An academic article calling for a return of colonialism "either as a governance style or as an extension of Western authority" has raised the ire of researchers and critics around the world.
The publication of the article in the prominent journal, "Third World Quarterly", also resulted in the resignation of 15 members of its editorial board and an online petition calling for its retraction.
"The Case For Colonialism", written by U.S.-based political science professor Bruce Gilley and published this month, makes the claim that Western colonialism has been given a bad name it doesn't deserve. Colonialism, he wrote, "was as a general rule both objectively beneficial and subjectively legitimate in most of the places where it was found".
Anti-colonial "ideologies", furthermore, have had pernicious effects in the "Third World" and resulted in "a hundred years of disaster" for people in the so-called post-colonies, he wrote.
To counteract what Gilley frames as a postcolonial nightmare in part caused by anti-colonial sentiment, some areas should be recolonised and new Western colonies "set up from scratch" to speed up the process of development, he argued.
The author, throughout the article, is at pains to dismiss the so-called "anti-colonial critique" that posits colonialism as "harmful and subjectively illegitimate". His argument includes that many who participated in colonial practices and armies do so "relatively voluntarily", and fewer people resisted colonialism than endorsed it. This, he argues, is prima facie evidence that colonialism's subject populations accepted or even preferred colonialism.
The overall thrust of his argument is that for so-called "Third World" nations to achieve sustained development, Western and non-Western countries need to "reclaim the colonial toolkit", appropriate "colonial modes of government" and in some cases take over entire territories once more.
The case for Western colonialism is about rethinking the past as well as improving the future. It involves reaffirming the primacy of human lives, universal values and shared responsibilities.Bruce Gilley
'Look what the South Africans did to Helen Zille!'
In lambasting the victimisation of people with contrarian views on colonialism, Gilley appears to sympathise twice in the paper with Western Cape Premier Helen Zille, whose recent comments on colonialism were met with widespread condemnation, but also considerable support.
"When South African opposition politician Helen Zille tweeted in 2017 that Singapore's success was in part attributable to its ability to 'build on valuable aspects of colonial heritage', she was vilified by the press, disciplined by her party, and put under investigation by the country's human right's commission," he wrote.
"It's high time to reevaluate this pejorative meaning".
Editorial board members resign en masse
The scholars who stepped down from the journal's editorial board said they were "deeply disappointed by the unacceptable process around the publication of the essay", saying it had been rejected in the peer-review process.
They also rebuked a statement by the journal's editor released "without consultation of the board" in which he stated the Viewpoint article had in fact undergone a "double-blind peer review".
Editor-in-chief Shahid Qadir in the statement said the journal did not endorse the piece's content, but stood by the decision to publish so that the topic could be "debated within the field and academy".
'Unless something changes, good research may go the way of good journalism'
Numerous other academics and researchers around the world, however, emphatically dismissed the article and criticised the journal for its go-ahead.
On Wednesday, a cohort of academics under the banner of The European Association of Development Research and Training Institute said the journal editor's statement had "outraged us almost as much as the original article".
"Academics need to be open to controversy. It is at the core of what we do that we not only tolerate dissenting views, but also engage with provocative and exploratory thought," the academics wrote.
"However, by inviting anti-colonial responses to [the] article, you reduce and miniscule entire historical legacies with their attendant cruel, violent and anti-humane strands to a mere academic exercise, a debate that can be argued and counter-argued".
They said if each and every strand of thought is treated as debate-worthy, "everything or anything, however atrocious in its design, can be justified, including making a case for a holocaust or any other horrendous human experience".
"The case for colonialism".— Ben Carrington (@BenHCarrington) September 12, 2017
I assume the next issue of Third World Quarterly is on "The case for genocide", followed by "Slavery? All bad?". pic.twitter.com/ibqfDl0Ky6
Two academics in International Development at the London School of Economics, Portia Roelofs and Max Gallien, argued the article represents the "culmination of broader trends in academia: from marketisation, to impact, to the promotion of artificially adversarial debate".
"Academia serves truth and social justice best when it acts as a counterweight to the hysteria of the 24-hour news cycle. The success of articles like Gilley's show that, unless something changes, good research may go the way of good journalism: all that is solid dissolves into clickbait," they wrote.
HuffPost SA reached out to Third World Quarterly multiple times for further comment to no avail.