UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the public organization responsible for managing research funding in the UK, has faced criticism for its meek response to government pressure to silence academics who hold opinions contrary to the official government stance. UKRI swiftly suspended an entire diversity panel in response to this pressure, leading to an open letter of protest signed by approximately 3000 academics and a wave of resignations from various panels and committees. The University and College Union (UCU) reacted strongly, stating, “This is a pivotal moment in higher education. We are under attack. Our colleagues are under attack. Our profession is under attack.” Indeed, one must consider the chilling effect this can have on free speech for academics who do not align with the government’s position, particularly those in a vulnerable position. The question arises: What comes next?
Cancel culture is alive and well. I received this heartbreaking message from an Early Career Researcher from one of the less represented regions of the world. The message inspired me to repost my thoughts on the unfolding tragedy in the Middle East. This is what the message said:
“I’m disappointed by the silence of academics who are vocal about crises in other parts of the world. And disheartened to the point that I have decided never to pursue academia. A dear friend of mine lost 3 of her children in Gaza.
THANK YOU for being a voice for numerous innocent civilians, including Israelis. Your advocacy has been inspiring, especially in the realm of science. I had the pleasure of working with one of your students, who held you in high regard. Your shared values have left a lasting impression on her, and you stand out as the only academic I know who bravely supports innocent civilians. Thank you for your courage and support. I will always remember that. And many young scientists like myself will remember that too.”
“It’s not a political message. It’s humanity. I want peace in this world. That’s it.” @Ons_Jabeur
Your duty is to watch Wajib
In the midst of the current events, I decided to rewatch Wajib (Arabic: واجب Wājib, “Duty”), a satirical movie by the talented Palestinian filmmaker and author Annemarie Jacir. I encourage you to watch it as well and to recognize that, regardless of the circumstances, everyone still wakes up each morning and carries on with their daily lives (at least until their lives are shattered by terrorism or their city is devastated by bombs).
‘Wajib’ is surprisingly more lighthearted than one might anticipate because, as the film illustrates, life must persist despite the tragic context of father-son relations and local politics. As Nigel Andrews wrote for the Financial Times:
“Someone gets bitten by a parrot. Someone else breaks a momentous taboo. All human life is here. All inhuman life too; if we count, and Jacir does, a society that can generously cater to every human union except one between its principal races.”
The term ‘Wajib’ translates to ‘duty.’ Our duty is to rise above the turmoil and embrace human rights and dignity. Neglecting this duty lies at the core of all our problems.
I have a dream
A number of friends and colleagues, each with their unique perspectives, have wondered why I haven’t publicly commented on the recent tragic events in the Middle East. Truth be told, I’ve been grappling with how to broach this incredibly sensitive topic without inadvertently stoking more anger and hatred. After much contemplation, these words represent my attempt to address these tragic events.
First and foremost, my heartfelt condolences and sympathy go out to all those who have endured the horrors of this tragedy. There are far too many victims, spanning generations. It’s important to recognize that events didn’t have to unfold in this way, and it’s almost impossible to fathom the emotional toll it takes on those directly affected.
I firmly reject and condemn any loss of life, especially when it involves innocent civilians who had no say in chosing where they were born. Additionally, I cannot condone any overtly racist or prejudiced remarks, which become even more unsettling when they emanate from those in positions of power. The horror we witness is undeniably real, and it stems from the actions of extremists on all sides. However, it’s crucial not to lose sight of our shared humanity and refrain from dehumanizing entire groups of people.
Our unwavering obligation — our ‘wajib’ — is to transcend these divides and recommit ourselves to upholding the fundamental values of human rights and dignity. That’s my dream.
I’m grateful friends and colleagues for inspiring these thoughts. This post was written with assistance from ChatGPT.
This article is available on a CC-BY license via Zenodo. Cite as: Kamoun, S. (2023). Wajib — Our duty. Zenodo. https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.10067016