New York University links to UAE dictatorship

This 18 September 2017 Gulf Human Rights Committee video says about itself:

Short film about human rights abuses by the government of the UAE against democracy activists, foreign businessmen, and their families.

By Josh Varlin in the USA:

New York University faculty defends academic freedom against NYU’s ties to UAE

8 December 2018

Dozens of New York University faculty gathered December 3 in a forum to voice their concerns over the NYU administration’s response to the case of Matthew Hedges, a British academic who was imprisoned for months in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on trumped-up charges. Despite an open letter —presently signed by 224 faculty, staff and PhD students—demanding NYU President Andrew Hamilton condemn Hedges’s arrest and take measures to secure academic freedom, NYU continues to cover for the UAE government.

Given NYU’s role in the UAE, where it has a degree-granting campus in Abu Dhabi (NYUAD), the silence of the administration amounts to complicity. The UAE gave $50 million to the construction of the NYUAD campus, and a high-ranking member of the UAE government sits on the NYU Board of Trustees. His fellow board members are an ignominious group of New York City multimillionaires and billionaires, including several who sit on the boards of imperialist think tanks like the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

After an international outcry, including the NYU faculty letter, Hedges was hastily pardoned and allowed to the leave the UAE. He has since explained to the Telegraph that after he was sentenced, he was interrogated yet again, prompting suicidal ideation. While he was imprisoned, his captors administered both tranquilizers and stimulants to him without proper medical supervision, leaving Hedges suffering from withdrawal symptoms in the UK.

At the faculty forum, titled “NYU, UAE, & Academic Freedom”, three faculty members who had experience with NYUAD and the UAE government spoke, followed by contributions from the floor. The common theme was that academic freedom was anything but sacrosanct in both the UAE and at NYUAD, and that the NYU administration is fully aware yet continues to claim otherwise.

The first of the main speakers was Lauren Minsky, assistant professor of history, who taught at NYUAD from its opening in 2010 until this year. She was followed by Andrew Ross, professor of Social and Cultural Analysis and director of American Studies, who was barred from the UAE in 2015 due to his research on labor conditions in the country. Arang Keshavarzian, associate professor of Middle Eastern Studies, was the last of the main speakers. Keshavarzian was denied a security clearance by the UAE last year and was therefore unable to teach in the country.

While the arrest of Hedges was a nodal point in the attacks on academic freedom by the UAE, it was hardly the first time academics had been harassed for their work by the federation of sheikdoms. Minsky provided a timeline of the sordid NYU-UAE “partnership”, including how NYU walked back on promises of academic freedom shortly after the campus began operations by creating a facile distinction between academic freedom and freedom of speech.

Minsky described how, after her arrival in the UAE, she noticed how the boxes containing her research materials had been opened and everything was in disarray. “They had clearly gone through everything”, she noted. Some of her husband’s English- and Hebrew-language books were confiscated. She described extensive “direct harassment of faculty teaching at NYU Abu Dhabi”, Minsky noted that she was followed for hours in her car—with her infant on board—by an unmarked vehicle that she believes was associated with the regime’s security services.

Harassment has only escalated over the past couple of years, Minsky told the meeting, with the campus suddenly declared a “public space” by the government. All public events that people unaffiliated with NYU could attend had to be approved. “From my perspective, it’s almost like the [UAE] government is taking over the institution, and I don’t say that lightly”, she explained.

Ross emphasized that genuine academic freedom extends to speech that is critical of university administrations and extends beyond the walls of the university. “One of the duties or obligations of our profession’s members is to share our knowledge and opinions with the public”, he said.

The secrecy around the Memorandum of Understanding between NYU and the UAE—which has never been made public—was the “original sin” of NYUAD he said: “The ‘original sin’ of non-transparency determined the character of these operations from there on. … That original sin has made it all the more likely that something very, very bad will happen sooner rather than later at NYU Abu Dhabi. And in my mind that’s almost a certainty.”

Ross also noted that this was hardly exclusive to NYUAD, referencing how Israeli law now prohibits entry to members of pro-Palestinian groups, including groups with an organizational presence at NYU. Thus, it isn’t legally possible for all NYU students to study at NYU Tel Aviv, something also noted by a subsequent student speaker of Palestinian origin.

Keshavarzian stressed that the UAE was an absolutist monarchy from its founding in 1971 through to NYU’s decision to construct a liberal arts college in the country, and remains so today. However, the UAE’s authoritarianism made NYUAD possible, including the brutal exploitation of labor to construct the campus. “NYU entered into this arrangement because of the UAE’s illiberal system, not despite it”, Keshavarzian explained.

Regarding the denial of his security clearance in 2017, Keshavarzian asked: “Was I denied entry because I was born in Iran and I was asked to identify myself as a Shiite Muslim, or was I denied entry because of what I teach, research or write? I do not know, and allegedly the UAE government won’t tell NYU. … If it was the former, then it is a simple case of discrimination based on my ethnicity; if it is the later, it is a simple and gross violation of academic freedom.”

The general response of the NYU administration to faculty having their academic freedom and democratic rights restricted by the UAE was to sweep it under the rug. Keshavarzian noted that most of the communication with him regarding his security clearance denial came in the form of phone calls rather than e-mails, and that Hamilton “has never once picked up the telephone to talk to me, or Mohamad [Bazzi, another professor denied a security clearance by the UAE in 2017].”

The three speakers were followed by contributions from the floor. While the faculty had invited members of the administration, including Hamilton and Provost Katherine Fleming, they did not attend.

Toward the end of the discussion, John Archer, a professor of English and one of the organizers behind the open letter to Hamilton, proposed a motion that was amended and then supported overwhelmingly in a resolution that called on the NYU administration to “uphold the principles of academic freedom at NYU’s global sites and protect anyone who has experienced explicit threats to their academic freedom and personal safety” and to make public NYU’s Memorandum of Understanding with the UAE.

The resolution proposed a monitoring committee of faculty, staff and students. independent of the NYU administration, to oversee these demands and to create a secure whistleblowing website that would air “concerns about threats to or violations of academic freedom, violations of policies regarding labor, and the like” by the UAE government.

A representative of the International Youth and Students for Social Equality addressed the meeting at the end and stressed how the UAE is cracking down on academic freedom during its bloody intervention in Yemen and how attacks on democratic rights are taking place internationally—including the repression of the French “yellow vest” protests and the attacks on immigrants at the US-Mexico border. If democratic rights are to be defended at NYU and elsewhere, it must be based on an international strategy oriented to the working class, he stressed.

The IYSSE at NYU will discuss these issues at its next meeting, “NYU Administration Backs the UAE: The Way Forward to Defend Academic Freedom”, which will be on Tuesday, December 11 , at 6:30 p.m. in room 910 of the Kimmel Center at NYU. Faculty, students, staff and others seeking a socialist strategy to defend democratic rights are invited to attend.


Prude rich censorship attempt of Barbie doll art

This satiric video says about itself:

Music video by Aqua performing Barbie Girl. (C) 1997 Universal Music (Denmark) A/S.

The Mattel corporation did not like that parody of their Barbie doll product, and sued. However, United States courts including the Supreme Court decided that the song was part of free speech.

Mattel has since released a promotional music video of the song (with modified lyrics) on the official Barbie web site in 2009, as part of a marketing strategy brought in to revive sales.

Now, there is a new attack on Barbie dolls in art. This time not by Mattel, but by prude rich people in Rotterdam city in the Netherlands.

Translated from Dutch daily Algemeen Dagblad today:

At a primary school in Rotterdam a riot has broken out about the spare time activity of a teacher. Parents keep their children at home because they find the art made by the teacher – sexy Barbies – indecent.

By Jitske-Sophie Venema

The Rotterdam School Association has two primary schools in Rotterdam. The parental financial contribution here is more than ten times as high as average at 760 euros, more than half of the pupils get the advice to continue at the highest level of secondary education and culture is of paramount importance.

So, very probably, this prude minority of parents now attacking a teacher for making art in her spare time are much richer than average parents in Rotterdam. They may well be the same kind of person as billionaire Silvio Berlusconi in Italy. Berlusconi, who publicly censors eighteenth century art for showing a woman’s breast (not even a real mortal woman’s breast, the breast of the goddess of Truth). Meanwhile, Berlusconi had sex with a child prostitute. They may well be the same kind of person as billionaire Donald Trump in the USA. Trump, who uses religious Right theocratic ideas about ‘propriety’ for moving towards dictatorship. And who, meanwhile, privately, treats women like dirt.

Yet there is a fierce discussion on art here.

The teacher of the fifth grade is an artist outside school. On her Facebook page, scantily dressed Barbie dolls can be seen, set in challenging poses. The plastic blondes kiss each other,

‘Oh, how horrible!’ these anti-Barbie art parents think; ‘children getting to know that some girls don’t fall in love in boys, but with other girls‘. P.S. They won’t get to know that from their teacher, as she makes the Barbie doll art IN HER SPARE TIME and exhibits it IN HER SPARE TIME. She does not bring it to the classroom.

bend over in a translucent negligée or have a star on their bare buttocks. These images drive some parents of fifth grade students nuts. “It is not normal for a teacher to have this kind of images?” they scream in an anonymously sent e-mail. The parents even think that the teacher is a suspect of child porn,

Yeah, right. Good grief! A lesson in three steps: 1. A doll is not a child. 2. The Barbie dolls do not depict children, but young adult, often professional, women. 3. If the parents want to criticize purveyors of child porn, they should not attack that teacher, but their fellow right-wingers among the Roman Catholic clergy; among the Protestant religious Right in the USA; among Jehovah’s witnesses, etc.

demand that the management intervene and do not want to send their child to school until that time.

School director Per Severin sees this happening indeed. “The exact number of children staying at home differs per day, but there are more than five”, he sighs. In order to cope with the situation, he has now called in the help of the Education Inspectorate and the municipality. “This is an excellent teacher with a long service record. What my teachers do in their private lives is not my business and certainly not that of the children – unless the private activities clash with our school principles. In this respect, these artworks are okay. Facebook has never labeled them as offensive, even though they are very strict in such matters.”

… “Of course, there can be discussions about art. But even if the majority would find these works of art repulsive, that does not mean that I will take away a teacher away from her class.”

Anti-democratic far-right education in Michigan, USA

This video from the USA says about itself:

Changing the Rules of What’s Taught in Schools: Is America a Democracy?

18 June 2018

In this video, I dissect the changes made to the social studies curriculum that have made news headlines this past week in the state of Michigan.

If you are in Michigan and want to voice your opinion about the changes, you can voice your opinion online here

By Walter Gilberti in the USA:

Teacher hostility grows to Michigan Department of Education’s curriculum changes

20 August 2018

Anger over proposed changes in the social studies curriculum by the Michigan Department of Education’s (MDE) curriculum standards panel continues to spread among teachers in the state. On August 9, about a hundred teachers and parents attended one of a dozen “Listen and Learn” town hall-style meetings called by the MDE to discuss these changes.

As a result of backlash against the proposed standards, six more meetings will take place statewide through September. A final draft of the curriculum will [be] voted on by the State Board of Education.

As in the previous gatherings, those attending the Ann Arbor meeting added their voices to the sense of anger and dismay over the character of the curriculum changes, as well as the intervention of a cabal of Republican state legislators, led by the extreme right-wing state Senator Patrick Colbeck (Seventh District), who insinuated themselves into the process of determining what teachers teach and what will be tested on statewide mandatory exams.

Colbeck and his team were actually invited to attend the standards panel deliberations, and quickly proceeded to push through a far-reaching proposed standard that essentially rewrites history, expunges the crimes of U.S imperialism, minimizes the struggle for democratic rights, and places in jeopardy the ability of teachers and students to inquire about the nature of historical truth.

The proposed omissions eviscerate teaching about the revolutionary character of the democratic rights proclaimed in the Constitution and Bill of Rights, the founding documents of the American Revolution. Under the proposed standards, examples of the Constitution’s core values no longer include equality, rule of law, unalienable rights, social compact theory and the right of revolution.

Likewise, examples of rights guaranteed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights no longer include the freedom of religion, freedom of expression and freedom of the press. Everywhere they previously appeared, the words “separation of church and state” are removed. These references or “examples” are literally struck out of the text, which means that educators will no longer be required to mention them.

Perhaps, the most telling item among the curriculum changes, and the one that has galvanized the most opposition to this new and reactionary attempt at sanitizing American history, has been the removal of the word “democratic” from the phrase “core democratic values” traditionally at the center of the study of civics and US history in Michigan public schools.

Colbeck, a major recipient of campaign contributions from the billionaire family of federal Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, fraudulently claims that the removal of the word “democratic” is in the interests of “balance” and “political neutrality”, and that it should be emphasized that the United States was established as a republic rather than as a democracy.

This is in keeping with the ultra-right revision of history, in which the American Revolution is presented, not as a struggle for democracy and popular sovereignty against aristocracy and privilege, but as the establishment of a republic in which the guarantee of property rights—including property in slaves—was the principal goal.

The new standards downplay references to crimes committed by U.S. imperialism. References to its seizure of colonial possessions are removed, as is any reference to one of the monstrous war crimes of the twentieth century, the nuclear annihilation of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War Two.

The powers-that-be also want no mention of “US military missions in Lebanon, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo and the Gulf War.” While it is permissible to discuss “the attacks on 9/11 and the response to terrorism” the curriculum removes “wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.” In other words, young people whose entire lives have been dominated by US wars of aggression should not be taught this history!

The proposed standards came under withering criticism for their proposal to severely reduce the study of the US civil rights movement. The new proposal eliminated mention of freedom riders, the Montgomery bus boycott and the Black Panthers, for example. An entire appendix, page 136 of the proposed curriculum, which references the growth of industrial America and the mass migration of southern blacks to the North to seek jobs in the burgeoning industries and escape Jim Crow segregation, is eliminated. The deleted appendix also includes a section on women’s suffrage. Ironically, Michigan was one of the first states to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution giving women the right to vote.

Other deletions remove any mention of LGBTQ rights, climate change and Roe v Wade, the Supreme Court decision which legalized abortion.

The utter bankruptcy of the process by which the curriculum is being altered to appease these arch reactionaries in the state legislature was not lost on those attending the Ann Arbor meeting, despite assurances from the panel that their “voices would be heard.” During the course of the hour-long discussion that followed the submission of questions, many spoke eloquently and angrily over the attack on democratic values, and their utter distrust of the MDE panel.

In fact, the question and answer period that preceded the open discussion was constantly being interrupted by comments of disapproval from those in attendance. One teacher commented, “The concern of many in this room is that the focus group was hijacked.”

Another admonished the panel. “We feel that the whole process is flawed. We don’t understand why we are sitting here. Your group was involved with the process, but then a second group comes in that is politically motivated. Why was that allowed?”

“Process here matters a lot … it seems like a hyper-partisan way to decide what we teach our children.”

When the open discussion commenced a retired Detroit teacher and supporter of the Socialist Equality Party told the audience. “The problem here is that the word ‘democratic’ has already been removed from the phrase. It is now “core values”. The word is not in parentheses. It is not in quotes. It is gone. How is this not being presented by the panel as a fait accompli?” He called for a fight to overturn the curriculum changes, explaining that these democratic rights were not simply given, they had to be fought for.

Susan, a parent, commented, “I’m white. This is not a whitewash of history. It is a lie. These standards are a lie. My ancestors settled at Plymouth, and were involved in the Pequot massacre … One was a slave trader, while others fought on the side of the North in the Civil War … But when you put in these changes, you are erasing their history, and my history. The fact that I am white does not mean I want this history erased.”

Rachel, a political science teacher and lawyer, described the intervention of Colbeck and his ilk as “the 2018 version of book burning. One set of beliefs from an isolated group that wants to bring back racism. Because of how this went down, no one has confidence in your process.”

And elderly Catholic nun explained, “I have a very strong affinity for democratic ideals. Our government is a republic, but what about those democratic ideals. We have had to fight for them. I worked in Detroit for many years, and I feel that we still have to fight for these ideals. Someone else is not supposed to make up our core values.”

The contributions of many of the speakers at this meeting in defense of historical truth along with deeply held egalitarian notions regarding democratic rights were in sharp contrast to the general indifference of local and state Democratic politicians. While some local Democrats have attacked the proposed curriculum, and the Democratic members of Michigan Board of Education have vowed to vote against it, it is notable that this right-wing attack on teachers, parents and students has not elicited a response from Michigan’s principal Democratic Party elected officials in Washington, Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, or the Party’s candidate for Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

In opposition to both capitalist parties, supporters of the Socialist Equality Party candidate for the US House of Representatives in the 12th District, Niles Niemuth, distributed campaign material outside the meeting and received a warm response. Thus far, Niemuth’s Democratic opponent, the incumbent Representative Debbie Dingell, has also been silent on the proposed curriculum changes.

Ever-increasing social inequality in the United States is incompatible with democratic forms of rule: here.