Should Concordia invite
- by Samer Elatrash
“Today, I feel very alone, very concerned and very sad.” With these words, Gil Troy, a tenured professor at McGill University, prefaced a commentary that was published in the National Post — that impoverished flagship of the marginalized and demoralized — decrying Concordia University's decision to bar former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak from speaking at Concordia.
Jason Portnoy, co-president of Hillel, invited Barak to lecture at Concordia. Alas, Troy wrote, the University's decision “discriminates” against Portnoy's “basic right.” Portnoy invited the famously taciturn Barak because he “wanted to stretch his education by inviting Barak to speak.” Driven by the University to the throes of ignorance, Portnoy issued an appeal for the “FREEING of free speech” in an open letter to the community.
Concordia's decision to deny Barak a venue leaves one fearing a slide “down that slippery slope of intellectual totalitarianism”, wrote Troy. Yes Sir! echoed the editorials of The Globe and Mail, The Toronto Star, the Montreal Gazette, and the National Post.
I should take advantage of the odd consensus that is reflected in the pages of our country's diverse media outlets, and will ask the reader to allow me this opportunity to make a proposal.
The basic Canadian values of freedom of speech and academic inquiry are under threat. “The forces of violence and intimidation”(FVI) — in the brave words of a Globe and Mail editorial — have cowed an academic institution into denying Ehud Barak a venue for a lecture, for they oppose freedom of speech.
Let us ignore the implications of allegations against Barak (which have been documented by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem). The laws in our country say that an individual accused of war crimes should face trial. I submit that this law constitutes a grave violation of our basic right, enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights, to freedom of expression and of our right to hear foreign speakers — who are accused of ordering extrajudicial executions; collectively punishing civilians; targeting civilian populations with napalm, vacuum and cluster bombs; and responsibility for the killings of hundreds of unarmed demonstrators — speak in Canada.
Gil Troy, the clanging bellwether of the mournful flock, says it best by remaining silent on these allegations. The issue is not whether the man is responsible for participating in the slaughter of thousands of civilians, as Barak was when he acted as the deputy commander of Israel's 1982 Lebanon invasion, which in two months killed over 17,000 civilians. The issue is that he has controversial views, and we have a right to hear him, and to ask him tough questions. And the summa summarum of the case is that, if we were deprived of hearing such people speak at Concordia, we wouldn't function as a democracy.
We must not allow the unconstitutional law that aims to hold alleged war criminals accountable drive us towards an intellectually totalitarian culture. We must not sink to the level of failed Asian and African states, in which the media is concentrated in the hands of a few, and where moguls dismiss critical columnists and journalists.
The dangers are real, and they must be countered. We are witnessing a frightening threat to our values and our way of life. There is no room for equivocation; a bold response is required to defeat the FVI and ensure our way of life.
Allow me to propose that Concordia University invite Abu Mus'ab Al-Zarkawi, a commander of an Al-Qa'ida affiliated insurgent group in Iraq.
Now is the moment to decide whether you are with us or with them, the FVI. This is the moment that will separate the believers in the untrammeled right of free speech in Canada for foreign persons accused of crimes against humanity, from the unwitting allies of those who seek to harm our way of life.
I will suffer no objections to this bold and resolute proposal. It is true that this man is a wanted terrorist, although, like Ehud Barak, no court has found him guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity. However, should the United States, and other states whose civilians have been slaughtered by Zarkawi, object, we mustn't be cowed.
I propose that we affirm that the “basic right” of Portnoy “to stretch his education” by listening to Zarkawi, is an incontrovertible Canadian value. We Canadians are all in agreement that we must fight, and even wage war, to uphold our values, and the sovereignty of our nation. Should the states critical of our effort to host Zarkawi resort to violence and intimidation, our response must be “Bring them on!”
Zarkawi might be reluctant to accept Concordia's invitation. We may be obliged to assure Zarkawi safe passage to Canada, where he will lecture at Concordia. To signal our resolve, a Joint Task Force squad must be dispatched to ensure Zarkawi arrives safely to Canada. One can't dismiss the possibility that Zarkawi will have to stay in Canada, to escape arrest by the Coalition of Violence and Intimidation, which would then deprive us of our right to hear him speak. In that event, Zarkawi will remain in Canada, and Portnoy can listen to him lecture until Gil Troy and the cows come home.
We must not surrender to those forces that would deprive us Canadians of our right to hear Zarkawi speak.
And to those who harbour misgivings towards my proposal, they must be made to understand that failing to ensure our “basic right” to hear Zarkawi speak is a victory for the terrorists.
Samer Elatrash writes from Montreal, and also submitted this article to Rabble.ca, where it first appeared.