Silence is not neutral

This is not a good time to discuss geopolitics

This is not a good time to discuss geopolitics. 

This is not a good time to discuss geopolitics! 

I understand that this is a difficult free-speech moment at universities. But can we talk about humanity? 

I am tiptoeing a thin line between my personal values and professional commitment to research organisations. My research team is trying to understand the roots of the conflict, undergraduate students are trying to find Palestine on the map and then a reason why they should care about events that take place 5,000 km away from them. 

The news is devastating. The loss of life in Israel and Gaza is beyond comprehension. It would feel at least hypocritical to write about anything else, given that I spent countless hours this past week trying to make sense of the media reports, navigating through misinformation and national political agendas, offering moral support to colleagues and friends in Israel, West Bank, and Gaza but also those living in Groningen. Some are grieving, others are waiting for their time to die, while the rest of the world is witnessing humanity at its worst.

Universities in different parts of the world have issued statements in solidarity with Israelis attacked by a terrorist organisation. Others shared statements of support for everyone affected by the war. At the same time, study programmes, departments, and groups of scholars advocate for Palestinians’ right to self-determination and struggle for human rights. Demonstrations within and outside of universities showcase a growing divide that is generating tension and polarisation at different levels. 

Universities do not operate in a vacuum but are intricately woven into social and political realities

Some universities remain silent, pretending to be neutral and apolitical. But why can we not talk about the historical, social, and political contexts of the multi-generational Israel-Palestine conflict? It’s at least naive to think that we can avoid politics; universities do not operate in a vacuum but are intricately woven into social and political realities. 

The university has a crucial role to play not only in educating about the Middle East through its study programmes, but also in facilitating critical dialogues and public debates that foster a broader understanding of complex geo-socio-political issues. Not because the university is expected to take a stance in a political debate, but because it has to nurture respect for differing opinions and support its community in regaining hope in humanity in a time of unimaginable sorrow. 

How? Offer psychological support for everyone who is grieving these days, initiate academic discussions, create platforms for democratic dialogue, design safe spaces, and give voice to researchers in peace studies, Middle Eastern history, political science, and scholars using decolonial theory.

Silence is not neutral. It is a statement that speaks of a reluctance to engage and avoid responsibility for social change. 

LUCY AVRAAMIDOU

Dutch

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