In April 2020, I published an article in the SAFS newsletter, #85, entitled “Uncomfortable Questions: The Bruce Gilley Scandal,” concerning the successful attempt to censor an article by Dr. Bruce Gilley defending colonialism.
I disagreed with much of what Dr. Gilley wrote in that article, but I defended his right to make his argument and have it published.
Dr. Gilley had also been appointed editor of a new series called “Problems of Anti-Colonialism” for Lexington Books, an imprint of Rowman and Littlefield. The first book in this series was to be a biography Gilley himself wrote of Sir Alan Burns, a governor of the Gold Coast (now Ghana). The book was properly reviewed by two other scholars and recommended for publication. Then over a thousand people signed a petition on Change.org against publication of the book. Despite a counter-petition initiated soon after and signed, as of October 8, 2020 by over 4400 people, Rowman and Littlefield “released” Gilley from his contract.
Below is a letter I sent to Ms. Julie Kirsch, the Senior Vice-President and publisher of Rowman and Littlefield, via email on October 8, 2020. As of the date of submission of this article, December 16, 2020, I have received no response. I have added links that were not in the original email, but have not otherwise changed it.
Ms. Julie Kirsch,
Senior Vice-President and Publisher,
Rowman and Littlefield
October 8, 2020
Dear Ms. Kirsch,
I am writing to express my extreme concern to you upon learning that Rowman and Littlefield has cancelled publication of Dr. Bruce Gilley’s book, The Last Imperialist: Sir Alan Burns’ Epic Defense of the British Empire, and has also cancelled his editorship of a new series to be called Problems of Anti-Colonialism.
The reason for this cancellation appears to be a petition on Change.org entitled “Bruce Gilley’s Colonial Apologetics,” organized by one Joshua Moufawad-Paul, who is identified by Wikipedia as a professor of philosophy at York University in Canada, although I cannot find a listing for him on that department’s website. He is also listed in his Wikipedia entry as a Maoist. I hope that this is not accurate. A Maoist is someone who follows the teaching of Mao Tse-Tung. Mao Tse-Tung was one of history’s most egregious murderers, responsible, for example, for the deaths of 30 to 45 million people during China’s so-called agricultural Great Leap Forward (1958-62). Mao also favoured censorship: during the Great Leap Forward peasants and journalists, indeed even children, who protested Mao’s policies were tortured to death or executed in various horrible manners. (Howard-Hassmann, pp. 27-33.)
If Mr. Moufawad-Paul is indeed a Maoist, then it would be consistent with his ideological beliefs to wish to censor Dr. Gilley’s writings. I do not know if he read Dr. Gilley’s article, “The Case for Colonialism,” which stirred controversy in 2017. Nor do I know if he, or any of the signatories of the Change.org petition to which Roman and Littlefield appears to have capitulated, have read the book in question. I do know that the Change.org petition is full of misinformation. Indeed, it appears to me that one of the statements in this petition, the claim that Dr. Gilley “endorses a white nationalist perspective,” is libelous.
I, on the other hand, have read Dr. Gilley’s original article. I attach a copy of a piece I published in the newsletter of Canada’s Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship about it. I am also the author of Colonialism and Underdevelopment in Ghana (Croom Helm, 1978), and I do not agree with Dr. Gilley’s defense of colonialism. I do believe, however, that he had a right to publish this article. Others who believed this were Dr. Martin Klein, a distinguished historian of Africa who, like me, disagreed with much of what Dr. Gilley argued, and Noam Chomsky.
I have not read The Last Imperialist, but had Lexington published it and had I read it, I suspect I would find it interesting but nevertheless disagree with some or all of it.
I am also the author of Human Rights in Commonwealth Africa, published in 1986 by Rowman and Littlefield. Mr. Matthew Held, an editor at Rowman and Littlefield at the time, encouraged me to submit this manuscript to you. This book is very critical of the human rights practices and policies of post-colonial African rulers in nine English-speaking African countries. I am now wondering if you would be willing to publish such a volume today, given your apparent reaction to a petition signed by over a thousand people, the vast majority of whom, I suspect, did not read Dr. Gilley’s original controversial article or his book. Perhaps they would find my human-rights perspective indicative of white nationalism.
There is now a counter-petition on Change.org, inaugurated by the (U.S.) National Association of Scholars. I have chosen not to sign it, preferring to write this letter to you instead. However, I agreed with the gist of this petition, especially the call for you to apologize to Dr Gilley, to vindicate his scholarly reputation, and to re-commit Rowman and Littlefield to publication of The Last Imperialist and the series on problems of anti-colonialism.
I am copying this letter to Dr. Gilley for his information. He did not request that I send this letter to you, nor did he in any way influence its content. However, he has my permission to circulate this letter to you as he sees fit.
I am also attaching a one-page professional biography. You will note that I have received several academic awards for my work on human rights. Freedom of speech is a core human right. By your apparent capitulation to a call for censorship on Change.org, you have undermined freedom of speech.
Yours sincerely, etc.
Note: As of December 8, 2020, 1,091 people had signed the Change.org petition against publication of Dr. Gilley’s book. 4,569 people had signed the petition defending him. One of the enthusiastic academic reviewers of Gilley’s book was Dr. Tirthankar Roy, a Professor of Economic History at the London School of Economics. He wrote to Rowman and Littlefield calling the decision not to publish The Last Imperialist “shocking.” Roy’s letter and other materials concerning what Gilley calls the “Lexington Mob” can be found here.
Gilley has since found a new publisher for his book, Regnery History.
Joshua Moufawad-Paul is still described as “a Maoist philosopher” on his Wikipedia site. Further, I have discovered that under the name Joshua Paul, he is listed as a faculty member for a “modes of reasoning” course offered by the Department of Philosophy at York, apparently for first-year students although he is not listed as either permanent or adjunct faculty. When I first discovered that Moufawad-Paul was teaching this course, I was astonished. How could an avowed Maoist, I wondered, teach a course on reasoning, when Mao himself opposed any reasoning that questioned his rule or his policies? But then I thought, I have not read Moufawad-Paul’s course outlines nor attended his classes, so I should give him the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps he encourages his students to question his own Maoist beliefs. In any case, he is protected by the principle of academic freedom. I suspect he would quickly avail himself of this principle were anyone to start a campaign to have him dismissed from York University because of these beliefs. Moufawad-Paul did not apply any of these considerations to his own successful campaign to censor Bruce Gilley.