What Lund University Did to Umut Özkirimli

Umut Özkırımlı.

Lund University, founded in 1666 and “consistently ranked among the top 100 universities in the world”, boasts, “We are united in our efforts to understand, explain and improve our world and the human condition”. In the case of Turkish-Swedish political scientist Umut Özkırımlı, author of several books on nationalism and of the about-to-appear Cancelled: The Left Way Back from Woke (Polity, 2023), it failed on all counts and exhibited a woeful debasement of the “human[e] condition” of its administrators and some of its academic staff. What follows are just some aspects of what Lund University did to Umut. All documents, several hundred pages, are available. I give some of the details because they show the mechanisms of disempowerment at work when the system victimises or makes an example of an individual. This account isn’t only a lament for Umut but also my personal protest against the whole vile system.

But, first, I should explain what this has to do with me. To begin with, Umut is part of my elective family and I’ve seen, up close and throughout the process, the suffering the university has knowingly caused him. Also, I believe, as Audre Lorde said, “Focused with precision [anger] can become a powerful source of energy serving progress and change”. And, yes, I’m angry, not only because of what Lund University did to Umut but because of what it represents in general. OK, so it’s just one guy and one more neoliberal university and, probably, nothing I say will change anything. But if we don’t speak out about what we know, we’re somehow abettors in offenses that are ever more routine.

I’m not trying to right a wrong. Wrongs can’t be cancelled out. They’ve happened and you can’t unhappen them. We have to find ways of living with them, dealing with them, which can include denouncing and fighting them. Trying to understand. Revenge and forgiveness are complicated ethical and philosophical matters—and certainly interesting—but they’re not part of my denunciation. Neither can I, nor should I, speculate about motivations. I just want to say what happened.

It all began in unbearably painful circumstances. Umut’s five-year-old son Luca was dying of cancer and he and his former partner, Luca’s mother Erika, were making superhuman efforts to ensure he had the best possible treatment, would be pain-free, and always made to feel greatly loved. Their last desperate attempt to save him brought them to the Sant Joan de Déu Hospital in Barcelona. Years before this, I’d known Umut slightly as the former brilliant student of an old friend, as did a couple of other people I also knew slightly, Carmen Claudín and Pere Vilanova. Then, with one small twist of some destiny-determining kaleidoscope, the pieces fell together in a family shape. One day we were going about our separate lives and the next we were a family formed around Luca, Erika, and Umut. After Luca’s death, Umut came to be with us in Barcelona, where he now lives.

It was then, when Luca was dying, that Umut was falsely accused of harassment by a woman who knew about his distressing circumstances but was apparently unmoved by (or wanted to take advantage of) them. Her name, Pınar Dinç, is in the public domain. They’d had a relationship that lasted only a few months. It had begun outside Lund University and continued when she came from Turkey to work there. After they separated, it seemed that, in some respects, the relationship was more or less cordial. But then, on 7 March 2018, she sent him a message—a blackmail note—via a colleague, threatening to file a complaint of harassment against him (“Do not under any circumstances contact her because she is going to do something stupid and dangerous”) if he didn’t step down from a project she was working on with him. This project, FIRE, “Fighting Insurgency, Ruining the Environment: towards an understanding of the causal relationship between conflict and forest fires”, had received a Marie Curie grant (agreement ID: 796086) of €185,857.20. It was Umut’s idea and Dinç was supposed to work under his supervision as of 1 October 2018. Umut stepped down because he couldn’t handle “stupid and dangerous” problems at a time when he was fully devoted to looking after Luca and supporting Erika. He cooperated with the faculty to keep the grant and arranged for a replacement supervisor. The day after the supervision arrangements were finalised, Dinç filed a complaint of “harassment” to the faculty.

She had her own agenda or, she claimed, “problems”. We don’t know what these “problems” might be. But the relevant thing here is the question which, logically speaking, is not relevant (since there are no grounds for it) but keeps lurking. “What did he do to her?” Without presenting any evidence beyond vague claims of unspecified “harassment”, “feminist” Pınar Dinç made thousands of people believe he’d done something terrible. #MeToo looms large in this story, not only in the form of her accusations but also the kneejerk support she received from feminists and the righteous cruelty of the politically correct (hence, morally deficient) university. #MeToo gave Dinç a vehicle or some kind of political momentum which seemed to cloak her in high-minded victimhood and influence people to take her side. She certainly seems to be basking in her self-created limelight. But the main political question is how and why #MeToo can veer into hate speech and what’s now called cancel culture.

Luca died on 5 July 2018. #MeToo irrupted brutally and totally inappropriately into Umut’s life at the worst possible time, egging on an attack against a man who was doing everything he possibly could to care for his dying child. His colleagues, prodded by the university’s mob mentality, and probably finding that it was woker and easier to go along with this “feminist”-endorsed accusation than to think about how to support an afflicted friend and co-worker, turned their backs on him, judged, and condemned him on the basis of zero evidence. Aren’t academics supposed to know how to think, investigate, and reason? The university, nastily siding with Dinç, commissioned a methodologically dubious “inquiry” which, failing to find any actual wrongdoing, suggested that, as a Turk, Umut didn’t fit in well with Swedish mores (but spared blue-eyed Dinç from the same smear). Absence of wrongdoing didn’t stop the ostracism and rumours. Unspecified “harassment” was fertile ground for innuendo. Dinç is still trying to blacken Umut’s name and he, the accused, must be constantly on the defensive, required to explain something that never existed. I’ve read the documents: Dinç never came up with any specific misconduct.

On 22 March 2018, the faculty informed Umut they were going to start an investigation “according to the rules and regulations” of the university. The kangaroo-court was bent on concocting a crime and meting out punishment. By cruel coincidence, the demented but poisonous results of the investigation were delivered the day Umut and Erika took Luca home for palliative care. Thirty-four days later, Luca’s suffering came to an end. Umut’s was far from ending.

He’s learned the hard way that, in Sweden, gender equality means crude tokenism, obsessive preoccupation with quotas, and a host of cosmetic initiatives which, of course, stop short of addressing the structural causes of patriarchy and challenging the status quo. So, he started to question the system and the broader context that moulded the way in which the allegations were investigated. He was ordered to comply. He chose to disobey. Trying to understand what was going on was a tremendous effort that led to his new book Cancelled, which isn’t about his personal suffering but systems and political practices that are breeding grounds for collective and individual torment.

Dinç was found guilty of six counts of gross defamation and one of defamation by the Lund District Court Criminal Section (case B 6064-20), and three counts of gross defamation and one of defamation by the Court of Appeals of Skåne and Blekinge (case B 3866-21). The decision entered into legal force on 3 November 2022, following the Swedish Supreme Court’s decision not to further review the case (B 4956-22). Yet her allegations have stuck. And will stick. This story of the unjust persecution of Umut Özkırımlı, by acts of commission and omission, is an indictment of Dinç, her vacuous and ill-intentioned supporters, the woke, pseudointellectual left, Lund University, its senior staff, the Swedish press, which has ignored the story, and of how, at so many levels, the neoliberal system perverts democratic institutions and principles.

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In its treatment of Umut, Lund University, acted as a law unto itself.

1) It denied him a fair workplace investigation and provided “information liable to expose [him] to the contempt of others” (Swedish Criminal Code, Ch. 5) by issuing the report of its “investigation”, an unappealable document which isneither “a punishment or a disciplinary measure”, thus leaving him exposed to a systematic campaign of online harassment and violence while still employed by the university, to the extent that his lawyer had to inform the Swedish Security Service, SÄPO. This non-“punishment or disciplinary measure”, was used by Dinç to get the Turkish state to prosecute Umut, and the university shared related material with third parties, including a Turkish online news platform.

2) Christofer Edling (Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences) and Andréa Björk (Human Resources Manager of this faculty) contributed to the deterioration of Umut’s mental health (to the point of his becoming suicidal), by bullying him and encouraging fellow employees to ostracise him. The so-called “psycho-social investigation” by Margaretha Brundin of OMNIA Utvecklingskonsulter KB was an extrajudicial mock trial, and itself defamatory since it claimed, on the basis of zero evidence, that Umut was “stalking” Dinç —a crime in Sweden—despite several police reports to the contrary.

3) Here are some aspects of this hatchet job: (i) he wasn’t informed about the content and nature of the allegations, so was denied the right to defend himself; (ii) materials weren’t shared with him, his union or legal representatives during or after the investigation; (iii) he was bullied into attending interviews with Brundin without his union representative or lawyer; (iv) the interviews and final meeting weren’t recorded; (v) the evidence he submitted was ignored; (vi) the faculty made no allowance for the circumstances of Luca’s terminal illness, which compromised Umut’s ability to defend himself, mentally as well as physically, for he was commuting between Lund and Barcelona where Luca was receiving treatment; (vii) Brundin didn’t mention the pressure to step down from the FIRE project although Umut formally submitted a copy of the written threat on two separate occasions.

4) Lund University withheld 86 pages of documents considered in the “psycho-social investigation” and denied their existence for over four years. The faculty only sent his lawyers thirteen pages. However, when T24, a Turkish online news platform with 1.7 million followers, published these “non-existent” documents (which included private conversations and messages) in seven articles between 21 October and 12 December 2021, they learned how many pages were involved. When Umut’s lawyer asked Lund University whether it had the missing documents, Björk (email, 28 October 2021), claimed that no such documents existed. Yet, the Turkish public prosecutor’s office stated that, “there is an envelope sent by Lund University to T24.com.tr, and this envelope contains a file which includes material related to the investigation conducted by the university and private conversations” between Umut and Dinç. It also includes an email exchange between Björk and the author of these articles. Finally, in November 2021, Björk admitted to Umut’s lawyer that the university had the files.

If Lund University had these documents since 2018, why did it claim they didn’t exist? How could a public institution withhold such documents from an accused person and his legal representatives in breach of the Swedish Public Access to Information and Secrecy Act (2020) and the Public Employment Act 35 (1994: 260)? How could Björk share these documents with a Turkish news platform? She must have known that they’d be used as part of an ongoing defamation campaign after Dinç had been found guilty of gross defamation, and that she was on probation (villkorlig dom), so she couldn’t have published those documents herself. Was Björk aiding and abetting an employee to circumvent a criminal conviction in Sweden?

5) Lund University infringed Umut’s intellectual property rights, contravened research ethics, and turned a blind eye to Dinç’s mismanagement of public funds. Despite Umut’s repeated requests to be named as co-author of the Marie Curie FIRE project, he was ignored. The university completely disconnected him from research he’d designed and presented, even though the European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity states that “using other people’s work and ideas without giving proper credit to the original source” is a form of plagiarism, as well as “violating the rights of the original author(s) to their intellectual outputs”.

The lavishly funded FIRE project never came to fruition. On 8 June 2020, Dinç sent a bizarre email to the European Commission claiming, “I feel that I have failed to produce what I was supposed to produce as a Marie Curie fellow, I am extremely upset and I feel that I had to waste such a prestigious grant simply because I had to protect myself from a stalker/harasser in the last 2.5 years”. Copied in were Christofer Edling, Ronny Berndtsson, former Director of the Centre for Advanced Middle Eastern Studies, and Emma Ohlsson, Human Resources Coordinator. This raises more questions. Were the replacement supervisor and co-researcher of the project aware of this email? Did the university inform the Commission that the university’s investigations—however shoddy—found no evidence of “harassment” of any kind, let alone over 2.5 years (when Umut and Dinç were living in different countries), as Edling himself testified to the Lund District Court? Does the Commission know that Dinç has been found guilty of gross defamation in a court of law? What about the sum of €185,857.20 that was “wasted” (with the tacit approval of three public employees in managerial positions) by someone allegedly “protecting” herself from an imaginary “stalker/harasser” for 2.5 years? How can three senior public employees connive in the misuse of public funds through perpetration of what they know to be a lie? And, now, how is Umut supposed to make a grant application to the EU with the blot of this false accusation on the record?

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The repercussions of Dinç’s attempt to remove Umut from his project and of her desire, for whatever twisted reasons, literally to destroy him, are still continuing. As Umut writes in a letter to the Vice-Chancellor of Lund University (26 January 2023), “This [is] a fact of life that will accompany us until the end of our days. My son’s memory was tainted by your employees and dozens of unhinged social media users who went so far as to write ‘the sons pay for the sins of their fathers’”. The attacks in Turkey, where Umut is known as a critic of the Erdoğan regime, have been vicious. He was called a “sexual harasser”, “serial sexual harasser”, and “perpetrator of violence” by thousands of people who didn’t have a clue about anything except for Dinç’s acquired victimhood at the height of #MeToo. He was even accused of being a “potential killer” who may have murdered Dinç had she not gone public. Photos of Umut as a “terrorist pervert” were all over pro-government press and TV in Turkey. He received death threats (the Turkish government is known to target dissidents abroad). At Dinç’s instigation, the Chief Prosecutor of the Turkish Republic started an official investigation, which prevented him from visiting his family for months. He’s had to spend all his savings on lawyers, and to struggle with “cancel campaigns” in several countries.

As a grieving father, he lost two important projects, a book about Luca’s struggle with cancer and an international documentary on how he and Erika are coping with grief. Erika, who was called to testify in court, suffered from PTSD because of all the nastiness when she’d just lost her son. And, even now, heavy medication for PTSD prevents Umut from properly mourning Luca.

Dinç is still employed by Lund University. Undeterred by her conviction in Sweden she’s become even weirder in her “feminist” crusade. On 18 August 2022 she applied for, and obtained a “restraining order” against Umut in Turkey and, on 4 November, requested an extension. Yes, you read it right: a person who lives in Sweden took out a restraining order in Turkey against someone who has been living in Spain for the last 4.5 years! Her horsefeathers are still called a “courageous stand” against men, even if it was just one, a non-harasser struggling, in a callous university environment, with the anguish of coping with the suffering and death of his young son.

A “To Whom It May Concern” letter from his psychotherapist sums up the psychological damage done to Umut (quite apart from the worry and trauma suffered by Erika, who’s always stood by Umut). “The allegations of harassment unfortunately interrupted and contaminated Umut Özkırımlı’s recovery… [especially with] the intensity of the ensuing campaign in professional mail lists and on social media. This emotional and mental burden has prevented him from investing his efforts to reconnect with the memories of his son, to continue his relationship with him, and finally searching and constructing meaning in a life without Luca.”

You don’t have to be John F. Kennedy to understand that the rights of every person are diminished when the rights of one person are threatened. But we also need to understand who diminishes rights and how. And, right now, I’m pointing the finger at an august institution called Lund University.