French vote to boycott British universitiesYeah, it’s a good headline, but actually it’s nonsense. I had an idea to write a spoof of yesterday’s NATHFE conference decision to boycott Israeli academics (unless they sign a McCarthyite declaration of the political opposition to the Israeli government). Briefly, the idea was that the French universities had voted to cut off ties with any British academics who refused to sign a declaration opposing the UK government, principally over the war against Iraq.
But then it hit me. The types of people supporting the boycott of Israeli Jews would probably welcome such a move by the French. They’d probably happily sign a declaration and denounce their own colleagues who refused to sign. So, writing such a ‘spoof’ would be a waste of time.
Of course, if this type of witch hint ping-pong took off, all sorts of pressure groups could enter the fray. I can think that some might decide that retaliation against the French on the issue of the secularism might be a good idea. Perhaps French academics might be required to disassociate themselves from the ban on conspicuous religious symbols and attire in secular spaces after successful lobbying of the NATHFE by religious groups backed by the SWP. And that’s just getting the ball into play.
Picking up this ball and running with it will be any number of pressure groups for various causes, who would (rightly) cry foul if the NATHFE (or rather its soon-to-be successor, the UCU) refused to include their concerns. Perhaps an academic will eventually have to spell out quite a wide-ranging ideological position.
“I can’t peer-review Dr Smith’s paper on Christopher Marlow because she will not sign a declaration stating her opposition to abortion, said Professor Jones of Southport University, a prominent member of the Christian Academic Pro-Life Association.”
Of course, we should not fall into the trap of thinking this is all a new development. We have been here before, as Professor Ellen Schrecker noted in 1999 in her paper Political Tests for Professors.
What is most worrying now is that a group called the British Committee for Universities in Palestine, is offering advice on how to ‘anonymously’ support the boycott. This sounds even more ominously McCarthyite. What do they want people to do? Anonymously inform on their colleagues? Backstab, scuttle and nix other academics work and associations all from behind the veil of anonymity?
Film directors who do not want to put their name to projects use the moniker “Alan Smithee”. Perhaps BRICUP could create a persona or two for this purpose. I suggest Professor Torquemada and Dr Cohn. The second one can be used by those anonymous academic informers who want to further obscure their anti-Semitism by sounding “Jewish”.
I won’t belabour the points about why this move is such a bad idea, since they are covered in great detail elsewhere, but I will end by saying that the spectre of wider political tests interfering with academic freedom is quite disquieting. More than ever, I have a sense that the Authoritarian Left would like to see all manner of political tests applied to enforce political and moral conformity.
As such, a spoof article about a French boycott of the UK’s universities over Iraq would not be parody. It would be a road map.