Monday, October 17, 2005

Activist Academics and Iraq

The International Association of Contemporary Iraq Studies held its inaugural conference at the University of East London in September. Al-Ahram carries a report summarising the conference proceedings.

One of the organisation's founding members - Eric Herring of Bristol University (who is also convenor of NASPIR) - rejects the idea that academics should shy away from politics: academics cannot be politically neutral in that what they choose to study reflects their values and has political consequences. Academic activists acknowledge this rather than pretending that they have a purely objective approach, a view from nowhere.

The association's very existence underscores the importance of free communication amongst academics. IACIS is intended, among other things, to serve as a bridge between Iraqi academics and their colleagues around the world. Iraqi academics were cut off from the international community by Saddam's regime - as isolation that was reinforced by the international political community through sanctions. Scholars in other parts of the world were likewise cut off from their Iraqi counterparts and from the empirical reality unfolding on the ground. The resulting vacuum was filled by spin doctors on both sides, with consequences that we are all too familiar with.

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