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LGD 2003 (1) - Shivji & Santos


 Special Open Forum on 'Theory and Struggles fo Social Justice'

Scholars and Social Justice


We publish two letters below, with the permission of the authors, as part of the ongoing forum on 'Theory and Struggles for Social Justice'. They raise acute questions about how scholars, especially in developing countries, should engage/disengage with progressive scholars in countries which are part of the US led alliance in Iraq.

Readers are welcome to comment on this and contribute submissions to the forum which will be updated regularly to incorporate contributions. Please email your comments to:


Letter from Prof Issa Shivji

9th April 2003

To: 1. Professor Kenneth King
Director, Centre of African Studies
Edinburgh, Scotland

2. Professor Boaventura de Sousa Santos
Centro de Estudos Sociais
Coimbra, Portugal

Dear Kenneth and Boa:

RE: 1) International conference on: REMAKING LAW IN AFRICA: TRANSNATIONALISM, PERSONS, AND RIGHTS, 21st-22nd May, 2002 - Edinburgh

2) International Conference on: LAW AND JUSTICE IN THE XXIST CENTURY, 29th - 31st MAY 2003 - Coimbra, Portugal

Like many all over the world, I have spent the last days and weeks and months in great agony, as the current assault and massacre of Law, Justice and Humanity by the most rapacious imperial power on earth has unfolded. Death, destruction, and human misery have turned into celluloid images analysed and dissected by retired majors and "embedded" journalists with utter cynicism and shameless glee while exhorting the virtues of precision bombing. Shame itself is ashamed as marines descend from their tanks to throw water bottles to traumatised thirsty Iraqis while tanks fire at Basra's water plants.

In this state, I am finding it impossible to intellectualise on Re-making Law in Africa and muse over Law and Justice in the 21st century. Law, Justice and Liberation have all been murdered! How can we resurrect them? (Perhaps, what we need is insurrection, not resurrection.)

I am afraid, I cannot simply bring myself to attend these conferences. I know both of you will be disappointed. I also know that you have gone out of your way to make it possible for me to attend. But I also know that you, and many others at these conferences (except perhaps a few 'embedded' intellectuals who, hopefully, will not dare attend!), share my anxiety and outrage. Perhaps, the conferences will be an occasion for us to huddle together, agonise and share our outrage. But, as we all know, the institutional hegemony of our universities would not allow us to do so except perhaps in pubs in the evenings after going through the pretence of presenting papers and discussing the profundity of 'law and justice'. Enough of intellectual schizophrenia!

No, for once, I want to be myself. Let me cuddle my son and hope that his generation will place this world back on its head. Millions, who marched the streets and proclaimed, 'No Blood for Oil' have seen the future …. That's the only rational and humane thing that can be said and done. In all sincerity, in this context, can we really talk about re-making law in Africa? In whose image? In the image of Anglo-American 'law and justice' ? How can I theorise about law and justice as the terrain of struggles for liberation and freedom of the oppressed, theses I'm so fond of, when American 2000-pounder bombs labelled 'liberation and freedom for Iraq' are burying 13-year olds like my son deep down in the ground?

No, thank you … ! I shall not utter 'liberation' until I see the ghosts of the 13-year olds dancing on buried tanks and APCs!


Issa Shivji

* Read Prof Shivji's statement to the 'Remaking Law in Africa' conference: 'Law's Empire and Empire's Lawlessness: Beyond the Anglo-American Law'.

Reply from Prof Boaventura de Sousa Santos

My dear Issa,

The high esteem I have held you in for so many years has just been eloquently confirmed by the letter you addressed me and Professor Kenneth King.

We addressed you our invitation on the basis of your moral and political integrity, your critical lucidity concerning hegemonic conceptions of human rights, and your struggles for participatory democracy, social justice, and solidary knowledge. It breaks my heart to realize that these same traits of your character force you to decline our invitation.

I would like to tell you that the kind of science we engage in here in Coimbra has many affinities with your own brilliant engagement with science. For us, science is an exercise of citizenship. We wish to be objective but by no means neutral, and we do believe that there is no global social justice without cognitive social justice. This is the position from which I was drawn to write the paper I am attaching here. It was published in Portugal and Brazil, and an English version is now circulating on the net on several webpages. In it you can read my outraged rejection of western barbarism, a barbarism with long historical antecedents. I do not see Hitler and Bush as deviations or aberrations from western capitalist modernity. They are part of it. They did not have to happen, but neither do they happen by chance.

As a Portuguese, I am ashamed and angry at my government’s support of the USA when the great majority of the Portuguese are against the war. I have been fighting my government’s position by every democratic means in my power.

But the struggle has to be global and must mobilize all of us. Science and scientists cannot afford to ignore the following question: which side are we on? If they do, they are indeed complying with barbarism, a barbarism that increasingly bears two twin and sinister faces: neoliberalism and war.

As you know, I have been very active in the World Social Forum, held in Porto Alegre (Brazil). Our central idea is that we must not yield to capitalism, single thought, and the arrogance of technology. We must not give up. Our giving up is what the gang in the White House most desires.

My dear Issa, I therefore dare to beg you to reconsider your decision. Make the occasion of your visit to Coimbra an opportunity for denunciation and resistance. I would never expect from you a presentation holding different ideas from the ones you express in your letter. Quite the opposite. I want you to join us colleagues from Europe, Africa, and Latin Americato repudiate the slaughter of law and justice with which the 21st century is beginning. An enlarged formulation of your argument in your letter would be a perfect presentation.

If you think there is no way you can do this, we shall struggle without you, though having you and your ideas always in mind. Our struggle will be more difficult, however. Hence, my request that you reconsider. Our children would agree that our ideas and struggles for a better society do not have the efficacy of bombs, but that they are the only alternative worthy of human beings.

With all best wishes,
Boaventura de Sousa Santos