Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Less talk, more action

First published, November 5, 2003, York University Excalibur

At York, we don’t have to worry about free speech. We have so much of it, it’s coming out of our ears.

Of that we should be proud. Freedom of expression should be highly prized, particularly since so many don’t possess it.

But when there is too much talk, sometimes debate becomes an end in and of itself. And that is a very dangerous thing.

At York, we talk about freedom and oppression so much that many begin to believe that those two issues are the only ones that matter. In classes, on Excalibur’s editorial page, in the Bear Pit, these topics are hotly – and loudly – debated.

Prime examples are the two hot topics of the moment: same-sex marriage and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Though the freedom to marry the person of your choosing would seem to be a fundamental human right, many people on this campus vehemently oppose its legalization. Fortunately, talk in that case did not preclude action – dozens of campus groups and hundreds of individuals voiced their support of the YFS vote funding same-sex marriage initiatives.

But Wednesday night’s speech by Dr. Norman Finkelstein was another setback for people of Jewish and Muslim faith who just want to live peacefully on this campus without being attacked for their beliefs.

While Dr. Finkelstein certainly has the right to speak, I question the motives of those who thought they would be improving the campus by bringing him in. I further question the motives of those who think that their freedom of speech should be utilized for shutting down other groups who are expressing opposing views. Slander and name-calling are not academic pursuits.

At York, we talk, and we talk, and we talk. What actually gets done?

This week is Holocaust Education Week. The Holocaust is relevant to all of us. It’s not just six million Jews who were murdered in this bloody time period. Seven million other people were murdered by the Nazis, slaughtered because they were homosexuals, blacks, Roma and Sinti people, or political prisoners who opposed Nazism.

It is time we stopped talking about hate and oppression, and started acting to stop it. People on campus need to stand together in the face of hateful rhetoric and incitement and take us back to what we should be – a campus where people can debate calmly and with mutual respect, and a place where our differences are assets, not liabilities.

Multiple campus groups will be co-sponsoring events commemorating the tragic events of the Holocaust, and I see this as a step in the right direction, similar to the YFS same-sex marriage vote and the YUBSA awareness rally.

We’re getting there, but we’ll need less talk and more action. I’ve always told people how proud I am of my grandmother. A Holocaust survivor, she moved to Montréal with her mother, learned two new languages, and became a kindergarten teacher who taught 25 years of preschoolers to be nice to each other because everyone deserves respect.

She had nothing, but she emerged from the ashes a stronger person.
Next Tuesday, Remembrance Day, will be a suitable follow-up to Holocaust Education Week. On that day, I will be even more proud of my late grandfather.

A WW2 vet, he enlisted in the American army because he knew he had a duty to give of himself to stop the evil Nazi regime.

He had everything, and yet he put it on the line to do what is right.
It would be easier for me to sit up in my office and think, “This isn’t my problem.” It would be easier for me to wait out the year and a half until I graduate. It would be easier for me to forget that every day, people are afraid to come to school because they don’t know what simmering controversy might greet them.

But my grandfather would expect more of me. He would expect me to do something to make York a better place.

Creating mutual respect and appreciation of differences on this campus isn’t easy, but it needs to be done. We must all take action to create a campus that is really at peace.

In loving memory
Manuel E. Berlove
November 17, 1916 – October 30, 2003


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