Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Dr Graves on Hezbollah

Members of the public and the Court heard on the 21st December 2010 that Dr Graves the University of Salford Deputy Vice Chancellor and Mr Ian Austin the lawyer who sits on the University Council as Chair of Audit have both given witness statements to the Court stating Hezbollah is a terrorist organisation. These statements will cause offence to many students and staff at the University. So why have they made such statements and are they true?(1)

Hezbollah are a "terrorist organisation" according to
Deputy Vice Chancellor Dr Adrian Graves*

More considered views of Hezbollah

According to the website of the Council on Foreign Relations based in New York, the organisation Hezbollah 'is a Shiite Muslim political group with a militant wing...' It doesn't give much away but it's a start.

Hezbollah has borne huge social responsibilities since its inception in the early 1980s (Lebanon was occupied by Israeli forces for 18 years from 1982-2000) and in particular after Israel's murderous attack on the Southern Lebanese population in 2006. Hezbollah grass roots activists have sought to provide the bombed out civilian population with food and medicine. According to Gulf News  "[a]way from the war front, Hezbollah runs a sophisticated network of schools, clinics and social services in the Shiite community."(2) A report carried out by the UN in 2006 stated that Hezbollah " boasts an extensive social development program. Hezbollah currently operates at least four hospitals, twelve clinics, twelve schools and two agricultural centres that provide farmers with technical assistance and training. It also has an environmental department and an extensive social assistance program. Medical care is also cheaper than in most of the country's private hospitals and free for Hezbollah members."(3) Does this sound like a dyed in the wool terrorist organisation? Or does it reflect a humanitarian social organisation supported by the people it serves?

According to the UK government and the EU

In 2009, the British government recognised the political wing of Hezbollah and according to Rita Daou of AFP, Hezbollah has not been blacklisted by the European Union as a terrorist organisation. So why on earth do Graves and Austin feel compelled to state that Hezbollah is a terrorist organisation?

Hungary 1956: a terrorist?
Smoke and mirrors

Graves’ statement equating Hezbollah to a terrorist organisation, is designed to distract from the focus of a Rat Catchers article(4) which compares and contrasts the democratic structures of Hezbollah with those of the University. If the University considers that Hezbollah is neither democratic nor participates in the Lebanese democratic process then the University is badly informed. Similarly if the University think that only western countries can practise democracy then as a form of Orientalism, this will be deeply insulting to students not only from Middle Eastern states but from all non-western democracies. More seriously, it was made clear to the court on the 21st December by this writer's representative that many students might consider Graves' statement on Hezbollah  "to have racist undertones." It will be especially noxious to those who support the humanitarian efforts of Hezbollah. But Graves does not pick up the challenge to the democratic structures at the University of Salford. Instead he makes accusations of terrorism. Why?

The politics of the playground?

Well, it’s easier to refute being called a terrorist than it is to enter a debate about democracy and your part in the leadership of a University slipping down the academic rankings. Let us be clear, no one is accusing the University of Salford of being in any way a terrorist organisation or acting like one. It is Austin and Graves who make this absurd surreal comparison because from the depths of their own instincts they realise that they cannot refute critical comparison of democracy within UoS Strategic Leadership Team to Hezbollah. So they lash out with tabloid stereotypes in order to brand their critics. It is an old trick; label your critics as extremists and you can avoid debating your own policies. Such tricks are essentially anti democratic in that they swap analysis for hyperbolic name calling. It is the politics of the playground. Is this the level to which the University have sunk?

Photographs of Lebanese among bombed houses in Srifa, Lebanon, Aug. 2006**
Why considered analysis matters

This is not place to discuss the intricacies of strategic opposition to Israeli aggression in the Occupied Territories or the ongoing humanitarian disaster that is Gaza today. However, any analysis of Middle Eastern politics or of the development and consolidation of organisations such as Hezbollah must be carefully considered, nuanced and consider a variety of factors including those that are political, economic, social and historical. Yet it is clear that Dr Graves chooses to eschew this type of considered material analysis of Hezbollah. What is clear is that the lives of many hundreds of thousands of Lebanese would be unbearable without the intervention of this popular grass roots social movement.

University of Salford - a place where diversity, dissent and free speech must be valued

Students come to the University of Salford from many countries, cultures and backgrounds. This mix of differences fuels democratic debate not just about world affairs but also about how the University conducts itself. It’s good, indeed vital that so many opinions can be freely debated in open democratic forums within the Students' Union, the trade unions, in lecture theatres, seminars and other places. The statements by Austin and Graves are based on ignorance of Hezbollah and will do little to encourage the furtherance of free speech and democratic debate at the University.

If Graves and Austin cannot see they have made an error of judgement in this case then what hope is there for critical debate at the University of Salford?

(1) Taken from notes made during the Court hearing 21st December 2010 at Manchester District Registry and quoted by District Judge Smith from the witness statement of Dr Adrian Graves, Deputy Vice Chancellor University of Salford in the case of University of Salford v Dr Gary Duke
(2) 'Hezbollah's welfare services ensure grass-roots support', August 12 2006, sourced at http://gulfnews.com/news/region/lebanon/hezbollah-s-welfare-services-ensure-grass-roots-support-1.249555
(3)UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (March 29, 2006). "LEBANON: The many hands and faces of Hezbollah" sourced at http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportid=26242

(4) "This latest development would seem to confirm a sneaking suspicion that we rats have had for a while now; that Salford University operates as a state within a state, subject to its own laws, whilst administering its own rule through the most draconian measures...." "...However, this view is far from universal, as some staff over a cup of piping hot coffee in Maxwell Cafeteria, have likened the current rule of the Strategic Leadership Team (SLT) to the Majlis al-Shura of Hezbollah (the Majlis al-Shura is a sort of Consultative Assembly), whereas other more cynical types suggest it is more reflective of the Majlis al-Shura al-Karar, which might be likened to a Deciding Assembly. It is clear however, that using extreme powers of analysis in contrasting and comparing, the much vilified Hezbollah might appear to be more democratic, accountable and transparent than the current ruling regime at Salford...." taken from an excerpt of the Rat Catchers blog contained within the witness statement of A Graves and quoted by District Judge Smith to the Court on 21 December 2010 (public domain).

"By their natural and ordinary meaning and/or by way of innuendo the words complained of are meant to mean that the Strategic Leadership Team, led by Professor Hall and of which I am a member, fail to act according to the rules and regulations of the University and in a manner that can be considered as worse than a terrorist organisation. This is completely untrue. The executive team of the University is subject to the rules and regulations of the University and acts in accordance thereto. The University is also run in accordance with highest standards of corporate governance. The executive team is accountable to the University Council and does not act outside its remit or the rules and regulations of the University." section of witness statement provided by Dr A Graves in the case of University of Salford v Mr Gary Duke, this section read aloud to the Court by District Judge Smith 21 December 2010 (Public domain).

*Picture courtesy of University of Salford 
** Picture courtesy of Lefteris Pitarakis at http://www.lightstalkers.org/images/show/320125

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