Editorial: Concordia Needs to Stand With the MSA

Graphic Madeleine Gendreau

What started out as bad reporting ended up as an administrative embarrassment.

TVA contacted Concordia, questioning the presence of works written by controversial Islamic figures in the Muslim Students Association’s library, after a reporter and a film crew barged into the MSA office and harassed the students there. Instead of standing by their students, Concordia administrators chose to take those claims seriously and investigate the matter.

A fair response would have been to scrutinize the reporter’s process—considering that part of the report involved entering and filming the MSA offices without permission. Instead, the members of the association met with the Dean of Students and began a “review” of their library material.

Dealing with the matter in this way was unbalanced and inappropriate. Why is an educational institution like Concordia using an unreliable source like TVA as the basis for an investigation of its students? TVA is owned by Quebecor, a media corporation whose track record has been called into question as recently as last year.

Quebecor was accused of twisting statements by the SPVM about the death of a woman in the Metro in 2014, after her scarf and hair got tangled in an escalator. According to the Journal de Montreal and the Sun News Network, owned by Quebecor, it wasn’t her scarf that killed her, but her hijab—which was actually tucked neatly under her coat, according to witnesses.

Negative representations of Muslims in the media are increasingly common. But the response of the general public to cases like that of Rania El-Alloul, whose testimony was refused by a Quebec judge after she refused to remove her hijab in court, demonstrate that fear-based reactionary views are not ubiquitous.

While the MSA’s goal was to provide a resource for information and literature, the goal of TVA was to smear and fearmonger. TVA reporter Michel Jean says there are no explanations to be found about the works in the MSA’s library. Perhaps that’s because the association was not given the chance to respond.

It’s easy to brush off TVA’s reporting as sensational, but getting to the heart of the library incident has been difficult. When The Link contacted other libraries for religious study to discuss information policies, librarians were unwilling to get involved. The ones at Concordia directed us back to Concordia’s media relations department. In a statement by the communications director, Concordia argued it was not “censoring” or “culling” the MSA’s collection—just helping the students audit and review their catalogue.

Requesting a literature review of the MSA’s library is largely uncharitable and hypocritical, considering what can be found in the university’s own collection. Literary aficionados can probably name many texts found at a typical library, including Concordia’s, which preach extremist or offensive ideas. Mein Kampf is the classic example. Others include The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which some argue is racist, and Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, a controversial novel that ignited debate in the Muslim world. All of these are available at the Webster Library.

Changing cultural norms and scientific principles have challenged and denounced many ideas. These ideas should be acknowledged and contended with, but certainly not erased. They are integrated in the public discourse and should remain there for historical context and growth.

Concordia claims to stand for academic freedom and free speech. If that’s true, it should have handled the situation differently by weighing the evidence more carefully before picking sides or taking such targeted action. We believe the university owes the MSA an apology and hope it can abide by its own values in the future.