«« TERRORISME - conflit israélo-palestinien

Manifestation à Concordia à l'occasion du passage de Benjamin Nétanyahou

Making Concordia whole again

The Gazette Thursday, September 12, 2002

Squelching student debate on a world issue as important as the Middle East is hardly an ideal thing for a university to do. But in the wake of Monday's disgraceful riot that forced the cancelation of a speech by former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Concordia probably had no choice but to do just that. With the house on fire, Rector Frederick Lowy had to douse the flames first. But now comes the re-building.

Concordia needs to get this right, if only because the pictures that appeared on national news broadcasts this week won't make it any easier for the university to raise money, attract serious students or recruit good faculty. Concordia needs to demonstrate in no uncertain terms that chaos does not rule on campus and that mobs do not determine who will and who will not speak. At the very least, Dr. Lowy will have to do his best to follow through on promises to find those responsible and take the appropriate action - up to and including expulsion. Anything less would reinforce negative perceptions about the school and set an ugly precedent for Canadian universities in general.

Beyond Monday's individual wrongdoers, the administrators must also take steps to detoxify the rancorous atmosphere on campus. Trouble has been brewing at Concordia for some time. University factions seem to have little respect for the principles of democracy. Some students claim to have been intimidated and threatened. The air is thick with charges and countercharges. The sense of community vital to a university cannot long endure in such an atmosphere.

No one expects the clash of ideas to be polite always. A campus is not an Outremont salon. Passion is welcome and even encouraged; arguments can be loud, sometimes raucous. Nor does the discussion have to be inoffensive. Students should be prepared to hear a wide range of opinions - from those of Mr. Netanyahu to those of Yasser Arafat, for example - and to deal with ideas that challenge their deepest and most sacred beliefs. Discomfort is part of the experience.

But violence and intimidation have no place on a university campus. It might well be that Concordia's administrators should have moved sooner; it is certain that they must move now. The school's governors should not be afraid to be creative and daring. Turfing out troublemakers is a good start, for example, but it might not be enough.

The students who expressed their delight Monday night at having stopped Mr. Netanyahu's speech thereby proved that they need some very basic education about free speech. Concordia officials should consider a mandatory course or series of lectures on the basic rules of conduct and civility in a democracy and at a university.

Concordia already does a good job of providing its students with the tools they need to be good professionals; it shouldn't shortchange them on the skills they need to take their place in an open society.