Moonlighting: Non-Specialists in the News
Canadian Professor Defends Attendance at Tehran Holocaust Conference [on Shiraz Dossa]
by Karen Birchard
A tenured professor at St. Francis Xavier University who was widely criticized for attending a Holocaust conference in Tehran in December has blasted his critics, calling his academic superiors illiterate "Islamophobes" in an essay published on Monday in the influential Literary Review of Canada.
Shiraz Dossa, a professor of political science who is Muslim and has studied the Holocaust for 20 years, delivered an academic paper at the Tehran conference and then found himself at the center of a public controversy back in Canada, complete with demands that he be fired, after Western news-media reports labeled the event as a Holocaust-denial meeting.
Mr. Dossa, who was roundly castigated by politicians, columnists, and administrators at his own university, said in an interview on Tuesday that he had never denied the Holocaust but had pointed out its propaganda value. He said that half a dozen of the 44 academics at the conference were Holocaust deniers, and that they were considered a fringe group by the others.
"One doesn't go to Tehran to listen to Holocaust deniers; one goes to North America or Europe," he said. "That's where they are."
In his essay, "The Explanation We Never Heard," Mr. Dossa accuses St. Francis Xavier, a highly ranked university located in Nova Scotia, of authorizing a "small Spanish Inquisition" to denounce him, thus creating an atmosphere in which other professors were afraid to speak out in his defense.
"I have a lot of silent support," he said. "I am not going to leave. I am not going to be a scapegoat. And I don't want to damage the university."
He writes in his essay that the university "sanctioned a crusade against a Muslim Holocaust scholar" based on fallacies. And he asks if academic freedom applies only to Christians and Jews.
That question, said Bronwyn Drainie, editor of the Literary Review of Canada, was thought-provoking and needed discussion, which was why the magazine decided to publish Mr. Dossa's essay. "It goes to the heart of academic freedom of expression. To espouse the principle of freedom of speech and then to shout down a scholar who attends a conference where objectionable views are expressed by other people raises serious questions about what it means and who in Canada is allowed to claim it."
The university's president, Sean E. Riley, said he was not critical of Mr. Dossa's scholarship, but he stood by the decision in December to separate or distance the university from the Tehran conference.
"The conference was rightly condemned," Mr. Riley said. "We fundamentally disagree on the conference, and I have no intention of lending credibility to it. The key thing here is that academic freedom is operating. Sure, there are differences, but we have openness of debate."
However, James Turk, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, noted that the whipping up of sentiment that occurred in the weeks following the Tehran conference was roughly analogous to what happened in the McCarthy era.
"There was an attempt by colleagues and the media to try to shut him up," Mr. Turk said. "With academic freedom, the response to speech is more speech, not silence."Note: Articles listed under "Moonlighting: Non-Specialists in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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