A Canadian political scientist excoriated for attending what was widely labelled a Holocaust-denial conference in Tehran has retaliated with a blistering published attack on his university president and his colleagues for being illiterate Islamophobes.
Writing in the influential Literary Review of Canada, Shiraz Dossa, a tenured professor at Nova Scotia's St. Francis Xavier University, said that his academic integrity and academic freedom were grossly impugned by the university administration, an assault on his reputation that he said has yet to be remedied.
He accused the president and chancellor of authorizing a "small Spanish Inquisition" to denounce him - a campaign he said was initiated by two Jewish professors and the Christian chair of the political science department.
Prof. Dossa also wrote that the attack on his reputation was launched by The Globe and Mail's editorial board and by columnists John Ibbitson and Rex Murphy, whom he described as being "intellectually just a cut above the Trailer Park Boys" and ignorant of the Middle East.
James Turk, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, likened the treatment of Prof. Dossa to the 1950s McCarthy period in the United States when academics and others were subjected to intense pressure not to attend events that were unpopular.
This is the first time Prof. Dossa has spoken out since the storm erupted over his attendance at the Tehran conference in mid-December.
His two-page essay appears in the issue of the LRC that will be posted today on its website, http://www.reviewcanada.ca. Although the monthly publication's circulation is small, it is widely read in the academic, journalistic, political and public-service communities.
In an interview, Prof. Dossa said he wrote the essay because he wanted to set the record straight and because he still hasn't received an apology from either St. FX president Sean Riley or chancellor Raymond Lahey, the Roman Catholic bishop of Antigonish where the university is located. He also said he has refused to speak to his department chair, Prof. Yvon Grenier, since December.
He wrote that the university administration uncritically accepted the Holocaust-denial label "concocted by the Simon Wiesenthal Center [a Jewish human-rights organization] and the [U.S.] Jewish Defence League and peddled by media outlets such as The Globe and Mail."
Prof. Dossa, a Muslim, teaches political theory and comparative politics at St. FX. His focus as a scholar has been on the Holocaust and its aftermath. He abruptly dismisses any suggestion that he is a Holocaust denier. Rather, he said, his interest has been in what use of the Holocaust has been made to promote Zionism - the right of Jews to a national homeland - and to support the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory.
In both his essay and in a telephone conversation, he makes a compelling case for why he attended the two-day Tehran conference, titled "The Review of the Holocaust: Global Vision."
It was a conference for scholars in the global South, said Prof. Dossa, who wanted to examine the Holocaust and its significance unrestrained by the lenses through which it is viewed by the West, and "to devise an intellectual [and] political response to Western-Israeli intervention in Muslim affairs."
The global South generally refers to the nations of Africa, Central and Latin America and most of Asia.
He wrote in the LRC: "I was appalled by president Sean Riley's attack on my reputation and his spurious comments on the conference. In his Dec, 13, 2006, statement, he insinuated that the conference was bogus and that it revealed a 'deplorable anti-Semitism' that the 'St. FX community' found 'deeply abhorrent' and contrary to its 'traditions.' Riley left little doubt that I was guilty of sullying my school's reputation.
"Riley and Lahey have no scholastic expertise on Islam, Iran or the Holocaust. ... I believe they wanted to assure the white, mainstream Canadian community, including Canadian Jews, that 'Catholic' St. FX was on their side and that this desire far outweighed their obligation to defend academic freedom.
"Are Riley and Lahey at the helm of a university committed to the academic freedom of its entire faculty, which includes Muslims? Or is St. FX's hyped 'inclusiveness' only for Christians and Jews?"
The conference became controversial the moment it was announced by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Prof. Dossa readily concedes that the President's rhetoric about the Holocaust - particularly his questioning of its scale - "has been excessive and provocative."
The conference was organized by the Iranian Foreign Ministry's Institute of Political and International Studies, which is respected internationally and has run United Nations conferences in the past. More than 1,200 people attended.
There were 44 speakers and 33 papers presented - five of which were given by notorious Western Holocaust deniers.
The other presenters were scholars examining the Holocaust from a global South perspective.
Prof. Dossa said the presenters, himself included, were invited, but he said he had no idea in advance that Holocaust deniers were on the list. He said that, until his arrival in Tehran, he did not see an agenda, something he said is not uncommon for global South conferences.
He described the presentations by the Holocaust deniers as absurd. At the session Prof. Dossa attended where one of the Holocaust deniers spoke, the presentation was torn to shreds afterward by the largely Iranian audience.
He said he would not have attended a conference entirely of Holocaust deniers because it would have held no scholarly or intellectual interest for him. But a conference with five Holocaust deniers was of academic interest for him to see what kind of reception they'd be given.
James Turk of CAUT said: "In this case, there was an aggressive attempt based on very little information to denigrate Prof. Dossa and to vilify him."