Almost 3,000 academics from around the world have signed a petition calling for a boycott of conferences held in the US, in solidarity with academic staff affected by President Trump's travel ban.
On Friday, Trump signed an executive order limiting travel to the US for citizens of seven countries – Somalia, Libya, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, and Yemen. People who hold passports from one of those countries have had to cancel trips to the States – or, in some cases, have been held in detention at airports. Thousands of students and academics have been affected.
An international group of academics calling itself Educators not Informants has since put together a petition online titled "In Solidarity with People Affected by the ‘Muslim Ban’: Call for an Academic Boycott of International Conferences held in the US".
Dr Nadine El-Enany, a law lecturer at Birkbeck, University of London, and one of the academics behind the petition, told BuzzFeed News that horror at the executive order had driven the group to create the petition. "It was a feeling of revulsion and shock and disgust – but not a feeling of surprise – at the ban," she said. "At the realisation of the effect it was having on so many people."
She said that the actions of the new Trump administration meant it was "no longer business as usual". "Realistically, we're dealing with a fascist administration," she said. "The presence of the alt-right and the makeup of the Trump team mean we can't be under any illusions as to its true colours."
Dr Zoe Stewart, an academic clinical fellow at Cambridge University and one of the signatories to the petition, told BuzzFeed News: "I signed the letter because I stand in solidarity with Muslim colleagues.
"I don't believe it would be right to use my privilege to cross borders that are closed to many of my colleagues. I believe it is incredibly important that as academics we stand together to support well-researched policies and resist the rise of fascism."
That "resistance" should go beyond the boycott, she said. "International condemnation may not be enough. We want to show support for actual resistance in the US." She stressed that she didn't mean armed resistance but things like "solidarity, people turning up at airports, immigration advice, solidarity with people who have the democratic power to influence power".
Other academics have expressed concern that a boycott could isolate academics affected by the ban who live in the US, as they might be unable to fly to overseas conferences for fear that they wouldn't be allowed back in. Dr Micah Allen, a neuroscientist at University College London, had tweeted that he wouldn't be attending "any scientific conferences that my colleagues are barred from attending". But he told BuzzFeed News that he was conflicted.
He says that he can't "in good conscience" travel "to a conference that my well-qualified colleagues are unethically barred from, without feeling like I am somehow complicit in the normalisation of these blatantly racist policies." He said that clear guidance and leadership from professional bodies – "for example, in my field, the Society for Neuroscience" – is important.
"Since I tweeted, colleagues, particularly those from Iran and other banned countries, expressed immediate solidarity and gratitude with this idea," he said. "But some have also pointed out that this may isolate our Muslim-American colleagues living inside America, who cannot leave to attend foreign conferences without fear of returning."
El-Enany said she was "aware" of the risk, but said: "We asked US academics who were affected by the ban, and they said that any form of resistance is welcome." She said that the boycott was targeted at major conferences, "which are just about networking and career building", not small workshops and events. She pointed to the International Studies Association convention as an example of one they would boycott, saying that its statement released in the wake of the ban was "poor", "weak", and "bland".
"To my mind, these big organisations should be saying business stops until Muslims are allowed access to the country," she said.
Stewart said: "I think international conferences are likely to continue to be held in the US even with this boycott, so it's unlikely the US colleagues will be cut off from the international academic community." She added that with video links, academics can still be included in conferences in other countries.
Some academic bodies have expressed their disapproval of the executive order. The American Association for the Advancement of Science called the ban "contrary to the spirit of science" and said it would "discourage many of the best and brightest international students, scholars, and scientists from studying and working in the United States, or attending academic and scientific conferences".
In the UK, Cambridge University's vice-chancellor said that "when governments seek to curb freedom of movement, we remain committed to the best and brightest from around the world", while Sheffield University began a campaign called #WeAreInternational, opposing "actions in any part of the world which inhibit the ability of students and academics to pursue their studies based on their religion or place of birth".
Dr Nadine El-Enany is one of the authors of the petition. An earlier version of this piece misspelled her name.
Tom Chivers is a science writer for BuzzFeed and is based in London.
Contact Tom Chivers at email@example.com.
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