Updated: When in doubt – seek advice

I wrote this post yesterday, and today I woke up and found an e-mail from Harvard University responding to my inquiry about the funding.  They informed me that the controversial funding will not be accepted, and that they will post a document explaining this on their website in two days.

Here is the joint statement from Steven C. Caton, Professor of Contemporary Arab Studies at Harvard University and the Yemen Working Group:

Clarification on funding of the Harvard Conference on Yemen

October 7, 2012

We wish to indicate that Steven Caton is organizing the Conference “Yemen in Transition: Challenges and Opportunities” in consultation with the Yemen Working Group, and it was he who raised the funding for the conference.

It must be understood that neither Professor Caton nor Harvard University nor the Yemen Working Group that consists of professionals and academics would ever accept funding with any conditions attached that might influence either the contents of the conference or its outcomes.

Harvard University and the Yemen Working Group are dedicated to free, unbiased and open scholarly inquiry. This principle guided the way the conference was organized and is reflected in its contents. The conference is open to the public and its proceedings will be videotaped and made available on the net to the general

It must also be understood that Huda Alsharifi, who was among the sponsors, never attempted to influence Professor Caton regarding the organization, contents or participation of speakers at the conference.

Various media have recently made accusations against Professor Caton, Harvard University and the Yemen Working Group that have led several participants from Yemen to withdraw from the conference unless the funding from Huda Alsharifi be returned.

In the interests of encouraging those Yemenis to reconsider their decision and after consultation with the Yemen Working Group, Professor Caton has asked Harvard University to return the funding to Huda Alsharifi and he and the YWG will seek funding from other sources.

The decision to return Alsharafi’s funding is done to make it possible for the Yemeni participants to join the conference; it does not in any way give credence to the false accusations and allegations made against the conference organizers or its participants.

Steven C. Caton &
Yemen Working Group

Given this change, I have decided to participate in the conference, despite the negative media hype and the fact that many people are still upset. Thank you for all those who gave me invaluable advise. It is truly appreciated.

Atiaf 🙂

As everything goes in Yemen, confusion, rumors, criticisms and lots of emotions spearhead the debate on an upcoming Conference at Harvard University entitled: Yemen in Transition: Challenges and Opportunities.

The cause of these critics: a sizable donation from Huda Al-Sharafi, a businesswoman and Yahya Mohamed Saleh’s business partner.  Yahya Saleh is head of the Central Security forces and former president Ali Abdullah Saleh’s nephew.  His forces shot and killed peaceful protester.

On the Harvard page, the sponsors are listed as follows: Sponsor(s): 

American Institute for Yemeni Studies, Ash Institute (Harvard Kennedy School of Government), Crown Center (Brandeis University), Dean of the Social Sciences (FAS, Harvard), Islamic Legal Studies Program (Harvard Law School), Middle East Initiative (Harvard Kennedy School of Government), MIT Middle East Program, Outreach Center (Harvard Center for Middle East Studies), and Women and Public Policy Program (Harvard Kennedy School of Government). We also would like to thank the generous support of Huda Alsharifi.

For many Yemenis this is a disappointing scandal.  Some have interpreted this to mean that Huda Al-Sharafi is just a front for Yahya Saleh to partially fund the conference.  Two days later, many local articles and facebook posts have spread rejecting this conference, and accusing the organizers and the speakers of being too close to Saleh.  Other criticism was based on logistical issues and political dynamic within the Yemeni-American diaspora.  In addition to concern that the Southern issue was not given the importance it deserves in the conference.

Now to explain why I’m writing this post.  I am one of the speakers.  My paper is entited: the War on Terror: between security and morality.  The focus will be on impact of air strikes on the forgotten civilians of Yemen.

So  I am torn between two thoughts:

On the one hand, i think to myself I should still go and here is why:

  •  I would like to fly with my own funds, but since I can’t at this point, I could raise some funds through crowd funding for the cost of the ticket and the hotel.
  • I believe that some Harvard University graduates will go on to become policy makers, and i hope to be able to make at least one person question the current counter terrorism policy in Yemen.
  • I believe that this is an academic conference that was well intentioned, and that the organizers worked hard on planning, but that one of the sponsors was not vetted appropriately.  but i also believe that Yahya Saleh will not, and can not control the papers presented, nor the outcomes of the conference.
  • Finally, and most importantly, I have been to Abyan. I interviewed people  who had their homes destroyed, their children killed or wounded, and their hospitals attacked because of air strikes.  Yemeni government and activists have ignored them.   I dream about these kids, and I want to give them a voice.  Their parents have asked that their stories be told and so I want to share their struggles. If this means that my “reputation” might be tarnished by some people who like to generalize and would not like to think deeply, then maybe it’s a risk I should take.

On the other hand, I am thinking:

  • This is a matter of principal, and even if it’s a good opportunity, other opportunities will present themselves.
  • Even if i pay my own way there, I am giving credibility to a conference partially funded by Yahya Saleh’s partner.
  • Even if i raise my own funds to go, at this point, no one will even listen to what i have to say, because the reputation of the conference is tarnished.
  • The media backlash against me will be high.  as exemplified by one facebook status of a Yemeni-American activist who has already said on facebook: “I expect speakers to cancel their participation within 24 hours” even though we are all still waiting for official responses from Harvard about this funding.

So, with all these questions, and four points saying I should go, four points saying I shouldn’t go, I would like to get your opinion on what I should do? 

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