Tenured rad­i­cals

Ottawa Citizen - - EDITORIAL - AN­DREW POT­TER

On the third of Oc­to­ber 1980, a bomb ex­ploded out­side a Paris syn­a­gogue on the rue Coper­nic, near the Arc de Tri­om­phe. None of the few hun­dred worshippers in­side were se­ri­ously hurt but, out­side on the street, three French­men and an Is­raeli woman were killed.

Later on tele­vi­sion, the French prime min­is­ter, Ray­mond Barre, re­marked the bomb was “aimed at Jews wor­ship­ping in a syn­a­gogue, but struck … in­no­cent French­men” — the im­pli­ca­tion be­ing the Jews in­side the syn­a­gogue were nei­ther wholly French nor wholly in­no­cent.

Twenty-nine years later, Barre’s hor­ri­ble, though per­haps un­in­ten­tional, slur is be­ing re­peated by the fac­ulty in the depart­ment of so­ci­ol­ogy and an­thro­pol­ogy at Car­leton Uni­ver­sity, through their de­fence of the depart­ment’s right to hire Has­san Diab to teach a sum­mer course. In this case, it is hard to in­ter­pret the slur against Jews as any­thing but en­tirely de­lib­er­ate.

Diab is ac­cused by French au­thor­i­ties of be­ing a for­mer mem­ber of a PLO splin­ter cell, of mas­ter­mind­ing the at­tack on the syn­a­gogue, and he is wanted back in France on charges of mur­der, at­tempted mur­der and wil­ful de­struc­tion of prop­erty. In short, Has­san Diab is ac­cused of be­ing a ter­ror­ist and a mass mur­derer, and bail con­di­tions here in Canada amount to vir­tual house ar­rest. In any pro­fes­sion out­side academia this would make you com­pletely un­hire­able. In the so­ci­ol­ogy depart­ment at Car­leton, it makes you some­thing of an anti-im­pe­ri­al­ist folk hero on a par with Fidel Cas­tro or Hugo Chavez.

Af­ter the uni­ver­sity re­versed Diab’s ap­point­ment last week and promptly re­placed him with a se­nior pro­fes­sor, the rel­e­vant stake­hold­ers went bal­lis­tic, and promptly lost all con­tact with rea­son. Jim Turk, head of the Cana­dian As­so­ci­a­tion of Uni­ver­sity Teach­ers, ac­cused Car­leton of “cravenly” cav­ing in to po­lit­i­cal pres­sure. Stu­art Ryan, the head of the CUPE lo­cal that rep­re­sents in­struc­tors like Diab, pointed out that Diab was in­no­cent un­til proven guilty. Diab’s erst­while col­leagues put out a state­ment, printed in last Satur­day’s Ci­ti­zen, in which they as­serted that Diab was “the ob­vi­ous choice” to teach the in­tro­duc­tory course in so­ci­ol­ogy this sum­mer and that his fir­ing was an as­sault on ba­sic hu­man rights.

It is worth not­ing that it has noth­ing to do with aca­demic free­dom, since Diab’s aca­demic views are not at is­sue. Nor does it have any­thing to do with Diab be­ing in­no­cent un­til proven guilty, since ac- cused crim­i­nals are rou­tinely sub­ject to rea­son­able lim­its on their free­dom pend­ing trial. For ex­am­ple, Ottawa’s Momin Khawaja spent more than four years in prison be­fore his ter­ror­ism trial last sum­mer, and he wasn’t even ac­cused of hurt­ing any­one.

Mean­while, the mem­bers of the depart­ment of so­ci­ol­ogy and an­thro­pol­ogy are try­ing to spin this as a mat­ter of their right as a self-gov­ern­ing depart­ment to hire in­struc­tors as they see fit without ex­ter­nal over­sight, but Ian Lee de­mol­ishes that line of ar­gu­ment in an ar­ti­cle pub­lished on the op­po­site page. No, what’s re­ally wor­ri­some is th­ese claims of high prin­ci­ple and due process are noth­ing more than a smoke­screen aimed at mask­ing the more sub­stan­tive is­sues that are at work here: an over­whelm­ing hos­til­ity to Is­rael, a cor­re­spond­ingly hy­per­tro­phied sym­pa­thy for the Pales­tinian cause, and a broader sense that it is all some­how the fault of Ge­orge W. Bush and his mis­guided war on ter­ror.

Con­sider the open­ing line of the fac­ulty state­ment, which calls Diab’s dis­missal a “bleak chap­ter in the story of in­jus­tice and dis­crim­i­na­tion in the dark shadow of 9/11,” as if ter­ror­ism was only in­vented this cen­tury. Later, Diab is com­pared to Ma­her Arar, as if be­ing ju­di­cially ex­tra­dited to face crim­i­nal charges in France is no dif­fer­ent, legally speak­ing, than be­ing sub­ject to ex­traor­di­nary ren­di­tion to a Syr­ian tor­ture cham­ber.

This is the in­tel­lec­tual equiv­a­lent of a Ponzi scheme, where each pre­pos­ter­ous in­fer­ence is un­der­writ­ten by one more ou­tra­geous still. And so it goes, with the fac­ulty mak­ing re­peated dark ref­er­ences to “ex­ter­nal po­lit­i­cal pres­sure” brought by B’nai Brith, which last week re­leased a state­ment rais­ing con­cerns that that an al­leged ter­ror­ist would be teach­ing at a Cana­dian uni­ver­sity.

All Ponzi schemes col­lapse even­tu­ally, and strid­ing amidst the wreck­age will be Peter Gose, chair of the depart­ment of so­ci­ol­ogy and an­thro­pol­ogy, who ob­served that Car­leton has “a large Mus­lim stu­dent pop­u­la­tion.” It isn’t clear why he thinks that is rel­e­vant, though per­haps Gose be­lieves that Mus­lim stu­dents might ac­tu­ally find it con­ge­nial to be taught by an ac­cused ter­ror­ist and mass mur­der.

In the end, there is only one form of po­lit­i­cal pres­sure at work at Car­leton. It is the usual in­ter­nal force of anti-Is­rael ide­o­log­i­cal con­form­ity that in­fects vir­tu­ally ev­ery depart­ment of hu­man­i­ties and so­cial sciences in the coun­try. Car­leton has spent the last few decades des­per­ately fight­ing the per­cep­tion that it’s the clown school of Canada’s post-secondary in­sti­tu­tions. The depart­ment of so­ci­ol­ogy and an­thro­pol­ogy is try­ing to make it once again a three-ring cir­cus.

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