blog concerning the successful attempt to censor an article by Dr. Bruce Gilley defending colonialism.  You can find that blog here.   http://rhodahassmann.blogspot.com/2020/06/uncomfortablequestions-bruce-gilley.html

 I disagreed with much of what Dr. Gilley wrote in that article, but I defended his right to make his argument and have it published.

Recently, Dr. Gilley was appointed editor of a news series called “Problems of Anti-Colonialism’ for Lexington Books, an imprint of Rowman and Littlefield.  The first book in this series was to be a biography Gilley himself wrote of Sir Alan Burns, a governor of the Gold Coast (now Ghana).  The book was properly reviewed by two other scholars and recommended for publication.  Then over a thousand people signed a petition on Change.org against publication of the book. Despite a counter-petition initiated soon after and signed, as of today (October 20, 2020) by over 4400 people, Rowman and Littlefield “released” Gilley from his contract. 

Below is a letter I sent to Ms. Julie Kirsch, the Senior Vice-President and publisher of Rowman and Littlefield, via email on October 8, 2020. As of today, October 20, 2020, I have received no response.  I have added links that were not in the original email, but have not otherwise changed it. The content of the Wikipedia entry for Joshua Moufawad-Paul has changed since I first read it, and now contains a reference to my letter below.

*****************************************************************************

Ms. Julie Kirsch,

Senior Vice-President and Publisher,

Rowman and Littlefield

October 8, 2020

 

Dear Ms. Kirsch,

I am writing to express my extreme concern to you upon learning that Rowman and Littlefield has cancelled publication of Dr. Bruce Gilley's book, The Last Imperialist: Sir Alan Burns’ Epic Defense of the British Empire, and has also cancelled his editorship of a new series to be called Problems of Anti-Colonialism. 

The reason for this cancellation appears to be a petition on Change.org. entitled “Bruce Gilley’s Colonial Apologetics,” (https://www.change.org/p/academics-against-bruce-gilley-s-colonial-apologetics) organized by one Joshua Moufawad-Paul, who is identified by Wikipedia as a professor of philosophy at York University in Canada, (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._Moufawad-Paulalthough I cannot find a listing for him on that department’s website. (https://phil.laps.yorku.ca/faculty-staff/contract-faculty/) He is also listed in his Wikipedia entry as a Maoist.  I hope that this is not accurate. A Maoist is someone who follows the teaching of Mao Tse-Tung.  Mao Tse-Tung was one of history's most egregious murderers, responsible, for example, for the deaths of 30 to 45 million people during China's so-called agricultural Great Leap Forward (1958-62).  Mao also favoured censorship: during the Great Leap Forward peasants and journalists, indeed even children, who protested Mao's policies were tortured to death or executed in various horrible manners. (https://www.amazon.com/State-Food-Crimes-Rhoda-Howard-Hassmann/dp/1107589967 , pp. 27-33).

If Mr. Moufawad-Paul is indeed a Maoist, then it would be consistent with his ideological beliefs to wish to censor Dr. Gilley's writings.  I do not know if he read Dr. Gilley's article, “The Case for Colonialism,” which stirred controversy in 2017. Nor do I know if he, or any of the signatories of the Change.org petition to which Roman and Littlefield appears to have capitulated, have read the book in question. I do know that the Change.org petition is full of misinformation. Indeed, it appears to me that one of the statements in this petition, the claim that Dr. Gilley “endorses a white nationalist perspective,” is libelous.

I, on the other hand, have read Dr. Gilley's original article. I attach a copy of a piece I published in the newsletter of Canada's Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship about it. (http://safs.ca/newsletters/article.php?article=1060) I am also the author of Colonialism and Underdevelopment in Ghana (Croom Helm, 1978), and I do not agree with Dr. Gilley's defense of colonialism. (https://books.google.ca/books/about/Colonialism_and_Underdevelopment_in_Ghan.html?id=npQoAQAAMAAJ&redir_esc=y ) I do believe, however, that he had a right to publish this article. Others who believed this were Dr, Martin Klein, a distinguished historian of Africa who, like me, disagreed with much of what Dr. Gilley argued, and Noam Chomsky.

I have not read The Last Imperialist, but had Lexington published it and had I read it, I suspect I would find it interesting but nevertheless disagree with some or all of it. 

I am also the author of Human Rights in Commonwealth Africa, published in 1986 by Rowman and Littlefield. ( https://www.amazon.ca/Human-Rights-Commonwealth-Africa-Howard/dp/0847674339) Mr. Matthew Held, an editor at Rowman and Littlefield at the time, encouraged me to submit this manuscript to you. This book is very critical of the human rights practices and policies of post-colonial African rulers in nine English-speaking African countries. I am now wondering if you would be willing to publish such a volume today, given your apparent reaction to a petition signed by over a thousand people, the vast majority of whom, I suspect, did not read Dr. Gilley's original controversial article or his book. Perhaps they would find my human-rights perspective indicative of white nationalism.

There is now a counter-petition on Change.org, inaugurated by the (U.S.) National Association of Scholars. (https://www.change.org/p/rowman-littlefield-publishing-group-vindicate-dr-bruce-gilley-s-personal-and-professional-reputation?recruiter=37142265&utm_source=share_petition&utm_med ) I have chosen not to sign it, preferring to write this letter to you instead. However, I agreed with the gist of this petition, especially the call for you to apologize to Dr Gilley, to vindicate his scholarly reputation, and to-re-commit Rowman and Littlefield to publication of The Last Imperialist and the series on problems of anti-colonialism.

I am copying this letter to Dr. Gilley for his information. He did not request that I send this letter to you, nor did he in any way influence its content. However, he has my permission to circulate this letter to you as he sees fit. 

I am also attaching a one-page professional biography. You will note that I have received several academic awards for my work on human rights. Freedom of speech is a core human right.  By your apparent capitulation to a call for censorship on Change.org, you have undermined freedom of speech.

Yours sincerely,

Rhoda E. Howard-Hassmann

Professor Emeritus, Department of Political Science,

Wilfrid Laurier University

Canada Research Chair in International Human Rights 2003-16

Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada

 

 

Tuesday, 13 October 2020

Threat to Americans' Human Rights

Note: I originally wrote the blog below for a bipartisan US website called Divided We Fall. It was posted on October 5, 2020. Here is the link to the original post, with a reply by Prof. Catherine Renshaw of Australia. https://dividedwefall.com/2020/10/05/human-rights/ I was asked to write about threats to Americans' human rights from both the political left and the political right, and decided to do so from the point of view of international human rights law, which makes it clear that the far larger threat is from the right.

Threats to Americans’ Human Rights

International Human Rights Law

In the midst of the 2020 campaign for the US Presidency, many people worry that both the political left and the political right are undermining human rights. This article compares human rights in the US to international human rights law, in order to assess these possible threats.

Three documents comprise the International Bill of Rights. Along with other UN members, in 1948 the US voted for the non-binding 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Two 1976 treaties elaborated on the UDHR and transformed it into international law. They are the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

Civil and Political Rights

The US ratified the ICCPR in 1992. Ratification means that a government has consented to be bound by a treaty.

The ICCPR protects such rights as freedom of thought and expression (freedom of speech) and peaceful assembly. It also protects the right to vote and to participate in public affairs, the rule of law, and the rights of people detained by the police. And it protects freedom of religion. 

Some American leftists would like to deny freedom of speech to some individuals or categories of people. These leftists practice identity politics. They believe that everything an individual says can be explained by their identity, for example as a white male.

Many identity politics leftists have campaigned to restrict freedom of speech, especially on US campuses. This trend to restrict freedom of speech is indeed worrisome, and should be combatted. 

Freedom of speech is a core human right. No one should be denied their right to freedom of speech because of their identity, either as Black or White, or female or male.

But the leftist threat to freedom of speech is far from the most important threat to civil and political rights in the US today. That threat comes from the political right, specifically the Republican Party and President Donald Trump.

The right to vote has never been well-protected in the US. Women, African-Americans, Native Americans and other minorities had to fight for it. In some US states, convicted felons are not permitted to vote, even after they have served their sentences. In 2016, only 64 per cent of voting-age Americans was actually registered to vote

More recent initiatives further restrict the right to vote. These include the requirement that voters produce identification, and reduction of the numbers of polling booths.  

In recent months the US has also witnessed restrictions on the right of peaceable assembly.  Unidentified but presumably federal forces descended on Portland, Oregon in the summer of 2020 and arrested peaceful protesters, taking them to unknown locations.

The Portland arrests seem to be a violation of the 2010 UN International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. The Convention defines enforced disappearance as “arrest…by agents of the State …followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law.”  But the US has not ratified this Convention.  

President Trump also undermines the rule of law in other ways. He routinely dismisses law enforcement officers with whose decisions he disagrees. He pardons convicted criminals who are or were his cronies. He does not criticize heavily armed police forces that attack unarmed protesters or murder unarmed citizens.

And President Trump calls journalists enemies of the people. So far, he has not actually been able to eliminate freedom of the press, which is a bedrock right in any democracy.

These recent attacks on civil and political rights have led many observers to wonder if the future of the US lies in fascism. The parallels with Nazi Germany are not exact, but are very worrisome. Just as the rich and powerful in 1930s Germany deferred to Adolf Hitler, so many Republicans who should know better have supported President Trump’s attacks on civil and political rights. 

The US was once respected worldwide for its defense of civil and political rights. Yet it is now a country where such basic human rights are under attack.

Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

Meantime, the US has never supported the international law of economic and social rights. It has never ratified the ICESCR. Thus under international law, it is not obliged to protect human rights to health care, housing, social security, or an adequate standard of living.

Yet President Franklin Delano Roosevelt proposed some of these rights as early as 1944. He proclaimed a second Bill of Rights. This second Bill included rights to a useful and remunerative job, a decent home, adequate medical care, a good education, and adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment.

When Senator Bernie Sanders claims that “health is a human right,” he is agreeing both with President Roosevelt and with international human rights law, but not with US law. The US is one of the few developed Western countries where citizens do not enjoy universal, tax-supported access to health care.

The US is also one of the most unequal developed Western countries. Tax cuts for the rich intensify that inequality. So does denial of health care to the poor, extremely unequal educational systems from the primary to the university levels, and inadequate social welfare. 

There is no human right in international law to economic equality. Yet scholars and activists know that the more unequal a society is, the less likely that those at the bottom will enjoy not only their economic and social rights, but also their civil and political rights.

It is difficult to take part in the deliberative political process, for example, is you are working three minimum-wage jobs to support your family. Or if you are sick with Covid-19 and can’t afford medical treatment.

Collective Rights

Aside from the rights mentioned in the ICCPR and ICESCR, collective rights are emerging in international human rights law. Collective rights include the right to peace, the right to development, and the right to a clean and healthy environment.

Former Vice-President Joe Biden, the Democratic candidate for US President, acknowledges climate change and its threats to the environment. President Trump and the Republican Party do not.

Unalienable Rights

Recently, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made public the Draft Report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights. This report mentioned two foremost unalienable rights: religious liberty and property rights.

Religious liberty is not threatened in the US, although some religious people may believe that they should be free to discriminate in their businesses against LGBT+ people. President Trump's early attempt to impose a so-called “Muslim ban” on immigrants, later modified to ban immigrants from certain Muslim majority countries, did threaten the freedom of religion of prospective immigrants.

As with freedom of religion, no one threatens Americans’ property rights. Even people whom some members of the political right consider to be extreme leftists, if not “communists,” do not do so.

Social Democracy

Left-wing politicians in the US such as Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are social democrats, not communists. Social democracy is a variant of liberalism that views the social provision of economic security as an inherent part of respect for the individual. It is not communism.

Social democracy protects civil and political rights, which communism routinely violates. It preserves a market-based economic system and protects private property, which communism destroys.

But social democrats also try to protect citizens against detrimental market forces and extreme inequality. Contemporary social democrats also worry about collective rights, especially the right to be protected against climate change.

In other Western states, social democracy is a normal part of politics. It is not considered to be an extreme leftist position.

The left wing of the Democratic Party is comprised of social democrats, or what Senator Sanders and Representative Ocasio-Cortez call democratic socialists. It is the political group most willing to protect the entire range of internationally-recognized human rights in the US.

 


Monday, 17 August 2020

The Right to Offend: A Canadian Precedent from 1951

The right to offend is much in the news in 2020.  People debate whether one can say things that might hurt other people’s feelings. Students claim that they are harmed by ideas that professors put forth for discussion. The mass media are expected to issue trigger warnings so that listeners and viewers can decide whether they can tolerate what is about to be reported.

In 1951 the Supreme Court of Canada issued a decision that might help us decide what can and cannot be said today, even if it is offensive. The question in the Boucher case was whether Aimé Boucher should be permitted to distribute pamphlets with content that offended Quebec Roman Catholics. Boucher was a farmer and a Jehovah’s Witness.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses were a small Christian denomination. In 1939 there were perhaps two to three thousand Witnesses in Canada. They were a missionary group and tried especially to convert Roman Catholics who, they believed, were being misled by the Vatican. At one point Witnesses depicted the Catholic Church as a “whore of Babylon.” During World War II, Witness literature grouped the Pope with Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini as allies of Satan.

This did not sit well with the Catholic hierarchy that dominated much of Quebec’s social life. The Church was so strong that it persuaded the federal government to ban Witnesses during the war. Some Witness children were expelled from school for refusing to sing the national anthem and salute the British flag, while many male Witnesses were arrested and interned for refusing military service. Yet the Witnesses continued their missionary work. By 1945, there were about 10,000-15,000 in Canada, although fewer than 500 lived in Quebec.

Premier Maurice Duplessis of Quebec, who obtained much of his support from the Catholic hierarchy, detested Jehovah’s Witnesses. He used sedition laws to arrest hundreds, charging over 800 in 1946 alone. Duplessis grouped Witnesses with Communists and Nazis as seditious organizations, declaring a “war without mercy” on them.

In 1946 Boucher was arrested for distributing a pamphlet entitled “Quebec’s Burning Hatred for God and Christ and Freedom is the Shame of All Canada.” Most of this pamphlet detailed post-war mob violence against, and political persecution of, Witnesses. It concluded with a message to Quebec society:

Quebec, Jehovah’s witnesses are telling all Canada of the shame you have brought on the nation by your evil deeds….And your claims of serving God are…empty.…Quebec, you have yielded yourself as an obedient servant of religious [Roman Catholic] priests, and you have brought forth bumper crops of evil fruits.

Boucher was charged with sedition by intentionally creating ill will between sections of the population. The case against him went through several courts, eventually ending up at the Supreme Court of Canada in 1950, with judgment rendered in 1951. In acquitting Boucher, Justice Ivan Rand issued a ringing defense of freedom of speech.

Freedom in thought and speech and disagreement in ideas and beliefs, on every conceivable subject, are of the essence of our life. The clash of critical discussion on political, social and religious subjects has too deeply become the stuff of daily experience to suggest that mere ill-will as a product of controversy can strike down the latter [i.e. controversy] with illegality. …Controversial fury is aroused constantly by differences in abstract conceptions; heresy in some fields is again a mortal sin…but our compact of free society accepts and absorbs these differences.

The fact that some Quebeckers were insulted by the Jehovah’s Witness pamphlet was not enough to limit dissent in Canada. The Boucher case, and others involving Jehovah’s Witnesses, were among the key cases preceding the establishment of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982. As Antonio Lamer said in 1996, “Boucher…entailed an exploration of the underpinnings of a free and democratic society, particularly the importance of protecting the freedom of expression of dissenting minorities.”

In our time, certain factions of Canada’s political and academic “left” wish to censor the views of dissenting minorities. These minorities express views that some consider to be insulting to, demeaning of, or prejudicial to marginalized people who suffer from social, economic and political disadvantages. Yet as Justice Rand also said in his ruling on Boucher:

[D]iscontent…and hostility: as subjective incidents of controversy…are part of our living which ultimately serves us in stimulation, in the clarification of thought and…in the search for the …truth of things generally….[F]ree criticism as a constituent of modern democratic government, provides the widest range of public discussion and controversy.

This 70-year-old precedent arises from persecution of a minority religious group that held opinions offensive to many people. It explains why even offensive ideas deserve airing in the public realm today. As of August 2020, it had been cited in 65 Canadian cases and decisions, including 14 by the Supreme Court of Canada. It has never been overturned.

Wednesday, 10 June 2020

Uncomfortable Questions: The Bruce Gilley Scandal



Uncomfortable Questions: The Bruce Gilley Scandal

 Note: This is an unusually long blog. I published it in the newsletter of the (Canadian) Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship. No. 85, April 2020, pp. 16-18. I know that many people now think that protection of academic freedom is a right-wing issue, as discussed at the end of this article, but I think that it should be everyone’s concern, regardless of political persuasion. Academic freedom is an important part of freedom of speech, a fundamental human rights.  I have included footnotes in this blog for those who would like to investigate further.

 This article addresses a recent case of academic “scandal.” In 2017 Bruce Gilley, a political scientist, argued in Third World Quarterly (TWQ) for the benefits of past coercive colonialism and the probable advantages of future voluntary colonialism.[1] TWQ eventually withdrew Gilley’s article from its hard-copy publication because of concerns for the safety of its editor, who had been subjected to on-line threats to his life. The question this case provokes is whether both academic freedom and the human right to freedom of speech include the right to ask uncomfortable questions and propose unpopular answers.

 Gilley presented two arguments; that there were many benefits to colonialism, and that a voluntary re-colonialization in which independent countries accept partial control by foreigners might improve their citizens’ well-being. As benefits of colonialism, he mentioned among others efficient administration, the building of infrastructure, and provision of health and education services. Gilley also noted that colonialists had put a stop to the slave trade of earlier centuries.([1], p. 4)

 Martin Klein, a professor emeritus at the University of Toronto and a distinguished historian of colonialism in Africa, provided a careful refutation of Gilley’s views of the benefits of colonialism. Klein agrees that colonists did stop the slave trade—from which their own nations had earlier benefitted—as well as abolishing internal slavery. But other “benefits” of colonialism served colonial interests. Colonialists provided education only to a small elite of (male) Africans who were groomed for lower-level administrative jobs in the colonial civil service. Hospitals were built and public health measures instituted to ensure that Europeans did not die. Forced labourers built much colonial infrastructure. Very few colonies allowed any political participation by “natives,” to whom Gilley’s supposedly “universal” values such as the rule of law did not apply. ([2], p. 39) In general, colonial rule varied according to the needs of the rulers and their commitments to the well-being of the populations they ruled.

 Gilley also compared administration, infrastructure, education and health care in now independent countries to their counterparts under colonial rule. He argued that in some cases, a voluntary “re-colonialism,” as he called it, might be a good option for some independent countries. Using Guinea-Bissau as an example, he suggested building a city on an outlying island to be run by foreigners, along the lines of Singapore or Hong Kong. Other aspects of this so-called voluntary “re-colonization” included co-operation with international organizations such as the World Bank. ([1], pp. 8, 11) Gilley, a former journalist, admits that he has an eye for provocative headlines. ([3], p. 8) To call long-established patterns of international co-operation a form of “colonialism” seems unnecessarily provocative.

 TWQ reviewed Gilley's article twice. He first submitted it for a special issue, but after the issue’s two editors read it, they declined to send it out for further review. The TWQ Editor, Pakistan-born Shahid Qadir, then sent it out for anonymous double blind review by two scholars, for a “viewpoints” article in a regular issue. One recommended against publishing, the other for. Qadir then decided to publish and the article appeared on-line.

 Before the article could appear in print, fifteen members of the TWQ editorial board resigned in protest. They maintained that the Editor had violated the peer review process. They also wrote that “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 that causes offense and hurt and thereby clearly violates that very principle of free speech.” [4] Several hundred scholars then signed a petition for the article’s removal, and several thousand members of the public did the same.

 The public petition was drafted by Jenny Heijun Wills, an associate professor of English and Director of the Critical Race Network at the University of Winnipeg. She claimed that Gilley’s “ideas are not simply abstract provocations, but have real, material consequences for those who Prof Gilley seeks to dominate and objectify.”[5] Gilley did not, of course, seek to dominate or objectify anyone: he made his proposals for voluntary “re-colonization,” however misguided they might have been, out of concern for people suffering from blatant misrule in postcolonial societies.

 On-line harassment of the TWQ was intense. Some people to whom Gilley referred as “Indian anti-colonial fanatics” apparently made anonymous death threats against Qadir. [6] It is possible for an academic to ignore on-line critical comments, but not always—if ever—to ignore actual threats of violence. Faced with such threats and concerned for Qadir’s safety, Gilley agreed to withdraw the article before it could be published in hard copy. After initially offering an apology, he retracted it as having been issued under pressure, and he did not retract the contents of the article. Neither the TWQ Editor, nor the publisher, Taylor and Francis, apologized.

 Quite probably, the scholars who resigned from TWQ’s editorial board actually read Gilley’s article. It was their right to resign. Possibly, although unlikely, all the scholars who signed petitions against publication also read the article. It is unlikely that more than a few of the public mobbers actually read it. 

 Some scholars now seems to think that rather than provide a written refutation of an article with which they profoundly disagree, they should collectively and loudly denounce its publication. By contrast, Martin Klein lamented withdrawal of the article. Klein argued that Gilley did the scholarly community a service by raising questions about colonialism that were “crucial parts of the divide between academic and public discourse. Many of the students who enter our classes do so with ideas similar to Gilley’s. So too do many opinion leaders…” ([2] p. 39) The distinguished leftist scholar and critic, Noam Chomsky, also called for rebuttal of Gilley’s views, but not for a retraction of the article. [7]

One African commentator defended Gilley, maintaining that “many Nigerians see the colonial era as something of a golden age.” [8] A Kenyan researcher argued that TWQ should reinstate the article, arguing “It is extreme anti-colonial sentiment that is a threat to world peace, not the pro-colonial views that have been expressed by pro-Western thinkers in the Third World who identify with the Western human rights tradition.” [9]

Before writing his article defending colonialism, Gilley had published an earlier piece on the Nigerian writer, Chinua Achebe. Long known as a hero of the anti-colonial movement, late in his life Achebe began to reminisce about the beneficial aspects of colonialism, which he himself had experienced as a student at Government College in Umuahia.[10] Yet this article garnered no protests, outraged or otherwise. [11]

 Nor did public mobbing cause withdrawal of arguments similar to Gilley’s made by other scholars. The historian Niall Ferguson, for example, published a provocatively titled book, Civilization: The West and the Rest, in 2011, arguing that the West developed “six powerful new concepts” that the rest of the world lacked: these were competition, science, property, medicine, consumption, and work. Acknowledging the many horrific evils of colonialism in Africa, Ferguson nevertheless described how colonialists conducted medical research and improved the health of their subjects. He further argued that the Protestant work ethic was an important contributor to development in countries such as China.([12], pp.  168-75, 277-88). Yet Ferguson was not mobbed into withdrawing his book.

 Similarly, many scholars have presented arguments analogous to Gilley’s on why post-colonial states such as Guinea-Bissau have failed. To succeed in protecting their citizens’ human rights, I have argued, societies require market economies with strong protection of property rights; rule of law; strong administrative and political institutions; a political culture of human rights; and a strong civil society.([13], pp. 49-66) Other scholars stress the importance of developing efficient, trustworthy institutions that can facilitate economic innovation and growth. They also stress democratic accountability, a free press, and the rule of law.[14, 15]

Perhaps the reason why the scholars cited above were not mobbed, by either other scholars or the concerned public, was that they wrote books that took too long to read. Or perhaps their arguments were simply not brought to public attention. All of them published since 2010, so presumably could have been condemned on social media. 

 Gilley himself argued that “such virtual flash mobs are becoming part of the discursive landscape of contemporary society.”([16], p.4) In the past, governments or religious officials who did not like ideas their opponents spread committed libricide, trying to kill ideas by burning books and libraries. Such tactics are still popular in the present: for example, China employed them during the Cultural Revolution and in its repression of Tibet.[17]

Nowadays, libricide is not necessary to commit ideacide; instead, mobs can use social media to condemn ideas, and spread false summaries of what scholars say. An additional advantage of social media is that people who use it can be anonymous: thus, there is little if any potential cost to them of threatening violence against those with whom they disagree.  These advantages pertain to anyone disagreeing with anything: some professors who opposed Gilley’s views were also subject to on-line harassment.([3], p. 3)

Many of the opinion pieces defending Gilley were published in journals or newspapers considered to be connected to the political right. Yet freedom of speech is a fundamental human right for all to protect themselves against abuses of power by the state, by businesses, by social institutions, and indeed by other individuals. Freedom of speech is a profoundly subversive concept.

In order to protect freedom of speech, it is often necessary to protect its exercise by people with whom one profoundly disagrees. That is what Chomsky and Klein did in their defense of Gilley’s right to publish his views on colonialism. To argue that speech that is “hurtful” violates the principles of free speech, as did the 15 scholars who resigned from the TWG editorial board, is to stretch the principle of prohibition of hate speech far beyond its original purpose.

It is dangerous to claim hurt or harm when all one is confronting is an idea. It is one thing to oppose actual hate speech with its advocacy of violence: it is another to claim that unpopular ideas promote hatred when there is no evidence whatsoever that they do. Indeed, it was the anti-Gilley mobbers who promoted violence, not Gilley, who merely proposed two politically unpopular ideas about the nature of colonial and post-colonial rule.  

Notes:

 

1.            Gilley, B., The Case for Colonialism. Third World Quarterly, 2017 (on-line only: withdrawn).

2.            Klein, M.A., A Critique of Colonial Rule: A Response to Bruce Gilley. Australasian Review of African Studies, 2018. 39(1): p. 39-52.

3.            Patel, V., Last Fall This Scholar Defended Colonialism. Now He's Defending Himself, in The Chronicle of Higher Education. 2018 March 21.

4.            Kapoor, I.e.a., Letter of resignation from members of the editorial board of Third World Quarterly. 2017 September 19.

5.            Wills, J.H., Petition via Change.org. 2017.

6.            Bouwman, M., Het Goede Van Kolonialism (The Good of Colonialism), in Elsevier Weekbland. 2018 March 3: Netherlands.

7.            Ngo, A., Noam Chomsky defends academic freedom of pro-colonialism professor under fire, in The College Fix. 2017 September 21.

8.            Lamikanra, F., Dare We Make a Case for Colonialism?, in Conatus News. 2017 October 13.

9.            Wariuru, M., Post-Colonial Identity Crisis and Partmerships with Europe: An Black African Historian Defends Prof. Bruce Gilley. 2017 October.

10.          Gilley, B., Chinua Achebe on the Positive Legacies of Colonialism. African Affairs, 2016. 115(461): p. 646-63.

11.          Young, T., The Gilley 'debate'. Journal of Modern African Studies, 2019. 57(2): p. 325-37.

12.          Ferguson, N., Civilization: The West and the Rest. 2011, New York: Penguin Publisher.

13.          Howard-Hassmann, R.E., In Defense of Universal Human Rights. 2018, Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

14.          Fukuyama, F., Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy. 2014, New York: Farrar, Straus and Geroux.

15.          Acemoglu, D. and J.A. Robinson, Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty. 2012, New York: Crown.

16.          Gilley, B., How the hate mob tried to silence me (on-line), in Standpoint Mag. 2017-18: United Kingdom

17.          Knuth, R., Libricide: the Regime-Sponsored Destruction of Books and Libraries in the Twentieth Century. 2003, Westport, Connecticut: Praeger.

 


Gilley presented two arguments; that there were many benefits to colonialism, and that a voluntary re-colonialization in which independent countries accept partial control by foreigners might improve their citizens’ well-being. As benefits of colonialism, he mentioned among others efficient administration, the building of infrastructure, and provision of health and education services. Gilley also noted that colonialists had put a stop to the slave trade of earlier centuries.([1], p. 4)

Martin Klein, a professor emeritus at the University of Toronto and a distinguished historian of colonialism in Africa, provided a careful refutation of Gilley’s views of the benefits of colonialism. Klein agrees that colonists did stop the slave trade—from which their own nations had earlier benefitted—as well as abolishing internal slavery. But other “benefits” of colonialism served colonial interests. Colonialists provided education only to a small elite of (male) Africans who were groomed for lower-level administrative jobs in the colonial civil service. Hospitals were built and public health measures instituted to ensure that Europeans did not die. Forced labourers built much colonial infrastructure. Very few colonies allowed any political participation by “natives,” to whom Gilley’s supposedly “universal” values such as the rule of law did not apply. ([2], p. 39) In general, colonial rule varied according to the needs of the rulers and their commitments to the well-being of the populations they ruled.

Gilley also compared administration, infrastructure, education and health care in now independent countries to their counterparts under colonial rule. He argued that in some cases, a voluntary “re-colonialism,” as he called it, might be a good option for some independent countries. Using Guinea-Bissau as an example, he suggested building a city on an outlying island to be run by foreigners, along the lines of Singapore or Hong Kong. Other aspects of this so-called voluntary “re-colonization” included co-operation with international organizations such as the World Bank. ([1], pp. 8, 11) Gilley, a former journalist, admits that he has an eye for provocative headlines. ([3], p. 8) To call long-established patterns of international co-operation a form of “colonialism” seems unnecessarily provocative.

TWQ reviewed Gilley's article twice. He first submitted it for a special issue, but after the issue’s two editors read it, they declined to send it out for further review. The TWQ Editor, Pakistan-born Shahid Qadir, then sent it out for anonymous double blind review by two scholars, for a “viewpoints” article in a regular issue. One recommended against publishing, the other for. Qadir then decided to publish and the article appeared on-line.

Before the article could appear in print, fifteen members of the TWQ editorial board resigned in protest. They maintained that the Editor had violated the peer review process. They also wrote that “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 that causes offense and hurt and thereby clearly violates that very principle of free speech.” [4] Several hundred scholars then signed a petition for the article’s removal, and several thousand members of the public did the same.

The public petition was drafted by Jenny Heijun Wills, an associate professor of English and Director of the Critical Race Network at the University of Winnipeg. She claimed that Gilley’s “ideas are not simply abstract provocations, but have real, material consequences for those who Prof Gilley seeks to dominate and objectify.”[5] Gilley did not, of course, seek to dominate or objectify anyone: he made his proposals for voluntary “re-colonization,” however misguided they might have been, out of concern for people suffering from blatant misrule in postcolonial societies.

On-line harassment of the TWQ was intense. Some people to whom Gilley referred as “Indian anti-colonial fanatics” apparently made anonymous death threats against Qadir. [6] It is possible for an academic to ignore on-line critical comments, but not always—if ever—to ignore actual threats of violence. Faced with such threats and concerned for Qadir’s safety, Gilley agreed to withdraw the article before it could be published in hard copy. After initially offering an apology, he retracted it as having been issued under pressure, and he did not retract the contents of the article. Neither the TWQ Editor, nor the publisher, Taylor and Francis, apologized.

Quite probably, the scholars who resigned from TWQ’s editorial board actually read Gilley’s article. It was their right to resign. Possibly, although unlikely, all the scholars who signed petitions against publication also read the article. It is unlikely that more than a few of the public mobbers actually read it. 

Some scholars now seems to think that rather than provide a written refutation of an article with which they profoundly disagree, they should collectively and loudly denounce its publication. By contrast, Martin Klein lamented withdrawal of the article. Klein argued that Gilley did the scholarly community a service by raising questions about colonialism that were “crucial parts of the divide between academic and public discourse. Many of the students who enter our classes do so with ideas similar to Gilley’s. So too do many opinion leaders…” ([2] p. 39) The distinguished leftist scholar and critic, Noam Chomsky, also called for rebuttal of Gilley’s views, but not for a retraction of the article. [7]

One African commentator defended Gilley, maintaining that “many Nigerians see the colonial era as something of a golden age.” [8] A Kenyan researcher argued that TWQ should reinstate the article, arguing “It is extreme anti-colonial sentiment that is a threat to world peace, not the pro-colonial views that have been expressed by pro-Western thinkers in the Third World who identify with the Western human rights tradition.” [9]

Before writing his article defending colonialism, Gilley had published an earlier piece on the Nigerian writer, Chinua Achebe. Long known as a hero of the anti-colonial movement, late in his life Achebe began to reminisce about the beneficial aspects of colonialism, which he himself had experienced as a student at Government College in Umuahia.[10] Yet this article garnered no protests, outraged or otherwise. [11]

Nor did public mobbing cause withdrawal of arguments similar to Gilley’s made by other scholars. The historian Niall Ferguson, for example, published a provocatively titled book, Civilization: The West and the Rest, in 2011, arguing that the West developed “six powerful new concepts” that the rest of the world lacked: these were competition, science, property, medicine, consumption, and work. Acknowledging the many horrific evils of colonialism in Africa, Ferguson nevertheless described how colonialists conducted medical research and improved the health of their subjects. He further argued that the Protestant work ethic was an important contributor to development in countries such as China.([12], pp.  168-75, 277-88). Yet Ferguson was not mobbed into withdrawing his book.

Similarly, many scholars have presented arguments analogous to Gilley’s on why post-colonial states such as Guinea-Bissau have failed. To succeed in protecting their citizens’ human rights, I have argued, societies require market economies with strong protection of property rights; rule of law; strong administrative and political institutions; a political culture of human rights; and a strong civil society.([13], pp. 49-66) Other scholars stress the importance of developing efficient, trustworthy institutions that can facilitate economic innovation and growth. They also stress democratic accountability, a free press, and the rule of law.[14, 15]

Perhaps the reason why the scholars cited above were not mobbed, by either other scholars or the concerned public, was that they wrote books that took too long to read. Or perhaps their arguments were simply not brought to public attention. All of them published since 2010, so presumably could have been condemned on social media. 

Gilley himself argued that “such virtual flash mobs are becoming part of the discursive landscape of contemporary society.”([16], p.4) In the past, governments or religious officials who did not like ideas their opponents spread committed libricide, trying to kill ideas by burning books and libraries. Such tactics are still popular in the present: for example, China employed them during the Cultural Revolution and in its repression of Tibet.[17]

Nowadays, libricide is not necessary to commit ideacide; instead, mobs can use social media to condemn ideas, and spread false summaries of what scholars say. An additional advantage of social media is that people who use it can be anonymous: thus, there is little if any potential cost to them of threatening violence against those with whom they disagree.  These advantages pertain to anyone disagreeing with anything: some professors who opposed Gilley’s views were also subject to on-line harassment.([3], p. 3)

Many of the opinion pieces defending Gilley were published in journals or newspapers considered to be connected to the political right. Yet freedom of speech is a fundamental human right for all to protect themselves against abuses of power by the state, by businesses, by social institutions, and indeed by other individuals. Freedom of speech is a profoundly subversive concept.

In order to protect freedom of speech, it is often necessary to protect its exercise by people with whom one profoundly disagrees. That is what Chomsky and Klein did in their defense of Gilley’s right to publish his views on colonialism. To argue that speech that is “hurtful” violates the principles of free speech, as did the 15 scholars who resigned from the TWG editorial board, is to stretch the principle of prohibition of hate speech far beyond its original purpose.

It is dangerous to claim hurt or harm when all one is confronting is an idea. It is one thing to oppose actual hate speech with its advocacy of violence: it is another to claim that unpopular ideas promote hatred when there is no evidence whatsoever that they do. Indeed, it was the anti-Gilley mobbers who promoted violence, not Gilley, who merely proposed two politically unpopular ideas about the nature of colonial and post-colonial rule.  

 Notes:

1.            Gilley, B., The Case for Colonialism. Third World Quarterly, 2017 (on-line only: withdrawn).
2.            Klein, M.A., A Critique of Colonial Rule: A Response to Bruce Gilley. Australasian Review of African Studies, 2018. 39(1): p. 39-52.
3.            Patel, V., Last Fall This Scholar Defended Colonialism. Now He's Defending Himself, in The Chronicle of Higher Education. 2018 March 21.
4.            Kapoor, I.e.a., Letter of resignation from members of the editorial board of Third World Quarterly. 2017 September 19.
5.            Wills, J.H., Petition via Change.org. 2017.
6.            Bouwman, M., Het Goede Van Kolonialism (The Good of Colonialism), in Elsevier Weekbland. 2018 March 3: Netherlands.
7.            Ngo, A., Noam Chomsky defends academic freedom of pro-colonialism professor under fire, in The College Fix. 2017 September 21.
8.            Lamikanra, F., Dare We Make a Case for Colonialism?, in Conatus News. 2017 October 13.
9.            Wariuru, M., Post-Colonial Identity Crisis and Partmerships with Europe: An Black African Historian Defends Prof. Bruce Gilley. 2017 October.
10.          Gilley, B., Chinua Achebe on the Positive Legacies of Colonialism. African Affairs, 2016. 115(461): p. 646-63.
11.          Young, T., The Gilley 'debate'. Journal of Modern African Studies, 2019. 57(2): p. 325-37.
12.          Ferguson, N., Civilization: The West and the Rest. 2011, New York: Penguin Publisher.
13.          Howard-Hassmann, R.E., In Defense of Universal Human Rights. 2018, Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
14.          Fukuyama, F., Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy. 2014, New York: Farrar, Straus and Geroux.
15.          Acemoglu, D. and J.A. Robinson, Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty. 2012, New York: Crown.
16.          Gilley, B., How the hate mob tried to silence me (on-line), in Standpoint Mag. 2017-18: United Kingdom
17.          Knuth, R., Libricide: the Regime-Sponsored Destruction of Books and Libraries in the Twentieth Century. 2003, Westport, Connecticut: Praeger.