How to open a panel on “Global IR“ at the ISA General Conference under the conditions of a “Muslim ban”?
This article is part of the TRAFO series “Doing Global International Relations”.
by Felix Anderl
As a part of this blog series on “Doing Global International Relations” (IR), we have organized a panel on this year’s International Studies Association’s (ISA) General Conference in Baltimore. Our panel is titled “Global IR: Yes, but how?” The abstract promises to “[bring] together concrete proposals on how to make IR more global so as to enlarge our understanding of how to research IR in a multiplex world.” I have the honor to chair this endeavor. However, between the time we planned this event and now, the world seems significantly changed by the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States, and especially by his decision to ban immigrants, dual nationals and US residents with citizenships from seven Muslim-majority countries – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen – from entering the United States of America. Under this condition, I use this blog article as a documentation of my unfinished search for an adequate way to deal with the situation, and an opening statement for the panel.
Exclusion as initial position
What used to feel a little awkward, now feels like a striking symbol of privilege and misrepresentation: as a white German PhD student I am granted 1500€ by the German Academic Exchange Service (Thank you, guys!) in order to fly to Baltimore and, among other things, open a panel on “Global IR” – most likely without any problems at the immigration desk, while others are physically excluded from even participating. We could debate whether this form of exclusion is a new form in type or only by degree, since many scholars from the global South, and also from less privileged departments in the global North, have always been excluded on financial grounds (see here). However, the “Muslim ban” brings a new immediacy with it, and it is the first time (that I’m aware of) that people from a list of specific countries are explicitly denied to participate.
While identifying and pointing out exclusionary mechanisms plays a prominent role in the diverse approaches that are referred to with the term “global IR”, the situation at this year’s ISA General Conference is thus of a new quality and brings with it a sense of urgency. While more or less subtle financial, discursive and symbolic mechanisms of exclusion have always been the targets of our criticism, and the foil on which our approach to a more global IR was grounded, this violent and physical exclusion may even suspend our question (“Yes, but how?”). To put it bluntly: attempting to become more global while the list of participants is categorically becoming less global may be seen as futile and even cynical. The only thing that seems clear to me is that the empirical condition around which the heterogeneous “global IR” coalition has formed during the last years has become so crystal clear now that everyone should be able to finally see the problem: Exclusion is our initial position and the one in which our panel – alas the whole discipline – is grounded.
From a weak ISA response towards a refutation of Trump’s policies
The ISA leadership has received a number of different requests to respond to the situation. While some requested that the conference be cancelled or moved to Canada, others asked the organizers to at least give out a statement declaring that an International Studies Convention cannot reasonably take place while large parts of international colleagues are not allowed to participate. Who should speak out against the isolationist and racist policies if not the IR community, one should wonder.
A first response came, but it was not very powerful. In an email, the ISA leadership wrote to all participants that “those who are denied a visa or entry (even with a visa) to the United States for the convention will have their registration fees refunded” and that no penalties will be taken against them. The email also argued against a boycott and, finally, stated that
“ISA is a 501c3 non-profit Association, which prevents the Association from taking partisan stands on policy issues.”
Others have already pointed out in more detail that this is a decidedly weak statement. Charli Carpenter has argued, that “no penalties” for the ones affected is far from an adequate response. Apart from the handling of affected participants, the ISA should also use its discursive power and reputation and politically state how inacceptable a “Muslim ban” is for their work – and in general. In an open letter to the ISA leadership by Meera Sabaratnam and others (a similar one had been written by Robert Keohane), it is therefore argued that
“We do not accept that the ISA’s 501(c)3 non-profit status prevents it from opposing this discriminatory policy. We note that other scholarly associations, such as the American Anthropological Association and the Middle East Studies Association, have condemned the discriminatory nature of the Executive Order and called for its repeal. We further note the principled engagement of the Middle East Studies Association on a wide range of academic freedom issues globally.”
These protests, alongside seemingly endless chains of email conversations, were quickly effective in that ISA leadership put out a second statement. On January 31, they circulated an email in which it announced the creation of two additional roundtables on the issue of academic freedom and made a more political claim:
“ISA strongly condemns any action by any government which prevents the free movement of scholars engaged in research on international affairs, or any other scholarly discipline. Indeed, the charter of the Academic Freedom Committee of the ISA includes the following language: “The Committee will document such violations as: government revocation of academic degrees; demotion or dismissal; denial of a petition to emigrate, travel abroad or return to one’s country of origin; and arrest, arbitrary detention, disappearance, and extrajudicial killing.”
How to deal with the situation?
Drafting an opening statement to our common panel, it also seems to me that the time to hide is now over and that we should act in response to policies that do not only contradict the values of many scholars, but actively undermine the possibility to work properly; this is especially so if we understand IR as a global discipline, both intellectually (what and how are we researching?) and with regard to its practice (who researches? for whom? and with what purpose?).
Agreeing on the necessity to do something is always easier than doing something. My first idea was to cancel the panel on the grounds outlined above. However, in how far does it help to cancel one of the panels that actively try to make a difference in favor of excluded positions, while the others will probably not cancel theirs? Maybe we should use the panel, get to know our potential partners, and speak out. My first attempt to deal with the situation was therefore a clumsy paragraph in an email I sent to the participants:
“I really hope that none of you run into visa troubles because of the current political situation. There have been discussions as to whether it is an appropriate response to boycott the ISA General Conference because of Trump’s decision to ban people from specific (“Muslim”) countries. Although this remains each and everyone’s political decision, I would like to use this opportunity to say that our panel might be an occasion to speak out against, and create alliances in the face of, a political agenda that does not seem to vanish very soon. It is all the more important now to highlight the need for a more global discipline. Maybe we can play an – albeit small – part in that conversation.”
I was happy to immediately receive replies by the fellow participants who also think that now more than ever, we need to strengthen our efforts in favor of a more global discipline. But probably it’s not enough to do what we always intended to do and adding a “now more than ever”.
An Invitation and a challenge
Therefore, I would like to open our panel by explicitly inviting all the participants, active and passive, to think more globally together. This invitation is a challenge at the same time. What does that mean? Let me start by saying what I think it definitely shouldn’t mean. The worst possible action would be to assume that as part of this panel (or as writer of this blog series) we are already “(more) global”, while others are not. Such complacency would be more than counter-productive for our common endeavor.
Since the panel takes place on the last day of the conference, it is hard to make any concrete proposals now; but we will make space for taking up political actions that were started the days before. A number of initiatives are unquestionably going to take place. We should not presume with a business-as-usual-approach but use the convention in order to form a strong statement that may lead to a relocation of the 2018 General Conference. Such a position is, for instance, being developed in the International Political Sociology email list.
At the very least, “doing global IR” means to continually challenge ourselves and our assumptions about how we do our work, and how we position ourselves in the global discipline. Therefore, I would like to invite you to commonly think about IR in more global terms. As our many blog articles in this series so far have repeatedly pointed out, this goal is not reached by simply expanding our geographical knowledge about other places in the world; it also means challenging the means of knowledge production that we have been applying – and to do so continuously. It also means being militantly inclusive and outspoken on exclusionary mechanisms, be they academic or in the world ‘out there’. In our current situation, this means to clearly take a political stance against discriminatory action. For a more global IR, we need free movement of people and ideas. The contributions to this panel show that it is possible to bridge divides of geography, history, and discipline. Let’s not assume that this is a given.
Felix Anderl is a doctoral researcher at the Cluster of Excellence Normative Orders at Goethe-University Frankfurt. He obtained degrees in Political Science and History (B.A.) from Freiburg University and „International Relations: Global Governance and Social Theory“ (M.A.) from Jacobs University and the University of Bremen. Felix works in a research project on opposition and dissidence in the anti-globalization movement. His research focuses on the transnational contestation and critique of governance norms and the interaction of formal institutions with protest movements. Felix currently works on a PhD project, in which he analyzes how the World Bank reacts to transnational resistance. In his latest publication (Review of International Organizations), he investigates „the myth of the local“ in development organizations.
Further Readings on TRAFO:
Antonia Witt, Felix Anderl, Stefan Kroll, Philip Wallmeier (2016), Clues, Careers, and Curricula – Doing Global International Relations, TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research.
Amitav Acharya (2016), Developing Global International Relations: What, Who, and How?, TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research.
Anthoni van Nieuwkerk (2016), Reflections on (not so) International Relations … and what scholars from the Global South can do about it, TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research.
Frank Mattheis (2016), New metres for a wider world: interregionalism and Global International Relations, TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research.
Catherine Baker (2016), South-East European Studies in the ‘House of International Relations’, TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research.
Amaya Querejazu (2016), Andean Cosmovision and Global Governanc, TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research.
Tim Rühlig (2016), Is there a Chinese understanding of International Relations?, TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research.
Jochen Kleinschmidt (2016), Global IR and Academic Authorship in Latin America: Why Inclusion Is Not a Panacea, TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research.
Anna Grindle (2016), Global Learning in Northern Ireland: Challenges, Successes and Opportunities, TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research.
Study Abroad: You don’t always get what you paid for – Interview with Natalia Lombana, TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research.
Pinar Bilgin (2017), A Global International Relations Take on the ‘Immigrant Crisis’, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research.
Citation: Felix Anderl, How to open a panel on “Global IR“ at the ISA General Conference under the conditions of a “Muslim ban”?, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 01.02.2017, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/5817