Ashdown debate ineffectiveI attended the Institute Colloquium on Apartheid on Wednesday which was held in Ashdown House. The topic of discussion was The Ineffectiveness, Illegality, and Immorality of Absolute Divestment. Robert Zevin and Prof. Roy Schotland argued for and against absolute divestment, respectively. In this short letter, I would like to criticize the way we (the audience) conducted the discussion period.
Schotland suggested some alternatives to divestment: 1) instead of divestment which translates into financial losses to our businesses, we can provide education for black South Africans in the US or maybe in South Africa and 2) we can collectively boycott South African goods. The first point evoked a long debate. One person said, "It is a waste of our financial resources to pay for the high tuition at the US colleges. Education in South Africa, breeds apartheid mentality. In any case, education is neither realistic nor effective." Another one said in the context of divestment: "This whole discussion about education is just ridiculous."
I will not argue for/against education as one alternative, as it is irrelevant in this letter. I think, however, that the first person was unable to generalize Schotland's idea and develop a large number of possibilities: 1) can this education take place in some other African country with as little expense as possible? or 2) is it possible to develop an educational system which reflects the political and economic needs of South Africans? or ... I hear the second comment: this is ridiculous. Will it not be more tragic (and, in fact, dangerous) for the black majority if they hold the power without a comprehensive understanding of the nuts and bolts of their (or to-be) social, political, and economic institutions?
We could have taken Prof. Schotland's idea about education as suggesting a vision or direction for similar areas that can strengthen black African's positions. We could have starked a constructive dialogue with a constructive attitude (and not have (Please turn to page 11)
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spent all 3 hours to fight over a single theme). And instead, what do I hear from yet another person?: "Sir, I don't think you really care about the black South Africans." I don't know if my friend was right or not, BUT:
1. Is it fair to develop judgement about a guest so quickly with so little information?
2. Is my friend in a position to convey his judgement to the audience and, worst of all, to our guest?
3. Does his remark stand nicely with respect to someone who has accepted this invitation to share his view of the world with us (and, according to himself, has gone through a lot of hassle at the airport)?
4. Even if we answer YES to all of these questions, what is gained by revealing one's judgement (except that it motivated me to write this letter!!)?
It seemed that we were so frustrated with his opinion about the ineffectiveness of divestment that his phrasing of alternatives was a great humiliation!! Why should we become captive to a person's opinion and deal with it as if it were a fact?!! We seemed to spend hours to convince him that his position is, at the very least, pitiful. Is THAT realistic or effective? In my closing statement, let me say that those of us who are unwilling to seek additional/alternative measures to divestment (and choose the ones that are effective and realistic), face the issues with a narrow mind, and treat our guest as a boxing bag, are unqualified to advocate the deserved rights of the majority of South Africans.
Behrouz Vafa G->