When Professors spread Disinformation

It is expected that writers will disagree in the public square, and for academics to do so is perfectly natural. Whatever their area of expertise, most prominent and published academics display the letters Ph.D. beside their names, denoting the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.

This distinction indicates that the holder of a doctorate has excelled in researching a chosen subject in depth — including the philosophy behind and within it — and contributed original ideas or results to the canon of human knowledge.

Thus, if an academic with a Ph.D. writes on a topic of public interest, even if it is not within his/her area of specialization, your expectations are nevertheless elevated out of respect for the quality of their thinking and analytical skills. You anticipate articulate expression, well-structured arguments or proposals, and meticulously authenticated research, down to the finest detail. The last thing any reasonable person expects from a Ph.D. is publicly shared material full of disinformation.

On September 1, 2006 Dr. Louis Greenspan published an article in Canada’s Globe and Mail entitled "Questioning the Hezbollah-Nazi Axis," under which he was identified as "professor emeritus of religious studies at Canada’s McMaster University." Dr. Greenspan was director of the Bertrand Russell Editorial Project from 1994 to 1997 and its managing editor from 1986 to 1994: "Russell was the subject of Greenspan’s Ph.D.; he has also conducted research on modern liberal thought and modern Jewish thought."

Greenspan opened his article by cheering on the inflammatory but insubstantial rhetoric of North American neo-conservatism. He wrote: "Last week, Conservative MP Jason Kenney, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s parliamentary secretary, depicted Hezbollah as a new incarnation of the Nazi party. In mid-August, President George Bush outraged the Muslim world (again) by calling for vigilance against Islamic fascism, a call repeated by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld this week."

For Greenspan to fall in love with the dubious ideologies of such as Rumsfeld, Bush and Kenney is his business, even as a respected academic.

But Greenspan offered not a shred of proof, nor did he reference any valid source of information when he declared that, "The literature and actions of Hezbollah recall fascist political outlooks so closely that one suspects the original fascist manifestos were models and inspiration." He continued; "Hezbollah’s call for the removal of Israel from the Middle East and its vigorous opposition to all negotiations to end the conflict is buttressed by ugly discourses on Judaism and the Jewish people and ratified by actions such as the destruction of the Jewish centre in Argentina in the early 1980s."

As an academic, Greenspan seems to assume he can get away with such baseless assertions, but history will eventually bear out the truth that Israel itself created Hezbollah as its arch-enemy.

Hezbollah (whose Arabic name means "party of God") is actually a legitimate Lebanese Shi’a Islam political party organized around a variety of roles and functions, just as are many other political parties. And, not unlike some other parties, it developed a national military resistance wing, created solely in response to Israel’s occupation of Southern Lebanon.

Greenspan openly hates Hezbollah and is clearly a cheerleader for the Israel-can-do-no-wrong crowd. Again, he is fully entitled to love and hate whomever and whatever he wishes, as far as his personal life and opinions are concerned. But in the public context of his recent Globe and Mail article, disinformation runs rampant, with statements like: "Sheik Hassan Nasrallah [Hezbollah leader] has declared that the ingathering of Jews in Israel will make it easier to destroy them."

To be fair, however, Greenspan can be credited with some truths –” albeit very few. He says, for example, that "Mr. Nasrallah has denounced the methods of the Iraqi insurgency as well as the actions of the Taliban in Afghanistan," and "To call Hezbollah a Hitlerite phenomenon is to preclude its evolution into a political party devoted to its country."

And it is encouraging that Dr. Greenspan says of himself: "I am an unrepentant supporter of the 1993 Oslo accords and the 2003 Geneva accords with the Palestinians, and I have a deep admiration for the Palestinians I have met in these years of hope for peace."

In that vein, I would like to offer him a thesis for achieving peace in the Middle East: that is, begin by establishing justice for Palestinians. After all, how can true peace prevail without justice? Hasn’t history taught us over and over again that injustice breeds radicalism?

As difficult as it may be, the onus is on Israel to acknowledge and take the blame for the death, destruction and misery it has inflicted on several generations of Palestinians. It was Israel that steadfastly refused (and still refuses) to recognize Palestine as a nation, so how can it continue to mistreat the land’s indigenous people and somehow expect peace? The idea is absurd.

Similarly, why is it assumed that Jews anywhere on the globe have an inalienable "right" to settle in Israel, while the refugees of the Palestinian Diaspora are accorded no such right? And why does Israel have the "right" to self-defence, but not the Palestinians, or the Lebanese? Finally, why do illegal Jewish settlers in the Occupied West Bank enjoy swimming pools, schools and fine houses — all guarded by trained military personnel armed with submachine guns — while native Palestinians struggle for the very basics of existence?

As a self-professed activist and professor emeritus of religious studies, perhaps Dr. Greenspan should turn his academic expertise, Ph.D. and all, to answering these urgent questions.