Yesterday afternoon, I found myself in a car listening to the CBC Radio news. They had a report on the Iranian Holocaust deniers conference. The CBC's man in Tehran took it all too seriously, basically apologizing for the whole affair as Iran's way of somewhat justifiably responding to Israeli threats to bomb Iranian nuclear facilities. I don't recall him mentioning why Iran is such a threat to the very existence of the state of Israel.... Anyway, this reporter in Tehran then went on to mention that a Canadian professor from the University of Toronto was attending the conference, but he didn't know yet what the guy was going to say, or who he was.
When I returned home I checked out the CBC online story to find no mention of the Canadian professor, only a rather disturbing photo - the only one chosen for the story - of two of that small group of ultra-Orthodox, anti-Zionist Jews who go around shaking the hands of Jew haters, in this case the foreign minister of Iran, as a way of pursuing their dogmatic rejection of the state of Israel. The CBC is full of people who love to distract attention from the real issues at stake in Holocaust denial and hatred of Israel.
While this conference is now front page news worldwide, as of 1.20 pm PST today, a search of Google News turns up only one report on the Canadian professor, Shiraz Dossa, in the Western Standard's blog even though Dossa was scheduled to speak yesterday afternoon, Tehran time, more than a full day ago. It seems the Canadian media have no interest in the fact that a guy who teaches in one of our universities is hanging out with a bunch of history-denying hate mongers bent on the destruction of the Jews. [UPDATE - Dec. 13 - the Canadian media is today picking up this story - see the bottom of this post]
Who is Shiraz Dossa? Well, first of all it appears he may be misrepresenting himself to the Iranians. The University of Toronto web site has no mention of him. According to his home page, while he earned his graduate degrees from the U of T, he is actually for some time now a professor of political science at (the embarrasingly Christian-in-name?) St. Francis Xavier University of Antigonish, Nova Scotia. Dossa's home page suggests that this man enjoys postmodern irony where one takes nothing seriously, including those who come to your home page, but little class or grace (and I suspect he would concur):
Later he succeeded, accidentally, in earning both an MA and Ph.D. at the University of Toronto. But his miseducation, regrettably, continued under the guidance of scholars like C. B. Macpherson, Christian Bay and Peter H. Russell at the U of T....In 1996, he was invited, inexplicably, to deliver the Josiah Wood Lecture at Mount Allison University in Sackville (NB) on Liberalism and Cultural Difference. In 1998 he was invited, again inexplicably, to deliver a lecture on Human Rights and Global Politics at Middlebury College in Vermont (US). His only significant contribution to making this world a better place is his daughter Shirin.One wonders if he actually sees himself as a fraud and while not openly admitting it will joke about "inexplicable" invitations to give prestigious lectures in the institutions of a society he, as we will see, resents. He exploits his nine-year-old daughter by putting a photo of her and a "quote" at the top of his home page: "My dad is not a bad professor…But he.… he does talk a lot about politics and Chomsky and natives and fisheries…my dad's cool…not totally….but he is sortta cool.…"
So we learn he is a Chomsky nut. Not only does that give us a sense of this guy's intellectual limitations, but it may explain why he is giving a paper to Holocaust deniers titled "Liberalism, Holocaust and war against Muslims". Chomsky goes out of his way to deny the Jews a unique role as the victims of a modern racism whose extreme possibilities the Holocaust revealed: the possibility of an absolute "Nazi-Jew" model of victimization, a model that is now (mis)applied to all kinds of relationships to assert the undeniability of someone's putative victimization. Chomsky cannot say "holocaust" without asking why some other victim group (it is almost always supposed victims of America) don't get more attention. And to this end, he has supported serious Holocaust deniers in discrediting the victim status of Jews. As Pierre Vidal-Naquet writes in "On Faurisson and Chomsky", in Assassins of Memory (NY: Columbia University Press, 1992):
To be sure, it is not the case that Chomsky's theses in any way approximate those of the neo-Nazis. But why does he find so much energy and even tenderness in defending those who have become the publishers and defenders of the neo-Nazis, and so much rage against those who allow themselves to fight them? That is the simple question I shall raise. When logic has no other end than self-defence, it goes mad.Crazy or just funny? is apparently the question on the minds of some of Shiraz Dossa's students, as we see from the most recent page of comments at ratemyprofessors.com:
interesting, funny, we watched a lot of daily show with John Stewart. He's a hard marker though.Well, it's refreshing to see some of the students know what a sorry joke it is for professors to spend their whole day in resentment of the society that rewards them with comfortable lives and status. But why should the students have to put up with this crap where, when the professor isn't ranting, he is showing Jon Stewart videos? Not only does it waste their tuition money and time, it will be increasingly held against them in the real world as employers learn about the nonsense that pervades our universities. Graduates will be considered idiots until proven otherwise.
Dossa is very smart but he really is worthless as a prof and I think he would admit that; we were supposed to study Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau and the like but instead we watched the Daily Show and listened to him rail against all his various hatreds. Funny how he lives and collects a generous salary in the part of the world he ridicules for a living.
Good prof overall. First year class didn't really suit him though as most people in there didn't seem to care about the topics. Interesting books. On tests always refer back to Chomsky in your answers.
I dislike Dossa as a teacher and possibly as a person. He is based, unorganized, not clear, and damn annoying. He makes his students unconfortable, and it is near impossible to achieve a high grade in that class unless the students nose is lodged way up Dossa's ass. STAY AWAY
DO NOT take this class. "Dr" Dossa (he's very proud of his Ph.D) rants all day about George Bush. He does not teach you ANYTHING. I still do not know anything about political science. The exams and paper topics are ridiculous. There is no text book, etc. He marks SUPER hard. This was just an absoulutely awful experience. DON'T DO IT!
Now, if you think I am being too harsh about a guy I don't know much about, have a look at one of his book reviews (pdf) from 2002:
On Rushdie, though, [Parekh's] handling of the complex issues is fatuous: [according to Parekh] his novel is "brilliantly written", it is a "serious literary work" but Rushdie shows "poor literary judgement" and a "remarkable lack of political judgement" but "brilliant" nevertheless. In their reaction, "the Muslims" however, were moved by a "sense of power" and "a mean desire for revenge" abetted by leaders who were "unwise", who were ill-informed about the history and culture of Britain, and who "were not well-versed in the liberal discourse of free speech" and so on.So, when he is not writing apologetics for women-hating regimes, including one that brutally beat, raped, and killed a fellow Canadian, what does Dossa himself believe in? That is the question that naive students always ask with a prof. like this. They shouldn't expect an answer beyond some fantastic gibberish because this is the kind of writer who takes pride in not being fooled by any normative "western" ideal - which are always deemed oppressive - and in being against oppression. That's not saying much; but try as you might, you will find this kind of writing doesn't add up to much, never does, never can, except that it allows some to fall into a fantasy world of heroic freedom fighters spouting bitter words against a fallen creation that only an elect few can understand and remedy.
With precision and expertly, Parekh deflates Rawls's and Raz's pretensions to ecumenical fairness: both in fact privilege liberal justice, both patronise non-liberals. For Kymlicka's version Parekh has little sympathy, bluntly dressing down Kymlicka's liberal credentials. He finds it lacking in liberal equity and justice. Kymlicka's liberal theory is disdainful of non-liberal cultures; as an argument it is "not ... coherent and convincing". But having staked his terrain, Parekh commits harakiri: he throws in the towel (ch. 9); he surrenders to the superior claims of liberalism advanced by the troika of liberal theorists. In conflicts pitting the liberal orthodoxy against the non-liberal challengers, he solicitously avers, liberal society's "operative public values ... should prevail" because they are shared and deeply held by the liberal majority (i.e. white Christians). In effect, Parekh endorses the liberally mandated boundaries and exclusions of Rawls, Raz and Kymlicka, as essentially right. His saying that dialogue, sensitivity, understanding are still crucial in no way obscures his abject concession: that liberal public values and liberal rationality should trump rival ideals and values in the final analysis. This volte face, at the very least, suggests a deep ambivalence and incoherence in Parekh's attitude to multicuturalism
In his critical foray, Carens refutes the Orientalist canards about Muslims, and he does so intelligently. His strategy, nevertheless, is too defensive and unwittingly lends some credence to the extant anti-Muslim repertoire. For example, his ambivalent syntax about the Muslim (Quranic) position on female circumcision, and on the democratic legitimacy of 1997 elections in Iran even though the reformist candidate, Ayatullah Khatami, won by a huge margin (plus 83 % voter turnout). Like many Western liberals, Carens is not sufficiently well-informed about the culture and politics of Iran, and thus implicitly bolsters the hostile liberal discourse on Muslims. For instance, it is not very reassuring to encounter sub-headings like "Genital Mutilation" and "Wife-Beating". In a chapter in which Carens attempts to challenge the ruling prejudices against Muslims. No doubt unintentionally, Carens's tacitly reinforces the very prejudices he wants to extinguish.
In the end, Parekh aligns himself with English liberal individualism and liberal nationalism, against the cultural and religious claims of non-liberals. By contrast, Carens is the post-colonial liberal with considerable theoretical and practical sympathy for non-liberal forms of life, for the integrity of their cultures. In his own way, Carens honourably inclines towards a kind of liberal communitariansim that is disposed to respect non-liberals and their choices.
Dossa makes a living criticizing liberalism, but only pushes the gnostic tendencies of liberalism into deeper fantasies that deny the need for shared cultural norms as a basis for human freedoms. This kind of resentment - like all resentment - is inherently delusional to some degree, just as the "multiculturalism" he vaguely lauds is an incoherent fantasy ideology, as I have often noted at this blog.
But Dossa has found his demon - "liberalism" - and he is going to flail it to kingdom come, berating the liberals for asserting some western, white male, bourgeois norm as universal at the cost of oppressing all those for whom it is not, says Dossa, normal. But Dossa is of course playing the same game of those he reviles - i.e. dissimulating his own institutional power and the reigning norms of the academy - just read this paper and try to figure out what possible reality, what transcendent truths, he stands for other than the putative victimization/empowerment of those who are his academic allies.
This paper appears in a journal, Political Theory. But can someone as resentful as Dossa have a political theory? As Eric Gans, the world's leading thinker on resentment, notes of Dossa's hero, Chomsky:
His political writings, from what I have seen of them, are litanies of accusations of immorality and greed directed against those in power, particularly in the United States. At best, such criticism can bring scandals to light; it is incompatible with any kind of political theory. "Anarchism" is just another word for a personal nihilism protected--and in cases like Chomsky's, richly rewarded--by the very order one affects to despise. Were I an anarchist, I would feel myself obliged to reject the benefits of such an order. Diogenes lived in a barrel; I doubt if Chomsky does.Any real political theory must begin with some understanding of, and respect for, whatever cultural norms and values are for. To argue that our ethical values are tools of oppression in a world where mainstream culture only serves the powerful, as if our very culture were a conspiracy against the weak, the many, or the few, is nonsense. It is ignorance of the basic anthropological purpose of culture, which is our collective and univerally-shared means of engaging in exchange, and thus building an order in which we all contribute to keeping ourselves from meaningless violence through our common deference to the transcendent world of signs. If you want better to understand what I mean, check out the Gans link immediately above.
If you ask the universities why they allow themselves to be corrupted by angry nihilists, they will tell you about the importance of academic freedom. But what the universities really mean is that they have lost any basis for distinguishing serious intellectual endeavor from resentful nothingness, as long as the latter is of the leftist nihilist variety and is teaching that standards and common sense are tools of an oppressive "liberal" hegemony. In other words, the angry leftist (preferably not white or male) professors can use moral blackmail to gain institutional power and dominate the education sytem. Thus we have, for example, the ridiculous conspiracy theorists of "Scholars for 9-11 truth" teaching in North American universities. Such nutters are apparently tolerated in the name of intellectual and academic freedom. But universities are much less tolerant of conservative loons and a way is found to push them out the door (they can even get rid of the President of Harvard for a minor indiscretion against political correctness), which is where all loony teachers should be pushed.
Let's see how long the system protects chaps like Dossa. Let's see if the Canadian Main Stream Media gets on this guy's case. Will they ask whether he was given money by the Iranians? But don't bet on the MSM bringing attention to what nonsense is really in power.
UPDATE: 11 AM PST, Dec. 13: the Canadian media are now picking up this story. The Globe and Mail interviewed Dossa so I am now happy to present his explanation for his attendance at what was widely reported, in advance, to be a conference at which Iran would advance its agenda of questioning the established facts about the Holocaust and their connnection to the legitimacy of the founding of the modern state of Israel. Doug Saunders of the Globe writes from London:
Gathered in a Tehran auditorium yesterday were some of the world's most notorious figures: Holocaust deniers, neo-Nazis, leaders of the Ku Klux Klan. And among them, somewhat incongruously, was a soft-spoken political science professor from Nova Scotia.Well, I find it unbelievable that any modestly-educated, newspaper-reading person with an interest in this subject would not have known in advance what kind of conference this was going to be, and not have had some idea of the type of people who were going to attend. Maybe Dossa is massively naive, but I doubt it. While I reject his claim that Olmert has threatened Iran with nuclear annihilation (Israel only claims that it will defend against the explicit threats of Iran's leaders to annhilate Israel) I will not speculate on his specific (to this event) motives further. But take a look at the comments to the Globe and Mail article if you want to be depressed by how many readers of that once august journal will jump to the defense of Dossa - many fail to distinguish academic freedom from academic nonsense with a vicious agenda; other readers however think he is full of it and don't buy his "excuse" for attending.
The presence of Shiraz Dossa of St. Francis Xavier University at a Holocaust conference organized by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has raised eyebrows in Canada. Mr. Ahmadinejad has called for an end to Israel's existence, and the conference is widely seen as a provocative exercise in anti-Semitism.
In an exclusive interview from his hotel in Tehran yesterday, Dr. Dossa said that he had gladly accepted the invitation from Iran's Islamist government to attend the conference, and that he had welcomed the opportunity to criticize the Western world and its policies. But, although he is no supporter of Israel, he said he was horrified to discover that he was sharing the stage with overt anti-Semites and supporters of Adolf Hitler.
"I have nothing to do with Holocaust denial, not at all," he said, defending the paper he read. "It's a paper about the war on terrorism, and how the Holocaust plays into it. Other people have their own points of view, but that [Holocaust denial] is not my point of view."
Dr. Dossa, the lone Canadian at the event, describes himself as an anti-imperialist and an admirer of left-wing U.S. scholar Noam Chomsky. He said he was surprised that Canadians were alarmed by his presence at the conference.
"I was invited because of my expertise as a scholar in the German-Jewish area, as well as my studies in the Holocaust," he said, noting he had published an academic book on the ideas of German Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt, whose best-known works dealt with the Holocaust. "There was no pressure at all to say anything, and people there had different views."
While a copy of his paper could not be obtained last night, Dr. Dossa described it as an essay on the abuse of the imagery of the Holocaust.
"My essential point is that the Jewish loss -- which is, of course, a reality, and anyone who denies it is a lunatic -- the focus here is on how the Holocaust is a political construct, distinct from the Jewish loss at the hands of the Nazis. And that political construct has been used to justify certain policies by people, some of whom are Zionists. And now that whole issue plays into the war on terrorism, which is essentially a war on Islam."
Dr. Dossa said he was alarmed to find that Holocaust deniers played such a visible role in the event.
"I did not know exactly who was coming to the conference, and frankly, I think these people are hacks and lunatics," he said. "I frankly wouldn't even shake hands with most of them."
But he said he supported Iran's motives for holding the conference.
"I understand where the Iranian government is coming from. Because I am well aware that for at least the last four or five years, there has been a steady stream of invective directed at Iran by Israel. People like [Israeli Prime Minister] Ehud Olmert have threatened Iran repeatedly with a nuclear holocaust if they did not fall into line. And there has been a steady stream of anti-Muslim and anti-Arab sentiment -- so I can see why Iran is nervous.
"My stand is that Iran is trying to embarrass the West and say, 'Look, we are practising what you preach. We are allowing freedom of discussion of just about any issue, including the Holocaust.' And I agree with that."
Dr. Dossa, a Canadian citizen who was born in Uganda and came to Canada in the 1970s, has Iranian roots on one side of his family. He said he accepted the invitation from Iran, which paid his expenses, as an opportunity to visit his ancestral land, and that he will travel the next week with his young daughter.
He also said he had expressed alarm at the extremists in an interview with Iranian TV, which broadcast the entire two-day event live.
What is missed in all of this is the question of whose political stance is really the most dependent on both the memory of the Holocaust and on a need to memorialize that event incorrectly. People of Dossa's persuasion argue that the guilt flowing from the Holocaust is misapplied and used to outlaw or shun criticism of Israeli, and by extension, American policies in the Middle East. Quite aside from the fact that Western universities are filled with criticism of Israel and America, from professors and students, and that the media take a largely anti-Israel view as evidenced in the recent war between Israel and Hezbollah, the postmodern, postcolonial left have to obscure the fact that it is precisely their intellectual position that most depends on memory of the Holocaust. The "white guilt" and the idea of "racism" that are essential to the revelation of the postcolonial left stem, historically, from the realization, via the Holocaust, of what racism, when practiced by a modern industrial state can look like in its most extreme form. The fact that this realization came most fully to light through, and at the historical moment of, the Holocaust, and via the butchering of a Western or white people, is part of the unease the Holocaust creates in the postcolonial left and the reason why many deny that the event is somehow unique, somehow specifically Jewish, in nature.
What the left refuses fully to engage is the reason for why it was specifically the Jews who were the Nazis' victims. The Jews were hated and scapegoated by the Nazis as supposed agents and manipulators of the modern marketplace that was seen to be an alienating and de-masculinizing force. Jews were also hated, as they had always been, as the discoverers of monotheism and members of the first nation whose special covenant with God, along with the refusal of many to convert to Christianity, made members of the later nations and monotheist faiths susceptible to resentment of Jews for allegedly thinking "they're better than us". Thus the Nazis alleged that the Jews were not simply a backwards tribe but, along with the Anglo-American-led Freemasons, were out to control the world. They were the secret hand behind the Treaty of Versailles, they controlled the Bank of England, etc. etc. In other words, the Jews were hated for the signs of their "firstness" in matters of nations and markets, for being an allegedly destabilizing force, for putting their freedom before others' equality.
Little has changed. The present state of Israel, and the United States, are hated for the same reasons. The postmodern left, of which Dossa is clearly a part, is all about denying the universal human need for the kind of firstness, innovation, and freedom, that Israel and the United States represent in this world. The left would rather live under some tyranny (though they will never admit it must be tyrannical) trying to enforce "multicultural" equality on the world, forgetting what all the murderous and inequitous attempts to impose "equality" on the world resulted in in the last century.
Hatred of Israel is essentially a lack of faith in the possibilities for maximizing human innovation and progress via the vehicles of self-ruling nations competing in a global economy. The Mullah-led state of Iran is today the leading global force contesting this idea. It does it in the name of the Ummah but attracts many non-Muslim sympathizers. In taking Iran's side, notwithstanding its frequent claims to be about ready to destroy Israel, Dossa is demonstrating Judeophobia, even if he is not aware of it. The postmodern left makes a distinction between anti-Zionism and antisemitism, but they naively miss the point that the way they criticize Israel is pretty much the same "logic" with which the Nazis criticized the Jews. This is why the Jewishness of the Holocaust and the uniqueness that attends any and every memorable historical event must be downplayed. The event-based nature of human anthroplogy, the scenic nature of human self-understanding, is thus obscured. Chomsky and his legions assert that the Holocaust is just one of many similar crimes, the most recent being conducted by Israel and America (those "dirty Jews"). And the scary thing is how many at the Globe and Mail comments page have fallen for this postmodern hate mongering.
The Brussels Journal has more on "Canada's shame".
A CBC online story on Dossa has now appeared, here. It reports, sadly, on how Dossa's university has been shamed by his attendance at the conference; and it quotes most uncritically from the Globe and Mail interview, portraying Dossa as a sincere leftist - interested in defending Islam agains the "Zionists" - who was duped by the Iranians and their bankrolling of his trip to his ancestral homeland. On Israel, the CBC has no honour, and hence no shame.