Stories hold memories and histories and through their telling and circulation, history cannot be lost.
One cannot escape discussion of human rights these days. This morning, watching AJE on satellite TV, I was dismayed to hear of the ever increasing repression of human rights in Bahrain. After the recent protests and the violent clampdown on peaceful, unarmed demonstrators rallying for their human rights, the country has been more repressive. The US, Canada and Britain are silent on defending the human rights of the Shia people of Bahrain. They are not speaking out to support the cry for justice and democracy by the Bahraini population. The US, Canada and Britain are not critical of the repressive measures of the ruling government.
More than 2000 Shia people have been fired from their jobs, the opposition newspaper has been shut down, many doctors and medical personnel have been arrested and are missing, a Reuters journalist was kicked out of the country. A leader of the opposition died in custody; cause "kidney failure." Five members of one woman's family are missing and she wonders why the world is not speaking out, asking why, where, how? She says the silence leads her to believe that the violent attacks on the Bahraini demonstrators had/have US support and complicity.
Shia mosques have been torn down, bulldozed, and removed from public consciousness as even the rubble has been carted away leaving empty lots. Memoricide, I said to my husband. It seems those in power have been taking lessons from Israel. Wiping out history by physically removing what is in place, by physically destroying memories. They count on many people forgetting or never knowing what was there. What happened there. Whose place it was. What they have to say. What concerns they have. What criticisms and questions they have.
Without physical places to meet, to bear witness to existence, it can be argued through the histories told by those in power that those places--and their people-- never existed.
The struggle for human rights, however, cannot be shut down, but it is indeed an arduous struggle these days.
Even in places where it's supposed to be a given, it seems some would like human rights--the human rights of particular people, that is-- to be gotten rid of.
Although the North American corporate and mainstream media continuously touts Israel as a beacon of democracy in the Middle East, it seems increasing numbers of Israelis want no part of democracy or human rights and are especially critical of academics who strive to create discussion about them.
I can't imagine entering a classroom and not being able to speak about truth and knowledge from many voices, many perspectives, especially the marginalized or misrepresented. I can't imagine having to defend teaching democratic principles and human rights, as if these are problematic concepts. But it seems in Israel that professors in academia have a much harder time than me.
Indeed, here are a few of the troubling situations faced by Israeli academics who seek to bring critical discussions of democracy, human rights, citizenship, and multiculturalism into university spaces:
1. "the Education Minister wants to erase democracy and citizenship studies from the curricula and replace it with Zionism and Judaism."
2. some students film professors to monitor what is said in class, selectively edit what they have filmed , send this "information to donors in the US or England and a handful of these donors send letters to university administrations pressuring them to stifle academic freedom."
3. "It’s becoming increasingly impossible to hire people who are critical of the Israeli government, or who have signed a [critical] petition."
4. "There’s an assault on Israeli academia in general. It involves an alliance between forces such as IsraCampus and Israel Academic Monitor on the one hand, who try to convince donors to stop giving money to universities that harbor leftists, and Im Tirzu, which tries to mobilize government Ministers and Members of Knesset to pressure the top university executives to discipline recalcitrant academics."
Read the full text of an interview with Israeli professor Neve Gordon, Chair of the Department of Politics and Government at Ben Gurion University, by Dahlia Scheindlin, adjunct faculty member at Ben Gurion University.
"It has been a troubled year for Israeli academia. The rising nationalist sentiment in the government, legislature and civil society has spilled over into bitter struggles on campuses throughout the country. Nationalist groups such as IsraCampus, Israel Academia Monitor, and the ultra-nationalist Im Tirtzu have set their crosshairs on academia, seeking the dismissal of faculty members and control over curricula, and urging foreign donors to withdraw funds unless the faculty they have targeted are removed. They have published blacklists and ranked each university and department according to political legitimacy.
DO YOU FEAR FOR THE FUTURE OF ISRAELI DEMOCRACY?
We don’t need to imagine a dark future, we’re already there. Democracy is severely curtailed, we’re on a dark path, and unless something radical changes, unless a miracle happens, I think that within not so many years, the last remnants of Israeli democracy might be lost. The pattern may still change, but if the youth polls are correct, Knesset legislation in the future will be even worse. Democracy will be destroyed."