EDITORIAL & OPINIONS
Emotion clouds objectivity
While Isabel and Juan have left Western alone in the past
week, reactions to author and professor Norman Finkelstein's
visit to Western last week delivered a cloudburst of empty,
The storm of letters to The Gazette reflects the fact that
too often, emotion spoils academic debate; while Finkelstein's
views are critical of Israel and its policies, there is no
reason why speakers like him should be feared, or worse yet,
barred from campus.
Finkelstein and other "controversial" speakers in recent years
(Daniel Pipes and Hussein Hamdani, for example) have had their
freedom of speech questioned; while they did offend some groups,
they were labelled "offensive" on the basis of emotion and
not necessarily on the objective analysis of their views.
Critical thinking is the lifeblood of education; often, as
a result, well-educated people argue passionately for what
they believe in. The stigma against academics who deviate from
the commonly held views is simply evidence that sentimentality
is displacing critical thinking as the driving intellectual
The "us against them" emotion stirred up by the discussion
of sensitive issues in a university setting is counterproductive
- the purpose of the university is to discuss these issues
in free academic discourse. In the case of the conflict in
the Middle East, many onlookers carry a vested interest, easily
the biggest obstacle in their rejection of often well-educated
opinions that may go against their own.
So is emotional detachment from the issues a better option?
While a viewpoint less inhibited by the tunnel vision of emotion
is more likely to be objective, outsiders' views are often
dismissed as incomplete, even when they epitomize academic
Finkelstein and other academics whose views go against the
grain of popular, oft-emotionalized opinions deserve their
academic freedom of speech despite the complaints of the close-minded
who would prefer not to hear a differing opinion at all. One
is free to disagree with what a speaker has to say, but an
argument rooted in academic objectivity carries more weight
than a rant based purely on emotion.
As recently as March, however, faculty members at this very
university sent letters trying to keep Pipes from speaking.
One academic should not discourage another from expressing
an educated opinion; in theory, all academics are equal.
The real losers when "controversial" speakers are barred from
campus are not those who take objective analysis as slight
and get drawn into purely sentimental debates about who's right
or wrong, but rather those who claim no prior involvement and
attend lectures like Thursday's seeking what this university
is supposed to offer them: education.