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How the hate mob tried to silence me
December 2017 / January 2018


Two petitions gathered 16,000 signatures and more were coming in all the time. In part, such virtual flash mobs are becoming part of the discursive landscape of contemporary society. Much of this, I suspect, had nothing to do with me, my article, or even the question of colonialism. Powerful memes are used these days to generate data on users and to direct them to products and services. While my article was not click-bait, the response to it was.

Yet these were not just trolls and bots. They included hundreds of tenured professors at universities in Western countries whose professional and institutional charters insist on the protection of academic freedom and vigorous debate, especially when it comes to challenging orthodoxies. Indeed, these were for the most part the sort of people who spend their time looking everywhere for “hegemony” and insisting on the need for heterodox voices. Yet here they were with Pravda-like ferocity insisting on the completeness of their hegemony and the need to punish dissenting voices.

Noam Chomsky stepped in with a call for rebuttal not retraction. Yet his tolerance was too much for some. For a taste of the fanaticism, consider the following excerpt from an essay entitled “Moral paralysis in American academia” written for the Al-Jazeera website by Hamid Dabashi, the Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University:

[Chomsky] has as usual refused to denounce Bruce Gilley, offering his habitual bourgeois hogwash that the professor has the right to say what he said and that he too publishes things that offend people. This, of course, is highbrow gibberish — shifting the issue to the domain of censorship and freedom of speech . . . [Gilley] must be ostracised, publicly shamed and humiliated, and never ever called “a colleague” who should be politely invited for a “civilised debate”. Against that “civilised” gathering of morally compromised scholars, I will proudly form a band of barbarian dissidents.

I encourage anyone concerned with liberal society to read his entire screed: it sends chills down the spine to think that a major US university employs a person with such hostile views about a free society. It is incitement by any other name.

It was that sort of language that made me briefly lose confidence, apologise on my website, and ask the journal to withdraw the article. This was an act of self-censorship. It is what grovelling teachers did in the Cultural Revolution, hurriedly writing obsequious letters of contrition and hoping to survive. Fortunately, TWQ publisher Taylor & Francis is party to the UK’s Committee on Publication Ethics that prevents retraction for political reasons. I was grateful when they saved me from self-censoring. As a scholar of China, my teaching of the Cultural Revolution will never be the same. Taking my family out of Portland and over the Cascade Mountains for a holiday in central Oregon, I felt like Captain von Trapp leading his family out of fascist Austria into Switzerland.

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Wil
July 23rd, 2018
3:07 PM
@sam butler great blog. @Bruce Gilley: hero. You sir have given me a new direction in life. A new respect for my ancestors and myself. I am a proud barbarian and I will build the hoard. Fear us.

Anonymous
January 6th, 2018
5:01 PM
According to the journal website the article went through double blind peer review. HELLER DOES NOT MENTION THIS IN HIS COMMENT ABOVE.

Prof. Kevin Heller
December 27th, 2017
11:12 AM
Not surprisingly, the author fails to mention that, according to the 15 members of TWQ's Editorial Board that resigned, the article did not pass peer review, but was in fact rejected by three separate reviewers, including one that was given the essay after it had already been rejected by the editors of the Special issue in question.

Prof. Kevin Jon Heller
December 27th, 2017
8:12 AM
Call me crazy, but ignoring all of the substantive criticism of the essay and arguing "some of my best friends are colonial peoples" might not be the most effective rhetorical strategy.

Sam Butler
December 20th, 2017
3:12 PM
I'm grateful to Bruce Gilley for his bravery. Here's a minor contribution to the debate: https://heresyblog.weebly.com/home/the-more-the-maorier

Lawrence Jamess
December 5th, 2017
8:12 AM
I have encountered many Indians who appreciate the value of British rule. Its denigrators are most Indian academics who have created a cosy myth of a stable progressive pre-imperial sib-continent. One assumes, perhaps wickedly, that they would be happy to see the return of dacoits, the cults of thagi and sati, and the rule of a Muslim dynasty,

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