Thursday, March 4, 2004

"Some of us have lived through 1939"

science > politics
Somehow I missed this incredible correspondence at the time (last May) and first read about it a few days ago in the Iraqi Agora. In brief: Daniel Amit, an Israeli scientist working in Italy, refused this past May to correspond with any american institution and declined to review a paper for Physical Review E, as a protest against American aggression in Iraq. His correspondence with Martin Blume of the American Physical Society is published in the link above, and whether one agrees or disagrees with his action, it is a shocking and impressive statement:

I, personally, cannot see myself anymore sharing a common human community with American science. Unfortunately, I also belong to a culture of a similar spiritual deviation (Israel), and which seems to be equally incorrigible. In desperation I cannot but turn my attention to other tragic periods in which major societies, some with claims to fundamental contributions to culture and science, have deviated so far as to be relegated to ostracism and quarantine. At this point I think American society should be considered in this category. I have no illusions of power, as to the scope and prospect of my attitude. But, the minor role of my act and statement is a simple way of affirming that in the face of a growing enormity which I consider intolerable, I will exercise my own tiny act of disobedience to be able to look straight into the eyes of my grandchildren and my students and say that I did know.

Equally powerful was his interview with Arab News, expressing an even stronger and more explicit condemnation of the war in Iraq and an even bleaker assessment of the global situation in general:

...The reason I took this step is that, with the beginning of the invasion of Iraq, all hope against hope that this pure aggression could be avoided were dashed. I felt that the basic values of enlightened culture were destroyed in a most blatant way, in a world where such values are increasingly needed. One of the central problems of modern global society is that the culture that publicizes itself as the example of democracy, enlightenment, modernity, culture, and freedom, is the one that puts global survival in danger...

Now, I'm ambivalent on this: I recognize the power of such an impressive symbolic gesture, but I'm too much of an idealist where science is concerned (or not disillusioned enough?) to consider that science (and this was Phys Rev E - statistical and non-linear stuff, hardly WMD related) is not by its nature and discourse a civilizing force and, especially through its international character, a counterbalance to this relapse towards barbarism we're experiencing. Not to mention that politically it's not the most effective of reactions - and Amit admits as much... Still it's a helluva interesting discussion and it should have received more coverage at the time - along with other similar reactions in the scientific community.

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