While the University now has an established history of aiding and abetting the Israel haters and by extension the defenders of illiberal Islamic societies which are not held to any blame for the fate of the Palestinians, what seems to have pushed Howard into action was a letter to the university "community" that U of T President David Naylor recently penned, as his way of responding to calls for the University to refuse to support "Israel Apartheid Week".
It might be useful to contrast the arguments of Naylor and Rotberg, as a way of exploring whether there really is freedom of speech at the Universtity of Toronto, though this will require a somewhat lengthy post.
The title of Naylor's letter is "Freedom of Expression and Diversity". The question, once we have stumbled past the awkward concept of "Freedom of Diversity" - expressed as if diversity were already in its final, unquestionable, form, and not something we need more freedom for - is what is Naylor's conception of "diversity" and is it fully compatible with his or our conception of freedom of expression? If there is a conflict, how does Naylor propose to mediate or transcend it? Or does he have no real answer to that last question, preferring to envelop us in rhetorical dodges to defer if only briefly our resentment at the University's refusal to take a stand to which we can relate in good faith?
Naylor begins with this argument for not refusing to support "Israel Apartheid Week":
...in general, free expression on our campuses has served to build a sense of community.Leaving aside for the moment the question of whether the merely physical safety of Jewish students is threatened by portrayals of Israel as the postmodern age's "dirty Jew" - the nation that is pushy, aggressive, selfish, violent, conspiring, unlike all others - note that Naylor is dodging another question: does the university provide its space for just any discussion that some group or another feels heated about? Will the university provide space and dedicate its security/observer resources to just any cause, whatever its intellectual merits? If a group of students wants to put on an event to, say, encourage the understanding of the world as flat; to encourage the shaming of women who sleep around, or have abortions; to encourage the production of more destructive biological and chemical weapons; to encourage in public fora - as Howard suggests would be impossible at the U of T - the idea that Islamic societies are Apartheid societies; to encourage the destruction by military or demographic forces of the invidiously-Hispanic nation of Uruguay; will the university make space and commit the necessary staff resources?
From time to time, however, we are asked to ban discussion of certain subjects or censor certain presentations. We examine those requests on their merits, but the bar to take such actions is high. Freedom of speech is a core value for any university in a democratic society. Younger members of our community will eventually enter a world in which heated arguments occur and careless or inflammatory rhetoric is not uncommon. We do them no service to shelter them from those realities.
That said, I want to acknowledge the over-riding imperative of campus safety when controversy bubbles and debates become heated. Thus far, the University of Toronto has been a safe place for vigorous debate on even the most divisive of topics. Looking ahead, we shall not tolerate any actions by any groups that cause threats to the physical safety of members of our community.
You know the answers but please note anyway that it would of course be a practical impossibility for any institution in our society to provide space for just any discussion. We all have to make choices where to spend our resources. But to live so pragmatically is not to deny anyone's right to free speech somewhere else in society. Nor is it "censorship", to use Naylor's word - a word sure to raise the emotions of the academics who like to imagine they are anything but social conformists, defenders of the status quo. Rather, it is simply a recognition of the eternal truth that there ain't no such thing as a free lunch and no one, not even students, have a right to expect a host to provide endlessly for their "needs" (as if it is angry students who own and rule the university and not its faculty).
We also need to be aware that "free expression" can only exist in environments in which someone is not abusing our shared freedom in order to destroy others' enjoyment of that freedom. Anyone who thinks that the right to freedom of speech belongs to those who would shout others down is not anyone who really thinks. Ask that invidiously neo-conservatie Zionist, Daniel Pipes.
But note that Naylor's letter does not touch on such questions. His invocation of the words "censorship" is at once falsely to dress himself in the robes of the state - of which the self-ruling university is at best only a tangential, wannabe, part - and to refuse, oh so nobly, the censor's office. But what students say to each other in the hallways is not what is at issue. No one, not least Rotberg as we will see, is asking that anyone's ordinary speech be "censored". What is being asked of Naylor is that he take a stand on what the university should or should not support with its resources, or where it should draw the line in how those resources already provided for are used by students and staff.
But as we will see, Naylor, in his offical statement, has absolutely nothing to say about the intellectual or scholarly merits of "Israel Apartheid Week" other than that it is an issue he implies is sufficiently heated that he not dare take a stand, as if he can avoid divisions by refusing to divide; but as I will argue, we can only begin to heal unavoidable divisions by jumping into the fray and taking a stand. Implicitly, Naylor says that there are some issues that cannot be questioned whatever their intellectual or scholarly merits, or lack therof. Pragmatically, all that official authority has to say is "diversity" and "freedom of expression."
But can a man in authority who reveals his intellctual cupboard so bare be taken seriously when he then begs all involved to behave themselves, on an issue which is for the friends and family of some Toronto people a question of life and death? Are gestures of "neutrality" really worthy of a man, let alone a supposed intellectual, caught in the middle of a war, or at least a very serious moral divide, as I think we are?
Naylor also writes:
While the usual rule of law applies to any and all utterances on our campuses, there are some other responsibilities that I believe travel along with the exercise of free speech rights. These include decency and civility, avoidance of targeting of individuals and identifiable groups, and respect for diversity of opinion.But Naylor does not explain how depicting Israel as an "Apartheid State" can be done in civil tones. It may be possible that one could come up with argument showing how this could be done, but it would require that certain contrary points of view be absent from the debate. One can't be too civil with someone you sincerely think is trying to kill off your people. So let us agree first of all that not just any argument can be treated civilly. Some things are just too hateful, too absurd, too dishonest to admit of civility. If this is correct, then Naylor is implicitly taking the stand that advocacy of "Israel Apartheid" - something that we can be sure will be blamed on the Jews, that few at U of T will use the term with an eye to explaining just how it is that Islamic law can never accept the presence of a Jewish state or political entity of any kind in land considered already Islamic, dar al-Islam (thus positively requiring Jewish recognition of an "apartheid", a refusal of Islam, or its secular offshoots, to treat with Jews on "Islamic" lands) - is not too hateful, too absurd, too dishonest to admit of civility.
Occasionally incidents arise that compel us to recall these principles which are at the core of our work and life together. Some years ago, serious events occurred that left members of our Muslim communities feeling targeted; in the past year other incidents have occurred that alienated and dismayed members of our Black and Jewish communities. While these occurrences are rare, any such behaviours are deplorable.
I understand that there are strong views on our campuses on a wide variety of issues. We recognize the right of members of our community to exchange views that are discomfiting or even offensive to some. However, passionate advocacy – even righteous anger directed at some perceived injustice – does not preclude civility or generosity of spirit. We ask, therefore, that when arguments veer near or onto themes such as nationality, ethnicity, race or religion, all members of our community make every effort to express the qualifiers and nuances that mitigate the risk that their opinions can be interpreted as discriminatory denigration of individuals and groups.
Naylor goes on to argue that we mustn't leave any individual or group feeling "targeted", that we must nuance our speech so that no one feels "discriminated" against. Just how this is possible when he also admits our right to feel passionate about justice is not at all clear. It is i think impossible. Either I have a right to criticize socio-religious structures like Judaism or Islam and hence inevitably offend sincerely believing Jews and Muslims, and leave them feeling as if they are the target of my politics and my calls for people to recognize certain imperatives as more important than others' imperatives, or I do not have the right. It seems clear enough to me that Naylor is telling the University of Toronto community that it is better they just shut up than offend those who have a higher status in the postmodern hierarchy of offendedness - we need not note that Naylor does not talk about, for example, the evil of middle-class, non-Jewish, whites being racially offended. Obviously some people, or at least their collective guilt, can be and often is "targeted" at the University of Toronto, as any analysis of professorial discourse will quickly reveal. If the target is deemed "privileged", by the academic powers that be, then it's ok. And inevitably that is what is at issue here, i.e. the common sense of the University of Toronto "community" when it comes to deciding who is more "privileged" - Israelis or Palestinians, Jews or Muslims. But privileged how? By signs of success or failure/"victimhood", with responsibility for these accorded just how? Again, Naylor will not address such questions, preferring we defer to some normative desire to just tone things down.
Antisemitism is ultimately something as simple as our resentment of another's intellectual and/or material and/or military success - as symbolized by the Jewish leading role in Western history's unveiling of monotheist universalism, and the rewards that have come to those who have understood well what this anthropological revelation tells us about our shared humanity (how else to explain the success of the Israeli nation vis a vis its neighbors, without delving into conspiracy theory?)
Is it ok to "target" Jews as such when they are successful, but not when they are ground into the dust? How do we "nuance" such questions without offending someone else? Can one really be neutral about Jews as a whole - if we are honest with ourselves, doesn't one just have to choose, however our choice may differ at times, to love or resent Jews? Is neutrality, or an advocacy of cultural relativism, just a dishonest lie we tell ourselves? And if it is, can that lie be freely debated at the University of Toronto where we are called to respect all and offend none?
But Naylor's promotion of abstract pieties goes on, not that I think they are worthy of much discussion beyond our recognizing that this is the way a man of some political skill in our times tries to stick-handle around what seem to him irresolvible problems that he just has forever to jump around rather than seriously address. I mean what is anyone seriously to do with lines like this: "We shall not hesitate to intervene if there are concerns about safety, or if speakers migrate from advocacy to hate-promoting speech." I mean, just where is the line between "advocacy" and "hate-promoting speech" and why doesn't "Israel Apartheid Week" cross that line? There are of course no serious answers, just signs of a university refusing to take a stand on the most important political and religious questions of our day.
When a man refuses to take a stand, what do we make of another who pushes him to do so? Do we call the other man "pushy" or "righteous"? Do we call him intolerant or a seeker of justice, a "Jew" or a Jew? What do we call a man who decides that publicly burning his university degrees would be too theatrical, so he chooses instead just to write a public letter and send the degrees back? Well, I would call this a man frustrated at a string of tactical failures, at the unwillingness of people in media, politics, and education in Canada to take his various attempts at public intellectual interventions seriously. A man frustrated that so few are taking a public stand on Israel and on the claim that Israel's fight is but a harbinger of the fight we all in the West are soon going to have to engage as the now Global Intifada takes on our now single global economy, and the forms of Western modernity and freedom that have to now led in building that shared economy.
Howard Rotberg writes:
Dear President Naylor:
I am a graduate of University College (1973) at which time I had the honour of standing first among the students in the Department of History. I received an excellent education, specializing in the history of values and ideologies. Then I attended, and graduated from, the Faculty of Law, in 1976.
I have tried to live a life of ethics, respect for individual human rights and social justice, and service to my profession and the community. I have won awards for my service to my municipality in volunteering on municipal committees and for my development of affordable rental housing for low income working people. I have a record of writing about race relations and participating in conferences meant to accomplish respect for diversity in the context of adherence to foundational Canadian values.
Let's stop here for a moment and dwell on Rotberg's nuance - "diversity in the context of adherence to foundational Canadian values". Rotberg seems to be arguing that diversity is only possible, it depends, on some kind of foundational unity, some common value or individual freedom, some refusal of endless moral or cultural relativism. If that's so, and I think it is, it is not enough for Naylor just to appeal to all to recognize our common value(s) of "diversity", which is just another word for moral or cultural relavism; he also, as a man in authority, needs to provide some serious accounting of what that common value is and how it applies to those involved in the provocative rhetoric of "Israeli Apartheid"; and he needs to do more than say our common value is a refusal of violence and "targeting". He needs to tell students what it is that allows us to mimimize (because humanity can never completely eliminate) violence - sometimes violence is necessary to fight or avoid a greater violence; for this reason, Howard Rotberg has decided he must sacrifice his degrees and links to the U of T.
Naylor also needs to show us how we judge when someone is using our shared freedoms only to erode that shared freedom in the service of some more totalitarian cause. It is not enough to say we should guarantee each other's freedom - we need to know how this is possible, if this can really be done by refusing to target any and all groups or religions no matter what their cause. Naylor talks about Jews and Muslims as if their identity is beyond question. And still there is room for "Israel Apartheid Week"?
Does a flourishing diversity depend on a prior unity, or does unity depend on recognizing a prior diversity? The former, I'm arguing, though i fear you won't find many Toronto academics capable of explaining the anthropology of it. They place all their bets on diversity first.
I am ashamed that University of Toronto hosted the first Israel Apartheid Week, and continues to make its facilities available to this distortion of “free speech and respect for diversity”. I read your February 24 remarks on freedom of expression and diversity, and sadly, I feel that you misstate the basic issues. My university is now known as the birthplace of this vile hatefest.I do not feel this is too hyperbolic on Rotberg's part. While it is not my intent here to argue this point - one can find countless discussions on the internet if one is an honest seeker - I think there is much available evidence that this is just what orthodox Islam and orthodox leftist/Politically Correct ideologies teach today - that Jewishness is a problem, a source of inferiority or unacceptable difference/success. Islam has traditionally had no place for Jews as anything other than dhimmis in lands graced by Islamic law, nor have we yet seen any but a few lonely individuals suggest Islamic societies could ever be any other way. Similarly, the left, as no end of socialist and Soviet history shows, has never known what to do with Jewish cultural differences that lead to Jewish individual or national success under modern conditions; nor has it known what to do with Jewish centrality as the archetypal and unquestionable victims of the modern age, with the world-historical repecursions of the revelation of Auschwitz, now that we are living in a postmodern culture that takes Auschwitz as its starting point and accordingly values signs of victimhood and hence sometimes wishes to turn succesful, powerful, Jews into "Nazis". Jewishness is a "problem" for many and is widely resented, and not least by many secular Jews.
The University would never allow an “Islamic Apartheid Week” because of course the speakers would be violently attacked by mobs of illiberals who have brought with them to the University no respect for free speech but only a respect for their upbringings where they were taught that Jews and the Jewish State are evil, and inferior.
These simple facts, ones that when taken to heart should alone allow for deeply critical suspicion of "Israel Apartheid Week", are nowhere even hinted at in Naylor's discourse, as if we can somehow provide resourcs for IAW, and still not "target" Jews. It's a fantastic denial of reality.
I am disgusted that in a time of war against our liberal values, University of Toronto chooses to support one side, and that is the side that supports the war against our freedoms and our civilians from Sderot to Manhattan, from London to Madrid, and from Buenos Aires to Mumbai.In other words, Rotberg is clearly rejecting Naylor's grandiose notion that he could possibly be a "censor", while pointing out that many other falsely-aristocratic University Presidents have allowed their campuses to become places where pro-Israel speakers are shouted down or refused speaking dates because they would pose too much of a demand for security. Is University of Toronto now such a place? Is the mere acceptance of "Israel Apartheid Week" proof that it is now very difficult for Jews to speak freely at U of T?
I myself have had my lectures shouted down and my books effectively banned. See http://www.scragged.com/articles/how-i-became-a-banned-author-in-canada.aspx
I know that freedom loving writers like myself no longer have the freedoms that you are so proud of extending to people who support the murder of Jewish children, less than a century after the Holocaust.
I do not advocate censoring them, unless they pass into hate crimes, and even then I am not supportive of use of the criminal law, in all but the clearest of cases. But the notion of feeling compelled to have such an event in effect sanctioned by the University is clearly wrong. If they want to speak such words, there are, I am sure, other facilities that would welcome them.
Here is where Rotberg's argument enters into somewhat speculative territory, it seems to me. Do we all see the signs that Howard does? I think I see many of them, but just how much weight to give to them in a Canadian society that still has many defenders of freedom? I just don't know.
But I would argue that it is just the nature of our humanity that we can only know what really exists among us and what we really believe by acting and constructing our shared reality. If people like Naylor refuse to act, refuse to take stands on central questions, feigning an impossible neutrality, then nihilism and consequently expressions of the "will to power" will inevitably inherit the day, one way or another. I trust, however, that many Canadians will not put up with uncommitted Naylors, and with Jew haters, when push comes to shove. Will they be enough? I don't know; we can't know. Truth can only reveal itself through acting in shared good faith. There is no new truth in not acting, just a clinging to old truths that are always somewhere on the road to becoming empty cliches.
I hereby adopt the positions taken in the following two essays: http://www.jcpa.org/JCPA/Templates/ShowPage.asp?DBID=1&LNGID=1&TMID=111&FID=610&PID=0&IID=2778No doubt the wannabe ironists among today's youth may think this quaint - "I hereby adopt the positions..." But in reality, there is no other way forward but to take on positions without benefit of fully "nuanced" deliberations...
We have now reached a stage where Jewish students and others identifiably Jewish fear for their safety at various universities in North America and Europe, and where various Jewish speakers are denied permission to speak because of Islamist intimidation. We have now reached a situation where various student groups, such as the Muslim Students Association are being funded by radical Islamist groups, and where various University departments across the “free world” are becoming beholden to radical Islam due to financial funding from Saudi Arabia and the Emirates.Again we can note Howard Rotberg's heresy, in postmodern eyes. He is making bold declarative statements about what the signs of the time mean. Nothing could be more "offensive" to the official ethos of moral and cultural relativism, the nihilism of today's academic elites.
I am sure you have read how young Muslim students are being “radicalized” at universities in England, and such was the case with the attempted terror attacker on the Delta airlines jet on Christmas Day.
The situation at English universities and even at York University has gotten out of hand. To the extent that your views are infused with cultural and moral relativism, I suggest that the University of Toronto is poised to eventually join those institutions where Jewish students will be viewed as “offensive” per se to Muslim students and other illiberal antagonists who apply double standards and factually incorrect legal and historical judgments against the Jewish State, and interpret Islam as holding Jews and Christians to be second class citizens, which is the real apartheid that your University will not allow to be discussed. Moral equivalency is not appropriate between liberal democrats and terror supporting illiberals.
While Howard may not be entirely correct in his predictions - then again he may be - what is certain is that if we don't have the freedom to make such frank and "un-nuanced" judgments, if we can't target ostensible evils like the Muslim Students Association for being under the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood, then it is inevitably the case that we will, sooner or later, see our free society erode into some more totalitarian arrangement. Freedom requires people being able to take stands, on one foot, and hence to push others into frank exchanges of our differences, rejecting some in favour of others. Free expression only exists where offensiveness exists, thankyou Howard -:) and a free future can only be made by someone playing the pushy "Jew", by someone, anyone, attempting to take a lead in revealing and constructing the new reality, or shared sign of our shared freedom.
Refusing to do this in the name of "nuance" is the way Gnostics - which is what most of today's acadmics are - war against reality. For it is inevitable that we can all sense that reality is far more nuanced that any possible representation of it that we can ever make to others can ever possibly be. But if we refuse to take seriously our never-possibly-complete representations of reality (because, gee, the Muslim Students Association, for example, is not all bad, whatever its links to Islamism and political violence), if we seek instead the Gnostic fantasy of overcoming all our hideously-limited representations of our shared reality, in some perfectly nuanced society, then we cannot ever really allow for the necessary leaps of faith in the free sharing of representations, by which any possibly decent future is actually to be built. "Nuance", while sometimes a good thing, becomes when it is offical policy a denial of the reality that we must take stands as incomplete persons.
If we give in to Gnosticism, to the dream of overcoming this hideoulsy incomplete and fallen world of conflicts and pushy people, by insisting on ever deferring to "nuance", and the experts who dictate it, we can never truly enjoy a shared freedom; we descend into "the dictatorship of relativism" where it's better not to choose, not to act, but just to accept the reigning hierarchies of "privilege" and "offendedness", the hierarchy that promotes itself as Utopian "tolerance" or "inclusivity" or "diversity", and that tolerates those who can claim to be righteous in their violent opposition of our unsatisfactorily-privileged representations of (incomplete) "reality".
For the Gnostic academy, no representation of Israel can be good enough. Israel is, for all its beauties, an imperfect society born of events whose meaning can never be settled; and instead of working to become perfectly nuanced and inclusive of all who make demands on it, it eventually poses to honest seekers an inescapable choice between competing ideas of God, competing notions of how people should be organized politically: in discrete nation-states, or in world-straddling Caliphates and/or multicultural empires. It asks us to choose the better over the less good, or the least bad over the worse, instead of just deferring to some "offended" dream as a way of not now choosing.
Rotberg denounces Naylor for refusing to see that we are in the midst of a global civil war where we have to chooose:
I feel such shame to have been associated with a University that feels that its facilities must be given to those who would destroy our freedoms, and one which fails to understand that tolerance is a two-way concept. Your moral equivalency is misplaced. Israel is the first front in a war that has already come to our shores. That war has nothing to do with “sharing” land, but is about an attempt to enforce Western submission to Islamic values, including Sharia Law.If Rotberg and I are right that we are in the midst of a global civil war, it is incumbent on everyone to ask which side or coalition is most likely to be able to represent a future peace? Under whose inevitably somewhat limited terms might Jews and Muslims and Christians and everyone else be best able to co-exist in individual freedom and global economic sufficiency? It is not enough to marginalzie the reality of deadly conflict that affects people around us and to pre-suppose peace by simply insisting on "diversity", "inclusiveness", "Islam", now! You either recognize the reality of inevitable conflict, or not. You either divorce yourself from reality by playing the Utopian Gnostic who is "against all violence and all racism", ignoring the costs to others of your playing the fool, the pacifist, or the PC speech enforcer; or you take a responsible position on which side or possible coalition is best able to lead us to a new shared reality and freedom, with yet not completely forseeable terms, recognizing that not everyone or everything can be included in the new terms of peace. We must maximize that freedom, that inclusiveness, but endlessly chanting "diversity", "inclusivenes" does not make it so. As Rotberg says, our sense of justice must overrule our sense of tolerance at times. Or better put, we can only be truly tolerant of others with whom we disagree when we take a clear stand for justice. Only then might one be a truly gracious, tolerant, leader, and not a slippery trickster.
I have recently written a book called TOLERism: The Ideology Revealed. You might be interested in reading it, although I must warn you that while Chapters Indigo carries 8 different titles by or about Noam Chomsky, my works have been banned by Canada’s monopoly book retailer because they are “offensive” to illiberals.
My grandparents and aunt were gassed to death in the gas chambers of Auschwitz and my father was slave labour there and barely survived. For years, I felt that it was possible as a Jew to attend the University of Toronto and still publically adhere to the biblical value of justice. Unfortunately, in your quest for “tolerance” you have abnegated the historical values of our country, based on Justice being a more important value than Tolerance. My father and his family were certainly not helped by “Tolerance” and I dare say that a continuation of the trends at your university will make it impossible for my grandchildren to attend there. My daughter has two degrees from University of Toronto and my son-in-law has three degrees from U. of T. I believe that if present trends continue, no further members of my family will be able to attend University of Toronto. By abnegating all standards in the name of freedom and tolerance, and by failing to stand for Justice over Tolerance, you are party to the decline of a once-great university.
Please take me off all mailing lists for University of Toronto, University College, and the Faculty of Law, whether it be for financial solicitations, reports or magazines.
I am removing from my office wall my two degrees from University of Toronto. I shall be mailing them back to you.
Shame on you.
S. Howard Rotberg B.A., LL.B
Rotberg Development Group
Brantcord Group of Companies
Southern Ontario Affordable Housing Inc.
Literary website: www.howardrotberg.ca
We must be able to narrow some roads from past to future, in order to open up others more capacious, knowing full well we may get things all wrong. This is our tragic human reality that no amount of feel-good rhetoric can overcome. Sooner or later, under the force of events, the university President's ability to ever temporize, will completely lose its footing. And then the question of whether he has left the university "community" any ground on which to stand and build an acceptable future will have to be faced. If you have been promised the moon, you will probably then have nothing. However, if you have been building on some incompletely-nuanced ground, you may well have something to work with. Rotberg's position is in no way complete unto itself; the quest for justice is never complete and final; but some such stand for individual and institutional responsibility is a necessary starting point for any hope of justice. Some others may have to mail in their degrees so that eventually not everyone will feel so obliged.