Rima Azar, a professor at Mount Allison University, feels strongly identified with Canada. Azar was born in Lebanon during a civil war and developed a lasting appreciation for the freedoms of Canada, particularly freedom of speech. An accomplished academic in the field of health psychology, she often discusses her views on political and social issues from her unique perspective on her personal blog Bambis Afkar. However, she recently broke a person who discovered comments denying Canada was a racist country and criticizing Black Lives Matter as an organization. The person put together a number of positions that were considered objectionable and triggered a motion to have Azar fired. In a direct attack on freedom of speech and academic freedom, Azar University suspended Azar without pay.
According to the CBC, after months of investigation, Azar does not need to complete “Justice, Diversity and Inclusion Training” to express such thoughts on a personal blog. The reasons? Azar has been described by students as “rejecting systemic racism”, “unfriendly speech about BIPOC students” and “labeling Black Lives Matter as a radical group”. One of these inappropriate thoughts is the statement “[New Brunswick] is NOT racist. Canada is NOT racist. We do not have “systemic” racism or “systemic” discrimination. We only have systemic naivety because we are a young country and because we want to save the world. “
This is a statement that should generate significant debate and passion on a college campus. It was what higher education once valued to promote a variety of viewpoints and perspectives. The Mount Allison students responded by silencing and punishing Azar rather than responding to their views. To the shock of some scholars like Mark Mercer, director of the Society for Academic Freedom and Science, the university gave in to the demands and suspended Azar. The Society for Academic Freedom and Science also backed Azar against their university.
Azar’s goal began when she disagreed with local activist Husoni Raymond, who denounced New Brunswick as “systemically racist”. Raymond replied that “[d]I am pleased to see a professor who still does not know what racism is and who will use her power within the institution to uphold racist ideologies. Racism is in Canada. Racism is in NB. ”
[Notably, Azar was not arguing that there was no racism in Canada but that the country is not “systematically racist,” a point of distinction that has produced other controversies in academia].
Azar then responded to Raymond by saying:
“NB is NOT racist. Canada is NOT racist. We do not have “systemic” racism or “systemic” discrimination. We only have systemic naivety because we are a young country and because we want to save the world.
Oh, a quick question for Mr. Husoni Raymond, after graduating from St. Thomas University, you were named a 2020 Tom McCann Memorial Trophy recipient for your “strong leadership and character”. If NB is as racist as you, Would one of your prestigious universities honor you this way? “
Azar also contradicted statements that Canada remains a “patriarchy” affected by the rape culture. She suggested that people like her in the Middle East have seen “real rape culture” and readers might want to ponder “ISIS practices in Syria”. She also said that BLM is a radical organization shared by many and contested by many others.
We recently discussed the case of a police officer who was fired for referring to BLM members as “terrorists” on personal postings. Twitter recently censored criticism of a BLM founder, and we discussed targeting professors who had dissenting opinions on the Black Lives Matter movement, police shootings, or aspects of protests across the country from the University of Chicago to Cornell to Harvard others utter schools. Students were also punished for criticizing BLM and anti-police views at various universities. Even a headmaster was fired for saying that “all life is important”. Each of these controversies raises concerns about counter-statements against the police, Republicans, or other groups.
I am admittedly a dinosaur of free speech. I believe in largely unrestricted freedom of speech, especially when making statements outside of campus or outside of a classroom. I defended the faculty for making similarly disturbing comments: “detonate whites,” denounce police, incite Republicans to suffer, strangle cops, celebrate the deaths of conservatives, call for the killing of Trump supporters, support killing of conservative protesters and other outrageous statements. We previously wrote at the University of Rhode Island on issues of academic freedom because the Director of Graduate Studies in History, Erik Loomis, defended the murder of a Conservative protester and said he saw “nothing wrong with” such violence.
My main concern is the conflicting positions on freedom of speech that are emerging from these cases. Universities generally do not take similar action when faculties or students denounce other organizations such as the Republican Party or the NRA as terrorists or murderers. They do not go against those who write racist attacks on whites or sexist attacks on men as discussed above. The result is not only the sanctioning of the faculty for exercising freedom of speech, but also the biased application of such measures based on the content of that freedom of speech.
In a memo sent to faculty, staff and students on Tuesday, Mount Allison communications director Robert Hiscock said: “[o]For the past two months, an independent investigator has been investigating student complaints alleging discriminatory behavior based on blog posts and student interactions. “However, he said the results will remain confidential and cannot be discussed. Azar should consider sending a letter asking for the full report to be published and waiving the right to confidentiality. Otherwise, their reputation will continue to be attacked without the allegations being fully and transparently addressed in public. For example, there is a claim that Azar wrongly mentioned certain students by name in her review. However, we do not know whether these students previously published their names in exchange with or in criticism of Azar. There is a big difference between spontaneously criticizing a student who has not spoken publicly and reacting to a student who has chosen to participate in a public debate by name.
Azar now has a GoFundMe campaign to help them with the legal challenge ahead.