Saturday, December 2, 2023

The fear of cancellation, again

West of the Ottawa River, there were cries of censorship. The controversy, fresh, has an air of déjà vu. As of this writing, a petition has nearly 60,000 signatures. And also for the University of Ottawa, once again accused of violating the freedom of expression of a member of its community…

After the Verushka Lieutenant-Duval affair, after the Amir Attaran affair, the Yipeng Ge affair has been formed. At stake: the freedom of expression of this medical resident, who defends pro-Palestinian positions in his social networks. And who will pay the price by suspending his study program at the University of Ottawa. The petition demands the immediate lifting of the suspension, an apology and, while it’s at it, a full investigation into this story.

I don’t know about you, but I think I heard a sigh of utter exhaustion from rector Jacques Frémont when the file landed on his desk…

Especially since this story is not easy to solve.

It’s not like the Verushka Lieutenant-Duval affair, this lecturer is the victim of an online witch hunt, in 2020, for uttering the “word starting with N” in an academic context. In his case, it is clear: the University of Ottawa should support him instead of blaming him. He should apologize to her, which unfortunately will never happen.

It is also not like the activity of Amir Attaran, who wrote in 2021 that Quebec is the Alabama of the North and that the government of Legault is supremacist, among other good things in our beautiful province. The University of Ottawa denied its professor permission. With good reason: freedom of expression also means freedom to write nonsense.

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This time it seems more complicated. The University of Ottawa says it has received complaints about a resident who “allegedly violated the professional standards of the Faculty of Medicine and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario.” “Provisional measures” are being taken while the University verifies whether the complaints are substantiated. “In the meantime, the individual will continue to receive the salary and benefits associated with their position. »

The Dr Yipeng Ge declined my interview request, saying he was “involved in legal proceedings.”

I looked at his social media a bit and, to be honest, he is not a fan of offensive talks. Like a promising young doctor who despairs of the suffering of the Palestinian people. He was alarmed by the strikes against hospitals in Gaza. He relayed calls for a ceasefire from UNICEF, Doctors Without Borders, the World Health Organization, and others.

As such, the Dr Yoni Freedhoff, associate professor at the Faculty of Medicine, however, could have unearthed some of the more dubious publications in all of this. In his blog, the professor accused the resident who wrote this: “If the phrase “From the river to the sea” makes you uncomfortable, you might think that Palestinian independence is an inherent threat to the security of those Jew. »

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The problem is that the slogan “From the river to the sea” does not mean the same to everyone.

We often hear this at demonstrations in support of Palestine. For many activists on the left, this is a pro-democracy slogan. “‘From the River to the Sea’ is a call for freedom, human rights and peaceful coexistence,” Rashida Tlaib, Michigan’s Democratic Representative in Congress, recently tried to explain.

That did not stop the House of Representatives from allowing him to use the formula…

In Austria, saying the slogan would be a criminal offence. In the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, there are also plans to make it illegal. In Montreal, the Cinéma du Parc was forced to cancel the screening of documentaries on Palestine because of the title of the evening’s program: “From the River to the Sea.” There was a petition, then a counter-petition, then a demonstration…

The idea of ​​Cinéma du Parc is to establish a dialogue, it becomes a cacophony.

It must be understood that, for most Israelis, this slogan is a pure and simple call for their extermination. A call for the abolition of the Jewish state, from the Jordan to the Mediterranean. This interpretation is not particularly paranoid. Even that phrase appears in the charter of Hamas, you know, this terrorist group that killed 1,200 Israeli civilians, what, a month and a half ago?

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So obviously, if you sing this slogan at the top of your lungs in demonstrations, after the biggest massacre committed against the Jews since the Shoah, some passers-by may roll their eyes at you. Some may be afraid of you…

And if you post it on your social media, well, it might backfire on your face.

Freedom of expression, I say, also means freedom to write nonsense. But it is clearly not perfect. We cannot call for the elimination of the enemies of the people of Gaza, as the sulphurous preacher Adil Charkaoui did during a demonstration in Montreal. We cannot use hate speech or incite violence.

The University of Ottawa must decide: the Dr Has Yipeng Ge already crossed this red line? If the petition is anything to go by, tens of thousands of people are convinced that the resident doctor does not deserve this treatment. His story, in any case, clearly illustrates the difficulty, in these difficult times, of expressing a little sympathy to Palestinian civilians without fear of being accused of anti-Semitism.

Nation World News Desk
Nation World News Desk
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