The First Annual Concordia Student Union Red-Baiting Awards 2001–2002

“Red-baiting” is a term that came into vogue at the height of the Cold War, when American Senator Joseph McCarthy and others pioneered various techniques designed to discredit political opponents by labelling them as “red” or “communist.” With the collapse of the Soviet Union, one would have expected red-baiting to disappear, but in fact, the practice has simply been transformed to suit the needs of McCarthyists in this era.

In the 1950s, red-baiting involved a blurring of distinctions between the categories of communist / spy / saboteur / Jew / homosexual. In the current post-September 11 context, red-baiting involves a blurring of distinctions between the categories of communist / anarchist / terrorist / activist / Arab / Muslim.

As a glance at some of these award winners will show, one of the great ironies is that organizations that defended the targets of the McCarthyist witch-hunts in the past are now actively engaged in red-baiting themselves. B’nai Brith, for instance, provided assistance to blacklisted Jewish entertainers and writers who were brought before the U.S. House Committee on Un-American Activities. This year, however, B’nai Brith has won the coveted “Wildest Accusation” award for its attempt to connect the Concordia Student Union (CSU) to international terrorist Osama bin Laden.

So without further ado, lets congratulate the winners …

The Wildest Accusation

Without a doubt, the wildest accusation award must go to Frank Dimant of B’nai Brith, who asks of the CSU Student Agenda, “Is this a blueprint for Osama bin Laden’s youth program in North America?” (quoted in the Montreal Gazette). With one entirely unsubstantiated claim (in the form of a rhetorical question), Dimant places the Concordia Student Union smack-dab in the middle of the Axis of Evil. Well done Frank!

Honourable mention must go to Concordia rector Frederick Lowy for his claim that CSU publications encourage the “disruption of public order.” Backed up by a quotation from a poem in the student agenda, the rector asked the Quebec government to investigate the student union for encouraging impressionable young minds to heed the call to revolution. If the provincial government had actually taken up Lowy on his offer, it would have surely been in the running for the “most conspiratorially minded” award.

The Most Self-Contradictory Accusation and the Most Conspiratorially Minded Award

Team effort pulled off this double victory for Concordia vice rector and provost Jack Lightstone and Canadian Jewish News reporter Janice Arnold. Arnold paraphrases Lightstone, explaining how he believes that the CSU has been the victim of a massive conspiracy involving a “faction” that “is associated with a breakaway group of Marxist-Leninist anarchists and less radical anti-globalizationists called the Canadian Federation of Students, whose goal is to take over student governments in the country.” (Canadian Jewish News)

Those Marxist-Leninist anarchists must be shaking in their boots now that they have been found out.

Honourable mention in this category once again goes to rector Frederick Lowy, who claims that the CSU has been taken over by people with an “anarchistic” agenda (University Affairs). Everyone knows how anarchists just love to take over the top positions in organizations and impose their will on unsuspecting members.

The Most Racist Accusation

This award is won hands-down by Jonathan Kay of the National Post, who creates a whole new race-based ideology with the swoop of a pen when he writes, “the union is a small, ideologically driven cabal whose agenda is dominated by anti-globalization zealots and militant Arabists” (National Post).

Honourable mention goes to B’nai Brith’s director of advocacy Raphael Lallouz, who claims, “… now the Arab student leadership has infiltrated the CSU.” (Quoted in The Jewish Tribune.)

Most Creative Manufacture of Evidence

The importance of this category is often underestimated. As the first chair of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, U.S. Congressman Martin Dies, explained: “if you … require any committee to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a man is subversive or even to prove that he is a communist … you could never accomplish anything.” To help the process of mudslinging along, there is no substitute for good, old-fashioned lies. Pretend you have a list of known communists in the government, or irrefutable proof of some wrongdoing. It doesn’t matter if such proof actually exists.

This year’s award goes to Concordia Engineering and Computer Science dean Nabil Esmail, who sent an e-mail encouraging members of his faculty to fight CSU motions that would have placed human rights restrictions on the companies that Concordia could do business with.

Since the dean did not have any evidence that the CSU was trying to sabotage the career chances of engineering students, he made it up: “They [the CSU] have also forwarded a sharply worded letter to companies, which planned to participate in ECA (the student association) Career Fair. As a result a number of companies decided not to participate, to the detriment of our engineering and computer science students.” (From a September 25 e-mail sent to all the dean’s staff and faculty, which was subsequently forwarded to students to mobilize for the September 26 general assembly.) No such letters were ever sent by the CSU.

A close runner-up was rector Lowy, who cites The Suburban — a weekly publication reprimanded by the Quebec Press Council for “abusive and extreme generalizations of Arabs” — as “evidence” that a Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) rally could be violent (justifying a crackdown on free expression by banning the event). The article in question was penned by Suburban reporter Howard Silbiger, who cites a Mid-East terrorism expert who claimed that “many of the groups connected to the rally have ties to Palestinian and Islamic terrorist organizations.”

Most Creative Production of Expert Authority

The great red-baiters of yore knew that nobody would take them seriously if the arguments they offered were simply taken on their own merits. That is why they created organizations like the House Committee on Un-American Activities.

B’nai Brith has learned this lesson well, thus earning the “most creative production of expert authority” award for this year. It created an organization called the Institute for International Affairs, and made Patrick Essminy the regional chair. B’nai Brith could thus cite this expert to back up the claim “that individuals who may have links to extremist groups have infiltrated Concordia and its student union, and are purposefully stirring up hostility and civil disorder.” (B’nai Brith press release.)

Best Frame-Up JobNo list of red-baiting exploits for this year would be complete without mentioning the framing of student activists Tom Keefer and Laith Marouf by the beloved Mr. Lowy.

The rector summarily expelled the pair, ignoring normal procedures and even ignoring the testimony of eleven witnesses. Although the official charge against them is assault (something that all eleven witnesses deny seeing any evidence of), Lowy made clear in a letter to the Montreal Gazette that the two students’ real crime was promoting the “overt politicization of the university” by supporting such radical ideas as (gasp) human rights and lower tuition.

If you weren’t chosen, cheer up. There is always next year!

The CSU would like to thank all of the contestants. There were so many ridiculous accusations and inflammatory comments made about the student union this year that many Concordia administrators with strong performances had to be overlooked. Since students are catching on to the dog-and-pony show that is neo-McCarthyism, competition is likely to be less fierce in the year ahead, so if you keep up the good work you’re bound to be noticed as a first-class red-baiter in next year’s contest.