June 2007

Contents Related Letters

Re: “The Explanation We Never Heard,” by Shiraz Dossa

Public controversy has been intense over attendance by a member of St. FX faculty, Dr. Shiraz Dossa, at the Tehran conference “Review of the Holocaust: Global Vision”.

For the record, I offer my own personal answers to three questions: What is the fundamental source of disagreement? Why is this controversy still unresolved? And is academic freedom operating, or on the contrary, being oppressed?

The fundamental disagreement is over the nature of the conference. Dr. Dossa has defended the conference as a scholarly exercise and “not a Holocaust denial conference by any stretch.”

The background to the conference and the fact that a “who’s who” of Holocaust revisionists and deniers from around the world were invited and given a platform for their views, to me, continues to suggest a fundamentally different conclusion.

In addition to the condemnation from various world leaders, including Canada’s prime minister, I note that as of January over 30 of the world’s prestigious policy and academic institutes had suspended ties with the sponsoring Iranian institute until there was an explicit “repudiation of Holocaust denial and a return to academic standards.”

In short, my desire to disassociate the university’s name from any suggestion of support for the conference is founded not on a hasty or ill-informed basis, but on an assessment that elements of the conference were abhorrent.

From this starting point we can see why the controversy has become inflamed and is moving rather slowly to resolution. Dr. Dossa, starting from the premise that the conference was a scholarly exercise, argues vigorously that his right to attend the conference should be defended, and that failure to recognize and defend his scholarly decision to do so amounts to a serious offence against his academic freedom.

First a very, very important clarification.

Harsh words have been flying from various quarters within and beyond the campus. However, in everything I have said as university president I have at no time commented on Dr. Dossa’s scholarship, or his particular analysis of issues. Nor have I ever suggested that Dr. Dossa is a Holocaust denier. His scholarship and publication over his career show the contrary. He defends himself with vigour on this point and I agree that a number of critics have been unfair, even extreme.

A second clarification is important. St. Francis Xavier University, certainly in as much as I speak for it, has not denied Dr. Dossa’s right to attend this or any other conference judged by him to be of a scholarly nature.

Where passions have been inflamed is this: support for the right under academic freedom to attend the Tehran conference does not necessarily bring with it support for the decision to do so. Dr. Dossa feels passionately, according to his public statements, that his academic freedoms were infringed on because his decision to attend the conference, a scholarly gathering in his field of expertise, was not actively endorsed by the university.

This brings us to the question of whether academic freedom is operating or being oppressed in this case at St. FX.

There are striking reasons to believe it is operating.

The faculty member has exercised his free choice to attend the conference. He has expressed his views on the nature of the conference and the issues it addressed. He has reacted to the opinions, both positive and negative, of his colleagues. He has aimed some criticisms in the direction of university administrators and media. He has not been censured under university discipline rules, nor has his status at the university changed.

One concern raised by Dr. Dossa will illustrate the point. It relates to a petition that was circulated and signed by over a hundred of his faculty colleagues. The petitioners, “while adamantly defending the academic freedom of our colleague,” stated that they were “nevertheless profoundly embarrassed by his participation in the Holocaust-denial conference in Tehran …”

Dr. Dossa has wondered why this petition was “tolerated” by the university, particularly in light of his view that this description of the conference was based on ignorance. In fact, the existence of the petition was but another example of the very academic freedom enjoyed by Dr. Dossa. Just as Dr. Dossa had the right to speak and write freely, so too the petitioners had the right of faculty to express their opinions.

The underlying point in all of this is that academic freedom applies on all sides of an academic controversy. And this means that those who are protected and supported in the expressing of their critical and controversial views must allow that same protection and support to those who disagree with them. Dr. Dossa is right to expect the protection of his academic freedom, but as that right will also be accorded to others, he must also realize that the very institution of academic freedom implies openness to criticism from others. Faculty members will use this freedom to criticize the position of other faculty members, and even administrators may be required to react to controversial opinions.

During this controversy I have had the new experience of being publicly denounced by a member of faculty as everything from “illiterate” to the author of “professional failure of the worst kind for a university president.” It’s not all that enjoyable, but it is a feature of the vibrant academic freedom that is fundamental to our university system. For that I’ll consider it important and memorable. And maybe with effort we will find a higher level of reconciliation.

So it should be in a free and open university environment.

Sean E. Riley
President, St. Francis Xavier University
Antigonish, Nova Scotia

Sean Riley misrepresents last December’s Iran conference and his role in my vilification. He misconstrues academic freedom and my critique of the faculty attack on me. Suffice it to touch on a few central points.

It was not, as Dr. Riley claims, a “who’s who” conference of Holocaust deniers. Only six of the 33 paper presenters could be classified as deniers/skeptics; the only so-called celebrities in this group were the French university professor Robert Faurisson and the nonentity David Duke. The deniers were not “from around the world,” as Riley asserts; the few there were all from the U.S. and Europe. To the Iranian/Muslim audience, they were risible figures. The conference sponsor, the Iranian Institute for Political and International Studies (IPIS), invited them to stress that anti-Semitism is a western, white, Christian obsession.

Dr. Riley is not qualified to judge the “nature of the conference.” He is not a scholar of the Holocaust, Iran or Shiite Islam. He has no scholarly expertise on the Middle East. I know of no publications by him in this field. He was a “policy advisor” to the departments of Foreign Affairs and Finance and to the Privy Council in Ottawa, and a bank executive in the “private sector” prior to his arrival at St. FX.

It is not an accident that he invokes another non-scholar, “Canada’s prime minister,” to back up his judgement. This is the same Stephen Harper who, in May 2006, rushed to condemn Iran for proposing a new law that would force Jews “to wear coloured labels in public.” It was an inaccurate story, but Harper ran with it (Canadian Press, May 19, 2006).

In his December 13, 2006, statement, Dr. Riley asserted that “in its origins and focus,” the conference “revealed unmistakable and deplorable anti-Semitism.” This is rubbish. Iran has one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world; 27,000 Iranian Jews still live in Iran, and will not emigrate to Israel.

I have never sought immunity from criticism. I never asked that St. FX. “actively endorse” my decision to attend the conference. My colleagues were free to criticize my conference choice as each saw fit individually. However, there was a collective attack on me, in the form of a petition. In my opinion, this was a planned event from on high. My objection is not to criticism, but to the organized campaign of vilification.

The conference was a sideshow. The real issue was the Catholic need to placate the Zionist lobby. Bishop Raymond Lahey’s letter to The Globe and Mail last December indicated as much. It was thus acceptable to attack a Muslim Holocaust scholar to appease this cabal.

If two Muslim professors had launched a campaign against a Jewish professor, it would have been stopped forthwith. Yet two Jewish faculty members (albeit with the Christian chair of my department) led the attack on me with St. FX’s blessing.

If, as Dr. Riley claims, he was troubled by the “abhorrent” elements at the Iran conference, why was he not troubled by the equally abhorrent anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic paper on Islam presented by Rabbi Richard Rubenstein at a St. FX-sponsored conference in September 2006, on the campus over which Dr. Riley presides? Why have Dr. Riley and Bishop Lahey not condemned this outrage?

It seems that Dr. Riley and Bishop Lahey and I also disagree on how to deal with Holocaust deniers/skeptics. In my view, one that I share with Jewish historians Raul Hilberg and Deborah Lipstadt, banning Holocaust denial is counter-productive: It suggests we “lack the evidence to make the case for the Holocaust” (Lipstadt); “it is a sign of weakness, not of strength” (Hilberg).

Shiraz Dossa
St. Francis Xavier University
Antigonish, Nova Scotia

As a daily reader of The Globe and Mail, I was disturbed by the stance it took on the Tehran conference. By no stretch of the imagination am I knowledgeable on the subject of Muslim-Jewish relations, but I have always sought to keep an open mind and to search for the truth.

Over two trips wandering with my husband through Morocco, talking to residents and questioning them, I learned that Muslim Morocco stood up to European anti-Semitism during World War Two: faced with Vichy colonial laws like those excluding Jews from public life, Sultan Mohammed V apparently declared that “there are no Jews in Morocco, only Moroccans” (paraphrased).

We were on our first trip to Morocco in 2003 when the Iraq war was declared. Despite our very obvious Caucasian western tourist appearance, never were we treated with anything but the utmost courtesy and warmth, though I’m sure some Moroccans could have mistaken us for Americans and “our country” for that attacking Muslim Iraq. It was in part because of the generosity of spirit of all those Moroccans we met that we chose to return for a second visit. This time we chanced to travel during Ramadan and were twice invited to share a meal in the home of complete strangers. We accepted the second time and it is one of our most cherished memories of the trip.

When it comes down to the nitty-gritty, it would appear that people are people: some are fanatics and manipulative, and some are genuinely kind and accepting—religion notwithstanding.

Micheline Mallory
Victoria, British Columbia

Professor Dossa’s excuses regarding his attendance of the December 2006 “International Conference to Review the Global Vision of the Holocaust” demonstrate poor scholarship and faulty logic. Even if we accept his claim that only 6 out of 33 presenters were Holocaust deniers, then that means that at a supposedly academic conference, roughly 19 percent of the presenters were deniers. It would be unacceptable for a major academic conference on Darwin to have 19 percent of the presenters advocate creationism—were this the case, the conference organizers’ commitment to science itself would be questioned.

Dossa also misuses the word “anti-Semitism”—the word was specifically coined by 19th-century Germans who wanted to describe their hatred of Jews in racial (or pseudoscientific) terms as opposed to theological terms. It was never used to describe hatred of Muslims. Indeed, the Nazi regime even openly recruited aid from the Muslim world in its final solution.

Dossa also claims that anti-Semitism is an exclusively western problem. Policies of humiliating and subjugating Jews had been common in many (though not all) nations and eras of the Islamic world. These humiliations were, for the most part, not as severe as what occurred in Christian Europe, and at some points—notably in al-Andalus—Jews had great liberty. Nevertheless, Muslim countries (most significantly in the Arab world) adopted many elements of western anti-Semitism in the 19th and 20th centuries—first from Christian missionaries and later through Nazis and neo-Nazis.

Furthermore, a “spiritual wish” by a head of state for the elimination of the Jewish state is hardly without significance. It is the practice of Holocaust deniers to claim that Hitler did not intend to murder Jews because his public statements regarding the fate of the Jews were always in terms of prophecy and not policy.

I suppose Dossa has learnt something from the conference.

Ian Thal
Somerville, Massachusetts

Shiraz Dossa’s essay in the Literary Review of Canada is not, as described in The Globe and Mail, “a blistering published attack on his university president and his colleagues for being illiterate Islamophobes.” On the contrary, it seems to me to be a highly articulate—and justifiably indignant—attempt to set the record straight. But if it caused any blisters on the thin skins of the sanctimonious and self-righteous, who are so quick to condemn others they suspect of holding politically unpopular positions—well then, good. I fail to understand why so few people see the blatant irony in these self-appointed guardians of liberty being so willing to discard that cornerstone liberty, freedom of expression, the moment they suspect someone of daring even to listen to someone express something they don’t like.

Ken Stange
Nipissing University
North Bay, Ontario

You are to be commended for opening your pages to a significant debate. But I’m afraid that Professor Dossa’s rebuttal is as skewed and ideological as those he critiques. For example, when one engages in a debate by characterizing one’s opponents as “illiterate” and “anti intellectual,” this is the form of fallacious argument known as the ad hominem. One does not call one’s opponents names; one examines their argument. So let’s look at part of Professor Dossa’s argument. He says, “the notion that Iran can ‘wipe out’ U.S.-backed, nuclear-armed Israel is ludicrous.”

I’m sure that everyone has noticed over the last year or so an ongoing story in the press regarding Iran’s seeking to develop its nuclear capacity. That this is for power generation is unlikely in a country that is a major producer of oil. Most observers, including Mohamed ElBaradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency, think that Iran is not far from being able to construct nuclear weapons. ElBaradei has said, “We believe they pretty much have the knowledge about how to enrich. From now on, it is simply a question of perfecting that knowledge. People will not like to hear it, but that’s a fact.” Most articles on this story are wildly skewed depending on the affiliations of the media in question. The Jerusalem Post suggests that Iran is mere months away from a bomb, while Al Jazeera says Iran has no nuclear weapons program. And both claim to be quoting ElBaradei, who has been fairly circumspect in what he says. But consider this: Israel is a very tiny place, only 50 kilometres wide. Iran is a large country in comparison. If Iran acquired only two nuclear bombs and exploded them in, say, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, that would pretty much be the end of Israel and its own nuclear weapons and the backing of the U.S. would be largely irrelevant.

Given this, the notion that Israel could be wiped out is far from ludicrous—especially if you know something about the recent history of the Middle East. Israel has been attacked by its Arab neighbours in concert several times since its birth in 1948. Plainly, the Arab nations of the Middle East think it possible to wipe out Israel.

Bryan Townsend
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

Let me state at the outset that Professor Shiraz Dossa of St. Francis Xavier University had every right to attend the conference in Iran titled “The Review of the Holocaust: Global Vision”, which was widely referred to in Canada as a “Holocaust denial conference.” Academic freedom should extend not just to those who make us comfortable in our beliefs, but also to those who cause us to lose sleep.

However, this is where I part company with Dossa. The reason I do so is partly because Dossa went out of his way to distance himself from his Canadian identity. Dossa told Michael Valpy of The Globe and Mail: “It was a conference for scholars in the global South … who wanted to examine the Holocaust and its significance unrestrained by the lenses through which it is viewed by the West.” Dossa has been in the “West” for over 40 years. Canada is where he obtained his PhD. This is where he became a tenured professor. Yet he clearly seems to identify with scholars “in the Global South,” not Canada.

What troubled me even more was Dossa’s selective solidarity with Muslims. His stand on the plight of Palestinians needs to be respected, but what about the oppression of Muslims by his hosts, the Iranian government? He was visiting a country that has the rape and murder of a fellow Muslim Canadian, Zahra Kazemi, on its hands. Another fellow Muslim academic from the University of Toronto, Professor Ramin Jahanbegloo, spent many months in an Iranian prison. If the treatment of Muslims is so dear to Dossa’s heart, why did he not raise the issue of Kazemi and Jahanbegloo during his speech at the conference? If Israel is using the Holocaust to perpetuate its occupation of Palestine, then aren’t the ruling ayatollahs using Islam as a tool to perpetuate their oppression of Iran?

Beginning just this April, in a campaign to enforce the Islamic dress code, 14,635 Muslim women were arrested in the streets of the Iran. Over 100,000 were reprimanded by the police. Their crime? Their hair was showing from under their hijabs.

Shiraz Dossa was the guest of a regime that is an oppressive theocratic dictatorship; a regime that has supervised the killing of tens of thousands and imprisoned many more since 1979. Ahmadinejad has no moral authority to talk about occupation and Dossa should have reminded him of this fact. He didn’t.

Tarek Fatah
Toronto, Ontario

This professor has not been treated fairly by either the media or by his university. I do not defend the conference in question or the views represented there—the fact that I did not attend means that I am in no position to do so. Given that Professor Dossa’s field of research is the impact of the Holocaust on Middle Eastern politics, however, I would speculate that this conference would be of great academic interest to him, no matter which views were represented. It would be false to assume that the simple act of attending a conference in some way equals a philosophical agreement with every opinion presented there.

Sarah Ramer
Toronto, Ontario

While it is difficult to disagree with Dr. Dossa’s claim that his university may have acted without much consideration for his academic rights, some of what he says in his essay causes concern.

Dr. Dossa says “none of us knew that a few deniers/skeptics would be in attendance … In southern conferences, one rarely knows who will be appearing until one gets there.” This statement is very difficult to accept. Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Manouchehr Mohammadi, held a news conference on December 5, 2006, that was widely reported. There, according to the New York Times, Mr. Mohammadi said the Tehran conference would “provide the opportunity for scholars from both sides to give their papers in freedom and without preconceived ideas.” He refused to give the names of the 67 scholars invited to attend the seminar out of fear that their countries would prohibit them from coming.

Given these statements, a Holocaust scholar like Dr. Dossa should surely have known that infamous “deniers/skeptics” such as David Duke and Robert Faurisson would be in attendance.

Dr. Dossa’s statement that “Iran’s elites have protected Jews since Cyrus ruled West Asia” seems similarly questionable. The history of Jews in Iran is indeed ancient, and according to the 1979 constitution the Jewish faith is recognized. Unlike Christians, however, according to Helen Chapin Metz’s Iran: A Country Study, “the Jews have been viewed with suspicion by the government, probably because of the government’s intense hostility toward Israel. Iranian Jews generally have many relatives in Israel—some 45,000 Iranian Jews emigrated from Iran to Israel between 1948 and 1977—with whom they are in regular contact. Since 1979 the government has cited mail and telephone communications as evidence of ‘spying’ in the arrest, detention, and even execution of a few prominent Jews.”

According to the same source, the Jewish population in Iran was 85,000 in 1978. In the news conference cited above, Mohammadi “dismissed the notion that the seminar could promote anti-Semitism, saying anti-Semitism was a Western phenomenon. The proof for that, he said, was Iran’s community of 25,000 Jews.”

Leslie Smith
St. Andrews, New Brunswick

Shiraz Dossa claims that characterizing last December’s “The Review of the Holocaust: Global Vision” event in Tehran as a Holocaust-denial conference is a “fallacy,” one “concocted by the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Jewish Defence League …”.

(For the record, the Simon Wiesenthal Center has absolutely nothing to do with the Jewish Defence League and has no knowledge of what the JDL did or does or what their motivation is or was with respect to this matter.)

Mr. Dossa goes on to claim that “It was the Zionists and the neo-Nazis who, for very different, self-serving reasons, depicted it as a Holocaust-denial conference …” In fact it is Mr. Dossa and not Zionists who cavorted with neo-Nazis, such as the ones who were in Tehran. As for the characterization of the conference as being a Holocaust-denial forum, that labeling came from a myriad of universally respected sources, not just from the SWC.

Mr. Dossa then seeks to wrap himself in the mantle of righteousness by arguing the following points:

a) that Israel has an alleged racist and fascist Deputy Prime Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, according to him and to Ha’aretz, and other unquoted sources,

b) that Canada refuses to meet with Hamas leaders and says nothing about Mr. Lieberman, and

c) that “… St. FX provided a public platform to (what only he describes: LA) as an anti-Muslim, anti-Iranian racist rabbi.”, but that that was fine with him, because “… this was still a scholarly, enlightening conference although tainted by Rubenstein’s hate-speech … (just as was) … the Iran conference on the Holocaust, although tainted by the presence of a few western, Christian Holocaust deniers.”

What the first two points have to do with regards to the Iran conference or his attendance there is beyond me. Leaving aside the matter of whether or not his characterization of Mr. Lieberman is accurate, Prime Ministers and Presidents choose who is to be in their Cabinet for many reasons. The make-up of the Palestinian Authority is a case in point. Similarly, the decision of whether government leaders want to or don’t want to meet other government leaders has nothing to do with this issue. Many politicians have to set aside their personal views in order to further what they perceive to be a national interest and, accordingly, they greet (or not) their opposite Ministers. Policy decisions by Canada, Israel or the Palestinian Authority are irrelevant to the Tehran conference and Mr. Dossa’s raising of this red herring is an unsuccessful attempt to detract from his actions.

As for Rabbi Rubenstein, I don’t know him and I don’t know what he said. But to listen to Mr. Dossa, either Mr. Dossa is wrong – and everyone else is right, or, he’s right and the rest of the audience is wrong in not “getting it” that the Rabbi is a racist. In other words, Mr. Dossa is alleging that those who heard Rabbi Rubenstein were either ignorant or were themselves sympathetic to his alleged “ … anti-Muslim tirade and his labelling of Islam as ‘Islamo-Fascism’ … ”, a rather broad stroke of the paintbrush by Mr. Dossa in describing a well-educated audience.

And ultimately, the fact that Mr. Dossa’s interpretation of the Rabbi’s speech seems to have been supported by only one person – himself – doesn’t leave me with a lot of confidence in his analysis.

To paraphrase the O. J. Simpson case: “if the mantle don’t fit – don’t wear it”.

Mr. Dossa then takes on John Ibbitson and Rex Murphy, writers who can certainly defend themselves much more eloquently than I can. However, a comment is in order. Whether or not his criticisms of these men’s intellect, scholastic ability, or knowledge of the issues are fit and proper is for them to debate with Mr. Dossa, but when he characterizes “…these Christian boys (as having) unlimited latitude in The Globe and Mail to trash Muslims even as they defend “civilization”, Israel and Jews.”, his true colours become crystal-clear: anyone (and in this instance, Christians) who is in any way critical of Muslims (the people) or Islam (the religion) must be in the service of Israel and Jews and, to boot, has the media unflinchingly behind them. Mr. Dossa shamelessly piles one canard unto another stereotype.

Leo Adler
Director of National Affairs, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies
Toronto, Ontario

Please Note: this letter was excerpted from an essay-length response by Leo Adler to “The Explanation We Never Heard.”  To read his original piece in full, as it was received by the LRC, visit http://www.fswc.ca/downloads/adler_v_dossa.pdf.

Thank you for printing Professor Dossa’s explanation of events. In these days of rampant academic corruption, where universities have become businesses kowtowing to corporations, alumni, “clients” and their parents, and where publish-or-perish self-promotion encourages the trendy and the vapid at the expense of the true, it is heartwarming to be reminded that there are still professors like Dossa and institutions like yours that have a sense of integrity.

Adèle Mercier
Queen’s University
Kingston, Ontario

We were surprised to read Professor Shiraz Dossa’s account of his visit to the Tehran Holocaust denial conference and, as Canadian academics, were even more surprised to read in the press that the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) was so outspokenly supportive of Professor Dossa’s participation in that conference.

Professor Dossa’s complaint, as we understand it, is that since his return from the Tehran conference he has been subject to much criticism, but not to discipline. Academic freedom and freedom of expression, which we all support, do not render any of us immune from being criticized. Professor Dossa attended a notorious conference whose Holocaust revisionist theme—whether Professor Dossa agrees with that theme or not—was advertised by the organizers worldwide.

The position taken by CAUT that Professor Dossa was being admonished for attending a conference expressing “unpopular views” is, quite frankly, offensive to us. The conference expressed abhorrent, racist views. As an academic Professor Dossa had a right to attend this event, but we would hope Canadian academics of good conscience would condemn it.

Prof. Irving Abella
York University, Toronto, Ontario

Prof. Aviva Freedman
Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario

Prof. Victor Glickman
University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia

Prof. Nora Gold
University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario

Prof. Michael Grand
Guelph University, Guelph, Ontario

Prof. Ernie Lightman
University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario

Prof. Jack Mintz
University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario

Prof. Maureen Molot
Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario

Prof. Ed Morgan
University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario

Prof. Arthur Ripstein
University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario

Prof. Bryan Schwartz
University of Manitoba, Winnepeg, Manitoba

Prof. Gil Troy
McGill University, Montreal, Quebec

Prof. Carol Zemel
York University, Toronto, Ontario

I recently read “The Explanation We Never Heard” and was compelled to write this letter.

The essay is very well written and the footnotes are complete. It is sad that Professor Dossa has suffered due to his treatment by the press and by St. FX administration. He sounds hurt, angry, resentful and somewhat indignant.

However his foot stamping and name calling (“Trailer Park Boys,” “Spanish Inquisition”) seem to contradict his assertion of victimhood.

In Professor Dossa’ s essay he laments that as an academic he should be elevated to a position beyond the reproach of the general public, the press and his sponsoring institution. He suggests that all academics should be treated that way so as to insure the free and fair exchange of ideas. That goes both ways I’m afraid.

Canada is a free society and there is an expectation of equality for all citizens. No one person or group is exempt, regardless of their vocation. When I offend people in my community I hear about it in terms that I don’t like. Professor Dossa offended people in his community and across the nation—and he heard about it in terms that he didn’t like. Is it reasonable to expect that he be treated differently as a citizen because of his tenure? Furthermore, he should understand that the more public the vocation, the louder the outcry when you offend, and from a greater number of people. If Professor Dossa insists on consorting with an anti-western civilization, anti-democratic process, anti-freedom of expression crowd he must be prepared for the inevitable backlash from Canadians.

I encourage him to accept responsibility for his actions and to deploy his considerable education for more useful purposes than quantifying the amount of fear and outrage that is reasonable to expect from a race that was very nearly wiped off the face of the earth.

Lorne Weiner
[Location withheld by request]

Sean E. Riley, the President of St. Francis Xavier University, has a very shallow understanding of the point of academic freedom, or so at least his letter to LRC would indicate (Letters and Responses, July/August 2007). President Riley is mistaken in thinking that both his failure to criticize the petition against Shiraz Dossa and his attempt to distance his university from the conference in Tehran that Professor Dossa attended are the actions of a university president strongly committed to academic freedom.

The point of academic freedom is to remove from inquiry pressures other than those of evidence and argument. The point of a petition is, precisely, to apply political or social pressure. President Riley is right that he ought not have sought to shut down the petition, but a president committed to academic freedom would have stated publicly that a petition drive creates a climate of intimidation and is entirely contrary to the spirit of free inquiry.

President Riley worried that Professor Dossa’s attending the conference in Tehran might tarnish the reputation of his university, for, as President Riley says, “elements of the conference were abhorrent.” He might be right about these elements. Clearly, though, a university’s reputation as a place of research and teaching cannot be affected by where a professor speaks or to whom he communicates his views. Only the quality of a professor’s work can do that. President Riley must be thinking of some other aspect of St.FX’s reputation. But to hold a professor answerable to something other than the quality of his research or teaching is to say that the pressures of evidence and argument are not the only pressures that should guide his work. And that, again, is not the position of a university president strongly committed to academic freedom.

Read more in the newsletter of the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship.

Mark Mercer
Saint Mary’s University
Halifax, Nova Scotia

Shiraz Dossa’s essay on last year’s Holocaust conference in Iran is filled with misrepresentations and simple factual errors, and demonstrates an appalling willingness to whitewash Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s universally recognized history of Jew-baiting and Holocaust denial.

There is no doubt that the Tehran conference was specifically convened to promote the view that the Holocaust is a hoax that Jews invented and imposed on the entire world. Although many of the Arab and Iranian participants at the conference were content to lambaste “global Zionism” for its role in promoting the “Holocaust story,” six out of the seven major sessions of the two-day conference featured speeches by well-known Holocaust deniers and neo-Nazis from western countries—including David Duke, Robert Faurisson and others—who attended the conference as guests of the Iranian government. The Institute for Political and International Studies (IPIS), which convened the conference and invited the deniers, is directed by a branch of the Iranian Foreign Ministry—a fact that can be ascertained simply by looking at the IPIS website.

Nor was this the first time that Iran had sought out western Holocaust deniers to help propagandize its populace with anti-Jewish and anti-Israel messages. In the year leading up to the conference, Iran’s semi-official Mehr News Agency broadcast interviews with at least six international Holocaust deniers. Several Iranian universities received as guest lecturers two Holocaust deniers who lugged with them a scale model of Auschwitz specially customized to omit the presence of gas chambers. All this, as well as Mr. Ahmadinejad’s public attacks on Holocaust history, was public information well before the IPIS conference.

To our knowledge, Dr. Dossa was the only scholar from a mainstream western university to attend the conference. No doubt the organizers were delighted by the prestige his institutional affiliation lent the proceedings. Whether out of malice or foolishness, it is a service Dr. Dossa continues to willingly provide his hosts in Tehran.

Abraham H. Foxman
National Director, Anti-Defamation League
New York, New York

I’m not surprised by the ignorance and prejudice displayed by a number of academics at St. Francis Xavier University. Being more concerned with the institution’s reputation than anything else, they quickly attacked both Professor Dossa and the Holocaust conference in Iran. Fear and self-interest are powerful factors and, even at the heart of the place where truth is held in greatest esteem, it is truth itself that becomes first victim when such factors are brought into play. (It takes more courage than most people have not to fall into line.)

Michael E. Hunter
Gatineau, Quebec

In publishing Shiraz Dossa’s essay challenging his characterization by the media, the LRC should be commended for the depth of its dedication to academic and press freedom.

However, the LRC’s “rigorous fact-checking that went on for a number of weeks” is considerably less admirable.

Dossa falsely states that Iranian president Mahmud Ahmadinejad “has not denied the Holocaust.” (See, for example, “Iranian President Calls Holocaust a ‘Myth’ in Live TV Broadcast,” Guardian, 15  December 2005 http://www.guardian.co.uk/print/0,,5356293-111322,00.html – or “We are determined: Spiegel interview with Iran’s President Ahmadinejad”, Der Spiegel online, 30 May 2006 – http://www.spiegel.de/international/spiegel/0,1518,druck-418660,00.html.) He then conflates that issue with the separate one of mistranslation to claim British journalist Jonathan Steele and U.S. Middle East scholar Juan Cole “have come to the same conclusion.” Steele and Cole would, no doubt, not be impressed.

In arguing that Ahmadinejad has merely “raised doubts about the scale of the Holocaust” and that this is not Holocaust denial, Dossa attributes “such questioning and criticism” to Israeli scholars such as Ilan Pappé, Tom Segev and Uri Davis. Again, they would not be impressed by Dossa’s suggestion they have questioned the scale of the Holocaust.

I disagree with much of the essay Dossa penned to defend himself, but I wholeheartedly join the LRC in defending his right to publish it.

Regan Boychuk
Calgary, Alberta

I want to congratulate LRC for publishing Shiraz Dossa’s article, “The Explanation we never Heard.” His piece reveals the knee-jerk response that Canadian and American journalism exhibits whenever the charge of anti-Semitism is shouted out. The cry, “anti-Semite,” should be constrained with the same sort of caution that we expect for the cry of “Fire” in a theatre. There are too many people like Rex Murphy (whose ignorance is matched only by his willingness to pontificate from a perspective of moral superiority on any subject whatever), who are willing to pillory an individual as anti-Semitic should he or she dare to suggest that Israeli policy toward its Arab neighbours and citizens is anything less that enlightened and just.

Leon Surette
University of Western Ontario
Hamilton, Ontario

Professor Shiraz Dossa may choose to clothe himself in the attire of the injured academic whose intellectual freedom has been quashed and the Literary Review of Canada may try to help him tailor that suit, but it fits poorly. The LRC has allowed Dossa to offer a conspiracy theory in which Jews and Christians conspire to sully his professional reputation. Indeed, he invokes the religion and the orientation of his critics more than a dozen times in his broadside.

Professor Dossa made an error in judgement in attending a conference where, even by his count, almost 20% of the presenters were Holocaust deniers. Invoking a charge of Islamophobia against his critics is nothing more than a ruse.

Let’s consider some of the individuals with whom Professor Dossa broke intellectual bread:

Robert Faurisson, the philosopher of Holocaust denial and, next to Ernst Zundel, the most infamous of his rank, who has called the gas chambers of Auschwitz a myth;

Frederick Toben, who, after thanking the Iranian government for not bowing to “Jewish pressure,” set out his argument that the “claims made against the German people border on madness”;

David Duke, a former Grand Wizard with the American Ku Klux Klan, a strong supporter of Ernst Zundel and a self-styled white separatist whose book My Awakening: A Path to Racial Understanding has been described as racist, anti-Semitic, sexist and homophobic by the Anti-Defamation League;

Patrick McNally, who, in an essay written after the conference stated, “the conclusion of my research and the assumption of this paper is that the Zionist-Semitist story can no longer be seen as an honest mistake, but must be attacked and ridiculed as an irresponsibly vicious blood libel”;

Bradley Smith, head of the Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust, who proudly told his Tehran audience, “I published my first full-page revisionist essay-advertisement in The Daily Northwestern, the student newspaper at Northwestern University near Chicago. It appeared on 04 April 1991. It was titled ‘The Holocaust: How Much is False?’ The text was some 2,700 words.”

It should be noted that Professor Dossa delivered his presentation more than six hours after the conference began; he could have had no doubt as to the company he was keeping. Tenure and academic freedom permit him the luxury to attend any conference he chooses. However, by choosing this conference, he ought to have been prepared for the rightfully harsh criticism he received for giving credibility to racists, white supremacists and Holocaust deniers.

Professor Dossa remains the victim of his own poor choices. Blaming others for the consequences of these choices makes him neither a hero nor a martyr.

On behalf of Canadian Jewish Congress,

Bernie M. Farber
Chief Executive Officer
Toronto, Ontario

Please Note: the Canadian Jewish Congress has also prepared a much lengthier response to Prof. Dossa’s essay, which is available in full at http://www.cjc.ca/docs/RD/210_Rebutal%20of%20Dossa.pdf as it was received by the LRC.

Re: “The Idea Juggler,” by Mel Cappe

It is terrific fun—and indeed an honour—to be reviewed by someone of Mel Cappe’s erudition and intellectual scope, especially when the reviewer engages constructively and largely fairly with one’s book.

But the review contains a surprising number of small and (alas) large mistakes. The account of my discussion of tectonic stresses and multipliers is basically right, but in the next sentences things go off the rails. I don’t see much resembling my ideas in Mr. Cappe’s comments on synchronous failure and threshold effects. Later, he claims I say that the economist Paul Krugman is a defender of “the ideology of laissez-faire capitalism.” But I don’t say anything of the kind anywhere in the book—or anywhere else.

Much of the review is also surprisingly patronizing. My writing style, story telling and personal enthusiasm clearly grate on this reviewer, at least sometimes. But any author trying to get across complex (often scientific) ideas to a general audience has to use many tools to keep readers’ attention while ensuring accurate understanding. I’ve found that anecdotes, first-person accounts and simple everyday examples are indispensable. And, frankly, it’s a bit sad that an author’s expressions of wonder and curiosity are taken as signs of naiveté.

But the real heart of the review, and the heart of my (friendly) disagreement with Mr. Cappe, is the discussion of humankind’s potential to solve its grave problems. Here, it is clear, Mr. Cappe is an unabashed optimist, while I would characterize myself as a realist. Yes, human beings have shown historically that they are enormously creative, adaptive and ingenious (my repeated acknowledgement of this fact isn’t noted in the review), but the issue is whether we will be ingenious enough to solve the problems we’ve created for ourselves now. Since writing The Ingenuity Gap I’ve decided that in the absence of crisis— perhaps caused by some kind of social breakdown under rising stress—we probably won’t be ingenious enough. But a crisis might just do the trick: sometimes human beings only really get going when the going gets really tough. The deciding factor will be whether we have prepared in advance to exploit that crisis—so as to produce a humane, as opposed to a violent, outcome.

And on economic growth, I believe Mr. Cappe is just plain wrong. The threat of climate change alone will focus our minds this century. Current projections suggest the global economy will quadruple in size by 2100. If this happens, even if we make huge strides in energy and material efficiency, carbon output into our atmosphere will probably double from today’s levels. And in that case, it’s likely game over for the habitability of Earth, at least for large numbers of human beings.

If Professor Benjamin Friedman is correct, and our only route to freedom and democracy is perpetual economic growth, then we’re in a real bind. But I’m convinced that a steady-state global economy can be compatible with liberty. Figuring out how to make it so will demand every ounce of our ingenuity as the future’s crises unfold.

Thomas Homer-Dixon
Toronto, Ontario

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