Mona Baker's double standard

二月 7, 2003

How can she justify her boycott as a 'private citizen' yet sack me for being a 'public' representative of Israel? asks Gideon Toury

Over the past few days I have been bombarded with electronic copies of the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology inquiry report on the infamous "Mona Baker affair".

Though neither I nor my colleague Miriam Shlesinger ever requested such an inquiry and cannot therefore be regarded as party to the procedure, I read the report with great interest.

Behind the elegant prose, so neatly clothed in legalese, lurks a clear decision to be moderately fair to one and all, to appease each party in turn. A heroic endeavour, no doubt, but one that nevertheless carries a price: nobody walks away either fully satisfied or fully disappointed. But then, no one was ever meant to.

Although I no longer have any personal issues related to the affair, there are two concerns that linger.

First, I am deeply troubled by the double standard inherent in the way Baker chose to implement her boycott; namely, the dismissal of two individuals from the editorial boards of two scholarly periodicals she owns, The Translator and Translation Studies Abstracts , on the grounds that they are affiliated with Israeli universities.

I am even more troubled by the fact that this stance was accepted, even endorsed, at least de facto, by the journal's committee. Thus, a claim was seriously made that, being an Israeli academic, whatever extracurricular activity I may pursue (for example, sitting on the editorial board of a scholarly journal), I will never count as my own man. I will always be a representative of the university that employs me and - by extension - of the current government of my country.

By contrast, Baker, who edits the same journal as one of her extracurricular activities, is given the green light to go on playing the role of "private citizen", not representing her university in any way.

I will skip over the government issue, except to say that the automatic equation of citizen and state seems to me to border on a fascist maxim.

Second, what frightens me most is the damage this affair has done, and will no doubt still do, to the young and fragile discipline of translation studies that both Baker and I used to be so keen on preserving and cultivating.

True, the lengthy and lively exchange over the internet and the wide coverage in the media did draw some extra attention to the existence of our scholarly field - as long as its name is spelt correctly. But it also created a schism within it by forcing translation scholars to take sides.

Here too, no attempt to appease all sides is going to work for long.

To be sure, our dismissal from the two respective boards was just the beginning of Baker's implementation of the boycott. Some time later, a total ban on research by Israeli translation scholars followed - their articles are no longer even considered for publication in The Translator - as well as a refusal to sell books and journals to Israeli libraries.

This is no longer merely an attack on individuals but something that is academically far more dangerous: a blatant attempt to block the free flow of scientific information and deprive a specific part of the international community of vital scholarly oxygen.

The next logical step might be to stop abstracting studies by Israelis in Translation Studies Abstracts or to start purging articles that have been accepted by The Translator of references to Israeli scholars, no matter how important their contribution.

Even if such a policy is never announced in any official way, I presume there will be scholars who, struggling to get published (or perish), would take the cue from Baker's previous deeds and refrain from mentioning the repugnant names, hoping it will buy them favour in the eyes of the boycotting owner-publisher-editor (which is an anomaly in itself).

Others may decide to send her nothing, thus rendering her publications sectarian, which won't be any less damaging for translation studies.

Whatever the outcome, the prospects look grim.

Gideon Toury is chair of translation theory at Tel Aviv University, Israel.



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