Earlier this year, Lebanese-Canadian professor Rima Azar came under attack for making comments, in her personal blog, proposing that Canada is less racist and less patriarchal than Lebanon. And no, this attempted censure did not happen in Beirut. It happened in New Brunswick.
Azar is an associate professor of Health Psychology at Mount Allison University. She was born in Lebanon during a civil war and, since immigrating to Canada, has developed a fervent appreciation for its freedoms – describing it as “one of the most peaceful places on the face of the earth”. She began using her blog as an outlet in which to explore the benefits of liberal values and to discuss Lebanon’s ongoing difficulties.
Unfortunately for Azar, a few months ago, a former student (under the Twitter handle “Izzy”) sifted through her past blog posts to gather a selection of ‘objectionable positions’, which kick-started a movement to have Azar fired.
These ‘objectionable positions’ predominantly involve Azar comparing her understanding and experiences of Lebanon and Canada to establish the relative advantages of life in the latter nation.
For example, in one post, she disagreed with an activist’s denunciation of Canada as systemically racist. Azar argued that, in relative terms, Canada isn’t racist at all, but is rather “a young country that wants to save the world”. In another post, Azar disputed statements that Canada remains a “patriarchy” afflicted by rape culture, suggesting that people originating from the Middle East have seen “real rape culture” – notably “ISIS practices in Syria”.
Throughout the rest of the archived blogs, Izzy uncovered other unforgiveable transgressions such as Azar describing the Black Lives Matter movement (and their stated goal of ‘dismantling capitalism’) as “radical” and Azar suggesting that her university’s hiring policy should be “committed to merit only”.
As a result of Izzy’s efforts, the university launched an ‘independent investigation’ into the alleged discriminatory conduct and the professor was suspended without pay.
Azar grew up in a country plagued by the violent repercussions of an identity-based political regime. She has witnessed individuals relegated to entirely different pockets of society based on their racial or ethnic origins. And yet, this Arab-Canadian immigrant did not measure up to Izzy’s more sophisticated “understanding of race”.
[For context, I feel it also warrants mentioning that all key players involved in this battle against Azar’s racial ignorance, were white – including the president of Mount Allison, the president of the student union, and Izzy].
Mark Mercer, president of the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship, has thankfully come to Azar’s defence suggesting that Mount Allison should have “explained to students that these are ideas and opinions that the professor is expressing, and if they wish to rebut them they are free to do so – and leave it at that”.
However, it appears that students are choosing to silence rather than rebut. And university faculties are supporting their choice. Evidently, we only want diversity if those diverse individuals are ideologically obedient.
Fortunately for Azar, she has already achieved tenure status, so firing her will be relatively difficult. Others will not be so lucky.