Stir Debate, Not Conflict

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

January 8, 2009 Ed Cartoon

Yesterday two large groups of students met in the centre of Western’s campus to protest the conflict occurring in the Middle East’s Gaza Strip.

Students and staff representing both the pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli side of the conflict stood across from each other holding signs and flags supporting their cause.

Demonstrations by special interest groups are an important part of any campus. Academic institutions should be centres for discussion on all kinds of issues " no matter how controversial. Both groups have a right to bring forward their viewpoint and concerns so long as it is done in a peaceful and respectful manner.

The ability of protestors yesterday to stand often shoulder to shoulder with no disturbance " save some isolated shouting at the end of the gathering " is an encouraging sign that Western students are passionate but also, for the most part, respectful.

In addition, the demonstrations by pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian groups allow the larger student body to better understand how conflicts halfway around the world deeply affect many members of our own community.

The considerable history behind this conflict and the heightened tension involved tend to make this issue a polarizing one. Due to this, many people have made up their minds to support one side of the issue or the other " or they would prefer to remain uninvolved rather than become mired in controversy.

Both groups at Western should be commended for focusing on education during yesterday’s protest. Both sides were distributing literature and from speaking with organizers the intention was to educate students rather than spark conflict.

This attitude of education and peaceful demonstration is important to make sure Western remains an environment allowing free discussion.

On Jan. 5, the Ontario president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Sid Ryan, issued a statement calling on the 250,000 CUPE members in Ontario, many of whom work at universities, to boycott Israeli academics unless they condemned Israeli actions in Gaza.

Ryan’s comments fly in the opposite direction of open discussion and the free exchange of ideas.

Hopefully, Western students who care deeply about these issues will continue to take a more respectful approach than Ryan and seek out their opponents for dialogue rather than silencing them.

While peaceful protests create exposure, campus groups have the opportunity to set an example for the world by working together. For example, they could co-ordinate to provide relief supplies to any and all of those affected during the armed conflict.

Should pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian groups continue to support their causes while allowing respectful sharing of ideas, they have a welcome place on campus educating their peers.

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