“Credible Threats Of Personal Violence” Lead To Retraction of Colonialism Paper (updated)


The controversy over the decision of Third World Quarterly to publish “The Case for Colonialism” by Bruce Gilley (discussed here) has escalated. Now, “credible threats of personal violence” against the editor of the journal, Shahid Qadir, have led the journal’s publisher, Taylor & Francis, to withdraw the article.

A statement on the page on the journal’s website where the article formerly was says:

This Viewpoint essay has been withdrawn at the request of the academic journal editor, and in agreement with the author of the essay. Following a number of complaints, Taylor & Francis conducted a thorough investigation into the peer review process on this article. Whilst this clearly demonstrated the essay had undergone double-blind peer review, in line with the journal’s editorial policy, the journal editor has subsequently received serious and credible threats of personal violence. These threats are linked to the publication of this essay. As the publisher, we must take this seriously. Taylor & Francis has a strong and supportive duty of care to all our academic editorial teams, and this is why we are withdrawing this essay.

There is no information provided as to whether the publishers think the threat is from someone in academia.

I’ve never heard of an academic article prompting credible death threats against the editor of the journal in which it was published, let alone a journal withdrawing an article on the basis of such threats. Have others? This is a disturbing development, which I hope remains, if not unique, highly unusual.

I think it is important that academics very vocally resist such threats, and try very hard to not be moved by them. This is not to second-guess the decision of Taylor & Francis—I have no idea what informed their judgment that the threat was “credible.” But if we all stand up against this, well, they (whoever “they” are) can’t credibly threaten all of us. So, person/people who threatened this journal editor: fuck you. And fuck you for making me say this over such a shitty article.

UPDATE (10/11/17): Retraction Watch reports receiving the following statement from Taylor & Francis:

These threats were of a serious and credible nature, centred around physical violence and included posting highly personal details about the journal editor which would enable people to easily identify him. I hope you can appreciate that we do not want to be more specific than that for obvious reasons.

To withdraw an article for this reason is unprecedented for Taylor & Francis and is step we have taken only after incredibly serious consideration. As an organization, and for the team working on this, we are deeply shocked and saddened at what has happened in the last week. As you mention in your article, the editor has been in touch with the editorial board to propose a new editorial structure on the journal. As the publisher, we would now like to focus on supporting him as he begins this process.

We will also be working with the Committee on Publication Ethics to review this case and to better understand how to respond to cases such as this in the future.

 

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Todd Klimson
Todd Klimson
4 years ago

The real threat is I haven’t heard an academic refute nor support his claims in the article. One side uses group-think language to attack it and one is too scared to support it. Brilliant learning environment.Report

Todd
Todd
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
4 years ago

Of course there are criticism’s , is anything else allowed?Report

T.O.A.N.
T.O.A.N.
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
4 years ago

I think Todd was just getting at the fact that your personal feelings are as irrelevant to this debate as any other, not that he was aware of it.Report

D.C.
D.C.
4 years ago

I hope if the author and/or editor(s) were threatened with violence that they reported it to the authorities.Report

Urstoff
Urstoff
4 years ago

What counts as a “credible threat”? Surely if a threat is deemed credible, then there should be enough evidence to turn it over to the police.Report

Tristian
Tristian
4 years ago

Today’s IHE made for some pretty grim reading for anyone committed to academic freedom. Three incidences of speakers being shouted down, one professor under fire from the President’s office for bad mouthing Trump in class, rather mildly as these things go. And being recorded by a student who turns it over to the press. And then this.Report

jbr
jbr
4 years ago

I am a bit confused as to the details here. I thought I had read that the reviewers said to reject the piece, but then the editor(s) chose to publish it anyway. Is this statement of what happened incorrect?Report

jbr
jbr
4 years ago

OK to answer my own question: it was those who resigned from the editorial board who said it did NOT undergo proper peer review, since all the reviewers suggested that the paper be rejected (their letter: https://www.facebook.com/vijay.prashad.5/posts/10214329816989010).Report

JCM
JCM
4 years ago

This might seem as if it’s an implausibly strong line to take but I’m going to go ahead and say that I hope that this remains not merely unusual but actually unique.Report

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
4 years ago

First: I condemn any death threats.

Second: I was under the impression that the process for publishing this article had been seriously non-standard. However, Peter Wood, the president of the National Association of Scholars says that T&F issued “a document where it recounted step by step the review of Gilley’s article before it was accepted for publication. The accusation that the article was not peer-reviewed or properly vetted by qualified scholars proved to be without foundation.” But he does not link that document. Can anyone supply a link?

Wood’s statement is quite disturbing; he calls for deans and provosts to block the hiring of people who peacefully criticized Gilley’s bad article. Death threats are not (to say the least) an acceptable response to poor scholarship; literal McCarthyism is not a valid response to peaceful criticism, even when a death threat has been issued by someone unrelated to the critic.

(Wood also says that the death threats came from “Indian Nationalists,” though he also calls the editor of the journal “Shahid Khan” rather than Shahid Qadir for some reason.)Report

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
Reply to  www
4 years ago

That must be it, thank you. The process there seems not as standard as T&F describe it–I’ve certainly never had an article desk-rejected and then funneled to another issue of the same journal, or accepted after a referee recommended rejection, or accepted after a request for “major revision” without being sent back out for review, but perhaps my experiences aren’t universal or the standards in TWQ’s field are different. (Though the editorial board’s resignation may suggest that something is going on.) Wood’s statements that the complaints about the process “proved to be without foundation” seem pretty distortionary to me.

People may feel I shouldn’t be nitpicking this in the face of a death threat. Here’s why I’m thinking about it:
1. Currently the main sources for what happened are Taylor & Francis and the post by Wood;
2. If Wood’s post is correct, this is a story about threats from nationalists, not liberal/leftish academics as some might think;
3. Wood’s errors on known basic facts make me think we shouldn’t accept his assertions uncritically (at the very least, I’d suspect that if he had heard about it directly from Qadir he’d have got his name right)
4. T&F do not seem to be behaving well (at the very least, in buckling under to threats allegedly from nationalists), and as an interested party it doesn’t seem like we should accept their statement of their motives uncritically–are they using the threat as a pretext to try to extricate themselves from a messy situation? do they really think that taking the article down would placate someone who’s issued a death threat?
5. The call from an influential figure in academia for a literal blacklist enforced by high-level university administrators is extraordinarily troublesome and we shouldn’t let it piggyback on the outrage at the death threat, which outrage every decent person should share.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
4 years ago

Some quick observations:

1) It is a euphemism to call this a withdrawal. Withdrawals happen for academic reasons (usually at the behest of the author) and the paper itself remains available online as part of the permanent scholarly record, accompanied by a note saying why withdrawal occurred. As I recall, the author of this article had already “withdrawn” it: that was already worrying, since it seemed to happen under pressure and for non-academic reasons (and I believe the author has since stated that he regrets it). So the only effect of T&F’s decision is to remove the paper from their online archive so that it cannot be read, and they have openly done this for non-academic reasons. This is not “withdrawal”. It should be called what it is: censorship.

2) I agree with Justin that we should be careful in second-guessing T&F. But I think we can reasonably ask for more information. Credible threats of premeditated violence to achieve a political end are fairly close to terrorism; if this actually has happened it ought to be being treated as very serious by law enforcement and we ought to be able to get more information and updates both from T&F and from the police (for instance, as and when the perpetrators are detained and charged, T&F would presumably un-censor the paper). It would be very dangerous to academic freedom if we got into a situation where publishers could censor controversial material by claiming “credible threats” without some external validation of those threats. (I stress that I have absolutely no reason to suppose that’s what happened in this particular case.)

3) It is hardly ever relevant in an academic-freedom case to assess the substantive correctness of an academic’s work, but that seems especially true here.Report

Dylan
Dylan
4 years ago

Liberal equality is built on racial and sexual domination. This article does not fit the criteria of peer reviewed knowledge. Aime Cesaire’s 1950 book a “Discourse on Colonialism” clearly explains why there is no debate to have and why this is not a matter of freedom of speech. The editor himself has been called a liar by members of the former editorial board in the context of this passing peer review.

For me the only people defending this article are white, and if they are not white its because they are an uncle Tom. Stop with the false equivalence of freedom of speech because that is not what this is aboutReport

Rollo Burgess
Rollo Burgess
Reply to  Dylan
4 years ago

Dylan – who is defending the article? I read the article; it sucks.

However that is completely irrelevant; the article appears to have been withdrawn due to threats of violence, and that should be unequivocally condemned irrespective of the content of the article.

PS your tone is pretty unpleasant tooReport

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Dylan
4 years ago

Your attitude is completely antithetical to every principle of sound scholarship. It is one that everyone concerned with the health of liberal scholarship should condemn in the strongest terms. And it’s blatant, crude racism is also contemptible.Report

Dylan
Dylan
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
4 years ago

I think you missed the memo where I started by explaining liberalism itself is a racial and sexual liberalism. A domination contract. Western calls for liberal scholarship contain within them the same seeds of racial and sexual domination. You can sit in your bubble and make claims about my attitude all you want. You live and work in a society founded on racism. As do I. If you cannot debate that honestly and want to claim some bigger cause to your side fine. I will continue to point out the racial architecture of liberalism and that colonialism itself as something that should be reconsidered as positive is an idea who’s space in discussion is generally only supported by white men. That isn’t racism. it’s an actual description of reality. There is no defence of colonialism to the colonised. And if you knew your Caribbean anti colonial scholarship of aime cesaire for example you would know what colonialism leads to In terms of the production of knowledge. But I’m pretty sure those defending the right of people to publish violence hasn’t read that..

Seriously is this a philosophy thing? Because any sociologist or anthropologist would point out that the violence done to people because of colonialism lives on and the promotion of colonialism is not valid nor is it a surprise anyone defending colonialism should be threatened with violence. What part of the planet are you living on to thing this isn’t the case unless it’s a very white space.

And let’s not forget how white philosophy is as a discipline. It has a race problem. Jason below can let you know how you confirm that problem of whiteness in philosophy by using data. Thanks jase.Report

Jason Brennan
Jason Brennan
Reply to  Dylan
4 years ago

Liberal political philosophy itself began in large part as an anti-colonial philosophy. Take a good look through book four of the Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, which is an anti-imperialist tract. Also google why economics is called the dismal science–hint, it’s because the classical economists were anti-slavery and defended racial equality.

I’m sure you’ve also studied Gary Becker’s work on how markets punish racist preferences at great length.Report

Dylan
Dylan
Reply to  Jason Brennan
4 years ago

are you suggesting that liberalism isn’t founded on racism and sexism? I note your recruitment of Adam smith but there is a distinct genealogy before him. Not to mention after him Hegel was a racist who ignored the real slavery he read about in his daily newspapers to pretend freedom could only be known through a thought experiment about slavery in antiquity and had nothing to do with Haiti and real slavery in present.

Most ideas we have out of the liberal tradition are racist and sexist in origin. Equality is a liberal joke. As is freedom of speech. It can’t be attained because of the inequities that were laid down during the enlightenment and subsequent liberal formation. And it isn’t shared evenly.Report

Jason Brennan
Jason Brennan
Reply to  Dylan
4 years ago

Yeah, the idea that liberalism is founded on racism and sexism is implausible. Many early liberal thinkers were racist and sexist, though other early liberal thinkers were also the people who pioneered anti-racism and anti-sexism. But that doesn’t mean liberalism is inherently racist.

Consider a parody:
1. Marx was very racist. (Yes, he was.)
2. Therefore socialism is really racial socialism and socialist institutions are inherently racist.

2 doesn’t follow from 1. THat’s called the genetic fallacy. You might as well accuse calculus of being racist because Newton was racist.

At any rate, the way that political scientists and economists study this, as opposed to the “let’s just make shit up” people in anthropology, is to operationalize liberal institutions and then measure various aspects of racism, and then see if moving toward liberal institutions tends to reduce or increase various racist outcomes. In fact, the literature pretty robustly finds a negative correlation between liberal institutions and racism.

Oops.

Enough free education for today. Thanks for your input. I hope you learned something.Report

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
Reply to  Dylan
4 years ago

“Yeah, the idea that liberalism is founded on racism and sexism is implausible.”

I thought that the argument Charles Mills made for this in The Racial Contract was at least plausible enough to be worth serious discussion. (Though it’s not going to happen in this comment section.)

NB: It’s been a long time since I’ve read it and I wouldn’t claim to be an expert or to have necessarily summarized it well.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Dylan
4 years ago

If freedom of speech is a liberal joke, why does it matter to you to establish that this particular case is not a freedom-of-speech issue?Report

Aajaxx
Aajaxx
Reply to  Dylan
4 years ago

There is nothing liberal about racism or colonialism, and vice versa. There is nothing liberating about Marxism.Report

Urstoff
Urstoff
Reply to  Dylan
4 years ago

Dialogue and argument is oppression. Therefore I am right.Report

Jason Brennan
Jason Brennan
4 years ago

If you want to make a claim about how political belief X is caused by whiteness, fine, do some actual social science. The way you do that (in political science) is to collective massive sets of data about 1) what people think, 2) what their demographics are, and 3) what their possibly confounding cognitive traits are (IQ, objective knowledge, or whatnot). You can then determine how demographics affects what people believe while controlling for the effects of knowledge or other confounding variables.

But no surprise, the people who make such accusations never do this; they just do embarrassing and shitty armchair theorizing in lieu of serious work.

But–oh boy!–it turns out political scientists have studied this, and their work appears to falsify your claims. Consider, e.g., Althaus’s 2003 book, which finds that liberal beliefs are explained more by basic political knowledge than whiteness. Oops.

I expect you’ll respond by calling me racist and trying to bully me, but if so, just mail that to me on toilet paper so I can quickly give you the response you deserve.

As for whether freedom of speech includes the right to defend colonialism, of course it does. It also includes the right to defend Marxism, Stalinism, Nazism, and even anti-liberal ideologies such as yours. It’s not like Aime Cesaire’s views on free speech are authoritative.Report

Dylan
Dylan
Reply to  Jason Brennan
4 years ago

Political science as I hope you are aware is not known for its rigour. No doubt that can be aimed at all social sciences. But I would take disciplines that engage historical context and backstory more than a discipline like political science that takes so many things for granted like the wider context and history within which it is embedded.

Furthermore, that the only attacks you can come up with against my claim that it is only in the main white liberal men having the conversation you are having here, are attacks on my attitude, my failure to collect data, and my tone, suggests race and colonailism are not your area of expertise. Fair enough. But free speech does not mean I need to respect what you say. If it doesn’t respect me, as the article In question does not, then why should I respect it. If an article implies violence and murder against PoC is good, then I think a reasonable respond you can predict is someone is going to threaten violence back.

Why is this so hard for others to understand? Could it be a matter of race? Perhaps other things too. But my suggestion is don’t be so blasé to say that it has nothing to do with whiteness or the whiteness of the person defending free speech. You might find it does.Report

Jason "I'm Not Debating Dylan; I'm Just Teaching Him" Brennan
Jason "I'm Not Debating Dylan; I'm Just Teaching Him" Brennan
Reply to  Dylan
4 years ago

Here’s one of Althaus’s early papers. I have literally never seen an anthropology paper with this level of rigor:

http://faculty.las.illinois.edu/salthaus/Publications/althaus_1998_apsr.pdfReport

Garret Merriam
Garret Merriam
Reply to  Dylan
4 years ago

Dylan,

Why are you trying to reason with Jason? Why not just threaten his life, if that is a perfectly reasonable course of action to take, like you claim? For that matter, why shouldn’t he just threaten yours? You haven’t respected him, he hasn’t respected you, if I understand your thinking, the next appropriate step is death threats, intimidation and violence.

I hate to come across as a Kantian here, but I hope you can see this approach to disagreement isn’t generalizable.Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Dylan
4 years ago

The fact that you seem not to understand the difference between writing an article arguing that there may have been some goods engendered by colonialism and actually threatening someone is even more depressing than your earlier attacks on liberalism.Report

D.C.
D.C.
Reply to  Jason Brennan
4 years ago

The centuries-old Humean notion of provisionally establishing causation through constant conjunction is not the only way to do social science, even political science. There’s room for rigorous theorizing, though I don’t know if the person you are responded to has been doing it.Report

Alex
Alex
4 years ago

So is there going to be a “Case for the Third Reich” and/or “Case for Racial and Religiously-Motivated Genocide”….maybe “A Case for Murdering the Weak and Keeping their Heads as Trophies” papers too? Absolutely ridiculous and even more ridiculous, is that some fucking moron(s) made threats, which completely undermine the credibility of anyone opposed to stupid articles making it through peer-review.Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Alex
4 years ago

There may need to be, given that it seems that a significant number of people seem to be confused about the conditions under which legitimate critical inquiry is possible.

Indeed, this thread is most disheartening precisely for what it seems to reveal about the illiberal values of a number of people in our profession.Report

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
4 years ago

What do you mean by that, Daniel? Which people, plural?Report

Rebecca Kukla
Rebecca Kukla
4 years ago

I’ve had threats against me for things I publish (and for things I don’t) qua editor – not death threats for that specifically, but other physical threats. And more generally death threats get flung around all the time on the internet. This doesn’t surprise me at all and I am surprised others are surprised. I sure wish I knew why they count these threats as ‘credible’ because frankly I provisionally call bullshit. Masculine bravado is thrown around liberally – whatever.Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Rebecca Kukla
4 years ago

I don’t see what the relevance of any of this is to the subject at hand.

Does the fact that you’ve been threatened mean we should be sanguine about the threatening of others?

Are you seriously suggesting we should not take threats of violence seriously?

Are you seriously suggesting that threats are somehow “masculine”?Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
4 years ago

I reject your interpretation of my comment. And I find your giving Dr. Kukla’s comment such an easy pass rather puzzling, given her “calling bullshit” and talking about “masculine bravado” in the context of a discussion of threats of violence against an author.

You have done nothing but read a bunch of stuff into my comment that isn’t there. And you’v done so in a way that doesn’t seem appropriate for a moderator. There was nothing in my comment that was uncivil or which made it worthy of being called out for special notice, especially given some of the outrageous things being posted in this thread, about which you’ve said nothing.Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
4 years ago

I appreciate that, man. it’s very easy to misunderstand people in this format.Report

Brian
Brian
Reply to  Rebecca Kukla
4 years ago

I agree. I wonder what exactly classified this particular threat as “credible” and I’m skeptical that it was anything drastically different than the regular bullshit threats that are sent around all over the place, including on the internet, on a daily basis. They shouldn’t have retracted the article. Even if it was pretty serious, you report the threat to law enforcement, not give in to the criminals.Report

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
Reply to  Brian
4 years ago

I agree with this, and as I said above, AFAICT currently all the information we are getting about this comes from one person (Wood) pushing a manifestly illiberal agenda and one company (T&F) with a strongly vested interest in making themselves look better after finding themselves in a bad situation, given that an article that was shoddy in a racist way was published in seemingly unusual circumstances. If we’re supposed to explore any hypothesis, no matter where it leads, shouldn’t we explore the hypothesis that T&F is inflating the level of threat involved in order to turn this from a story about dubious practices at TWQ to a story about academic freedom under threat?

Also I find it interesting that this comment, which involves skepticism about the threat and the word “bullshit,” didn’t elicit the outraged reaction and the subsequent demand for an apology that Rebecca Kukla’s did. (And Daniel–are you seriously suggesting that men are not more likely to issue violent threats than women? That seems unlikely, given the underlying rates of violent crime.)Report

Klaas van Dijk
4 years ago

“I’ve never heard of an academic article prompting credible death threats against the editor of the journal in which it was published, let alone a journal withdrawing an article on the basis of such threats. Have others? This is a disturbing development, which I hope remains, if not unique, highly unusual.”

Publisher Taylor & Francis is persistently efusing to retract, and already for well over 2 years, a fraududent study on the breeding biology of the Basra Reed Warbler, see http://www.birdforum.net/showthread.php?t=303435 and https://www.academia.edu/33827046 and https://www.researchgate.net/project/Retracting-fraudulent-articles-on-the-breeding-biology-of-the-Basra-Reed-Warbler-Acrocephalus-griseldis for details and backgrounds.

The report “Final investigation on serious allegations of fabricated and/or falsified data in Al-Sheikhly et al. (2013, 2015)”, see https://www.academia.edu/33827046 , is since 1 July 2016 in the possession of Taylor & Francis. Taylor & Francis is until today persistently refusing to communicate with us about any of the findings of this report. The same is the case for all other parties (which include COPE and the University of Pisa). Taylor & Francis and all other parties are also very persistently refusing to provide us with comments from experts / reviewers with opposing views on the findings of the report “Final investigation on serious allegations of fabricated and/or falsified data in Al-Sheikhly et al. (2013, 2015)”. It took us for example almost one year to get a response from Taylor & Francis on a formal request to get access to the raw research data of the fraudulent study. This response was only received after we had started to send daily reminders to senders of auto-replies.

It is stated in https://www.academia.edu/33827046 “”The first author has informed you that our email to Baghdad University was received in good order. The situation in Iraq is still very complicated. (We won’t bother you with the background details).” This polite wording refers to serious threats by the first author of the fraudulent study. I prefer for security reasons not to go into details.Report