Backtracking on a decision that fuelled a furor over free speech, Concordia University in Montreal has agreed to invite former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak to speak on its campus.
The university reached the decision after “extensive discussions” with Jewish community leaders, according to a press release yesterday. Concordia says it will welcome Mr. Barak once it can upgrade security in one of its buildings.
Federation CJA has applauded this decision, and I hope that the support that the university receives from the public will convince them that they are doing the right thing by allowing the former PM to speak.
Many students will be upset by this decision, and I can understand why. They don’t want more tensions, more headlines, or the risk of another riot. They just want the situation to calm down and go away.
But ultimately I believe that this is the right decision. I hope that the average student can understand the importance of defending free speech – not just for rioters, but for everyone.
If the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh had any kind of lesson, it’s that certain kinds of speech are very dangerous, because certain groups have ensured that this is so. Upon hearing that news, Damian had this reflection:
It’s worth remembering a scene in Martin Himel’s Global TV documentary, Jenin: Massacring Truth, in which a cartoonist for The Independent is asked about his cartoon showing Ariel Sharon eating a baby, and why he wouldn’t draw Arafat in such a manner. He responds, glibly, that “Jews don’t issue fatwas.”
The point here is that certain people are willing to resort to violence in order to shut down speech they disagree with. They cannot be allowed to succeed. Otherwise, they will grow bolder and bolder, until eventually the only speech permitted will be their point of view.
Concordia made the wrong decision at first. I believe that strongly. And their change of heart is a case of better late than never.
To all of you out there who may have written leaders or participated in the awareness campaign about this event, I believe you had an effect. Thank you.
To the students and alumni who will be upset or angered by this decision – including some members of a divided Hillel – please try to understand the larger implications of this decision, and realize that defence of free speech – while not always smooth – ultimately benefits us all.
And to anyone considering rioting: you may have thought you were victorious. This new decision proves you were wrong. If you disagree with Barak’s message, feel free to mount a peaceful protest. That’s what freedom of speech is all about. But I hope you think long and hard before resorting to violence again. That has absolutely no place in a free society.