Modi disinvite: Melbourne academics condemn protests against Wharton professors

Academics and researchers based in Melbourne have condemned attempts by the Americans for Free Speech to launch personal attacks on Professors Ania Loomba, Suvir Kaul and Toorjo Ghosh, whose letter of protest had forced Wharton School to disinvite Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi to the Wharton India Economic Forum.

According to this report published in The Daily Pennsylvanian, the Americans for Free Speech chanted “We want Modi” and posted signs saying “In memory of Free Speech 1776-2013. Killed at Wharton by the English Department” at a March held in Philadelphia.

Loomba, Kaul and Ghosh are professors with the English department of the University of Pennsylvania.

 Modi disinvite: Melbourne academics condemn protests against Wharton professors

Modi did not speak at the Wharton India Economic Forum. PTI

According to this article, the Americans for Free Speech had used slogans such as “Stop Academic Jihad” and “Intellectual Al-Qaeda” which are the “the language of Islamophobia (used) to deride the organizers of the petition campaign”.

Terming the Americans for Free Speech a “Hindutva lobby”, the Melbourne academics have trashed its argument that resistance to Modi’s invitation to the Wharton event tantamount to muzzling of freedom of speech.

“Clearly, in this case, the academic freedom to dissent and take unpopular political positions against the powerful is being equated with censoring Modi’s freedom of speech,” the statement said.

They said in the name of upholding freedom of speech, these accusations are in fact an attempt at gagging their academic freedom.

Moreover, the accusation by Modi loyalists’ against the professors forgets the “different capacity to speak and be heard that characterises the distinction between a handful of academics resisting Modi, and Modi himself, whose huge popularity among rich industrialists keep him in a deified position of financial and political power”.

They have also pointed out that it was the organisers of the Wharton India Economic Forum who disinvited Modi, and not those who lodged the protest against inviting him.

Expressing their solidarity with the Loomba, Ghosh and Kaul, the academics have also asked the University of Pennsylvania administration to stop being a silent spectator to the whole issue.

They also exhorted the authorities “to take a clear stand against these right-wing forces and uphold the academic freedom to engage in critical and reasoned dialogue, to debate and dissent within the university space”.

The statement (here) has been signed by academics like Ben Silverstein of La Trobe University, Bina Fernandez of University of Melbourne, Debolina Dutta of University of Melbourne, Dianne Otto of University of Melbourne, Erica Millar of Deakin University and Fazal Rizvi of University of Melbourne.

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Updated Date: Apr 10, 2013 17:53:03 IST