The president of a Canadian university on Wednesday condemned the "conference" on the Holocaust held in Iran this week -- amid shock at his institution and elsewhere in Canada at the news that one of his professors had presented a paper there.
"I express my shock and regret that the name of St. Francis Xavier University has been associated with the recent 'conference' in Tehran due to the presence of a member of university faculty," said the statement from Sean Riley, president of the institution, in Nova Scotia. "The gathering, in its origins and focus, contained elements that are deeply abhorrent to the St. Francis Xavier University community and the traditions of our 153 years of history. Given previous statements and actions from key personalities in Iranian authority, and given the focus on the subject of the Holocaust and the well-known positions of many participants, it is no surprise that the conference revealed unmistakable and deplorable anti-Semitism."
Shiraz Dossa, a professor of political science at St. Francis Xavier, confirmed his attendance to The Globe and Mail and told that newspaper that he was surprised to find that the conference attracted Holocaust deniers and neo-Nazis, among others. Dossa's attendance has been criticized by Canadian Jewish leaders, among others, who have noted that statements from Iranian leaders questioning the reality of the Holocaust have been widely publicized, as has their desire to use the conference to legitimize such views.
In the interview with the Globe and Mail, Dossa said that he did not doubt the Holocaust and said that he had not been pressured to alter his views. He said his paper was about the abuse of imagery of the Holocaust.
"My essential point is that the Jewish loss -- which is, of course, a reality, and anyone who denies it is a lunatic -- the focus here is on how the Holocaust is a political construct, distinct from the Jewish loss at the hands of the Nazis. And that political construct has been used to justify certain policies by people, some of whom are Zionists. And now that whole issue plays into the war on terrorism, which is essentially a war on Islam," he told the newspaper.
Riley, the president of Dossa's university, said that the conference deserved the international condemnation it has received, but he also defended Dossa's right to academic freedom. "Members of university faculty, in Canada at least, have the freedom of inquiry and speech which is part of our democracy. They do not, however, speak for the university."