Musicologist: Threat or Menace?

Jonathan Bellman

Today members of the American Musicological Society received an astounding letter, which outlines the travails of musicologist Nalini Ghuman (Ph.D. U. C. Berkeley 2003), a British citizen teaching at Mills College in Oakland, and the utterly implausible yet apparently true story of her being detained for eight hours at San Francisco airport before being officially refused reentry into the U.S. following a month of research abroad. She’s currently still in the U.K., trying to teach through Mills online.

I provide the links to both the AMS President’s letter and Ghuman’s faculty bio for a reason. It is true that I can be thick, naïve even, and that I’ve been very busy. That is why I am requesting more information. I search her page in vain for a threat (other than cross-cultural musical exchange, which very clearly does threaten our Way Of Life). Wait, here it is: her interests include Welsh folk music. Or is the Clear and Present Danger North Indian vocal music? Hard to decide which poses the greater threat to U.S. security. My vote is on Welsh folk music. In the early middle ages, after all, Giraldus Cambrensis described the Welsh peasants as “howling in thirds.” Ladies and Gentlemen, is that what we want for our children?

The U.S. is a land and people of virtually unlimited promise. Our form of government, our constitutional democracy, is (wording this carefully) inherently less flawed than any other form of government. That said, why in heaven’s name does our government and its departments persist in redefining incompetence on a daily basis? Absent better information, incompetence has to be my assumption; it is not as if recent events have laid a groundwork of trust in government intelligence, now, is it? I will not address wider geopolitical issues here; that is not my area of expertise, nor is it the purpose of this blog. But for our government to refuse re-entry to an American-trained and -employed musicologist without explanation, though, really gives pause. Dr. Ghuman is a British citizen—the Brits are our allies, remember?—of Indian descent—and we pretty much get along with India too. Has she uttered incendiary remarks? Espoused seditious opinions? No explanation, no correction from the State Department.

To say this seems silly, but it is not too much to ask for an explanation of Nalini Ghuman’s threat to the U.S. Maybe Mills College would like to know, too. If she’s a spy, her cover can safely be blown; she’s not here anymore. Or is valuable information being funneled to her from—ah—Oakland? Is she a front, a shill for the militant Welsh, or the North Indian Vocalists’ Liberation Front? Let us know. We need the full story.

Her biography also states that she’s interested in Orientalism, post-colonialism, and Cultural Studies. Is her work sufficiently extreme to be a threat? I’d like to know, if so, and perhaps people who knew her at Berkeley can help with this. I’m not a complete stranger to those sub-disciplines, and if she’s a violent fanatic I think we all might be better off being aware of it.

If, on the other hand, the problem is someone with the same name, can the mistake please be acknowledged and the woman allowed to resume her academic life? I really don’t want to think of the stack of papers she’s got waiting for her.

About jonathanbellman

Professor of Music History and Literature and Head of Academic Studies in Music at the University of Northern Colorado. Author, *The _Style Hongrois_ in the Music of Western Europe* (Northeastern University Press, 1993), *A Short Guide to Writing About Music* (2e, Longman, 2008), *Chopin's Polish Ballade: Op. 38 as Narrative of National Martyrdom* (Oxford University Press, 2010), Editor, *The Exotic in Western Music* (Northeastern University Press, 1998), author of bunches of articles and reviews and so on. Likes to play the piano, the mandolin, and even guitar sometimes. A. M. and Jo Winchester Distinguished Scholar at UNC, 2011.
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2 Responses to Musicologist: Threat or Menace?

  1. I wrote an almost identical post, except shorter and not as funny: http://musicalperceptions.blogspot.com/2007/05/dangerous-musicologist.html

  2. Sara MacKian says:

    I know the Ghumans and the most threatening thing these lovely ladies could do is talk at you energetically, enthusiastically and intelligently for very long stretches – certainly not life-threatening to US citizens in anyway.
    Let’s hope she gets back in soon, if she still wants to, and in the meantime the UK can celebrate having her talent back on our shores for a while.Sara

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