Thursday, December 21, 2006

Bravo Mr. Harper, Part... XVI?

There's an interesting opportunity to compare competing takes on reality in today's Globe and Mail. Why is it that our Prime Minister, who spends most of his time grubbing with politicians, has a much better take on reality and morality than many university professors whose job, ostensibly, is to think?

Prime Minister Stephen Harper:
says Canada will not talk with the "genocidal" Islamic groups Hamas and Hezbollah even though he acknowledged that dialogue is the way to peace in the Middle East.

"We will not solve the Palestinian-Israeli problem, as difficult as that is, through organizations that advocate violence and advocate wiping Israel off the face of the Earth," Mr. Harper said yesterday in a wide-ranging year-end interview with CTV to be aired Saturday.

"It's unfortunate because with Hamas, and with Hezbollah in Lebanon, it has made it very difficult to have dialogue -- and dialogue is ultimately necessary to have peace in the long term -- but we are not going to sit down with people whose objectives are ultimately genocidal."
After reporting this, the Globe seems compelled to note that Harper has received much criticism from Canadians stuffed with anti-Israel resentment, as if there were substance to the delusional notion that Israel is somehow to blame for the (alleged?) genocidal resentment directed against it - a resentment that is in fact very real and ultimately rooted in a refusal of much of the Islamic (and even Western) world to join fully a modernity for which Israel is but a small but geographically and historically prococative symbol. Well, perhaps I am being unfair to the Globe whose intent, perhaps, was only to note the political repercussions of Harper's stand. Thank God we have a leader who knows what is involved in confronting resentful delusions and will only acknowledge the undoubted political repercussions by taking a higher road:
He told several media, including CTV, that he wouldn't succumb to political pressure to pull Canada's troops from Afghanistan. He said he has talked to the families of soldiers who have been killed in that conflict and they have urged him not to abandon the mission for which their loved ones died.

"I couldn't care less if the opposition brings me down and defeats me in an election over this," Mr. Harper said.

"I have to do what I think is right for the long-term security interest of this country and right for the men and women who have put themselves on the line."
Meanwhile, on the education page, we hear about the response of the colleagues of Shiraz Dossa (whom we discussed here) to the Antigonish Professor's attendance at the recent Iranian Holocaust Deniers' Conference:
As controversial St. Francis Xavier University professor Shiraz Dossa remained inside his home yesterday, more than 100 of his colleagues issued a letter proclaiming their "profound embarrassment" over his attendance at a Holocaust deniers' conference last week.

Prof. Dossa, who has been a political science professor at St. Francis Xavier University since 1988, met with academic vice-president Mary McGillivray on Tuesday to discuss possible repercussions from attending the conference. They are expected to meet again.

Prof. McGillivray did not return calls yesterday. So far, Prof. Dossa's status with the university has not changed.

The St. FX professors' letter reads in part: "We would like to make clear that the faculty of St. Francis Xavier University [is] united in condemnation of this event. . . . While adamantly defending the academic freedom of our colleague, Dr. Shiraz Dossa, to espouse any views that he pleases, [we] are nevertheless profoundly embarrassed by his participation in the Holocaust-denial conference held in Tehran...
So, apparently, as a professor you have the academic freedom to espouse whatever you like (including nonsense and delusional resentment, it is implied) and no one can touch you; but go to Tehran and jump on Ahmadinejad's hatred of the Jews and modernity propaganda stage (whose greatest victims, at present, are the Iranian people themselves), and your good colleagues will be... profoundly embarrassed. Reading between the lines, it still seems as if the good professors just don't know the difference between academic freedom and plain bad ideas that shouldn't have a place at a serious university. The real problem of course it that, whatever the case may be, the good professors just don't believe any more that anyone can be (or should presume to be) in either a position of common moral sense or, alternatively, real thinking, from which one might truly judge what are plainly bad ideas deserving of dismissal for sheer incompetence. The professors have given up taking that far any kind of "truth" (the professors' scare quotes), either pragmatic or fundamental truth. But, they still allow themselves their sacred opinions that protect against the opinions of the hoi polloi who might call for Dossa's tossing:
St. FX physics professor Michael Steinitz said yesterday that 105 of his colleagues signed the letter to make their feelings known, and they hope it spurs, at the very least, an apology from Prof. Dossa.

"It was a colossal error of judgment," Prof. Steinitz said. "From my point of view, [attending the conference] had to be done with previous knowledge. He's a political science professor; he said he didn't know what kind of a crowd he was getting in with. . . ."

Last week he told The Globe and Mail from the conference that he is not a Holocaust denier.

He said he was presenting a paper about the war on terrorism "and how the Holocaust plays into it."

"None of us have read his paper but I'm sure it's quite innocuous," Prof. Steinitz said. "It's probably quite okay. But that's not the point.

"What is upsetting is the lending of his credibility, and by extension ours, to an exercise that was known in advance to be . . . the organization of what would be a hate crime in Canada. He lent our university's credibility to that."

Prof. Steinitz stressed that the letter is not a petition. He said he doesn't expect Prof. Dossa to resign and he can't imagine he will be fired, either.

"You think little old St. FX is going to get rid of him?" he said. "I don't even know if it would be a good idea to try. But thank God they don't pay me to administer the university.
Not exactly a sign of intellectual courage on your part, if you ask me, Prof. Steinitz...
"I do hope he is very embarrassed, but considering his tendencies I suspect he won't be."

Despite Prof. Dossa's insistence he is not a Holocaust denier -- he called those who are "hacks and lunatics" -- his strong beliefs are well known around campus.

In an interview this year with an Antigonish newspaper, he spoke at length about a bias in Western countries toward the position of Israel.

"He feels most of the problems in the world can be laid at the feet of the Western world and colonialism, and he may be right, but he expresses these views very strongly in his classes," Prof. Steinitz said.

"I find his [political tendencies] offensive and wrong, but that's my business and that's the purpose of a university, to have disagreements under one hat. His basic premises are not unreasonable; it's just that he's very one sided. Some students like him and some say they don't."
Sorry Steinitz, but even as the universities are full of professors who lay most of the world's problems at the feet of the West and its "colonialism" (read imperialism), it's no excuse for not being connected to reality and standing up and saying this delusionary worldview is in large part nuts. Long story short: does a Professor of Physics really want to return a dark age in which the advances of Western culture these last five hundred years are submerged in the resentments that free market society and real intellectual freedom undoubtedly create, the resentments of those who cling to some desire for traditional society (e.g. Islam as defined by traditional Sharia and Jihad), or some idea of returning to a pre-industrial "harmony" with nature, with all the brutality such choices would honestly imply? Can students and parents take seriously someone whose idea of politically-sensitive handling of the academically most sensitive issue (what is most sacred to the academics is their self-understanding as martyrs for science, reason, truth, and liberal progress in the face of "the masses" and their politicians who might just call the professors heretics, not martyrs; hence any talk of modifying academic freedom, tenure, or firing someone for supporting the propaganda of the evil and anti-liberal Iranian state must be deferred in order to protect all the other academic martyrs from heresy hunters) consists of: "I find his [political tendencies] offensive and wrong... His basic premises [that Israel and America are the source of most evil in the world?] are not unreasonable; it's just that he's very one sided."?

I'll leave it to others to explain the logic or reason of this last statement; suffice it to say I think the good professor could learn something from the straight talk of Prime Minister Harper. Harper's grasp of reality clearly requires some self-understanding and a moral centre. I wonder how many come out of universities today with much sense of these.

Modifying the professors' right to tenure and freedom to spout or support evident nonsense might be a good idea. It might show that the world does not come to an end once such a step has been taken, that professors' left-liberal-Gnostic opinions are not somehow more sacred than anyone else's, albeit more influential and hence potenially dangerous, given their somewhat captive audience of students in search of the grades, favours, and degrees necessary for many jobs. Modifying academic freedom in such a way as to encourage greater transparency and accountability for the resentful delusions that are commonly propagated in the humanities and social sciences might actually be a path necessary to promoting real intellectual freedom in the universities.

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