MONTREAL — A speech from a controversial Islamic group scheduled to take place at Concordia University this Friday has been cancelled, and organizers are scrambling to find another venue.
The Concordia Muslim Students' Association had invited the British group Islamic Education and Research Academy, or iERA, to speak at the "Calling the World Back to Allah" conference Friday.
But after facing a firestorm of indignation and criticism, the students withdrew their invitation.
"Once we evaluated the benefit this could have on students and the potential media outcry from the controversy of the speakers we found that it wasn't in the best interest of the Association to hold such an event," said Musab Abu-Thuraia.
Officials from Concordia University say they had no role in the matter.
"It was cancelled by the student group which was considering bringing this speaker in," said Chris Mota, a spokesperson for the school.
Concerns were raised over statements the group's chairman, Abdurraheem Green, made about how men may treat their wives.
A Youtube clip shows him saying, "The husband is allowed - to prevent her from evil - to provide some type of physical force."
iERA said the comments were taken out of context and is surprised by the resistance to Green's visit.
"He's made it very clear that he is against the battery of women. This is something that is unacceptable and this is something at iERA that we advise - that every citizen whether Muslim or non-Muslim should act within the law," said Saleem Chagtai, iERA's head of communications.Here's where it gets a bit complicated:
Among those criticizing the iERA was Earl Pinchuk, president of a Jewish lesbian, gay and bisexual organization called Ga'ava.
"Our organization believes in freedom of speech, all the while considering that some statements are unacceptable and hazardous," said Pinchuk,
"We invite authorities to remain vigilant and attentive to the statements which will be made on our home soil during this conference. Canada is an international example of openness where hate speech has no place."Well, not exactly. If anything, Canada is an international example of closedness where free speech is abjured if it includes stuff that people find offensive. And while I, for one, am greatly offended by a great deal of what the iERA preachers have to say, I know that, really, it's in line with traditional, literalistic readings of Islamic texts. The way to deal with the offensiveness is not to ban it; to do so will only come back to bite us on the tuches as those we want to hear whom others find offensive (or "blasphemous," or politically incorrect) are similarly banned.
This is not the first time a controversial speaker has been denied the chance to speak at a Canadian university - right-wing TV pundit Ann Coulter's talk at the University of Ottawa was cancelled in 2010 for her comments about Muslims.No, the way to deal with it is to expose it and condemn it because it's vile and incompatible with Canadian values
Montreal constitutional lawyer Julius Grey said he believes both Coulter and Green should have the right to speak.
"In order to protect freedom of speech you have to tolerate very unpopular very controversial speech," said GreyRight on, Julius. That said, something else must be exposed, too: the academy's double standard when it comes to free speech. The Concordia talk, you'll notice, wasn't cancelled by university authorities; nor, as far as we know, did iERA have to fork over additional shekels to defray any "security" costs. That's a lot different than what's happening, for example, at York University, a.k.a. Zionhass U. I was told today by someone in the know that organizers of a Daniel Pipes talk there Monday had to cough up an extra 3 G's for, ahem, "security." (Could it be that York's pusillanimous powers-that-be were hoping the extra cost would put the kibosh on the whole event?)
Update: Last year Pipes wasn't allowed to speak at York at all (we'll see if this year's talk ends up happening), while they put out the welcome mat for grotesque Hamas-lover George Galloway.