Meschugge in Winnipeg

October 26, 2009

In News

Omar Al-Ramlawi | Oct 23 Bookmark and Share

On Oct. 17, Dr. Norman G. Finkelstein, an advocate for human rights and peace in the Middle East, spoke at the Canadian Mennonite University. Finkelstein received his doctorate from Princeton University in 1988 and has lectured and taught about political theory and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He is currently traveling the world speaking at conferences and giving lectures.

The lecture itself lasted about 45 minutes, and then proceeded to a conversation-type event, where Finkelstein was sitting at a table with a moderator and two empty chairs for anyone in the audience who wanted to come and converse with him to sit in. After some encouragement from my friend and the incredibly energetic team of Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME), the event’s organizers, I walked to the podium and found myself inches away from a person who has influenced me a lot in my life and is the source of amazing inspiration for many people across the world.

I make a conscious effort to follow Finkelstein, as I think students need to be engaged in what interests them by being proactive and by seeking knowledge to widen their horizons. I am interested in world politics and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is of most importance to me. I am a reasonable person and I think that empirical facts make the best argument; ideology, religion and beliefs come second. With this in mind, I don’t see why people and nations can’t coexist peacefully.

But the events that occurred at this lecture were a perfect example of how open-minded conversation can bring knowledge to groups, while anger just wastes people’s time. Campus media is free of corporate objectives, and at the Manitoban we provide an open forum for free expression of ideas and opinions, no matter what our own views are. I would like to encourage everyone on campus, in Winnipeg and across Manitoba to send in your views.

During the question period, there was an interruption from a handful of audience members. These individuals’ purpose seemed to be only to waste time and obstruct the majority of the audience from benefiting from the lecture. One of them made it up to the podium to shout questions violently at Finkelstein and then interrupt his response. This individual was crying for freedom of expression every time the moderator asked him to lower his tone or allow the guest speaker to answer. While he was entitled to his own opinion, he should have been more respectful and abide by the rules of dialogue. Finkelstein and the audience respected this individual by allowing him to say what he had to say, but when it was Finkelstein’s turn to respond, he would not listen because it was something he did not want to hear.

Some individuals are confused. They forget that dialogue is a bilateral conversation; they misinterpret the freedoms we have, such as the right to speak; they forget that when you speak it is just as important to listen to the response with proper attention and respect. The truth is we have two ears and one tongue; we should listen more than we talk.

It is noteworthy that Dr. Finkelstein was responding to this coarse individual in a calm manner and attempting to answer his questions. The individual was finally pulled down from the stage after a dozen people including security, organizers, staff and university administrators pleaded with him to allow someone else to sit down. I came after this display and sat down next to Finkelstein to have a brief conversation. We spoke rationally about the situation in Gaza and the recent findings by Richard Goldstone. I encourage anyone interested in the Gaza operation to review the Goldstone report. Richard Goldstone was appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council to lead an independent fact-finding mission and to investigate international human rights and humanitarian law violations related to the Gaza War.

I learned many new things in just two hours on a Saturday evening, but nothing during the interruptions from those aggressive audience members.

The success of this event and the inspiration that the majority of the attendees felt at the end of the lecture is a prefect example of what involvement and awareness can yield. A lot of the same sort of hard work is what can make our campus a better place and that is why I would like to encourage students to get involved: write or volunteer for the Manitoban, get involved with UMSU or get involved with student groups. And don’t limit your involvement to the campus; do some networking to find people that are somewhere where you want to be in the future and get some advice on how you can get involved.

People should rely on themselves and, like Gandhi said, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” Going to classes full time is hard enough, and if you are like many others, you’ve got a full-time or part-time job and it is even more challenging during those few years at university. All the same, I recommend you to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime experience.