On a Thursday in September, Scotland’s voters will decide whether to become independent from the Westminster Government of the United Kingdom and formulate their own nuclear-free, ecologically coordinated, multilingual, pro-Europe, and refugee-hospitable social democracy. At the moment, it is either a statistical tie or slightly in favor of the “Better Together” campaign, which prefers remaining in the British Union. For coverage of the referendum, see among others Wings over Scotland.
I’ve been in Glasgow this week to take part in a grant-launch symposium on the topic of “Researching Multilingually at the Borders of Language, Law, the Body, and the State.” This initiative, supported by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council, is funded at 3,000,000 USD for three years and is comprised of five case studies—one of them in Tucson, Arizona, where I live and work. The grant grew out of a hometown endeavor in Glasgow to begin talking seriously about refugee, migrant, and asylum-seeker rights and lives in the City, and to extend that conversation outward to places that share similar conditions and concerns: Gaza City, Sierra Leone, the borders of Shengen Europe, asylum seeker processing / detention centers in the UK and the Netherlands, and Southern Arizona. The project is strongly arts-based, as well as integrating traditional forms of scholarly research.
During the launch event for the grant at the Lighthouse in Glasgow’s City Center, Minister of External Affairs for the Scottish Government Hamza Yousaf asked the grant team to help Scotland develop a more just and visionary future for a society that would welcome, assist, and learn from asylum-seeker and refugee experiences, and help Scotland formulate what Mary Louise Pratt has called “a new public idea about language.” The research team is comprised of poets, musicians, professors, lawyers, mental health professionals, translators, filmmakers, and educators from Scotland, England, Zimbabwe, Palestine, Ghana, Germany, New Zealand, the Netherlands, and Arizona.
When we said goodbye to one another at the end of the week of work, an amazing thing happened. Our team member from Gaza City (Nazmi al-Masri, Islamic University of Gaza) had to skype in, because all the border crossings out of Palestine are closed. As an Arabic teacher trying to open an Arabic as a Foreign Language program at the Islamic University of Gaza, Nazmi’s favorite phrase is “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” (The photo to the left is of our group, trying to get the skype connection with Nazmi to work, despite intermittent power-outages in Gaza City.) Nazmi said that one of the most important thing that scholars can do to support Palestine (and other places under political siege) is to interact as directly as possible with actual scholars and students in those places, and to think of them as active international partners who are trying to live and work from day to day. This is important corrective advice for the BDS movement, the energy of which is usually focused on Israel. But the amazing thing that happened as we all said goodbye to one another was this: as Nazmi was signing off of skype, we all waved big for him to see from the computer camera, but as he disappeared from view, we were all left there, waving to each other across a 1.5 -meter-wide conference table, laughing. Silly as this might seem as a situation, there was a certain lovely necessity to it that our granting agency might call “baroque” or “eccentric”, but which I consider somehow to be the embodied “new normal” of researching multilingually.
Read more about the initiative here. If you are interested in joining our researcher network on “researching multilingually”, please get in touch and tell me more about your work!