Commentary | Hyde Park: Separating politics from human rights

Last Thursday, 450 students voted against debating the motion to condemn the bombings of educational institutions in Gaza. A question that I thought would reach common agreement instead aroused the emotions of many, and proved to be the source of countless arguments.

When we refuse to take a stance, are we truly realizing what is at stake? Since when is it questionable for student initiatives to demonstrate their intolerance toward violence? This issue should be unifying, not divisive. It is our fundamental duty to support and respond to the calls of our peers all over the world. This was a call to join other Canadian schools in supporting a global movement – but last Thursday, by refusing to draw the line between politics and the undeniable right to education, we failed to respond.

The proposed motion was not a referendum on whether or not Israel’s invasion of Gaza should be condemned. This motion was not a question of background, beliefs, or personal stances on the Middle East conflict; it was about reaching the universal consensus that violence is never the good medicine. University is as much a temple of education and learning, as it is a heavy motored machine equipped for political progress and social change. Contrary to the liberal and progressive minds we supposedly hold, inaction and wait-and-see attitudes do not alter the course of history.

McGill students took a stance a few scores ago against the Vietnam War, and more recently, against the war in Iraq, so why did we fail on this one?

This issue is certainly far more complex and delicate than previous ones. But this shouldn’t be a valid explanation for the outcome. Let us not fall into the same traps of immaturity and inflexible stubbornness as our elders did. Let us not cling to the same losing formula that they held. Instead, we should set aside our differences and our biases, and embrace progress. Why can’t we be the generation who changes the prophecy?

Last Thursday, I left the SSMU building haunted by these few but nevertheless devastating words: “to postpone indefinitely.”

My frustration was heightened by the missed opportunity for dialogue, and the insulting use of every possible method to limit our debate – barring the floodgate of information and undermining the purpose of our message. Ignoring the issue is not productive, nor is it the solution. Why is it always so delicate to bring up any subject that includes Israel? Why was the majority in that room not even willing to discuss it? And why did the issue become unsolved, ignored, avoided? Many of the people who supported the motion were left with a sense of dissatisfaction and emptiness, and felt that their views had been repressed: Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Christians, and Scientologists alike. But let us not be perverted by this spectre of hopelessness. We can only accept the democratic results, and hope that each side will consider and reflect on each other’s demands.

We, as students, need to put aside the devils of identity protectionism and revenge in order to draw the fundamental line between politics and human rights. This will demand sacrifice and courage, in order to evolve toward a mutual understanding and sense of empathy. Only by overcoming our personal narratives can we advance; only then will the cries of the Israeli mothers and the voices of the Palestinian orphans and widows finally be heard.

Louis-Guillaume Roldan is a U1 Political Science student. Contact him at