Why Solidarity? And How

An excellent statement describing why the Critical Gender Studies (CGS) program at University of California at San Diego had disaffiliated an academic, published on January 4, 2022, has been taken down – at least temporarily on February 5, 2022. The not unexpected pushback from the academy – please refer to the recent events at Harvard if in doubt of the academy’s intransigency and protection of abusers – has led to two faculty members resigning from the executive committee of CGS. Both of them have written eloquent and theoretically brilliant statements about their resignation to continue to stand with Kashmiris in solidarity. 

Taken in Gaza City, Palestine, April, 2013. Photo credit: Eric Maddox

Following are the statements from Assistant Professor Shaista Patel, which she tweeted on Feb 7, and from Associate Professor Wendy Matsumura, which is first being published here. Professor Patel teaches in the Ethnic Studies Department at UC San Diego as a scholar of Critical Muslim Studies. Professor Matsumura teaches in the History Department at UC San Diego, where she teaches courses on Japanese, Okinawan, and East Asian history. The connections made in their respective statements with Kashmir are profound and necessary. In summary, they provide a roadmap for all other scholars, indeed all humans, to answer the crucial question “why be in solidarity with Kashmiris, and how.”

Statement on Stepping Down from UCSD Critical Gender Studies Program Due to Research Accountability Issues

Dear Reader:

I am writing this short note to announce that I have resigned from the University of California’s Critical Gender Studies executive committee. As a Muslim feminist social scientist trained by Indigenous feminist theorists, and with gender and women’s studies background, I did not reach this decision lightly. Last week, an advisory decision was imposed on us whereby Critical Gender Studies program took down the statement discussing the questionable research practices of a UCSD-employed caste-privileged Indian academic who did their research in Kashmir, and on Kashmiris, for their tenure book. Testimonies from us mostly Dalit, Muslim, Indigenous, and racialized women and non-binary untenured scholars (clearly all on one side with mostly tenured white faculty on the other – think about this matter even just in terms of the visual optics) advocated for strengthening practices of accountability in academic research, but were ignored for the sake of staying on the side of institutional power and upholding its misogynist, casteist, colonial, and racist practices.

Decades ago, gender studies departments and programs were fought for by Black, Indigenous, Latinx and other racialized women and non-binary scholars on this continent in ways that connected the streets to these ivory towers. We pay homage to that radical organizing and are absolutely not invested in upholding the power of any program that seeks to do convenient solidarity work. Solidarity work does not, and cannot, come with guarantees of maintaining the power and privileges of allies purporting to be standing with various colonized peoples. As Unangax̂ feminist scholar Dr. Eve Tuck (2015) reminds us, we need to bite the hand that feeds us. I will bite the hand that feeds me until its skin peels off, its bones break off, and all the flesh falls by the side and maybe then I will look for another thing to do, another career. Therefore, despite being an untenured, often scared, caste-oppressed Muslim faculty on a campus where doing my work was already never without hurdles, I have taken this decision to step down and make my reasons public. May Allah bring Azadi to Kashmiri Muslims and may people like me be on the right side of the barricades here and in the other world. Aameen.

Thank you.

Shaista Abdul Aziz Patel

Resignation from UCSD Critical Gender Studies Program Executive Committee

By Wendy Matsumura, Associate Professor of History at UC San Diego, where she teaches courses on Japanese, Okinawan, and East Asian history.

I resigned on February 7, 2022 from UCSD’s Critical Gender Studies Program’s executive committee. This committee collectively authored the now deleted “CGS Statement on Faculty Affiliation,” published to the CGS website on January 4, 2022. More precisely, the statement was temporarily taken down on February 5 by the program’s leadership pending further discussion. This determination was enforced after a faculty affiliates’ meeting held on Friday, February 4, where we were instructed to participate in an advisory poll on the question of whether the statement should be taken down or stay on the website pending further discussion of its content. 

I resigned primarily because it did not feel safe to remain on the executive committee. During the affiliates’ meeting, it became clear that the most vocal of those who attended were mostly offended by what they read as a ‘breach in collegiality’ and a violation of the ‘due process’ rather than what the statement amplified – serious questions of professional ethics by an anthropologist working in Kashmir that scholars and activists had been voicing, but that came to broader public awareness last September. 

Noticeable during the meeting and in communications preceding it was an all-too-familiar playbook, where critique of structural conditions displaced an interrogatory mode that sought to get to the bottom of who was responsible for making the critique itself, and to paint those of us (primarily racialized academics) labeled as instigators as “unreasonable,” “aggressive,” “unhinged,” or otherwise incapable of (colonial) reasoned thought. Some memorable statements made by colleagues included “infighting only weakens the left,” “why is colonial critique needed in a gender studies program anyway,” and “no one with whom you have a simple scholarly disagreement with should be smeared.” If colonial reasoning and praxis are deemed “reasonable,” then it only follows that resistance to the same is marked “unreasonable” et cetera, in many ways mirroring the modus operandus of the Indian colonial occupation in Kashmir, and most forms of coloniality in general. 

I was clearly not the only one who started to feel unsafe in that white-dominated space as these comments flowed. Not one untenured woman of color present spoke until close to 75 minutes into the meeting. The realization that a good number of my colleagues did not think there were any lines that could be breached in the course of research came over me. I stayed because I knew that there were some amazingly brave colleagues (Dalit, Muslim, Indigenous and racialized women and non-binary, mostly untenured scholars) who were also there to try to initiate a critical conversation about the content of the statement which focused on the colonial and hence unethical research practices of a caste-dominant Indian academic whose tenure book was on Kashmir, and who misguided Kashmiris (and her readers and colleagues in the academy) about her particular situatedness and positionality.

In recent months, as I have tried to educate myself with the help of respected colleagues and friends about Kashmir, I learned about the decades long work that people have done to seek redress for what has been characterized by organizations like the Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society (JKCCS), The International People’s’ Tribunal for Human Rights and Justice in Indian Administered Kashmir, and the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons, as the Indian State’s human rights violations in Kashmir since the 1990s. While these organizations and histories may be well known to people who study South Asian contexts (or who are simply much better read on current political affairs than I am), they were completely new to me. What stood out was the trust that people in these organizations have had to painstakingly build within their own communities, and often with great risk to their own safety from the surveilling Indian state, in order to obtain witness accounts and testimonies from survivors of the occupying state’s genocidal everyday to do their work of seeking justice.

At the affiliates’ meeting, there was no space to hold critical discussions about the potential and as-of-now unrecordable harm to the subaltern amongst the subaltern Kashmiris,1 which the research practices of this particular academic, with deliberately undisclosed intimate and familial ties to the Indian state apparati, caused to colonized Kashmiri Muslims, specifically to those seeking help at the only public Psychiatric Diseases Hospital in Kashmir. Nor was there any place to discuss what ethical anticolonial scholarship needs to look like, or the urgent need to write protocols on dealing with breach of ethics when working with the most marginalized communities.

Feminist anthropologists, sociologists, historians, geographers, and other scholars of South Asia explain in their statement that “research subjects, particularly ‘psychiatric patients under occupation,’ deserved the right to refuse participation or, at least, to share what they felt would be appropriate.” They clarify, “obtaining ‘ongoing consent’ to research can only work in contexts where people know what they are consenting to.” They cite the principles of professional responsibility outlined by the American Anthropological Association’s Principles of Professional Responsibility in their critique. Struggles for dignity in the face of militarized violence are ongoing, and my understanding is that scholars who work on/in Kashmir understand the stakes of entering the region, conducting research, and speaking about what is happening there, especially if the spaces they enter are meant to be sites of treatment for survivors of state surveillance, censorship, and terror. 

Students at UCSD have also been calling for accountability. Faculty members should be able to address their questions honestly, and to the best of our ability. Institutional silence is not acceptable. Conversations with undergraduate and graduate students who could not understand why no one would answer their questions about accountability, and who were genuinely interested in learning more about Kashmir pushed me to participate in uncomfortable conversations with colleagues, including on the CGS executive committee, about how we might respond to their sincere calls.  

As these conversations were taking place, in particular, after the CGS statement was posted, a few colleagues insisted that they did not understand, or were unaware of the weight of the critiques of the scholar’s research practices and ethics first made by Kashmiri scholars and activists. These continuing claims feel disingenuous, given that so much has already been outlined in letters to publishers, in letters by feminist scholars to the CGS program and UCSD’s Social Sciences Division, on various social media platforms, and by their former South Asian press. Are their words and experiences not worth believing? 

Putting the labor of explaining onto those you will never agree with is extractive. I recognize this game, where conversation and evidence are continuously requested, only to be rebutted one after the next and used to discredit those of us who may be fearful of the repercussions of not engaging in these bad faith demands. I want to ask these people who are so comfortable stealing our time and labor: How would you feel if you were asked repeatedly to have a conversation to explain your position by people who have just characterized you as politically manipulative and mentally unstable? 

Some of this had already happened prior to the February 4th meeting, but I attended and spoke for the two minutes allotted as a scholar whose own work traces the history and colonial condition of Okinawa, a place where struggles for self-determination are also ongoing. In my own life, I do not call myself Uchinanchū (Indigenous Okinawan) because even though my paternal grandmother was born in Wakasa and my great-grandmother is from Haebaru, I was not aware of my familial ties to Okinawa until after I published my first book and thus do not self-identify as such. Because I have not been in community with my extended family in Okinawa – itself a side effect of Japanese colonialism – I position myself as a researcher from the United States, a country that continues to impose its domination over its people, lands, and waters. 

I know that my own work can be extractive and violent unless I actively operate from a place of solidarity against the structures, processes, and infrastructures, including the university, that maintains colonial rule in my late grandmother’s hometown. It is unfortunate that even this kind of acknowledgement risks being twisted by some colleagues to mean that all complicities are comparable and that questioning the practices of others is merely an exercise in self-righteous hypocrisy (an actual accusation that was levied at the committee!). 

Like the study of South Asia, the institutionalization of the study of Okinawa in US universities is inextricably bound up with empire-building projects. The United States’ efforts to transform Okinawa into a site from which to wage other wars and colonial projects in Asia, the Pacific, and beyond has devastating effects on Indigenous people in each of these regions, who are viewed as collateral damage in the project of making the world “safe for democracy” or the nation safe from internal and external threats. The knowledge that scholars produced about Okinawa during Japanese rule, during the years of US occupation, and still today, bring legitimacy to this project at best, and at worst actively support militarized violence by informing counterinsurgency and other kinds of intelligence projects. 

During the formal phase of US occupation (1945-1972), Okinawa was turned into a communications base, logistics center, and training ground that served as a headquarters and hub for counterinsurgency operations primarily in Southeast Asia. As is well documented, US-based scholars and land grant institutions played active roles in these projects. To study Okinawa and to be in solidarity with its ongoing struggles thus requires that I continue to educate myself on the links between the conditions of knowledge-production there and other places (including Kashmir) that became embedded in the same imperialist webs in large part through the infrastructure and resources of the US university, while at the same time attending to the historical, cultural, and political specificities of each place.   

All of us who work in/on occupied territories – even those of us who do not have explicit ties to state actors – should not be surprised when our presence and practices are scrutinized by people and communities who are keenly aware of the way that “research” and “researchers” have historically reinforced and enabled colonial violence. An analogous situation in the context of Okinawa would invite a similar fear like the one that Kashmiri scholars and activists have voiced. Since the CGS statement has only been temporarily taken down (with significant dissent even after what I described above), I hope that future discussions and programmatic resources can further the campus community’s knowledge, including my own, about ongoing struggles for freedom in Kashmir. 

1 Leave alone suffering Kashmiris – many from rural areas and from socioeconomically-oppressed circumstances – who seek help in the only Public Psychiatric Diseases Hospital in Kashmir, even the few Kashmiri psychiatrists practicing in Europe or the US who were contacted, all concede the immense harm done to the patients, the medical practitioners, and to Kashmiris at large, by the unethical research practices of someone working without full disclosure, neither trained as a psychiatrist nor a psychologist, but none want to risk releasing their names for genuine fear of repercussions to their immediate family members living under Indian Occupation.

Wendy Matsumura

%d bloggers like this: