Friday, May 22, 2009

Critical Letter + My Response

Upon the publication of my interview with Carlos Latuff in the March/April issue of the YU Free Press (accompanied with these two cartoons by him shown above), thousands of copies of the campus newspaper were systematically thrown in the garbage; its racks were vandalized, some even destroyed beyond repair; and several angry letters were sent via email denouncing Latuff, myself, and by extension the YUFP as 'anti-Semitic'. Below is one such letter that more or less encapsulates the general sentiment of the approximately dozen emails that were received, along with a personal response from myself - both of which I am sharing here in the interests of critical reflection and debate:

Critical Letter


Believing that the open airing of opinions and views are one of the hallmarks of civilised cultures, I am at the same time dismayed by the lack of balance of one of your university’s student newspapers. I am given to understand that the YUFP published not only a couple of anti-Israeli, perhaps anti-Semitic cartoons, but also featured a printed discussion with the person that penned the barbaric illustrations.

In itself, this opens up the discussion of the issues in that troubled part of the world. However, in doing so, I am also told that the publication failed to similarly illustrate the Israeli opinion of the Muslim fanatics and veritably fanatical politicians involved in this “political dance” such as the President of Iran who would have Israel destroyed. Where, for balance’s sake, were the cartoons penned by the Danish newspapers which were denied free distribution by those who would shackle free speech?

Publishing one side without the corresponding balance in a student publication that is paid by, I presume, some of my tax dollars through one method or another is not simply a problem of balance, but one of one-sided polemics which are not consistent either with the principals embodied in the Canadian culture or those of the Canadian government.

While I personally find through my travels and acquaintances that the troubles of Palestinians have a 60 year old habit of self-destruction through unrealistic hyperbole of action, I also understand that even the children or now adults of this group are not likely to have an education that features anything but unrepentant hatred toward a perceived current foe that thousands of years ago were instrumental in maintaining the Caliphate in its Golden Age. That those who are responsible for the re-engineering of the medieval tribal culture do not take responsibility for their drive for political control is neither the fault of the Israelis nor that of the colonial governments which had administrative control of those areas at various times.

However, I digress.

The power of academia is to explore all sides of issues within an environment free of coercion and (limited) bias so that people can develop their views in line with their principles and interpretation of events, unvarnished by strident and often virulent polemics from people who have not the dispassionate ability to observe these issues from afar. There are, indeed, those who would find this view controversial in this day and age of politically correct totalitarian control of speech. However, I trust that the YUFP has not that built-in perversion of the truth, I would hope. And in making that assumption, would you not find it reasonable to follow-up your biased coverage in the YUFP with something either similarly biased from the opposing view or at least the opportunity to rebut the allegations so popular amongst the progressive left view of the Israeli-Palestinian situation?

I anticipate...well, were I convinced of YUFP’s intellectual integrity, a positive response. However, I would be most disappointed if I receive one of those vanilla-ised displacements of responsibility. After all, a school administration, if not there to provide boundaries and direction, is what?

Since this was originally directed to the University, it notes some assumptions of academic independence that perhaps the YUFP does not endorse. While it is obvious that what used to be mainstream journalism has “given up the ghost” in favour of the so-called “advocacy press”, somewhere in the forgotten corridors of intellectual pursuit the concept of balancing arguments in favour of full discussion and enlightenment has disappeared. If your publication wishes to don the mantle of spokes-thing for such tribal pursuits, perhaps you should at least respect the language and remove the “free” from your title, for if your commitment is to such “advocacy” pursuits, then all you are “free” of is respect for your audience and intellectual rigour.

Sincerely and with best wishes/Mit freundlichen Gruessen/Distinti Saluti/Meilleures Salutations/Dejjem tieghek,

Douglas Schulek-Miller
A.A., B.A., M.B.A., Ph.D., M.B.S.I.


My Personal Response

Mr. Schulek-Miller,

Before addressing the substance of your letter itself, some comment about the cartoons to which you make reference and the wider 'controversy' that has since ensued over our decision to publish them is necessary. The cartoons in question were not published entirely devoid of rationale, nor under any motive intended to reflect the expressed opinion of the YUFP at large, but in the context of an interview with Carlos Latuff – the Brazilian political cartoonist who authored them and whose decided point of view they represent.

Carefully avoiding to speak for Latuff as to the intention of his artwork or the criticism with which it has been greeted by certain individuals like yourself, the allegation that the cartoons (and the YUFP by default of publishing them) are in any way 'anti-Semitic' is both logically absurd and entirely unsubstantiated under even minimal scrutiny. To suggest that any given analogy to the Holocaust, however sensitive to some it may be, constitutes 'anti-Semitism' insofar as it likens Israeli state policy in Gaza to the Nazi regime is but one out of seemingly endless efforts to monopolize the use of historical suffering as an ideological tool in order to cast Israel as a perpetual 'victim state' that is immune to legitimate criticism. While no two forms of suffering are ever perfectly alike, the question is not so much whether or not Jewish people have uniquely suffered throughout history, but instead why they should be considered uniquely beyond compare, or why by default of declaring itself the 'Jewish State' Israel is somehow uniquely above reproach? Where such tired and futile efforts have failed elsewhere, they will no doubt be dismissed yet again by the better discerning among our readership whose 'intellectual rigour' you seem to show surprisingly little esteem.

While your concern about the patent 'lack of balance' in the YUFP is certainly a valid one and worth entertaining at some length, if only to clarify it to you as much to the rest of our readers, one cannot help but first note the utter racism and particularly manifest disdain for Islam that not only informs your entire commentary but permeates the core of your every stated opinion; one can only imagine what racist, Islamophobic, and culturally arrogant invective we would be subject to endure were it not probably too far beneath you to write to us without some degree of 'civilised' refrain. Underpinning the very logic of your argument is an attitude that is all too common among adherents of political Zionism (which I take it to include yourself) that shamelessly represents Israel as something of a vanguard of Western culture and civilization amidst surrounding Arab/Muslim barbarism, inclined towards nothing else but self-destructive violence. The same legacy of expulsion, colonization, and occupation that you seem quite content to legitimize and 'rationally' explain away captures everything about this so-called 'political dance' that we as a publication oppose on principle.

Your pretense to use the concern of bias to go on an ideologically engrossed tirade of your own – in which you manage in a single sentence to not only apologize for Israeli colonialism but further suggest that the 'medieval tribal culture' of Palestine should be grateful for the benefits it has supposedly produced – speaks exactly to the type of hypocrisy that the YUFP categorically rejects and aims to undo. The YUFP was founded to challenge the mainstream corporate media model and the glaring lack of diversity therein so as to provide a fundamental space for critical analysis and commentary of the news around us under an explicit social justice mandate. Rather than elect for 'dispassionate observation from afar, and feign a pretense of objectivity in the process, our goal is instead to bring both immediacy and agency to issues of moral consequence – Palestine included.

The YUFP, as per the core universal principles outlined in our mandate, espouses the inherent right of the Palestinian people – like any other similarly oppressed group – to be free from colonial rule; however, under this guiding framework can exist various (even conflicting) viewpoints with which the YUFP as a publication may not necessarily agree but still want to see given a platform to be expressed. Whereas such views have been traditionally misrepresented under the pretext of 'objectivity' or otherwise omitted altogether by the mainstream media, we now find them not only encouraging open debate but widening the scope of free speech as a result – a fact that such reactionary responses as yours do nothing to change and everything to confirm. The cartoons may not necessarily reflect our choice analogy, but their author has as much a right to draw them as we do to publish them.

Because a voice is already established and widely accepted does not mean that it is itself unbiased; on the contrary, every voice comes from a certain perspective that is accompanied with its own held bias or set of biases. The only difference is that YUFP does not pretend to hide its biases, but instead makes them central to its overall mandate. The YUFP could, as you recommend, publish similarly biased coverage of the opposing view in the future, but to do so under a thinly veiled guise of objectivity would merely serve to reinforce the prevailing dominant narrative and obscure the underlying power relations therein, presupposing a degree of symmetry and 'balance' in the respective accounts of the Israeli/Palestine conflict where none as such exists in the conflict itself. The goal of the YUFP is entirely the opposite: to privilege those voices most accustomed to being silenced, to give the underrepresented an opportunity to represent themselves, and to make the space between the prevailing dominant narrative and our own a site of legitimate contention and ongoing debate.

That being said, this correspondence represents as close to a pro-Israel voice as you are ever likely to find in the YUFP, so I hope it finds you well. If in the process of this response, we have exposed to some success the deep-seeded racism with which you and those who are of the same opinion treat 'free' expression then this rare exception in your case has been well worth it.


Ali Mustafa

*The views expressed above are those of the author and not necessarily those of the YU Free Press.

No comments:

Post a Comment


Creative Commons License
'From Beyond the Margins' by Ali Mustafa is licensed under a Creative Commons License.