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March 3, 2010

When freedom of speech requires special security

Dr. Mohammed Shokr

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Last week, a campus group at York University, called Christians United for Israel, applied to use the university space to host a two-day pro-Israel program.

That was in advance to the annual Israeli Apartheid Week, scheduled on campus the following week.  While the later proceeded as schedule, the former did not. 

It is not clear what happened but according David Frum in his article published in the National Post on February 27, 2010 “Something's seriously wrong at York University” the university insisted that the pro-Israel organizers should pay for the extra security required for their event as well as provide an advance summary of all the speeches.  He asserts that “when the organizers declined to comply with the terms, the event was cancelled.”  Apparently, it was the organizers who decided to cancel their event. 

According to the Jewish Tribune on February 24, 2010, a university spokesman explained that “it insisted on the more stringent requirements on pro-Israel groups “due to the participation of individuals who they claim invite the animus of anti-Israel campus agitators.”

Admittedly, this statement implies a flawed logic, as noted by David Frum in his article.  For why would the university limit the speech of a “peaceful” group for fear of violence that might be erupted by a militant opposition group (according to his views); hence lending a wider platform to the provokers?

With this question in mind it is necessary to review other pieces of the story that have been intentionally or unintentionally ignored by the critics of the university decision. 

The pro-Israeli group were planning to invite Dr. Daniel Pipes, a writer and political commentator who holds extreme views about Islam and Muslims.  His views triggered huge criticism by many prominent politicians and activists including Senators Edward Kennedy and Christopher Dodd.  In 2004 President George W. Bush appointed Dr. Pipes to the board of the U.S. Institute of Peace but the appointment was met with objections so fierce that the White House spokesman distanced Mr. Bush from some of Dr. Pipes’ views (The New York Times, April 28, 2003). Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said that he was offended by Pipes’ comments on Islam (Baltimore Chronicle, July 23, 2003).   All these are good reasons for our Canadian institutions to exercise exceptional planning when hosting Dr. Pipes. 

Dr. Pipes founded Campus Watch, an organization that monitors anti-Israel or pro-Palestinian individuals and activities on university campus.  This organization compiled the names of academics whose views do not fit with Campus Watch’s pro-Israeli views (San Francisco Chronicle, Sept. 28, 2002).  This led one hundred academics to sign a letter to condemn this action as a "McCarthyism hunt by a pro-Israel think tank."  Accordingly, the commitment of Dr. Pipes to free speech, the principle that the Canadian pro-Israeli group is rightfully concerned with, is highly questionable.

Professor John Esposito of Georgetown University accused Dr. Pipes of "selectivity and distortion" when asserting that "10 to 15 percent of the worlds Muslims are militants" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_Pipes).  The distinguished historian and author Edward Said wrote that Pipes is one of a group of anti-Muslim pundits who seek to "make sure that the Islamic threat is kept before our eyes, the better to excoriate Islam for terror, despotism and violence” (The Nation, 8/12/1996).  All these views justify the concern of York University for more stringent security requirements.  Extreme views trigger extreme reactions from both proponents and opposers. 

The pro-Israeli group was also planning to host Dr. Mordechai Kedar, a professor in the department of Arabic studies, Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv.  Dr. Kedar also holds extreme views that definitely require special attention on the part of the host.  Some of those views can be accessed through http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VHpMhAzj-Tk

The U.N. with all its 191 member nations does not recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.  Even the U.S. has not moved their embassy to Jerusalem.  However, Dr. Kader insists that Jerusalem “belongs to the Jews only and nobody [should have] any issue in the city.”

These views defy the will of the international community.  People who hold such views are usually barred to speak in, or even enter to, our country.  In case of Dr. Kedar he is allowed to speak, rightly to comply with the principle of freedom of speech, but it is also right, given his defiance to the will of the international community, to demand a special security order for his speech.

Dr. Kedar does not hesitate to use insulting remarks against Arabs.  When the Al-Jazeera interviewer asked him about the Israeli government’s decision to add thousands of residential units in East Jerusalem (a Palestinian zone) he replied “why does Israel have to ask permission from anyone in the world [to build those units]?  Jerusalem has been our capital for 3000 years and we were there when your forefathers were drinking wine, burying their daughters alive and worship idols.”  Racial insulting is NOT a Canadian value.

As Canada and the world are working hard for a two-state solution in order to settle the Arab-Israeli conflict, Dr. Kedar bluntly said that “the West Bank does not belong to anyone.  This area has never had sovereignty to any state, just like the Antarctica. Therefore we may build there whatever we like.”

Does this speech bring any hope for peace in the Middle East, which our country is pursuing in collaboration with the world community?  Is it in line with the Canadian policy, Canadian values or the international will that promotes a two-state solution?

Extreme views trigger extreme reactions.  Consequently, while a host organization should grant such views the right of freedom of expression, it should also plan for extraordinary security measures to protect the attendees and the community.

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