HomeLatest NewsAward-winning photographer returns UK honorary doctorate over university’s Israel links

Award-winning photographer returns UK honorary doctorate over university’s Israel links

Britain, US students back Palestine, call for divestment from Israel

DHAKA: Renowned Bangladeshi photographer and photojournalist Shahidul Alam has returned his honorary doctorate from the University of the Arts London citing the institution’s partnerships with Israel and efforts to stifle pro-Palestine student protests.

A Time magazine Person of the Year in 2018, Alam, 69, has received numerous accolades for his work documenting human rights abuses and political upheaval across Bangladesh for more than three decades. In 2003, he became the first person of color to chair the World Press Photo jury.

He was awarded an honorary doctorate by the UAL in 2022 for his contributions to civil rights and social justice movements through photography.

He announced the decision to return his degree, saying that protesting students are accusing the university of being “a willing accomplice in Israel’s regime of occupation, apartheid and ongoing genocide,” and that he could no longer be associated with UAL.

“Universities are meant to be places for critical thinking, for diverse opinions and for free expression. A university which suppresses legitimate dissent is going against what I believe universities should stand for,” Alam told Arab News on Tuesday.

“A university which is passionate in its condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine but conspicuously silent in the face of genocide is hypocritical in its approach to human rights. As a human rights defender, I could not continue to effectively endorse this position by retaining this award.”

For months, protesting UAL students have demanded that the university call for a ceasefire in Gaza and divest from Israel and Israeli-affiliated organizations.

After previously warning protesters against the use of the phrase “from the river to the sea,” UAL recently changed course and said that it championed free speech, but stopped short of meeting student demands.

“I would hope that the UAL administration, through my action, realizes that the world is watching and that the distance between what they profess and what they practice is being exposed. I hope the UAL students feel they’re not alone,” Alam said.

“The students are the ones who have stood for justice. They’ve taken risks and faced persecution. It is important for all freedom-loving people to stand by them.”

Israel’s onslaught on Gaza, which began in October, has killed more than 36,400 Palestinians and injured over 82,000 others, while thousands remain missing under rubble. The Israeli military has blocked water, food and aid supplies to the territory, bringing more than 2 million inhabitants of the besieged enclave to the brink of famine.

“As a person who has personally lived through occupation and genocide, I could relate to the persecution that Palestinians faced,” Alam said, referring to the ethnic cleansing of Bengalis during Bangladesh’s struggle for independence from Pakistan in 1971.

“What is happening now is happening on my watch. There is no way I could have forgiven myself for standing on the wrong side of history, which I would have been doing by remaining silent.” AP

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