Of peace, protest and violence
By Emmett Macfarlane
The type of violence witnessed at Concordia University last week, which involved a pro-Palestinian protest of former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is very unlikely to ever occur here, according to the relevant groups at Western.
Netanyahu was scheduled to give a speech on Sept. 9 at Concordia at an event held by the Jewish student group Hillel. The speech was cancelled after a protest arranged by Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights, another student organization, became violent and the police could not control the crowd.
Basel Al-Ken, president of SPHR at Concordia, said the goal of the protest was to prevent Netanyahu's speech. "There's no freedom of speech for war criminals. There's no freedom of speech for hate speech," Al-Ken said.
Al-Ken said the protest was not intended to be violent. "[The police] started hitting students and beating them up," he said.
Samer Daouk, a spokesperson for the Muslim Students' Association at Western, said members of the MSA were appalled by the incident. "Everyone has a right to speak," Daouk said.
"I understand where [Al-Ken] is coming from. Even if [Netanyahu] is a war criminal and going to give a speech of hate, we should be the better half and let him speak," Daouk said. "If it is going to be a speech of hate, it will just make [his side] look bad," he added.
"In order to find a solution, you've got to hear both sides," Daouk explained.
Paul Rakowski, president of the Jewish Students' Union at Western, said the JSU found the events at Concordia intolerable. "University is supposed to be the last [safe place for] freedom of speech in society," he said.
"Everyone has [a] right to freedom of assembly, but not if it results in racism and violence," Rakowski added.
Both Daouk and Rakowski acknowledged that Western has seen emotional debate between the two groups, but no violence.
"Our main [concern] is to present the MSA as a peaceful organization that does not want to offend anyone, [but] to share views," Daouk said. "We would not stop anyone from speaking," he added.
"At Western, there's never been an indication of a hate culture," Rakowski noted.
"I have to credit the MSA and [Arab Students' Association]. While they are entitled to give their opinion and protest our events, they've always done so in a respectful and non-violent manner," Rakowski stated. "When strong emotions are involved, it's hard on both sides to see things in a clear and logical manner."
According to Nicole Nelson, University Students' Council VP-campus issues, Western has never faced problems like those at Concordia because the two groups have always been respectful.
Sameer Zuberi, VP-finance of the Concordia Students' Union, said the CSU tries to provide a forum for both points of view, adding some form of protest with regards to the Netanyahu speech should have been expected.