Fresh Old Ideas

Arnold Malone

Across North America students on many campuses are protesting the war in Gaza. 

Student protests are not new, they have a long history of taking a stand against what they perceive to be unjust. 

Across the decades they have opposed the war in Vietnam, apartheid in South Africa, been against race and gender inequality, acid rain, and the pollution of our air and water.

Protests that confine themselves to persuasion while avoiding hateful/derogatory language or physical violence should be a part of our individual or collective right. The free expression of an opinion is what makes a democracy real and it is what separates our system from dictatorial forces.

Across North America there are a few examples of students whose language or actions have crossed a line of excepted persuasion. Likewise, some university administrations have clamped down on student expressions without regard to their historical right to rise up and advocate when a worthy cause should be highlighted.

It ought to be clear to any who realize that the number of civilian deaths in Gaza along with the destruction of homes, hospitals and offices – almost all of which were of no military value – that there is plenty of room for a counter expression.

Those university administrators that clamp down on such expressions need to re-examine the question, “What is a university for?” Surely, the very purpose of advance education is not limited to teaching students how to think but also on how to act in favour of a better outcome.

It is an important human skill to learn how to disagree without being disagreeable. The holding of signs and chanting opinions should not be sledge hammered into oblivion.

The very purpose of a university ought to be to prepare our young to take action against wrongful policies or practises. Critical thinking requires more than the regurgitation of statements that were read or heard. It requires consideration of a situation and a response to the question, “How can we do better?”

We should want our students to be interested in issues of importance and being interested does not mean simply being curious but rather that there is a capacity to affect.

Given the passage of time, those students in years gone by who stood up against the Vietnam War, apartheid, and race or gender inequality have – with the passage of time – all been proven worthy.

Given that a recorded 34,000 persons have been killed in Gaza and most were women and children – and the overwhelmingly number of deaths were civilians – then surely that is an appropriate reason to advocate for a more responsible approach. Pointing out that there is something horrid about killing civilians is not antisemitism.

Learning is hunting for change. If the students are seeking a more peaceful world then good on them. There are limits to language and actions but there should be no limits on our right to responsibly express an opinion.

Learning how to learn without action is a useless activity. Done correctly, the students can help build a better world. They need to be heard and considered. If the next generation is to do better then they have to get on with doing what is good for humanity. 

A better world belongs to those who are the doers. So, go ahead and act until the world hears you.