C.K. Raju: Stephen Hawking: Genius or crook?

Faustian pact?

Millions of people across the world have heard of Stephen Hawking, whose recent death hence made headlines.   Everyone speaks of his ALS. But is it proof of his indomitable will? Or did he hence make a Faustian pact with the devil incarnate: the church? Daring to raise this question will doubtless arouse the rage of his admirers. But if we weigh it against the possibility that millions have been deluded using their trust in science, it is our public and ethical duty to raise the question. To answer the question Hawking’s disease is irrelevant, and we need to examine the merits of Hawking’s scientific work dispassionately.

Widespread ignorance

But it is near impossible to do so. While millions revere him, very few understand the mathematical intricacies about calculus related to his work, especially on Penrose-Hawking singularity theory. That theory was the basis of his best-selling book A Brief History of Time. The widespread ignorance about it became starkly obvious during my debate with Roger Penrose, in Delhi, in 1997, attended by various professors of physics from Delhi University and JNU whose blank faces told the story.

What the vast majority believe is a story about science, a story they blindly trust. So deep is their trust that, from a position of ignorance, they are quite certain a contrary opinion is not to be trusted! “Millions of people believe this, they can’t all be wrong can they?”.  Such a “proof by numbers” is convincing because it has survival value, as explained in my book The Eleven Pictures of Time:  there is often safety in being part of the herd. But this psychology also provides an easy route to propaganda to fool a mass of people.  For centuries, millions of Westerners fervently believed in the idea of a powerful God who appointed the church as his broker. The belief persisted just  because the church reviled any dissenters as heretics and atheists, and, for centuries, killed them most brutally.

The Christian theology in Hawking’s work

Therefore, common sense may be a better guide to the truth than guesswork based on trust. What even the most gullible person cannot fail to notice is the way singularity theory connects to the notions of a Judeo-Christian God and a specifically Judeo-Christian notion of creation.

I have pointed this out repeatedly over the last twenty years, but the faithful, and our secular liberals, just ignore it. So, it is necessary to point it out yet again. Hawking’s popular book was preceded by an academic book, The Large Scale Structure of Space-Time, which he co-authored with G. F. R. Ellis who won the Templeton award for connecting science and religion. That book concludes that the cosmos has a singularity. What does that mean? The authors interpret it to mean a moment of creation. The bottom line of the book [p. 364] asserts: “the universe began a finite time ago. However, the actual point of creation, the singularity, is outside the presently known laws of physics.” God created the cosmos and then set the clockwork of eternal laws in motion.

For those who don’t understand this, the meaning is made explicit in a book co-authored by Hawking, “A briefer history of time”. It explained [p. 141] that:  “At the big bang and other singularities, all the laws [of physics] would have broken down, so God would still have had complete freedom to choose what happened and how the universe began.”

An SF writer wanted to explain a singularity to the layperson. So, he asked Hawking, what exactly happens at a singularity. Well, the “laws of physics” fail, so anything at all can happen! So, what is there to do if one comes face to face with a singularity? Obvious: kneel down and pray!

Any doubts anyone may have about the relation of singularity theory to Judeo-Christian theology are entirely removed by F. J. Tipler who has published on singularity theory in the authoritative journal Nature, the publishers of which also published his book Physics of Immortality. The book [p. ix] “purports to show that the central claims of Judeo-Christian theology are in fact true, that these claims are straightforward deductions of the laws of physics as we now understand them.” Tipler adds,  “I have been forced into these conclusions by the inexorable  logic of my own special branch of physics…the area of global general relativity…created…by the great British physicists Roger Penrose and Stephen Hawking.”

Note the claim that it is ONLY Judeo-Christian theology which is proved by present-day physics, not Islamic theology for instance. Let me elaborate for those who don’t understand the finer points here. A big bang beginning for the cosmos is not necessarily a beginning of time: it is compatible with an oscillatory cosmos, as in Hinduism, a cosmos which was created trillions of years ago, but goes through a series of big bangs and big crunches (days and nights of Brahma, each of which lasts for billions of years). Singularity theory seeks to exclude this possibility, and identify the current big bang as a true moment of creation. Cosmology, not biology is the natural playground of creationism. The first creationist conflict actually took place between Proclus and John Philoponus in the 6th c. over the issue of one-time creation of the cosmos.

Likewise, as explained in my article on Islam and Science, or in this minuted discussion, or in this recent video, the belief in one-time creation followed by the “laws of physics” is an anti-Islamic aspect of the crusading Christian theology of Aquinas. Islam believes in continuous creation of the world at each instant, a creation conditioned by habit, but not determined by the past on any rigid laws. Since we actually observe changes in the world every instant, Buddhism too has a similar belief in a new world at each instant,  conditioned by the past but not determined by it. (Of course, physics can be remodeled to accommodate this observed mundane spontaneity in the world, and my equations with a tilt in the arrow of time, in my book Time: Towards a Consistent Theory,  provide such a model.)

This fact about singularity theory, that it aligns with church theology, is quite contrary to the other naive belief that many people have, that “all science is opposed to all religion”. The fact is Stephen Hawking’s “science” is anti-Hindu, anti-Islam, anti-Buddhist but supports church dogmas about Christianity (as distinct from original Christianity). It is important to make the last distinction, because the church is about acquiring and maintaining power through lies, and not about real Christianity.

There is no doubt at all that Stephen Hawking himself is responsible for this pro-church bias of singularity theory. Thus, the formal mathematical theorems of singularity theory depend on its postulates. Hawking and Ellis introduce a postulate called the chronology condition which says, roughly speaking, that there is no cyclicity in time. We are supposed to accept this on their authority.

Now, the belief in quasi-cyclic time, and the accompanying belief in reincarnation, is at the core of Hindu, Egyptian, and Sufi beliefs about the soul, and these belief persisted into early Christianity, and are reiterated by Origen, as I have explained in The Eleven Pictures of Time, and in Euclid and Jesus.  After Constantine, the church acquired state power, and found this equitable belief in the soul an impediment to its power. To hold on to power, it sought instead to strike terror in the hearts of people, by changing beliefs about life after death. The church’s new formula was simple: people got only one life, time would end soon, and people would thereafter be resurrected and those who disobeyed the priest would be punished eternally in hell. In support of this formula, the church cursed “cyclic time”, a curse pronounced in Hagia Sofia, Istanbul in 552, by the fifth ecumenical council and (separately) by the king Justinian.

This change of doctrine was championed by Augustine, who argued in favour of resurrection (against reincarnation) by misrepresenting Origen. For that glorious falsehood, which enhanced its power, the church declared Augustine a saint. Further, as I have explained in The Eleven Pictures of Time, there is a very tight similarity between the bad arguments of Augustine, and the bad arguments advanced by Hawking and Ellis in favour of the chronology condition.

In short, the pro-church bias of Hawking’s singularity theory is a consequence of a postulate, the chronology condition, which deliberately casts church dogma in mathematical form, and passes that off as science.

That pro-church bias makes it easy to understand why Hawking’s book sold so many copies—a huge and invisible sales force of committed church believers  was pushing it. So, did Hawking unscrupulously misuse science to support the church? If so, he was surely a crook.

Blind faith in science

The blind belief that people have in Stephen Hawking, namely that everything he did was great science, is just the sort of blind faith which helped sell his popular book: A brief history of time. The people who believe it is science cannot even explain why Hawking never got the Nobel prize though all the political cards were stacked in his favour. Blind faith does not bother to answer questions: it explodes in rage when the object of its reverence is challenged.  But rage is irrelevant to scientific truth.

Blind faith in science is surely not the same as scientific temper. Science is about why one believes something, not what, as I am tired of repeating. Blind faith in science is still an act of blind faith, not superior to blind faith in anything else. The superstitions of the gullible believers can be exploited by unscrupulous elements in exactly the same way.

Real science requires understanding, first of all of what is real science. A rough and ready way to separate science from non–science is to use Popper’s criterion of refutability: a scientific theory must be testable. If the singularity theory Hawking did is science, how exactly does one test the existence of a singularity? Did Hawking suggest any way to do so? No, he did not, for there is no way to test or refute the existence of a singularity. So it is not science in the Popperian sense. (That is why he never got the Nobel prize.) Hawking’s so-called science is not science at all, it is just an articulation of pro-church beliefs in the trappings of science with a view to fool the gullible.

What is a singularity?

So, what exactly is this untestable thing called a singularity? During my debate with Penrose, he avoided giving a physical interpretation of a singularity, rightly so, for it is purely a formal mathematical construct. As Russell explained, formal mathematics has nothing to do with meaning and truth. But those who do interpret the notion of a singularity do so as follows. They regard a singularity as the beginning or end of a time-like geodesic. Since a timelike geodesics is, roughly speaking, the world-line (past and future history) of a hypothetical point-particle of matter, a singularity could be interpreted as the creation or destruction of an unspecified hypothetical test particle.

Note that today’s scientist is no crusader for truth. The test of “good science” today is publication in a journal, and the related amount of money one can raise for research. So, today’s “scientific method” is just about publication through the church process of secretive “peer approval”. Accordingly, today’s scientists are slaves to community opinion, on which their funding and careers depend.

So, we have two types of science today: community science which may be reputable without the slightest experimental consequences, or relation to reality, and real science which has experimental consequences, and is refutable. The above “interpretation” of a singularity is community science, just something “accepted” by the scientific community, there may be no trace of truth in it. Specifically, the term “particle” in the above interpretation ought not to be confounded with more-real particles such as an electron. The hypothetical particles which are supposedly created or destroyed are not even some “idealized” point masses, for any finite point mass will result in a black hole on general relativity.

Singularities and calculus

So, is there an alternative way to understand a singularity? Yes. What supposedly breaks down at a singularity are not the “laws of physics”, but the mathematical understanding of certain differential equations used to model physics such as the equations of general relativity. But even this “breakdown” may be just a case of bad mathematics, due to a bad understanding of calculus.  On the calculus as today taught in schools and undergraduate level, a differentiable function must be continuous; to write down the equations of general relativity, the metric must be twice continuously differentiable, so its derivative must be continuous. Strictly speaking most university students of calculus are only told about continuity; they are actually taught a bit more about it in more advanced courses on mathematical analysis (which I used to teach in Pune University, in the 80’s).

But casting aside this formal mathematical wisdom, physicists have been merrily differentiating discontinuous functions from the time of Oliver Heaviside in the 19th c. Better known today is the Dirac delta function which is the derivative of the discontinuous Heaviside function. Indeed, at a still more advanced level, calculus is taught in the university as advanced functional analysis (another course I used to teach). Here, one teaches the opposite: that discontinuous functions can be differentiated, as often as one wants. This is done on several mathematical theories, the most prominent (socially acceptable) one being the theory of the French mathematician Laurent Schwartz.

Of course, the Schwartz theory has its limitations: as a linear theory it does not readily work for those differential equations of physics which are non-linear. However, four decades ago I suggested a solution to this problem as part of my PhD thesis, using a new development in formal mathematics called non-standard analysis. I also explained in a paper on “Junction conditions in general relativity“,  included in my PhD thesis, how one could make sense of the equations of general relativity in the presence of discontinuities. Several years later, in 1988, in a paper presented at the fifth Marcel Grossman meeting on general relativity at Perth, I explained how to handle higher order discontinuities. Such discontinuities arise most commonly in shock waves, generated for example by an exploding star, but include singularities. I didn’t pursue this since I left formal mathematics shortly after that.

About a decade later I began researching on the Indian origin of calculus and its transmission to Europe via Jesuits based in Kochi. In my book Cultural Foundations of Mathematics, As one of the proofs of transmission I proposed my epistemic test: that Europeans copied Indian calculus without understanding how Indians summed infinite series. Europeans later proposed a metaphysical doctrine of limits to understand infinite sums. As usual, Europeans pretended that anyone who did not imitate them was inferior. Actually it is the European method of limits which is inferior to the method used by Indians to sum infinite series. The Indian way, using what is today called non-Archimedean arithmetic, was the only aspect of non-standard analysis required for my earlier solution to the problems with the Schwartz theory. So, it gives a better calculus.

On recognising the inferiority of the European doctrine of limits, in calculus, I devised a new course on Calculus without Limits, and started its experimental teaching at the Universiti Sains Malaysia. Later, calculus without limits became the core of my program of decolonising mathematics, and teaching an alternative mathematics.

South Africa and decolonisation of math

As is well-known, students in South African universities have been agitating for the last few years for decolonisation. It was in this context that I repeatedly visited South Africa. On my last visit, the University of Cape Town organised a panel discussion, the several related videos are in the following hyperlinks: video 1, video 2, video 3, video 4. For this panel discussion, I submitted a summary in advance, which can be found here. Now, the co-author of Stephen Hawking’s academic book, Ellis, is from the same university. Therefore, I offered to speak and debate at length the mathematical technicalities involved. This is clear from the advance summary.

A key aspect of the agenda of decolonising science was to eliminate the church dogmas in science which are present in various ways such as claims about “laws of nature”, but mainly creep in through formal mathematics. This is also explained in a keynote address at the 11th Higher Education Conference, Durban, and a related TV discussion on decolonisation. The upshot? Singularity theory is not a work of genius but a perfect example of such trash, dogmatically-loaded science which needs to be junked in the process of decolonisation.

Naturally, those who have spent their entire lives smuggling in politically-loaded church dogmas into science were alarmed that Hawking’s “science” would be exposed as mere church propaganda. Those who have  repeatedly claimed that science cannot be decolonised were alarmed that Western superstitions in mathematics and science would tumble out of the closet putting a complete end to false claims of the universality of science. My decolonisation thesis asserts that such religious biases creep into science through formal math, which involves church superstitions,  which we should reject in favour of normal math. (In the present instance, we should reject both, the postulated chronology condition, and the way of doing calculus with limits.) This exposure of Hawking would have exposed the false claims of superiority of his racist supporters in the University of Cape Town.

Specifically, my offer to debate in the math department seems to have frightened Hawking’s co-author Ellis out of his wits. He naturally guessed that this debate, unlike my earlier debate with Penrose, would be video recorded, if in no other way than with a mobile device. But Ellis also knows he is ignorant, and such a recording would expose his ignorance and inability to respond. He has never done non-standard analysis or applied it to advanced functional analysis. He was aware that such exposure of ignorance would have made a strong case for decolonisation of math. Blacks would understand that his and Hawking’s attempts to inject the worst kinds of creationist church superstitions into science, and would forever make fun of it.

Indeed, though I did not visit it, the whole math department in the UCT seems very weak. The person who debated with me, Henri Laurie, tried to later engage with me over email, but was unable to prove 1+1=2 in formal real numbers. He complained that I had suddenly switched from natural numbers to real numbers :).  Obviously, they were in no position to face my critique of formal math except by the usual false claims of superiority common to church, racists and Westerners.

So, Ellis ran away from the debate. He along with his student Jeff Murugan put the usual “we are superior you are inferior” claims, in their most abusive form, through the press which would not allow me to respond appropriately. This is the classic way in which the church has defended its superstitions by running down critics as heretics. Like the church, Ellis and his student Murugan just poured on the falsehoods but did not provide any evidence.  If they had any evidence, there would have been no need to run away: they could have paraded the evidence and celebrated a victory. The use of this strategy make is very clear that Ellis is an intellectual charlatan of the worst sort who has tried to pass off Western superstitions as science for decades, getting pots of money for it, and thinks that such charlatanry can be defended by abuses.

But what of Stephen Hawking who wrote his academic book with such a co-author?  Wasn’t he aware of his co-author’s character? Wasn’t he aware that the man came from a starkly racist land? Didn’t the great genius realize, that to cooperate with white South Africans then was an unethical and unnatural act? I am sure his supporters will find lots of excuses for this vilest of ways in which science has been defiled. But it seems that Western society is so rotten that it is the scum which very often rises to the top.

Hawking may have  made his Faustian pact with the devil, but we need to rise above the evils of Western society and decolonise math and science to save our children. A simple formula for decolonisation is this: whenever you hear a dialogue from a Westerner which sounds like “we are superior x is inferior” distrust it. Demand evidence. If no evidence is forthcoming, as there is none for the centuries old Western belief in Euclid as the father of math, throw that belief in the trash can where it belongs.

Alice Feldman: “A pretty comprehensive program!” First master in decolonial studies in Ireland

Interview with Alice Feldman, School of Sociology at University College Dublin on the first Masters program in Race, Migration and Decolonial Studies in Ireland.

DIN: “What does the program consist of?”

Alice: “Given the dynamism of decolonial scholarship that has evolved in Europe these past years, I was surprised not to find other masters in decolonial  studies when I was searching around while developing this one.

The pedagogy of the programme is itself shaped by the ever-expanding landscapes of decolonial projects, complemented by advanced training in critical sociology.  Talking with some students the other day, and thinking about how to distil a description of it, we came up with three key elements or anchors: materiality, methodology and re-invention, or even re-in(ter)vention. So the programme is centred, first, on the exploration of trans-disciplinary and pluri-versal knowledges that are grounded in the histories and circumstances of lived experience —  particularly in relation to the materialities of survival and resistance to the subjugating legacies of colonialism, imperialism and modernity. Second is experimentation with and cultivation of creative, embodied practices of engagement and critique through which such knowledges evolve. And third, is the element of praxis – the critically reflexive mobilisation of knowledges towards ‘re-existence’ as Achinte has called it, or ‘worlds otherwise’ as Escobar has articulated.

So, it’s inspired by efforts to reach beyond some of the legacies or limitations that have come to undermine knowledge politics as shaped by identity politics, and the disciplinary and paradigmatic divisions that they can generate. For example, unlike programmes which begin their epistemic journeys from a Western perspective to reach intersectionality, this course proceeds from a normative base of intersectionality and sort of explodes it – in a constructive way – through the lenses of knowledges that have always existed on the ‘Other-side’ to begin with. Perhaps it’s a matter of where you begin the conversations and how you get there —  so it’s about more than including scholars of colour on reading lists or replacing readings by White, western, colonialist writers, or trying to avoid what a student in a recent discussion on identity and the curriculum referred to as ‘Week 11’ syndrome (which is the situation whereby this is the only session out of 12 in the semester that addresses feminist/postcolonialist/decolonial scholarship or writers — all the ‘Others’ — and sometimes all in the same lecture! So not only is it ‘lip service’ but it comes too late for students to even really engage or develop such work for assignments and so on their own).

But this isn’t an idea that can be achieved in one course alone, so we’ve tried to thread a decolonial or decolonising pedagogy throughout the delivery of the programme as a whole, from course content and assignments, to dissertation projects and supervision.

Students take courses in Critical Race and Decolonial Theories; Global Migration; Art, Knowledge and the Politics of Social Change; and research methods, and these are complemented by electives available in other disciplines and schools at UCD. There is a lot of space to support students according to their own interests and senses of inquiry, where they’re coming from and where they want to go after the programme, whether they’ve got specific plans about what they want to study or just want to try things out and experiment.

The programme is also very practice-focused, encouraging critical explorations of innovations in creative, activist methods of social/political engagement in art and research practices. Central to this is embodied, or, to use the term, ‘aesthesic’, which  is about centring multi-sensory, sensual engagement and expression, as well as collaborative approaches to teaching, learning and knowledge creation. These, too, are also fundamental anchors of race critical and decolonial practice. And I’m referring here to the distinctions made, for example, in critical race theory between simply critiquing and the work of ‘reconstructing’, and the use of the term, ‘re-existence’ as ‘more-than’ ‘resistance’ in  the contexts of decolonial scholarship. And this dimension of the programme comes from my own experience of using arts-based research methods and moving those practices into the classroom, along with my collaborations with artists associated with Parity Art Studios at UCD and the Artist in Residency programme they run. We’ve been doing a lot of interesting projects around the confluences of art and research practices, particularly in relation to the politics of reflexivity, representation and appropriation, exploring alternative sites of learning and so on, that cross-cut the different sectors and contexts of mobilisation/change work.”

DIN:  “How’s the first year going?”

Alice: “Really well! The courses and activities have attracted an extremely enthusiastic and engaged group of students – both within the programme itself and across other related programmes and disciplines.

The pedagogy of the programme — ultimately it doesn’t constitute a huge leap for critically oriented students, but it is very demanding. The nature of decolonial work, and the vast intellectual and activist genealogies that underpin it – and the fact that so much of this work has been excluded from conventional university curricula – requires students traverse vast landscapes of ideas, histories, materialities and practices. While there’s lots of support for these journeys, students must ultimately give up a lot of the ‘certainties’ or senses of ‘security’ that they have come to construct or rely on in conventional curricula or teaching practices – false though they may be! –  or that they’ve been taught to seek, like in terms of the western paradigms of research – things around ‘validity’, ‘evidence’, ‘knowing’ and so  on.

And as I was saying earlier, the embodied, expressive, reflexive nature of this work turns on the cultivation of skills and perspectives that, for many, can be well out of their comfort zones or even familiarity. They not only have to try out new ways of doing things, but often literally have to ‘feel’ their ways through projects so as to develop (or further develop) their own styles or practices of critique and methodologies, by sifting through exposure to a multitude of different ways of working. But the students have totally stepped up to this and immersed themselves in these challenges — It’s not like I’m surprised by this, but I’m just so impressed and edified by what they’re accomplishing!

They might not have been exposed to the specific ideas and methods of these paradigms, but I think students, now more than in the recent past – at least in my experience in Ireland, or at UCD – they intuitively know that they need new skills– beyond those that constitute many of the ‘staples’ of the Western university or curriculum. They know that skills that more effectively rise to the complex and multiplicitous challenges they face and the social conditions they are contending with or seek to transform – the ways of thinking, doing, mobilising ‘otherwise’ which are at the heart of race critical and decolonial paradigms – are crucial, regardless of where they’re headed after the programme.

All of this seems to have come together to create a ‘vibe’ or a sense of a learning environment, where the big ‘knowledge/power’ issues like ‘unknowability’, ‘incommensurability’,  ‘positionality’ arise in ways that are natural and inspiring – ‘aha moments’ that ‘make sense’. And students’ own journeys through all this become part of the process as well as the outcomes. These sorts of dynamics have generated a real sense of a collective, a collective experience or ‘project’ that all of us have become part of – including guest speakers, other staff and students – any event or happening can become an opportunity for a decolonial moment of learning, questioning or intervention!

And there’s a lot that is really catching on – we’ve started a Decolonising the Curriculum Platform that is attracting academic and administrative staff as well as students. The lexicons of decoloniality and decolonising the curriculum are starting to enter conversations in relation to equality/diversity initiatives in the institution, so hopefully all of these different dynamics, their synergies with other similar groups and efforts will continue to grow and evolve. So even though it’s taken a while to get things rolling, we’re really excited about linking in to such a vibrant network of scholars, activists and artists – in Europe and internationally. We’re very keen to build alliances with other programmes, groups and people, so anyone who’s interested in collaborations – even simple things like shared talks through skype or such, anything that can be mutually reinforcing across our different projects, please contact us!”

NOTE

For further information see: alice.feldman@ucd.ie, www.racemigrationdecolonialstudies.com; and for the Decolonising the Curriculum Platform UCD see: www.facebook.com/DecolonisingUCDjimmy.billings@ucdconnect.ie,  dyuti.chakravarty@ucdconnect.ie

Alice Feldman (School  of  Sociology, University College Dublin) uses arts, collaborative and decolonial methods to intervene in the intersecting global colonial legacies and amnesias underpinning the current necropolitical moment. This research has, in turn, informed her techniques of ‘pedagogical bricolage’ for methodology training around creative research practices, the reflexive imagination and research justice. Over the past fifteen years, she has worked in research, advisory and volunteer capacities with many civic, community and other organisations in Ireland involved in anti-racism, migration and interculturalism work.

IHRC February report

February was another eventful month for the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC).  Most of our time was consumed with addressing international issues that have garnered little in the way of media attention or have fallen off the mainstream radar.

February 14 marked the seventh anniversary of the Bahrain uprisings, part of the ill fated Arab Spring revolts that convulsed the region in 2010-11. Despite an international commission of inquiry and promises of reform the government of Bahrain has slid back on human rights. We used the anniversary to write to the UN Secretary General reminding him of the duty of the international community to apply pressure on the government of Bahrain to honour its commitments and uphold domestic and international human rights law.

The situation surrounding the illegally detained leader of the Nigeria’s Islamic Movement , Sheikh Ibrahim el-Zakzaky, continued to exercise human rights activists in and outside the country. With Sheikh Zakzaky’s already parlous health deteriorating, IHRC highlighted the many marches taking place to demand his release.  Shaykh Zakzaky and his wife Zeenah have been held by state security services since December 2015 following their arrest during a savage military assault against the movement. In the course of one of these peaceful protests, another leading member of the Islamic Movement, Sheikh Qaseem Umar, was shot dead by Nigerian security forces leading IHRC to issue a condemnation.

In response to a heightened era of American exceptionalism under an overtly chauvinistic President and administration, IHRC convened a conference on 10 February, to unmask the more systemic problems that undergird US exceptionalism. This conference focussed on the Americanisation of human rights, and the praxis of human rights, arguing that they have become a tool of US-led foreign policy rather than a transformative discourse that seeks to liberate individuals, groups and indeed large sections of society who are oppressed by unjust systems.

At home, the conviction of Darren Osborne for the murder of a Muslim and the attempted murder of others last summer, was an opportunity for IHRC to highlight the growing relationship between hard-line Zionists and the far right. In the course of his trial it emerged that although Osborne had been brainwashed and radicalised into hating Muslims by far right social media spewed out by the likes of Tommy Robinson and Jayda Fransen, the origins of that hate speech can be found in the febrile atmosphere created at the time by the demonisation of Muslims by pro-Israel activists.

During the trial the court heard how the annual Palestinian al-Quds Day March was the killer’s original target but after he found surrounding roads closed he started searching for mosques in London.

The choice of the al-Quds protest was not coincidental. For weeks leading up to the march which has taken place peacefully every year for 30 years without a single arrest being made, the Zionist press and Zionist activists had engaged in a campaign to vilify the protest.

Also this month we were proud to host an author evening with Muhammad Mojlum Khan. His latest work, Great Muslims of the West, is a unique study. Through the lives of more than 50 great Western Muslims, this book reveals a remarkably rich and diverse cultural history spanning more than 1400 years. Challenging Eurocentric or essentialist views on Western history, culture and civilisation, this book argues that Islam – like Christianity – has always been a Western religion and culture. Indeed, the lives and contributions of the extraordinary and influential Western Muslims covered in this book shows that Islam is truly a global faith and culture, transcending race, colour, language and geographical boundaries.

IHRC is continuing its work with Decoloniality International Network (DIN),  hosting the one-day training course ‘Decolonising The Mind’ delivered by Sandew Hira. The course explores the concepts and tools from the theoretical framework, Decolonising The Mind. Two narratives of liberation have dominated knowledge, culture and activism for the past 150 years: Liberalism and Marxism. They are rooted in the European Enlightenment. Decolonial thinking is a collection of contributions to a third narrative of liberation with different labels (postcolonialism, orientalism, subaltern studies, Islamic liberation theology). DTM aims to develop a coherent theoretical framework as an alternative to Liberalism and Marxism.

Upcoming events:

3 March 2018: Author Evening: ‘Whites, Jews, and Us: Toward a Politics of Revolutionary Love’ with Houria Bouteldja – http://ihrc.org.uk/events/12074-author-evening-whites-jews-and-us-toward-a-politics-of-revolutionary-love-with-houria-bouteldja

29 March 2018: Author Evening: ‘Europe’s Fault Lines Racism and the Rise of the Right’ with Liz Fekete – http://www.ihrc.org.uk/events/12057-author-evening-europes-fault-lines-racism-and-the-rise-of-the-right-with-liz-fekete

Watch IHRC events live online at IHRC.TV and on Facebook Live

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Free Tariq Ramadan

Since Friday, February 2, Prof. Ramadan has been held in a solitary cell in the high security wing of Paris’s Fleury-Mérogis prison. Since last Wednesday, January 31, when Prof. Ramadan voluntarily went to the police station in Paris to answer questions about the allegations leveled against him, his family has been denied access either to visit or speak with him over the phone. It remains unclear when Prof. Ramadan’s family will be able to communicate with him and check on his condition. See more: https://www.facebook.com/FreeTariqRamadanCampaign/posts/1949252545103191

 

Below is an important open letter by Houria Bouteldja, spokesperson for the Party of the Indigenous People of the Republic. In this letter, she calls on feminists and others to condemn the discriminatory manner in which the court has dealt with Tariq Ramadan: “The silence of feminists on this difference in treatment has already had a negative impact on their own cause. Not only does this indifference reinforce patriarchy, it also deepens the already-existing rift between white women and women from post-colonial migrant backgrounds. In truth, closing ranks is what these women need to do in their struggle for freedom.”

Here is the full article:

“Yes to tough, exemplary action against rape
No to the racist treatment of Tariq Ramadan

As a woman, I demand that rape is severely punished, no matter who the perpetrator of the crime is, regardless of whether he is white or black.

As an indigenous woman, I demand the same punishment for perpetrators of rape, whether they are white or black.

Indeed, the French justice system is one that tends to patriarchy, and, yes, it tends to be complaisant towards sex crimes, especially when committed by influential men. Women’s voices are constantly demeaned and dismissed, except when the perpetrator is said to be black, Arab, Muslim or from the suburbs.

Here, justice tends to become racist. The tables turn: Men, who are usually protected at the expense of women, lose this immunity. They could even be condemned in advance. This is true whether it is a petty crime, or a serious offense. It may be the reason why men from migrant backgrounds are overrepresented in prison.

Is it possible to believe that we are championing women’s causes by charging one category of men while ensuring the impunity of another? Is it possible to believe that we are serving women’s causes when the perpetrators of such crimes exploit their positions of power, and enjoy their freedom and presumption of innocence with the support of their peers? And yet Tariq Ramadan, who has already been condemned by the media, has to bear a temporary detention, that the likes of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Patrick Balkany, Georges Tron, Gérard Darmanin, Denis Baupin, Thierry Marchal-Beck, Jean-Claude Brisseau, Gilbert Cuzou, and many others, have evaded or are evading?

Of course, no two cases are similar, but the difference in media, political and judicial treatment of those men, as opposed to the treatment inflicted on Tariq Ramadan, speaks for itself. This is particularly true in the case of Gilbert Cuzou [a politician in the Ile-de-France region, which includes the city of Paris]: Even though he was charged with five accounts of rape, he was released on bail while he awaits his trial. Meanwhile, Tariq Ramadan has been left to rot in Fleury-Merogis prison since February 2.

The humilitation and discriminatory treatment of indigenous people has disastrous consequences on our lives as women. It has a tragic impact on the lives of our children and our communities who pay a collective price.

As for the impunity of white men in particular, it has catastrophic consequences on the lives of women in general.

The silence of feminists on this difference in treatment has already had a negative impact on their own cause. Not only does this indifference reinforce patriarchy, it also deepens the already-existing rift between white women and women from post-colonial migrant backgrounds. In truth, closing ranks is what these women need to do in their struggle for freedom.

Hence, the only dignified course of action available to us women is to demand, regardless of the outcome of the proceedings concerning Tariq Ramadan, and without any prejudgment of his culpability or innocence, that he is treated without humiliation–in other words, with dignity, just like the others were treated… Or else, to demand that the others are treated in the same way. This is imperative and non-negotiable.

Sincerely,
Houria Bouteldja”

 

Ethno-Racial Data Collection: Yes, but with whom? How? And what for?

We believe that collection of ethno-racial data, which has been claimed for years by individuals and collectives who have been combating Institutional Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, besides being recommended by various international organizations, could be an unprecedented step in the combat against racism and inequality among ethno-racial groups in Portuguese society.

Until very recently, different Portuguese governments had shrouded themselves in the convenient, however fallacious argument of unconstitutionality. The resistance, as the growing collective articulation and mobilization, has created the possibility of ending the year of 2017 with the public commitment of the Portuguese government to move forward in this direction. However, as some options are made publicly known, our concern about the operationalization of this decision increases. Knowing that this process must respect the principles of ethno-racial representativeness and participation from the outset, we reject the idea that it begins in a crooked way, at the serious risk of no longer straightening up. We reiterate that not doing so is not only a glaring political incoherence, but also weakens the transformative potential of this data collection.

In this regard, it is important to underline the unilateral decision of the government to advance the proposal for Census 2021, consulting the National Statistics Institute (INE), without prior consultation with the racialized communities. It should also be pointed out that the Census Working Group 2021 – Ethnic and Racial Issues, under the coordination of the Office of the High Commissioner for Migration (ACM) and the Secretariat of State for Citizenship and Equality, established its first meeting for the 5th of February. Exactly that day marks three years since the brutal aggressions, with racist motivations, practiced by police agents of the Alfragide Squad, against residents of Cova da Moura, knowing that until today there is no verdict on the case. For our communities, the importance of this date does not allow it to be rewritten as a moment of dialogue and concertation.

The composition of this working group did not include Afro-descendant or Roma. This way of doing politics is symptomatic of an understanding of democracy that places racialized communities in the position of “beneficiaries” rather than agents of change. Certainly, we attribute to the State the responsibility and the duty to carry out the collection of data and to formulate public policies, but we do not give up the right to be involved and represented in this process in equal circumstances in the decision making.

If this involvement were to take place other strategic issues, so far absent from the agenda of the working group, would be on the table: How to broadly involve racialized individuals and the general population so that this collection is for them recognized and appropriate? How to guarantee the good use of this information by the media? How is the data from Census 2021 linked to other sectoral surveys, like in the field of justice and education? How do you articulate this process with the proposal to launch the International Decade of Afro-Descendants made last October by the Secretary of State for Citizenship and Equality, knowing that so far nothing was to be seen in practical terms? But above all, what structural policies to combat racism and ethno-racial inequalities are expected to be implemented in a coordinated way with the collection of this data? It is unreasonable to wait for the results of data collection to finally start thinking about a policy agenda; rather, it is this agenda that should drive the data collection process.

But the point where this process is most problematic is exactly the inscription in the umbrella of migration policy. On the one hand, ethno-racial inequalities touch upon several areas of political action – education, justice, housing, etc. – cross-referencing to the forum of citizenship and equality, beyond the restricted competence of migration policy. On the other hand, it is only those who have been very distant from the debate that is taking place in Portugal that have not yet internalized the fundamental character of the unequivocal distinction between migration policies and policies to combat racism and ethno-racial inequalities. Last September, Deputy Minister Eduardo Cabrita said: “Afro-descendants and Roma have been in Portugal for centuries … They are as Portuguese as I am.”

We cannot continue to be relegated outside the body of the nation. This is also the message of the Campaign for Another Law of Nationality, where we have been fighting for all those born in Portugal to have the right to Portuguese nationality. We are not appendices of Portuguese society, so, likewise, policies aimed at guaranteeing our full access to citizenship and equality cannot be. Data collection can be a tool at the service of ethno-racial equality, but only if it is a result of the active participation of those who have no voice or statistical footprint.

Collective and individual signatories:

Afrolis – Associação Cultural

Associação Cavaleiros de São Brás

Consciência Negra

Fundo de Apoio Social de Cabo-Verdianos em Portugal (FASCP)

KUTUCA – Associação Juvenil do Bairro das Faceiras

MUXIMA

Núcleo de Estudantes Africanos – Instituto Superior de Ciências Sociais e Políticas (NEA-ISCSP)

Plataforma Gueto

SOS Racismo

Teatro Griot

We Love Carapinha

Alciony Silva

Alessandra Brito

Alexandra Santos

Ana Fernandes

Ana Rita Alves

Anabela Rodrigues

Apolo de Carvalho

Ariana Furtado

António Tonga

Beatriz Carvalho

Carla Fernandes

Carla Lima

Carla Moura

Carlos Dias

Carlos Graça

Cristina Roldão

Daniel Martinho

David Lima

Diógenes Parzianello

Eduardo Jaló

Ianick Insaly

Iolanda Évora

Joacine Katar Moreira

Joana Mouta

José de Pina

José Semedo

José Semedo Fernandes

Lúcia Lopes

Maíra Zenun

Mamadou Ba

Maria da Graça

Marlene Nobre

Marta Araújo

Matamba Joaquim

Mojana Vargas

Myriam Taylor

Nádia Lima

Nuno Dias

Otávio Raposo

Paulo Taylor

Raquel Lima

Silvia Maeso

Sofia Peysonneau Nunes

Susana Djiba

Telma Gonçalves

Vítor Sanches

 

 

Survey Decolonial Academic Network

The Decolonial International Network (DIN) is considering setting up a service for academics working in/at universities around the world. The service is called Decolonial Academic Network and consists of the following parts:

  • An academic peer reviewed biannual journal where academics can publish the results of their research.
  • An accessible database on current, past and future research (PhD dissertations, collaborative research projects).
  • Publication of books via Amrit Publishers.
  • The organization of conferences for academics working in universities.
  • A vacancy alert for positions at universities (Lecturers, PhD researchers, Post-doctoral researchers, Professors).
  • Facilitating joint research projects.
  • Linking academics to decolonial activism.

DIN will invest in the service infrastructure and will facilitate a steering committee of academics who develop a policy for the network.

Currently the steering committee consists of the following people:

Sandew Hira, coordinator of DIN

Silvia Rodríguez Maeso, Centre for Social Research, University of Coimbra, Portugal

Adrian Groglopo, University of Gothenburg, Sweden

Mojúbàolú Olúfúnké Okome, Brooklyn College, City University of New York

DIN would charge a membership fee for the service.

We want to have an idea whether a service like this would be useful for decolonial academics working in universities by conducting a survey. Click here to conduct the survey.

 

 

 

Houria Bouteldja and the white left

Houria Bouteldja, leader of the Parti des Indigénes de la République (PIR), has been consistently attacked by the French press. DIN makes an evaluation with her on these attacks.

DIN: It is not the first time that you are the target of slanderous attacks coming from the right and from the left, but the current attacks are particularly violent. Could you come back on the reason of the attacks you have to face currently?

HB: The previous attacks, that we can analyze retrospectively as a test, happened last June. Its main actors were Danièle Obono, Jean Birnbaum from Le Monde, the French secular and islamophobic sphere and myself. Its culmination was a press box of supports, signed by intellectuals and published in Le Monde. This press box was a catalyst for further attacks. The watchdogs pounced on it like a pack. Some of the people who signed, were traumatized by these media attacks. Right now, we came across a similar campaign but of higher intensity: it lasted 3 weeks without interruption, a real woman hunt, and it all started with the word “comrade” on which I should briefly come back since it contains all the resorts of this case.

First, the word “comrade” makes me respectable and does not marginalize me like what is done with the PIR. If I am recognized now, by the main left-wing force (France Insoumise), it is not only a success of political antiracism but also of its most demonized figure. Hence it goes against this demonization since its purpose is to isolate me. Indeed, since Macron’s election for the French presidency, it is the national-republican camp, that goes from Valls to Fillon, that has lost. Macron sticks to an ultra-liberal line but not on the same ideological resorts as neoconservatism. For its enemies, he is almost our ally – which is, of course, a gross error. However, they are right to see Danièle Obono as a real expression of the progress of political antiracism, because even if she is required to take distance with us, she comes from the struggles against state racism and imperialism. And what makes them crazy is both the fact that Macron did not use identity issues and the fact that new figures, who are not entangled in Mélenchon’s national republicanism, are entering the French parliament.

The current offensive against me has worked since Danièle Obono has clearly differentiate herself from the PIR. We are witnessing a white fall back: the France Insoumise, who tried an opportunistic appeal during the presidential elections, comes back to its gravity center: national republicanism.

DIN: How do you explain what appears as an inability to read your texts, whether it is from activists, journalists or academics? It seems that your texts are rarely read – even if it is on this base that you are often attacked.

HB: I would answer both yes and no. Some politicized colonial subjects and a whole part of the radical Left are reading my texts. Let’s look at this in a methodical way, starting by explaining that the decolonial thought is revolutionary and the PIR has played an important role in developing it in the framework of the worldwide colonial counter-revolution and in the specific context of French republicanism. This political thought shakes the traditional categories of the left. We are questioning the dogmas of the progressive thought without breaking with a strategic aim, which is to build an alliance with the left. In other terms, we did not just produce a political thought but we transformed it into practice. Indeed, we achieve, with all our brothers and sisters from the sphere of political antiracism, with, against and separately from the left. The secret of this dishonest reading of our texts lies here:

  • The left has gone from failures to failures since the 1980s.
  • The only big success from these ten years is Mélenchonnism who has to sacrifice the French banlieues and put forward a false universalism in order to rally its social basis on a republican and social project. Regarding the most radical wing of the left, they are stuck in a very traditional view of the class struggle. The deep logic of these two tendencies (Mélenchonnism and the radical left) is to unify their basis, their big fear is the risk of division in a context in which the Lefts are particularly weakened and in which fascism becomes more and more a possible perspective.

In this context, political antiracism, both participates to the rebuilding of the Left and puts it in crisis. It is through the risk of division and the panic it creates that one should understand the hysteria around the texts of the PIR, and particularly mine.

DIN: What is the purpose of the antisemitism accusations you have to face?

HB: To put a line between the bad guys and the good ones. In this situation, the Jewish question is widely instrumentalized to the profit of the good white conscience. I think that people do not give a damn about Jews and the irony of all this is that we are the only ones to really care, I mean consequently. This is why we want to put the history of the Jewish genocide back in the long history of colonial (and capitalists) crimes. We are among the few who give a political sense to the famous words “never again” who cannot be understood without an understanding of whiteness and white power.

DIN: The left seems particularly sluggish on the attacks you have to face. How do you explain that, despite the progress of the anti-racist struggle these last years – and the role played by the PIR in events like the demonstration for Palestine (2014), several conferences against islamophobia, the two Marches for dignity, etc. – your support are extremely rare in organizations that reclaim themselves from the fight against racism?

HB: Because there is an intellectual terrorism in the left. As soon as I am constructed as an anti-Semitic demon, every single person who comes close to me is, mechanically, marred. The French left has, for a long time, abandon historical materialism and has become religious and moral. The French left works through principles. Its priority is that it is more concerned with respectability than with the building of a balance of power with French colonial subjects.

I would be way more supported if I would bow down before progressive ideas. I would if those ideas were politically efficient, but they are not if one wants to analyze the contradictions racism introduce in social relationships. The assertiveness from the PIR towards all its detractors, white and non-white (and they are a lot of non-white detractors of the PIR) is not a caprice but a must in order to link the new French colonial subjects to mainstream politics.

DIN: The ideas you develop and defend are discussed in the whole world; your book (Whites, Jews and Us) was translated into English but also in Spanish and Italian; you were invited in important universities in the US, Spain, Germany or Australia. Nevertheless, in France research (from activist or academics) seems pretty much hermetic towards your writings. What is, in your opinion, the reason for this paradox?

HB: We should not idealize other countries because their “Houria Bouteldja” are also demonized. If I am welcomed in US, Spanish or Australian universities because I criticize France, what about their own decolonial activists? I am not sure that black leaders in the US or Latin-American leaders in Spain are appreciated in their countries.

If I am welcome in those universities, it is also because they like seeing France felling from its pedestal. There is also a certain curiosity for complex and dialectical ideas. Thus, I am seen as a voice that should be respected. Cornel West’s foreword to the English translation of my book is very significant from this point of view.

Massive attacks against Houria Bouteldja and the PIR

Individualized attacks against PIR representative Houria Bouteldja have been systematic and have grown to an unprecedented level of violence. Despite all evidence to the contrary, this campaign hinges on a deceitful triptych: that of the antisemitism, homophobia and ‘reverse racism’ of which Houria Bouteldja is supposedly guilty. However, nothing in her speeches or written works supports these serious accusations.

These very virulent attacks come from diverse media-political areas which benefit from near monopoly of the public forum in France. Insults and slander are relayed complacently by media platforms to which Houria Bouteldja is never invited, whether it be to their columns or to their sets. This is a matter of pure defamation, intended to demonize and muffle her political discourse.

This rampage is dangerous, as it offers up an easy target to all the French racist spheres that have specifically rallied in an uninterrupted islamophobic offensive for several years.

Faced with French politicians’ failure to act, and against these threats, it is of the utmost importance to offer this decolonial activist, and political antiracism, international support and attentive protection. Supporting and defending the values of freedom of speech, which are objectively being called into question in France by an increasingly oppressive State, is an emergency and a priority, as, behind Houria Bouteldja, the whole of the decolonial movement is being targeted, and with it, all the hope it inspires.

UK Labour Shadow Education Secretary has wrong end of stick in anti-Semitism claims

IHRC has written to the shadow education secretary Angela Rayner criticising her involvement in attempts by the Daily Mail to paint as anti-semitic the launch of a book by the Palestinian-American academic Dr Hatem Bazian.
In an article dated 17 November on the alleged rise of anti-Semitism on university campuses the Mail quoted Rayner, the Labour MP for Ashton Under Lyne, as saying she would speak to party leader Jeremy Corbyn about his attendance at the launch last December of a book whose author the Mail described as ‘extremely anti-Semitic’. The event was hosted by IHRC.
Dr Bazianís book Palestine…it is something colonial frames the creation of the Zionist state as the last settler colonial project to be commissioned in the late 19th early 20th centuries. In locating Palestine’s modern history around settler colonial discourses Dr. Bazian’s book provides a context to understand and relate to the Middle East conflict, highlighting how Zionist settler colonialism shares many features with other colonialism such as the normative deployment of violence, religious justification, garrison state sponsor, transformation of the land and geography, and the constitution of a new colonial epistemology as well as the expulsion of an indigenous population and negation of its very existence.
IHRC refutes any suggestion that we are anti-Semitic or provide a platform to those who are. IHRC has never, and will never, platform any speaker who espouses racist views, including anti-Semitic views.
We view Angela Rayner’s intervention as an attempt to muzzle any criticism of Israel under the pretext of anti-Semitism.
“To describe Professor Bazian’s work or this event as anti-Semitic is deeply worrying. Either you have not read the work or you view all criticism of Israel to be illegitimate and should be silenced. In either scenario, your intervention is extremely damaging for free speech and political debate in the UK,” states the letter. “We find it deeply troubling that a democratically elected official like yourself should seek to demonise pro-BDS political opinions that are critical of Israel by labelling it anti-Semitic.”
Dr. Hatem Bazian is a lecturer in the Departments of Near Eastern and Asian American and Asian Diaspora Studies, Editor-in-Chief of the Islamophobia Studies Journal and Director of the Islamophobia Research and Documentation Project Center for Race and Gender at the University of California, Berkeley. Dr. Bazian is also a co-founder of Zaytuna College, the first accredited Muslim Liberal Arts College in America, the National Chair of American Muslims for Palestine, Board Member of Islamic Scholarship Fund, and Board Member of the Muslim Legal Fund of America.
The letter also clarifies that Mr Corbyn never attended the event. He was passing by, on his own personal business, and members of the audience asked him for photographs, to which he kindly agreed.

Notes to editors:

The full text of the letter can be read here

For more information please call +44 7958 522196 or email nadia@ihrc.org.