Darin Barney comments on recent controversies
On Thursday June 30, 2013, McGill University will confer an honorary doctorate on American philosopher Judith Butler. For many of us who work and study at McGill, and for many others who look to universities such as McGill for moral leadership, this will be a tremendous day, a day when -- even if for only a brief, symbolic moment -- it will seem as if the university is what we imagine it to be in our fondest hopes: a place where thought that is fearless in its devotion to justice is not only tolerated, but honoured.
Judith Butler, Professor in the Departments of Rhetoric and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley, is a tower of contemporary social and political thought. Her work -- in several books over two decades--on gender, sex, sexuality, queerness, feminism, bodies, political speech and ethics has changed the way scholars all over the world think, talk and write about identity, subjectivity, power and politics. It has also has changed the lives of countless people whose bodies, genders, sexualities and desires have made them subject to violence, exclusion and oppression, by lending recognition, dignity and power to their experience, and by illuminating the contours of an ethics in which we might begin to live well with, and because of, the differences that constitute us. That McGill will recognize her with an honorary degree gives hope to many of us whose faith in the university has been challenged in recent years.
But not everyone feels this way.
Professor Butler, who is Jewish, is an outspoken critic of the state of Israel's treatment of the Palestinian people and its occupation of disputed territories, and a supporter of the international campaign to use Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions as means to pressure the Israeli government to end the occupation and extend equal rights and reparations to unlawfully displaced Palestinian citizens. This has prompted Hillel McGill and McGill Students for Israel to issue a letter of protest calling on the McGill administration to reconsider its decision to honour Professor Butler. Their position has been supported in a recent editorial by Barbara Kay in the National Post and in a post to the Open Zion blog by McGill History Professor Gil Troy. [Read More]
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