by Waseem Shehzad (Special Reports, Crescent International Vol. 38, No. 7, Ramadan, 1430)
Academic freedom, like most other freedoms in North America, has become a thing of the past. Not just the US but also Canada has been affected by a virulent strain of racism couched in the excuse that "things have changed" since September 11, 2001. They certainly have, as Muslims are finding to their cost. Despite hundreds of arrests in the US, not a single Muslim has been found guilty of any links with al-Qa’ida or wrongdoing related to the attacks on American landmarks on September 11, 2001, yet this has not prevented wild allegations from being hurled. Even Zaccarias Moussaoui, a French citizen of Moroccan origin, who was accused of being the twentieth hijacker, has not been found guilty in a civilian court.
Last month the US military urged the government to drop charges against Moussaoui so that he could be tried in a military court. This has led some observers to speculate that he will be transferred to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where more than 600 other Muslims, kidnapped from Afghanistan and Pakistan, are being held in subhuman conditions and tortured to extract information and confessions. The US has refused to treat them according to international law by not declaring them prisoners of war. These prisoners are in a political, legal and diplomatic limbo.
In the US, Muslim academics such as Dr Mazen al-Najjar and Dr Sami al-Arian, both of Palestinian origin, have been victims of the intense xenophobia sweeping the US. Dr al-Najjar was deported last August after spending nearly four years in jail, not because he had done anything wrong but because of pressure from the zionist lobby. He was declared a "threat" to the US on the basis of secret evidence to which neither he nor his lawyers had access; thus there was no way he could refute any of the charges against him.
Dr al-Arian was suspended from his post as professor of computer sciences at South Florida Universityafter he appeared on the O’Reilly show (Fox TV) after September 11. O’Reilly accused him of being a threat to the US and urged the CIA and FBI to keep him on their surveillance list. Immediately zionist groups demanded his removal from his tenured position at the University. Instead of his right to free speech being defended, Dr Arian was first suspended and eventually dismissed from his post. His battle against the University is continuing; many academics in the US have spoken out in his defence, which essentially involves the issue of free speech.
In Canada another, similar battle is under way at Concordia University, Montreal. Its focus is more specifically the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Concordia was in the news before September 11 because pro-Palestinian students had taken control of the Students Union, causing consternation among the University authorities as well the city’s Jewish community. It is interesting to note that the anti-zionist students are neither all Palestinians nor even all Arabs or all Muslims; a number of Jewish students are taking part in this campaign. Yet B’nai Brith, a Jewish group that claims to be concerned about human rights issues, has made allegations of "anti-Semitism" against the students’ campaign to highlight the plight of the Palestinians.
Last month Concordia was again in the news because the University has refused to allow Svend Robinson, a member of parliament, to speak at Campus. Robinson, a foreign affairs critic for the New Democratic Party (NDP), has been a vocal critic of Israeli policies. Last June he travelled to occupied Palestine to express solidarity with the Palestinian people. Interestingly, Robinson was to be accompanied to the Concordia speaking event by Judy Rebeck, who is herself Jewish but as a human rights campaigner is critical of Israel’s mistreatment of the Palestinians. The ban on public speaking at the University has begun a furious debate not only among academics but throughout Canada. That a sitting member of parliament should be banned from speaking at a University campus says volumes for the kind of atmosphere that is being created in Canadian society.
The ban on speeches about the Middle East was imposed after Benjamin Netanyahu was prevented from speaking on September 9 at the same campus. Thousands of students protested against the former Israeli prime minister, accusing him of being a supporter of Israeli state terrorism, and of being a war criminal. Netanyahu is a member of Likud, the Israeli fascist party that advocates the expulsion of Palestinians from their homeland. Like most Israeli politicians, he is also a former military officer. Netanyahu’s handlers could not guarantee his safety, so his speech was cancelled. A few days later, speaking in Toronto, Netanyahu had the audacity to tell the Canadian authorities that the protesting students should be dealt with harshly because they were terrorist sympathizers.
That a foreign politician should presume to advise the Canadian government about how to conduct its affairs, without eliciting any reaction to such interference in Canada’s internal affairs, reveals much about the nature of politics in Canada and the extraordinary influence the zionists have in the country.
Concordia University, however, is not the only place where academic freedoms have been compromised. At Dawson College, another college in Montreal, a student banner that proclaimed the kalima has been removed because the college claims it was "offensive, political and endangers the safety of students." The banner had been put up by Muslim students as part of their "Discover Islam" event in mid-November. Many students and teachers, betraying either their ignorance or their prejudice (or both), complained, according to Students Services, so the Students Services department ordered that the banner be taken down. The department claimed that the safety of the student body superseded the right to freedom of expression.
A letter in the Montreal Gazette (November 20) eloquently rebutted the college’s allegations, and exposed its illegal behaviour. Mubashir Jamal, a spokesman for the Muslim Student Association at Dawson, which had organized the mid-November "Discover Islam" event, wrote: "Dawson’s administration acted irresponsibly and under the pressure of 20 ignorant complaints. It is ironic that an institution, whose mandate is education, censored a significant part of an educational Islamic exhibition. If people cannot differentiate between the words "Allah" and "Osama bin Laden" and see the equivalence of "Allah" and "God," then it becomes the responsibility of Dawson to allow education of the unknown to eliminate ignorance and let knowledge prevail."
There have also been similar incidents elsewhere. At Ryerson University, Toronto, Muslim students have been fighting the university administration for several years for a larger space to perform jum’ah salah. The university president refuses to budge, saying that the university is a "secular" institution and does not cater for the "religious" needs of students. There is a Faith Centre at campus that can accommodate about 50 students, but attendance for jum’ah at Ryerson is usually more than 200. Muslim students have pointed out that this is even in violation of fire regulations, because students are forced to pray in corridors and on stairs. But the university president has dismissed such concerns, stating that students are "free" to go and pray elsewhere. Such dismissive and insulting behaviour has become much more common since September 11 last year.
Things in North America have indeed changed. Racism and bigotry have gained a new acceptability and are now practised openly against Muslims of any and every background and culture.