A dark day for democracy
Academic freedom is something that many students take for granted a freedom that has recently come under serious attack.
Last Monday, a seemingly harmless attempt to host a speaker at Concordia University in Montreal erupted in protest and violence. Former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was unable to speak at Concordia when 200 Palestinian supporters smashed through the windows of the building in which he was to address the crowd. Concordia campus police, Montreal police and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were unable to ensure Netanyahu's safety and called off the event.
Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay called it a dark day for democracy, an event that seriously jeopardized the right to freely express opinion.
Following an apology by Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien for the students' actions in Montreal, Netanyahu said he felt the reactions were the product of more than just student activism. According to Netanyahu, he saw the same hate in the eyes of the student protesters as he did in those of Islamic extremists.
Intimidation and hate do not encourage understanding and learning instead, they move people to shut out differing points of view. The protesters' actions at Concordia University are part of the history of tension which surrounds the ongoing Palestinian/Israeli conflict on Monday, that tension culminated in Montreal. The violence and anger of the protesters showcased a decreasing ability for open discussion and honest hope for peace.
Student activism has long been a machine for social change, but this goal is underhanded when it threatens freedom of expression. Violence is not an effective agent of change and the opportunity for open dialogue at universities is what gives higher institutions their social significance.
Universities should be embraced as sanctuaries for academic thought and critical discussion. A consensus may not be reached for every debate, but it is the role of the university to provoke commentary when the opportunity presents itself (mow matter how controversial it may be).
As students, we pride ourselves on the fact that we are able to freely discuss and debate current controversial topics by exposing both sides of the issue. The events at Concordia University, however, paint a very different picture.
Tremblay was right and what makes it worse is that intimidation and censorship is occurring in the very place where it has been so carefully protected for years. It shakes the very foundation of our university system and it is not something that we, as students and academics, should take lightly.