A Danish row on British shores

How a row between two Denmark-based academics broke out on newstatesman.com. Here Hans Hauge respond

It is somewhat strange to find oneself attacked by a colleague, Tabish Khair, in The New Statesman.
Khair teaches English literature in the University of Aarhus, Denmark. I teach in the same institution.

Frequently he voices his criticism of Denmark in various English newspapers. He apparently dislikes the country. A few months after the Muhammad cartoon crisis he complained to The Guardian that there was no space left for him in Denmark. The popular Danish-Palestinian politician, leader of the party New Alliance, Naser Khader, was silencing him. An absurd claim. Nobody silences Khair.

Later Khair characterised Denmark as an atheist country without any sense of spirituality, something he found quite disturbing. He himself, however, regards himself an atheist.

Recently he has attacked me and the cultural climate at large in this article for newstatesman.com: 'Reds under Danish beds'.

He labels me quixotic because I have pointed out that Marxists, or whatever one is allowed to call them these days, still dominate universities, the arts, and the media. He cannot spot any. I see many; he sees none. We can’t both be right. Who is the most reliable witness?

All polls show unequivocally that the student body and a majority of university teachers vote for parties on the left, even the far left. Where does he think his own head of department belongs politically? I shall inform him next time we meet in the canteen.

The fact of the matter is that if, like me, you do not belong to the Left you are the odd man out. Writing, as I do, a weekly column for the newspaper Jyllands-Posten doesn’t make things better.

It is true, as Khair notes that Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen has been voted back for the third time. Khair brands his liberal-conservative government a "conservative-liberalist". It isn’t liberalist. The Danish People’s Party supports the government. That party is an old-fashioned social democratic one that defends the nation state. Khair calls it “xenophobic”, but conveniently fails to mention that Naser Khader’s New Alliance also supports the government.

As to the universities he is on most points simply ill informed. No one, he says, read Marx, Adorno, Althusser and Fanon. If they do they are being weeded out. It is again an absurd remark. The fact is that if you want a job in the humanities you had better write about such people. Why does Khair think he was hired?

He is partly right when he says universities here, as elsewhere, are being restructured, but he is wrong when he says along neo-liberalist lines. It is done according to the principles of New Public Management.

He claims there is opposition against this. Indeed. We are a small group, including me, who keep protesting, but Khair is silent.

He then mentions gender and post-colonial studies. They are “less funded” than in other countries. Again he is wrong.

Aarhus University was one of the first universities in the world to institute post-colonial studies. It began with an Institute of Commonwealth Literature back in 1964. 1971 saw the first conference on Commonwealth literature with Wilson Harris, Shiva Naipaul, Sam Selvon participating. The Aarhus-based journal Kunapipi was a leading post-colonial one. I have just published a book of post-colonial essays. One of Khair’s colleagues refused to co-edit the book with me because it wasn’t Marxist.

Khair finishes his contribution with a number of anti-globalist phrases about “democratic international socialism”, and he sounds pretty much like the feisty Indian communist Prakash Karat. (CPI-M). For Khair and Karat globalisation is Capitalism.

Denmark is closed to non-European immigration, he writes, and I read that statement the very day a fairly large number of Indian doctors arrived in this part of the country to work in the region’s hospitals.

Tabish Khair mentions the “contradictions of Capitalism”. It is, indeed, a contradiction that the Danish state pays him so generously for spreading the message of international socialism, let alone why he happily accepts being paid by such a state. But, surely, one day, he hopes he can return to Britain. Oh, to be in England.

Hans Hauge is a political commentator for Jyllands-Posten and senior lecturer at the Scandinavian Institute, University of Aarhus, Denmark

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