On the third of October 1980, a bomb exploded outside a Paris synagogue on the rue Copernic, near the Arc de Triomphe. None of the few hundred worshippers inside were seriously hurt but, outside on the street, three Frenchmen and an Israeli woman were killed.
Later on television, the French prime minister, Raymond Barre, remarked the bomb was "aimed at Jews worshipping in a synagogue, but struck ... innocent Frenchmen" -- the implication being the Jews inside the synagogue were neither wholly French nor wholly innocent.
Twenty-nine years later, Barre's horrible, though perhaps unintentional, slur is being repeated by the faculty in the department of sociology and anthropology at Carleton University, through their defence of the department's right to hire Hassan Diab to teach a summer course. In this case, it is hard to interpret the slur against Jews as anything but entirely deliberate.
Diab is accused by French authorities of being a former member of a PLO splinter cell, of masterminding the attack on the synagogue, and he is wanted back in France on charges of murder, attempted murder and wilful destruction of property. In short, Hassan Diab is accused of being a terrorist and a mass murderer, and bail conditions here in Canada amount to virtual house arrest. In any profession outside academia this would make you completely unhireable. In the sociology department at Carleton, it makes you something of an anti-imperialist folk hero on a par with Fidel Castro or Hugo Chavez.
After the university reversed Diab's appointment last week and promptly replaced him with a senior professor, the relevant stakeholders went ballistic, and promptly lost all contact with reason. Jim Turk, head of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, accused Carleton of "cravenly" caving in to political pressure. Stuart Ryan, the head of the CUPE local that represents instructors like Diab, pointed out that Diab was innocent until proven guilty. Diab's erstwhile colleagues put out a statement, printed in last Saturday's Citizen, in which they asserted that Diab was "the obvious choice" to teach the introductory course in sociology this summer and that his firing was an assault on basic human rights.
It is worth noting that it has nothing to do with academic freedom, since Diab's academic views are not at issue. Nor does it have anything to do with Diab being innocent until proven guilty, since accused criminals are routinely subject to reasonable limits on their freedom pending trial. For example, Ottawa's Momin Khawaja spent more than four years in prison before his terrorism trial last summer, and he wasn't even accused of hurting anyone.
Meanwhile, the members of the department of sociology and anthropology are trying to spin this as a matter of their right as a self-governing department to hire instructors as they see fit without external oversight, but Ian Lee demolishes that line of argument in an article published on the opposite page. No, what's really worrisome is these claims of high principle and due process are nothing more than a smokescreen aimed at masking the more substantive issues that are at work here: an overwhelming hostility to Israel, a correspondingly hypertrophied sympathy for the Palestinian cause, and a broader sense that it is all somehow the fault of George W. Bush and his misguided war on terror.
Consider the opening line of the faculty statement, which calls Diab's dismissal a "bleak chapter in the story of injustice and discrimination in the dark shadow of 9/11," as if terrorism was only invented this century. Later, Diab is compared to Maher Arar, as if being judicially extradited to face criminal charges in France is no different, legally speaking, than being subject to extraordinary rendition to a Syrian torture chamber.
This is the intellectual equivalent of a Ponzi scheme, where each preposterous inference is underwritten by one more outrageous still. And so it goes, with the faculty making repeated dark references to "external political pressure" brought by B'nai Brith, which last week released a statement raising concerns that that an alleged terrorist would be teaching at a Canadian university.
All Ponzi schemes collapse eventually, and striding amidst the wreckage will be Peter Gose, chair of the department of sociology and anthropology, who observed that Carleton has "a large Muslim student population." It isn't clear why he thinks that is relevant, though perhaps Gose believes that Muslim students might actually find it congenial to be taught by an accused terrorist and mass murder.
In the end, there is only one form of political pressure at work at Carleton. It is the usual internal force of anti-Israel ideological conformity that infects virtually every department of humanities and social sciences in the country. Carleton has spent the last few decades desperately fighting the perception that it's the clown school of Canada's post-secondary institutions. The department of sociology and anthropology is trying to make it once again a three-ring circus.
Andrew Potter is the Citizen's online politics editor.