In her editorial "Stifling free speech at Concordia,"Janet Bagnall has skillfully textualized several popular misconceptions concerning the state of intellectual freedom and activism at Concordia. By examining the inaccuracies and half-truths evident in this text, wordiness.com and metawidget.net hope to examine their ramifications in the public sphere. The cultural work of Bagnall's text is significant: as an editorial, it has power to influence the weltanschauung of its readers without having to adhere to many of the rules of journalism; and because it is largely an assembly of facile conclusions and half-truths it becomes an enemy of the very debate and expression that it tries to uphold. We hope to examine this text — from two sometimes divergent subjective viewpoints — and its veracity with a view to the larger text of life, if you will, that includes us all.
In a classic case of two wrongs not making a right, a second speaker at Concordia University was silenced last night. Norman Finkelstein, U.S. academic and author of Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict, had been invited by the Concordia Student Union to speak as part of the students' orientation festival. But because former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not speak as scheduled on Monday - he was advised not to try to get past a violent protest - Finkelstein's talk was ordered canceled by Concordia University's administration .
The administration's decision on Monday to impose an open-ended moratorium on anything to do with the Middle East is cowardly, short-sighted and counterproductive . If free speech and debate cannot find a congenial  home in a university, where can they? The very air students breathe should be electric with ideas, opinion and analysis. Instead, we got bombast and a blanket condemnation of anyone who demonstrated in favour of Palestinians, without so much as a nod to the generally accepted tenet that non-violent protest is also a legitimate form of expression .
Students have been criticized for inviting the two controversial speakers to Concordia, given its history of clashes over Middle East issues. But there was nothing stupid about inviting Netanyahu, the hawk who vows a "no-Palestinian-state-ever" policy, and Finkelstein, the son of Holocaust survivors who supports the Palestinian cause, to speak the same week .
Polar opposites, the intellectual and ideological ground between them is huge. Think of the debate that could have taken place. Instead of racing in to protect freedom of speech, however, the university administration seems to have decided its true calling is determining the guilt of violent protesters through a careful study of taped videos .
Well, actually, that is the job of the police. Anyone who spat at or kicked the Montrealers who wanted to hear Netanyahu speak at the Henry F. Hall Building on Concordia's downtown campus should have been arrested and charged with assault . They had no right to try to stop Netanyahu from speaking or to prevent anyone who wanted to hear him from attending the event.
Nor had they any right to break windows, throw chairs or do anything else that endangered people around them. If the university wants to ban from campus a student found guilty of criminal assault in the context of a campus action, that is a reasonable course of action.
What is not reasonable is to decide that there has to be a "cooling-off" period for anything to do with the Middle East. It is unlikely that people in either the Jewish or the Palestinian communities in Montreal will be any less intense on the subject of the Middle East two weeks or six months from now. The point should be to ensure that debate can take place without any physical acts of aggression .
Prevention requires preparation. Netanyahu has often required special precautions when he speaks on university campuses. Israel's prime minister from 1996 to 1999, and said to be interested in taking over the Likud party once again, Netanyahu espouses political views that are a lightning rod on North American campuses from Berkeley to Concordia .
Why would authorities in Montreal not have been better prepared for the inevitable protesters ? In Toronto on Tuesday, police were able to contain a larger group of protesters when Netanyahu spoke at the Toronto Centre for the Performing Arts.
Would Finkelstein have attracted an equal number of protesters last night? We won't know. Certainly, he has angered a number of Jews with his 2000 book The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering. We can guess that university authorities would not have been any better prepared if their idea of heading off danger is to cancel everything in sight to do with the Middle East .
This was a week of missed opportunities. A university which should have fought for the right of two controversial figures to speak instead imposed amoratorium on debate . Students who should have been able to see past the man, Netanyahu, to the issue, which was freedom of speech, instead opted for censorship . For the most multi-ethnic university in our much-vaunted multicultural city, this was not our finest moment .
Janet Bagnall is a Gazette editorial writer. Her E-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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