Unspeakable Practices: Notes on Today’s News and Future Academic Protest

Unspeakable Practices: Notes on Today’s News and Future Academic Protest

Two stories reported in today’s news that provoke comment here:

Firstly, the banning of Islamic groups Al Muhajiroun, Islam4UK, Call to Submission, Islamic Path, and London School of Sharia, announced today by Alan Johnson, Home Secretary, can only provoke condemnation here.

Let me be clear: I do not support these groups, and have no sympathy for their right-wing politics – only disdain. But, there is no justification for banning these groups that I find acceptable, and I see this move as a strategy of excluding and criminalising the Islamic community. Make no mistake, I am certain that Islam4UK and similar groups do not speak for even a majority of British Muslims, never mind the entirety of the Muslim community. But, we must ask on what basis this group has been labelled a ‘terrorist’ organisation, and who decides what is and is not terroristic. The Terrorism Act gives too much power to the Government. If terrorism is no longer to be judged by concrete actions – by violent acts, or plans to commit violent acts – then on what basis does this criminalisation proceed? If we are to start (sorry, if we are to continue) criminalising thoughts, political views and religious beliefs, how far will this marginalisation and criminalisation of our Islamic community go? And how far will this logic of unfreedom eat into the rest of society? Certainly the Terrorism Act is already being used to constrain other forms of protest, including those of the Left and Green movements. We need to oppose all forms of censorship and undemocratic legislation.

There is a paltry argument that has been formulated in support for this crass censorship: that allowing the propagation of extreme views allows for the ‘radicalisation’ of certain vulnerable groups. But we must ask, who decides what is and what is not an ‘extreme view’? Rather than trust the Government with these decisions, we must trust the people to make such decisions for themselves. Certainly provide debate, certainly provide support, and certainly at the level of public organisation (i.e. Universities, Mosques, and other community groups) refuse these right-wing groups a platform (since who wants to waste time listening to their garbage?). But do not ban them, because then we will all find ourselves standing on a very slippery slope.

Secondly, leaders of the Russell Group of Universities, Wendy Piatt, the group’s director general, and Michael Arthur, its chair and the vice-chancellor of Leeds University, have today condemned the Government’s Higher Education plans.

At Unspeakable Practices we have already responded to these plans with condemnation. Certainly, then, it is good to hear mainstream ‘powerful’ voices condemning them also. But, they are entirely too easy on the government, and too elitist in their outlook.

In the new year we need to stop looking to our ‘leaders’ and start some serious organisation at the level of students, lecturers, parents and teachers – and possibly other workers too.

These plans do not simply affect a small privileged and insular minority. Research has implications for society far beyond my ability to describe here, and it will suffer immensely, in all disciplines. Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences will of course be worst hit. Mainstream society does not even recognise the severity of this loss, because mainstream society has been so proletarianised, its everyday praxis so devalued, that it does not properly value the arts; it has already been so excluded from the sphere of art, that perhaps it will not even suffer any further losses. The real importance of these cuts, though, is that they may well enact the complete division of students and lecturers. Fees enabled the current Government discourse of “consumers and service providers” to prevail and presented a very real threat to academic solidarity. But, when the research and structural cuts go through, lecturers and administrators will feel severely less inclined to support students in their campaign to maintain the cap, never mind to abolish fees altogether. For these cuts will create a massive hole in University budgets and, if we allow them to go ahead, removal of the cap will seem like one viable way to fill it. Lecturers will quickly start thinking: “I don’t like what it will do to the students, but raising the cap would certainly make my life easier”. Especially when cuts start to cause redundancies.

There is only one serious solution – one that is not yet evidenced anywhere. That is to organise Student-Lecturer solidarity, to get onto the streets, as well as into the headlines, and to demand that Government properly fund Universities. This would mean reversing the decisions on cuts and instead investing more money in Universities, especially in research, as well as abolishing student fees altogether.

To this end, we should also be stretching our arms out into the wider community, creating solidarity with other workers suffering from similar cuts, “recession contingency plans”, and modernisation programs. We are all in the same boat. We also need to engage with teachers and with their unions, for in many ways they will be affected by this disaster also. And finally, we need to engage with the public, particularly with families and parents. Parents and families of the middle as well as lower classes are suffering the consequences of being expected to pay the costs of sending their children to University (as well as being expected to pay the costs of bankers’ indulgence).

We have all the cards, we only need to make it happen. So do it!




~ by Wit on January 12, 2010.

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