Nalini Ghuman redux

Phil Ford

Some months ago Jonathan blogged about the mysterious case of Nalini Ghuman, a musicologist who had been barred from re-entering the United States for reasons that have never been made clear. The New York Times caught up with the case this morning. I have nothing much to add here except (1) Still? Still this is going on? and (2) at least people are beginning to pay attention.

And (3), in case you are inclined to blow this off (I mean, she’s just a musicologist), Leon Botstein is right about what the stakes are: “What is at stake is America’s pre-eminence as a place of scholarship.”

My own suspicion is that the government screwed up and just doesn’t want the embarassment of having to admit it screwed up. It’s just easier to ruin this woman’s life.

About Phil Ford

Chairman of the Committee for the Memorial to the Victims of Modernism
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14 Responses to Nalini Ghuman redux

  1. Jonathan says:

    Botstein is wonderfully direct: “This is an example of the xenophobia, incompetence, stupidity and then bureaucratic intransigence that we are up against.” You name the issue–I’ll just say “Katrina” and let the rest of you think of various other parts of the globe and government appointees and intelligence gathering and so on–Botstein’s characterization is dead on.
    I repeat my previous challenge: if there is something we need to know about Nalini Ghuman, let us know. OK, whisper it, drop a hint, let the blogosphere do its work. Someone she knows? Shady connections? Past political activities? Questionable links to foreign powers? (Wales has been cleared, by the way; no longer on the watch list. They are still under a strict embargo of consonants, however.) Come on; give us a hint.
    If there is *nothing*, let her the hell back in the US. This is positively Soviet, and mortifying to any of us who are still trying to cling to a belief in our national integrity.

  2. gary says:

    Her father is of Sikh background. That’ll do it, every time!

  3. Theresa says:

    Jon and Phil, Theresa Muir here. I’ve been away from musicology for awhile, so I’m coming late to this.
    On one hand, it’s a gigantic WTF, but unfortunately, it’s the kind that shocks but doesn’t surprise.
    Between being a New Yorker post-9.11 and being a librarian now, this kind of thing is simply the new normal.
    I’m hoping that the piece in the Times will light a few fires under a few hineys. It sure did mine.
    This blog is everything I’d expect from you, Jon. You were always one of my favorite AMS people. Love to your family. Now that I’ve got a new, relatively safe place to roost, maybe more people will be hearing from me.
    Love, Theresa

  4. Theresa says:

    Let me do what I always do, and say too much. I’m going to say how thoroughly sick I am of the targeting of not only Muslim, but Muslim-seeming, “exotic”-seeming people. To paraphrase the great Ralph Kiner, if Edward Said were alive, he’d be spinning in his grace.
    Let me further explain where I’m coming from with this. You hear about Jackson Heights and Flushing, Queens as the most “diverse” zip codes in the US, but the neighborhood where I grew up in Brooklyn is not far behind. My mother recently retired from many years of teaching elementary school there, and a high percentage of her students– little kids– are from Pakistani, Indian, Afghani and middle eastern backgrounds. When 9.11 happened, my mother was immediately aware that not only would she have to keep those kids safe from outside attacks, but more unpleasantly, that those same children would be subject to all kinds of xenophobic ugliness from within the community they were making their home. It’s these kids who are in my mind when I hear one of these stories. It’s the guys in my local newsstand– yes a cliche– and the Pakistani girls who work in my local drugstore. They’re my neighbors, and they are the least powerful people here.
    I can’t believe anyone who had to go to the newsstand and see Ahmed every day, or who had to look at Nasreen’s and Pranab’s faces every day, would be able to maintain a fear or hatred of them, but we New Yorkers tend to think that way, because we *don’t* think. Things are changing around us all the time, and we still have to go to the store and go to work, and get through a day without fighting with anyone. We just have to.
    Or so I thought, rather smugly. This was even what I wrote to a Michigan newspaper about a story about a town that was trying to ban a local mosques’ five-time daily call to prayer. “Just try living here,” I say. New Yorkers say that the way Coloradans and Minnesotans say “You call this winter?” We think we just all live together because we’re forced to– if you want to manage your environment too much, this is just not the place for you.
    But some months later, I received a brochure from my own neighborhood association. We have a local mosque,, too and it broadcasts the call to prayer five times a day. It’s pretty good, Jon– I can sing it for you. 😉 And they wanted to stop them from broadcasting it. I just sat down and started to cry. And went and called them up and tore them a new one. I want my neighborhood back. Not the one that’s all Irish– the one where people lived and let live.

  5. Mitch says:

    Having considerable experience on a repeated basis with crossing the border (Phil, you would agree with me on this), the border guard can be completely arbitrary.
    I would hypothesize that Ms. Ghulman got the wrong agent on a bad day and just decided that she was not coming in, period. I’ve seen it at the Detroit-Windsor border too many times to mention.
    The worst part is that there is little recourse. I seen cases where you could recite the law, cite precedent, etc etc, and you won’t get in because that agent has made up his mind and that is it.
    It is sad and unfortunate, but is it part of something sinister -probably not. Petty, bureaucratic, slow and incompetent.. yes.

  6. Jonathan says:

    In I cannot remember what context, when I was a doctoral student, Karol Berger said “Do not make something too Machiavellian out of this, Jon; some things are just DUMB.” I remember this at least once a day. That said, if this is just arbitrary nonsense, why hasn’t it been corrected? Isn’t it embarrassing, already, by this point?

  7. Jonathan says:

    And Theresa–thanks for your kind words. Glad you’re in circulation again. God knows the rest of the country is not like NY. I’ve often felt that we’ll have to sort out all the local issues HERE because it’s hopeless in the countries where all of us are from. Your memoir of your neighborhood should be an op-ed somewhere.

  8. Bob Judd says:

    Thanks guys for picking this up. I had a good response generally yesterday, including a few volunteers who are going to help financially to get Nalini to the Quebec City AMS meeting.
    Coincidentally, the CHE daily report today had an audio interview with Waskar T. Ari Chachaki, the Bolivian historian at Univ. of Nebraska who had also been denied entry. He finally made it, because UNL sued the Department of State. See / listen to:
    It’s depressing to see the correspondence concerning Nalini. The response I received from DoS was noncommital admin-speak. Even Senator Durbin can’t get them to explain what the problem is.
    Here’s a depressing story that first appeared in the Washington Post about dysfunctionality at DoS:
    I wonder if filing suit is the only way to break through?

  9. Jonathan says:

    Bob–does AMS qualify as a “deep pockets” organization? I’d hate to see our bluff get called via legal delays, wrangling, etc. I wonder if there is another way.

  10. Bob Judd says:

    No– we have no legal defense fund and would have to rely on other resources. (It seems to me that her employer, Mills College ought to step up–as did Nebraska.) The AMS is a bit on the margin in the case, though if we could martial the membership to take a stand, write letters, speak out, etc., we’d make an impact.

  11. S Burns says:

    I agree with everything you say bar one half-sentence. It won’t ruin her life. It will stop her going to America, which isn’t quite the same thing. Xenophobia and intransigence may deprive America of her expertise, and that of many others, but they themselves will find they can have happy lives and glittering careers without ever going near the place. Nowhere is indispensable.

  12. Bob Judd says:

    No, S Burns, it won’t necessarily “ruin her life.” But put yourself in her shoes for a moment: she’s separated from her home for the past ten years; her fiancé; her employer, friends, life as she has known it. This is not good. I’m sorry, but I think we should be careful lest we adopt an attitude of complacency. We should be doing the opposite: speaking out about the outrage perpetrated upon her by our government. The AMS has already received $2,500 from other outraged people who are trying to do the right thing and want to encourage Nalini by helping her cover the travel expenses to Quebec City. None of the donors are AMS members, they’re just concerned citizens who are upset at what the State Department is doing and has done. Would that *every* person employed in the American academy contributed to the appropriate fund and wrote the letters to their congresspeople and their local newspapers. It’d have a significant impact, I believe.

  13. Hey, the DHS folks told her the “reason”…it was a jealous ex- boyfriend or academic colleague. That sounds plausible, right?

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