Opinion Article Defending Colonialism Leads to Mass Resignation at Third World Quarterly

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An academic journal has been hit by mass resignation of its editorial board after it published a pro-colonialism article.

Fifteen members of the Third World Quarterly board resigned this week, Inside Higher Ed reported, in response to editor-in-chief Shahid Qadir's defense of the decision to print "The Case for Colonialism," written by Bruce Gilley, a Portland State University associate professor of political science.

Qadir has said the piece was put through the mandatory double-blind peer review process, but the former editorial board members wrote in their resignation statement that they have been told by those charged with reviewing the piece "that they rejected it as unfit" for further consideration. The article was subsequently "repackaged as an opinion piece," according to the statement.

"As the [article] did not pass the double-blind peer review as claimed by the editor…it must be retracted and a new statement issued," wrote the ex-board members.

"We all subscribe to the principle of freedom of speech and the value of provocation in order to generate critical debate," insisted the dissenting academics. "However, this cannot be done by means of a piece that fails to meet academic standards of rigor and balance by ignoring all manner of violence, exploitation and harm perpetrated in the name of colonialism (and imperialism) and that causes offence and hurt and thereby clearly violates that very principle of free speech."

Former board members include Richard Falk, a professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University, known for his tenure as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories. Falk, who has now signed his name to a statement exhorting "academic standards of rigor and balance," has appeared on a "9/11 truth" radio program and blamed U.S. foreign policy for the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

Noam Chomsky, professor emeritus of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a remaining editorial board member, told Inside Higher Ed that although it is "pretty clear that proper procedures were not followed in publishing the article…retraction is a mistake, and also opens very dangerous doors." Chomsky suggested the journal publish a rebuttal.

In the article, Gilley argued, "For the last 100 years, Western colonialism has had a bad name. It is high time to question this orthodoxy."

"The countries that embraced their colonial inheritance, by and large, did better than those that spurned it," Gilley wrote in the abstract. "Anti-colonial ideology imposed grave harms on subject peoples and continues to thwart sustained development and a fruitful encounter with modernity in many places. Colonialism can be recovered by weak and fragile states today in three ways: by reclaiming colonial modes of governance; by recolonizing some areas; and by creating new Western colonies from scratch."

The board resignations follow the delivery to the journal editor, publisher, and manager of a Change.org petition with over ten thousand signatures demanding the article's retraction.

"The offending article has brought widespread condemnation from scholars around the globe. The article lacks empirical evidence, contains historical inaccuracies, and includes spiteful fallacies. There is also an utter lack of rigor or engaging with existing scholarship on the issue," wrote the petitioners.

A second petition submitted to Third World Quarterly, with over 6,000 signatures, said that Gilley's article was "not only offensive but damaging."

"It is an active attack on BIPOC [black people, Indigenous peoples, and people of color] scholars, thinkers, and people, as well as on the project of decolonization," elaborated the letter writers. "In our current political context, the lives and safety of BIPOC, refugees, and allies are being threatened by radicalized white supremacist groups."

A statement form PSU's interim provost earlier this week defended Gilley's academic freedom rights, but made clear that his views "are his own and do not represent Portland State or our department of political science."

Rachel Frommer

Rachel Frommer   Email | Full Bio | RSS
Rachel Frommer is a staff writer with the Washington Free Beacon reporting on campus issues, including anti-free speech and anti-Israel activity. Prior to the Free Beacon, she was the senior campus correspondent at The Algemeiner. Her work has been picked up by Fox News, Newsweek, and the New York Post. She graduated from Touro College in 2016 with a BA in English literature. Her Twitter handle is @Rachel_Frommer, and her email address is frommer@freebeacon.com.

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