Your Voice | Response to “‘Shutting down the debate’”
March 14, 2013, 12:35 am·
In his op-ed piece that appeared in The Daily Pennsylvanian (“‘Shutting down the debate,’” March 11), Prameet Kumar accuses Penn English professor Ania Loomba of “hypocrisy” for “rejecting outright any political debate about [Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra] Modi’s tenure while having just recently championed an open discourse over the Palestinian BDS [Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions] campaign against Israel,” contrasting Loomba’s successful call for the Wharton India Economic Forum to reconsider Modi’s planned speaking engagement with her opposition last year to a hateful series of ad hominem attacks by Penn faculty and staff on the organizers of the National BDS Conference, myself included.
Kumar’s parallel is a false one. The widespread faculty and student opposition to WIEF’s initial decision to spotlight Modi is not an issue of free expression — indeed, unlike the opposition to the BDS conference, the motivation behind the anti-Modi campaign had little (if anything) to do with the substance of what Modi planned to say. The central issue was Modi’s personal complicity in a wave of violent religious persecution in Gujarat, for which he was banned from entering the United States under the Bush administration. Had our BDS conference scheduled individuals with known records of human rights abuse, I would have been the first to insist on removing them from the agenda.
But the more significant error of Kumar’s piece is his misunderstanding of the BDS movement itself. A key element of BDS has been its efforts to protest the awarding of prestigious platforms to perpetrators of, or officially sanctioned spokespeople for, Israel’s human rights abuses against Palestinians — platforms from which they can put a happy face on the state’s oppressive policies. The campaign against Modi is no different and is therefore entirely consistent with Loomba’s support for our conference and for the BDS movement generally.
Matt Berkman is a doctoral student in comparative politics at Penn.