Commentary | Perspectives on campus discourse: toward civility

In response to Haaris Khan and the resulting media backlash

I learned, like many of my fellow students did, about the Haaris Khan Twitter incident from the Tribune article “Student investigated for hateful tweets” (March 14). Immediately following the incident, I was quickly presented with two views of what had happened. The first: that Khan was never a real threat and that the right was making much too big a deal out of a relatively small issue. The second: that Khan is an anti-Semitic crazy person who threatened the lives of other students, and that the left didn’t make a big enough deal about it.

 

As in most debates, neither side is completely correct on the issue: what Khan did was a very big deal – racist tweets and death threats are not something to be taken lightly. The idea that what Khan did wasn’t serious is preposterous. However, one student does not represent the views of an entire group of people, and to use the incident to justify a belief that anti-Zionism is equivalent to anti-Semitism is a gross over-generalization and a manipulation of the situation.

 

The event worked to bring up a much broader problem on campus. In a recent letter to students in the McGill Reporter, Principal Heather Munroe-Blum stated, “While I am often impressed by the civility, sensitivity, and compassion that generally characterizes the actions of members of our McGill community, in recent years I have become increasingly concerned by the general societal escalation of rhetorical excess, the distortions in political arguments, and the harsh tenor of discourse, intended apparently to demonize and destroy.”

 

There has been a growing rhetoric on campus of “us versus them,” as if somehow the left and the right must be diametrically opposed to one another on all aspects and issues. Fueled by editorials from both The Daily and the Prince Arthur Herald, there seems to be an idea that there is no common ground between the two sides, and that even if there were, there would still be disagreement.

 
The second the left and the right begin to see each other as campus enemies, political discourse is cheapened. If we allow irrational and baseless separation into “left” and “right,” we are looking at a future where group allegiance rather than critical thought determines how and what students support and believe in – a future where students choose political stances based upon who their friends are instead of personal political conviction.

 

Toning down alarmist rhetoric is the only way to stop campus discourse from devolving into a series of knee-jerk reactions and op-ed pieces that function only to point out each other’s flaws instead of furthering constructive discussion. It is important that we as individual students be critical not only of others’ views, but also of our own. It is too easy to quickly post an angry comment on a web site, blog, or publish a response to a story, or even to send ill-advised tweets while at a film screening. When confronted with alarmist rhetoric, we all need to agree to take a breath, step back, think about and be critical of our initial reactions, and then respond, if we want to stop the deterioration of campus debate.

Read the corresponding point-counterpoint here.

Tom Acker is a U1 Management student and The Daily’s Web editor. He can be reached at web@mcgilldaily.com.

 



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