HALIFAX -- SOME 150 university students, professors, staff and community members vigorously demonstrated in Halifax on February 9, marching from Dalhousie to Saint Mary's University (SMU) in protest against the promotion of the Muhammad cartoons by a SMU philosophy professor and orchestrated by the media.
One depicted the Prophet as a bearded terrorist, with bulging eyes and a bomb-shaped turban with a burning fuse. Another had him wielding a sword. Another showed him as a crazed, knife-wielding Bedouin. Another placed him at the gates of Heaven telling suicide bombers: "Stop. Stop. We have run out of virgins!''
This individual had posted the "cartoons" on the front of his office door in the name of provoking "dialogue." Delegations of SMU students explained to this professor why they were insulting to no avail. They said he was rude and offensive. Abraham Khalafi, an engineering student, said the professor "treated us like garbage."
Students then protested to the SMU administration which vainly asked him to take them down. When he refused, the vice-president academic "instructed" him to remove them. The professor then phoned the media, claiming his "academic freedom" had been violated; called the Halifax Regional Police, demanding police protection, which was immediately provided, publicly alleging that he had been threatened with "violence" by "some males who . . . were threatening in their approach"; declared to the CBC that "the Koran is hate literature"; and reposted the cartoons inside his office door as well as on a sign outside his home which someone from his own neighbourhood quickly removed.
The headline in the next morning's Chronicle Herald in Halifax added fuel to the fire, legitimatizing the provocation. It declared to the public as fact: "Prof receives threats over Muhammad cartoons." (1)
Demonstrators resist provocation
The noon-hour march was quickly organized by members of the Palestine Solidarity Society (PSS) and other student organizations to oppose this racist provocation and demand that this professor publicly apologize. The marchers shouted such slogans as "Stop Hate before It Is Too Late!", "Defend The Rights Of All!", "An Injury To One Is An Injury To All!" -- "All For One And One For All!", and "Peter March Is A Fool, We Don't Want You In Our School." Their numbers included several Jewish professors and students, members of the campus anti war collective, and community leaders from all walks of life.
Already over 300 people from the community had demonstrated the preceding Saturday, February 4, in front of Denmark's consulate in Halifax against the rash of racist cartoons being reproduced by the monopoly media throughout the world, including the United States and Canada, deliberately directed against those of the Muslim faith and Arabic origin.
As the demonstration moved from University Avenue onto Robie Street, the self-styled "public philosopher" attempted to further provoke the students by attempting to join the march at its rear, accompanied by a phalanx of media and police. Demonstrators briefly paused, militantly gave this egomaniac his due, and proceeded with remarkable discipline to Saint Mary's University. In front of the Students' Union Building they then held a mass rally which was addressed by Shaheen Sajan and Tony Seed of the PSS.
Mass rally at SMU
Ms Sajan, president of the PSS and a graduate student in international studies, warmly congratulated all students for participating and responding to the provocation organized by this professor and swiftly orchestrated in the local and national media. She stressed that his activity was not a matter of understanding or ignorance but calculated. This individual knew that already nine people had died protesting the publication of such blasphemous cartoons throughout the world. He knew that St Mary's has the most internationally diverse student body of any Canadian university. Arabic after English and Manadarin Chinese is the third most spoken language by its students. "How would people feel if, right during this Black History Month, he was using the 'N' word in his classes?," she asked rhetorically. Not only did he post the cartoons on his office door, but, media hungry, he called out the press. She said his presence in the demonstration was aimed at provoking aggressive behaviour.
In the face of the refusal of the professor to publicly apologize and his continuing offensive behaviour towards students and their concerns, they acted. Ms Sajan saluted the Caribbean Society, Latin American Society, Arabic, Turkish, Lebanese, Iranian and all other student societies who had immediately endorsed their stand. In one hour, she related, students had gathered 20 pages of signatures on their petition or over 300 names which they had immediately submitted to the SMU administration in protest. Students, staff and professors alike, found this provocation reprehensible. The president of the SMU faculty union, Steven Sloan, declared it had nothing in common with "academic freedom", and refused to support his "grievance." Her speech was warmly applauded.
Tony Seed, editor/publisher of shunpiking magazine along with the Dossier on Palestine, and a political activist, then got up on a chair and spoke for about 15 minutes, saluting the just stand of the students in the spirit of Defend the Rights of All!
Provocation is the standard operating procedure of superpowers
As a journalist, he declared that "the blasphemous Muhammad cartoons have nothing whatsoever to do with journalism, or freedom of the press and of expression." He pointed out that "the behaviour of this professor is that of a provocateur but he is also not the issue, in the sense that what we have to deal with is an organized international provocation. Provocation is the standard operating procedure of superpowers. It behooves us to look at the method of operation behind the popularization of the Muhammad cartoons. Provocation is not innocent, it is not ignorant, it is not spontaneous, it is not foolish, it has a definite aim."
He provided information on the chronology of the Muhammad Cartoon offensive through the monopoly media as a form of psychological warfare to justify amongst other aims imperialist war and occupation in the oil-rich Middle East, especially following the historic Palestinian elections on 25 January and the events surrounding Iran's legitimate decision to develop its nuclear energy program. The US is preparing to widen its war of occupation in the region in which Canada has joined. "The political aim includes splitting the peoples of the West and the East, to isolate the struggles against imperialist war and occupation, to portray the peoples of the East as backward, mediaeval, fanatical, extremist."
He clarified the issue of freedom of expression and academic freedom, the masquerades through which freedom of conscience is being violated: "The principle of academic freedom belongs to those who fought against mediaevalism, for science, for reason, for enlightenment and knowledge." His speech was interrupted many times by clapping and slogans, and widely applauded at the end.
The students then marched to the front of the McNally Administration Building to formally present their demand to SMU, when the unrepentant professor dared show up all over again, demanding "dialogue". Some students surrounded him, denouncing him for his activity, at the same time taking care to encircle him arm-in-arm and ensure that no physical incidents would ensue. The students fired many questions at him, concluding that this philosopher could not answer any of them. When no one would listen to his ravings, he departed, asking a student how to say "good bye" in Arabic. She promptly gave him the Arabic for "I'm sorry"! When he repeated it loudly to the students, they cheered and laughed, as he shamelessly sputtered a retraction.
Role of the "free press" merits attention
Some journalists were heard to sharply question the professor: "by showing up at this demonstration, did you not come here to provoke the students?"
Nevertheless, in its one-sided reporting of Thursday's event, the monopoly media across Canada carried on inversing reality, disinforming the Canadian public, and abusing those of Arabic origin and Muslim faith.
The Canadian Press, owned by the main media monopolies of Canada, portrayed the demonstration as exclusively Muslim, "tense" and emotional ("passions flared up"). In contrast, it depicted the professor as cool-headed and "calm" who, in the words of Canadian Press, was "merely trying to promote a reasoned debate." The same theme was struck by the CBC.
The aim behind this defamatory journalism is made clear by the following assertion made by CP: "The shouting matches, all captured by TV cameras, are precisely what some Canadian Muslim leaders fear contribute to negative stereoptypes of their religion....." (2)
People's right of conscience is attacked, no one is held accountable, so people respond with indignation, and then the victim is again blamed for "contribut(ing) to negative stereotypes" -- the very "negative stereotypes" constructed by the Canadian Press in the first place.
A mass media worthy of its name would inform the public of the facts -- the legitimate viewpoints of the students and teachers -- rather than providing a daily platform cheerleading and egging on such individuals to further perpetuate defamation, in the name of reporting a "controversy." It would investigate why and how the police became so involved in a dramatic manner, and why the university administration was so impotent in dealing with the provocation.
Students and the public alike are outraged by the affront and indignities they have suffered. Nova Scotians have sent numerous letters to the two daily newspapers in Halifax condemning the promotion of the Muhammad cartoons and the proocation of the SMU professor.
The student associations are compiling a dossier and launching a formal complaint with Saint Mary's University. The university is planning to launch a satellitte campus in Dubai, and has suffered an international black eye over the incident.
Shunpiking Online applauds the students for politically opposing this provocation as one, and taking their just cause to the society. The affirmation of their right to conscience has increased the collective confidence of the students and strengthened their resolve to defend the rights of all at home and abroad.
1 "Prof receives threats over Muhammad cartoons; March removes drawings from SMU office door, posts on his lawn instead," Kristen Lipscombe, The Chronicle Herald, 9 February 2006, http://www.thechronicleherald.ca/Search/482996.html
2 "Muslim Cartoon Crash hits Halifax," Michael Tutton, Canadian Press, Toronto Star, 10 February 2006
The CP report was printed in many other newspapers as well.