By Karen Kelly
Researchers at Carleton and UBC are joining forces to help scholars and others who are fleeing the crisis in Afghanistan establish a new intellectual community in Canada.
Their project, “Placement, Preservation and Perseverance: Afghan At-Risk Scholars, Activists and Students” has received a $1.096 million dollar grant from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) to support intellectuals who have been forced to flee Afghanistan, especially women and ethnic minorities.
Carleton University is also contributing $164,000 towards the two-and-a-half-year project, reflecting Carleton’s leadership in supporting the Scholars at Risk initiative.
“We are looking for Afghan scholars, civil society actors, activists and journalists to help them re-establish a community of knowledge, research and activism in Canada,” says Law and Legal Studies Professor Melanie Adrian, the project’s lead researcher and founder of Carleton’s Scholars at Risk initiative. “We want to prevent the dissolution of the systems of knowledge in Afghanistan after the massive breakdown of their community.“
The project has three distinct goals: It will create peer support networks that “provide intellectual, political and personal kinship networks” for the scholars; map out the intellectual currents within the Afghan diaspora; and create a network of Afghan refugee students and scholars with the aim of preserving the Afghan knowledge community.
“The scholars have lost their livelihoods and their ability to pursue their research and teaching, which they have worked so hard to secure,” explains Dr. Jenny Peterson, the lead researcher for the UBC arm of the project. “Their universities and communities are impacted as their local knowledge or highly specialized skills are also lost, threatening progress and development in the arts, medicine, engineering and many other fields in their own communities and countries.”
In addition to professional support, the project will also provide personal support developed from Carleton’s experience with the Scholars at Risk (SAR) initiative. One member of the project team is sponsored by SAR: Shuchi Karim, a visiting professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology who is from Bangladesh. Rehana Hashmi, the Activist at Risk in residence in the Department of Law and Legal Studies who has worked for decades in the region, will also play a central role.
“Both Dr. Karim and Ms. Hashmi have lived experiences of displacement, one as a scholar and the other as an activist,” states the project proposal. “Thus, they recognize through experiential and theoretical lenses what integration entails. Additionally, they have the understanding, awareness and sensitivity to socio-political-cultural realities of scholars and human rights defenders as they both originate from the region. Finally, their language abilities will help in facilitating welcome, care and integration processes.”
As Canada’s first Activist in Residence, Hashmi knows first-hand the impact this project could have.
“This will serve as a lifeline for activists and journalists who are the first line of defence against human rights violations,” says Hashmi. “Through this initiative, they will recharge, refresh and re-energize to continue their invaluable work.”
Professor Shuchi Karim adds that she feels a calling to give back to the Scholars at Risk project.
“My role in the project is as a SAR fellow who brings insight of lived experiences of at-risk scholars trying to resettle, integrate and contribute to the preservation and new production of knowledge,” says Karim. “I have been wanting to give back to SAR and to Carleton for all kinds of acts offered in solidarity to at-risk scholars and activists from around the world…The emerging Afghan crisis gave us the opportunity to get all our ideas and plans into action quickly with support from IDRC, in collaboration with UBC and Carleton. It is the time to show that we care.”
The team’s next step will be identifying the six Scholars at Risk and six other members of the Afghan diaspora in Canada (including journalists, civil society members and human rights defenders) who will be the core leaders of the project.
“It will be up to them to capture their current moment,” explains Adrian. “What is the knowledge they bring? What ideas do they have about Afghanistan in the future? What do we need to do now? And we will support them in that journey.”