30 years ago, a professor predicted the ‘closing of the American mind’ — how right he was

First published at Global News on April 28, 2017.

Organizers pulled the plug on a planned lecture by author Ann Coulter at the University of California, Berkeley this week. This is only the latest example of speakers — generally conservatives — being shut down by riots or the threat of violent protest.

It was only in February that Berkeley was literally aflame after hundreds of “anti-fascist” protesters took to the streets in opposition to Milo Yiannopoulos.

The conduct was reprehensible, but so was that of the 100 faculty members who called on Berkeley to cancel the event, citing the offensive nature of Yiannopoulos’ schtick.

Many of these professors have tenure, protecting their right to be controversial. Not as important for others, apparently.

Universities were once bastions of free speech, but genuine dialogue has been replaced by vicious shouting matches and conformity enforced by mob rule. This is particularly sobering at Berkeley, given its long-standing support of free expression.

Anyone caught off guard by this incursion of censorship hasn’t been paying attention: We were warned.

This month marks the 30th anniversary of Allan Bloom’s renowned book, The Closing of the American Mind: How higher education has failed democracy and impoverished the souls of today’s students.

Published in 1987, the book lamented the dilution of education and decline of discourse at post-secondary institutions — witnessed firsthand by Bloom, a classics professor and philosopher.

As the culture changed in the 1960s with the sexual revolution, anti-war protests and the rise of feminism, so too did the attitudes of that era’s students, in particular. Universities capitulated to the demand for education that was more rooted in social justice than objective truths.

This didn’t just manifest itself in political theory, but even the arts. Students were more concerned with discrediting, rather than studying, classics (on account of undertones of sexism and racism, invariably). Not even works by Shakespeare, Homer and Aristotle were safe.

Challenging truth and authority is a part of education. Campus progressives wanted their view unchallenged.

Universities responded, Bloom noted, by “offering every concession other than education,” saying “the whole experiment in excellence was washed away, leaving not a trace.”

As cultural relativism, the belief system that rejects any sense of cultural superiority (certainly that of the West) became the norm, students rejected quintessential Western values like free speech.

Despite being the mother of all liberties, free speech was lumped in with any other theory of mythology, viewed as a novel idea rather than a necessary tenet of democracy.

And so began the death of debate.

More than a generation after The Closing of the American Mind, disrespecting free speech is part of progressive doctrine.

Instead of countering controversial opinions with opposing views, it’s more the norm to protest a speaker or try to shut them down altogether.

Student unions routinely block assembly by groups challenging liberal orthodoxy.

Speech codes to guard against allegedly oppressive language are ubiquitous on campuses.

Without ever using the term “political correctness” or “safe space,” Bloom described what is so apparent in academia, and even off-campus, today. He was ahead of his time.

As a concept, political correctness was in action in the 1980s, but not as mainstream or understood as it is today.

It was actually a 1993 Newsweek feature that blew up the national discussion in America about the PC phenomenon, which the author termed, “an experiment of sorts taking place in American colleges.”

The piece shared stories that were unbelievable at the time.

A University of Connecticut student was excommunicated by her school for a tasteless joke about gays. She was later allowed back, but only after a federal lawsuit.

A Brown University student insisted the school refer to young girls as “pre-women,” to avoid belittling them.

Smith College issued a notice informing students of the 10 kinds of oppression they should avoid — from ageism to ableism to heteronormativity.

It’s laughable today to think these were controversial. Stories like these are now the rule, not the exception.

As much as Bloom’s book sent shockwaves through academia, his concerns weren’t heeded by the tenured Marxist professors and peacenik students who tended to run the show.

Idealism was partially to blame, Bloom argued.

In 1987, most college-aged students had a relatively good life. They had more personal freedoms than their parents did, and they didn’t have to live in fear of the Second World War or Vietnam War drafts.

Even the Cold War threat of nuclear attack had waned.

It was easy for students to pick more abstract enemies — misogyny, racism, [insert marginalized group]-o-phobia, and so on. Identifying and opposing these isn’t bad, but it’s problematic when every issue is viewed solely through the lens of oppression.

No one can argue, 30 years later, that things are better.

Perhaps Bloom’s hopefulness was his book’s biggest failing. He looked to the purity of the philosophical discourses in ancient Greece — the Platonic and Socratic dialogues — as model examples, stating that such a return to a culture of ideas and values is always viable.

It seems less so with each passing riot.

Assisted suicide is an affront to mental illness, not a cure for it

First published at Global News on April 21, 2017.

After a years-long battle with mental illness, 27-year-old Adam Maier-Clayton committed suicide last week.

His dying wish was to make it easier for other people in his situation to do the same.

The Windsor, Ont., man killed himself to end the debilitating physical and mental pain he experienced as a result of anxiety, mood disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder.

He tried antidepressants, counselling, and even some experimental therapies, but none of it worked, he said.

Before his passing, Maier-Clayton urged government to amend assisted dying laws “so that sufferers of refractory illness (both mental and physical) have the ability to decide for themselves if they wish to continue suffering and enduring their illness or not.

“If not, giving them a dignified, painless way out of their suffering is what we need to do if we wish to truthfully be able to consider ourselves a civilized society.”

This idea that suicide is dignified and painless is a dangerous one. Take it from someone who tried and failed.

Nearly seven years ago I overdosed on dozens of pills — causing multiple cardiac arrests and weeks in hospital on life support.

I survived, but only narrowly so.

Everything from the method to the date and time was meticulously thought out.

I picked the day because I didn’t have any other appointments scheduled — as though missing a meeting would have been the only problem with my plan any other day.

Suicidal people are irrational. This is true even when decisions appear to be made through logic and reason.

I saw suicide as the answer to pain I was convinced wouldn’t abate.

It wasn’t just about picking the easy way out of an unpleasant situation — it was the only way. I saw no way my life would improve.

Spoiler alert: it did.

Like Maier-Clayton, I had tried myriad therapies, medications, and treatment throughout my years-long battle with depression. By the time I tried to pull the plug on my own existence, none had made an impact.

But after the attempt, that changed. Healing didn’t happen overnight, but things that hadn’t worked previously showed positive results.

My circumstances didn’t change, but my outlook did.

When discussing assisted suicide, mental and physical illness can’t be lumped into one category.

For diseases like multiple sclerosis (MS) and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), often regarded as the poster diagnoses for assisted suicide, a person’s degeneration is linear and predictable.

That certainty is absent for those with depression or anxiety.

There is a difference between a septuagenarian whose best days are behind them and a 20-something who simply might not have found the right treatment yet.

Assisted suicide activists say those with mental illness are being denied the right to die with dignity just as elderly ALS patients were before the Supreme Court struck down the ban on physician-assisted death in 2015.

Exit International founder Dr. Philip Nitschke, who worked with Maier-Clayton in the lead-up to his suicide, maintains the young man was of completely sound mind to make the literal life and death decision.

“Yes he was suffering. Yes he had a mental illness. But did he have rational decision-making abilities? Absolutely,” Nitschke told me. “And I would challenge anyone to have been able to find any flaws in his thinking.”

Being a pretty good debater, I’m sure I could have sold my own suicide given how convinced I was that it was the right call. That wouldn’t have made it any less flawed a conclusion.

Despite my illness, I functioned in the world in such a way that most people didn’t even realize there was a problem. I worked, engaged and had relationships with others. I appeared normal, despite not thinking normally.

When illness is in the mind, rather than the body, it calls any decision into question — an irreversible one all the more so.

Maier-Clayton’s family experienced a powerlessness that most could never imagine, seeing such suffering in a loved one and not being able to fix it.

The role of health-care practitioners is to try — not to enable one’s disordered thinking by killing them. State-sanctioned death doesn’t help the mentally ill — it robs them of a chance for healing.

In 2010, no one could have told me happiness was possible. Today, I am married to the love of my life, working in a successful career, and able to look forward each day — all just a few years after I signed my own death warrant.

Suicide is a symptom of mental illness — not a cure for it.

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.

The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, Depression Hurts and Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868 all offer ways for getting help if you, or someone you know, is suffering from mental health issues.

Omar Khadr’s victim mentality

First published in the National Post on October 31, 2014.

Omar Khadr is gearing up for his forthcoming return to free society. His red carpet to cultural exoneration already has been laid by the NDP, the Toronto Star editorial board and Amnesty International. And now Khadr — whether by his own quill or that of a savvy legal and PR team — is trying to whitewash his history and present himself as an activist, rather than a convicted killer eager to apologize for his crimes and reintegrate into Canadian society.

In the wake of two terror-inspired attacks that claimed the lives of two Canadian soldiers last week, Khadr has taken to the op-ed page of the Ottawa Citizen to call out Canada’s allegedly “misguided” security laws, by which he claims to have been victimized.

In his op-ed, published Wednesday, Khadr had little — nothing, in fact — to say about his own actions in a Taliban-controlled Afghan village that led to his arrest, detainment at Guantanamo Bay, interrogations, and eventually his transfer to Canadian custody, where he is serving the remainder of his eight-year sentence at Alberta’s Bowden Institution, the product of a 2010 plea deal with U.S. officials before his military court trial.

The 2002 firefight in which Khadr (by his own admission) killed U.S. army medic Sgt. Christopher Speer with a hand grenade took place less than a year and a half after the wedding of Osama bin Laden’s son, which was attended by Khadr and his family. That was only 10 months the 9/11 terror attacks, for which Khadr’s father, Ahmed, a high-ranking al Qaeda member until his death in 2003, was a primary suspect.

“I was mired in a nightmare of injustice, insidiously linked to national security,” Khadr writes. “I have not yet escaped from that nightmare.”

Khadr sees himself as the victim. Not once does he acknowledge the gravity of the 9/11 attacks — preferring only to comment on “Canada’s post-Sept. 11 security practices” — nor does he ever mention Sgt. Speer. Also conspicuously absent is an apology, or any veiled sense of remorse whatsoever. Falling in line with the reputation created by so-called social justice activists, Khadr sees himself as the wronged party.

“I was apprehended by U.S. forces during a firefight in Afghanistan in July 2002. I was only 15 years old at the time, propelled into the middle of armed conflict I did not understand or want,” he says.

Even to a 15-year-old, the destructive power of a grenade is rather clear
If this conflict was so unwanted, they why has he not condemned it? Why has his leading champion, his sister Zaynab, not deleted her rather concerning Facebook homage to Osama bin Laden, whom she calls “the great martyr”?

More importantly, why has Omar Khadr not distanced himself ideologically from the actions that he took, which his apologists see as excusable on account of his youth at the time. At 28, has he still not learned the difference between right and wrong?

I’ve made many mistakes in my own life. But even to a 15-year-old, the destructive power of a grenade is rather clear.

Khadr has claimed that he should be treated as child soldiers around the world are, and afforded the appropriate protections. Take responsibility for your own actions first, Omar.

If Trudeau is schmoozing with terrorists, why aren’t we arresting any?

First published in the National Post on August 7, 2014.

When the news broke that Justin Trudeau had made a 2011 campaign stop at a Quebec mosque where, as United States military documents put it, “known al-Qaeda members were recruited, facilitated or trained,” I was shocked. Not by Trudeau’s political indiscretion in visiting a place of worship with allegations of terror links, but because of the Canadian government’s misguided anger.

Indeed, the Conservative government seemed far more concerned with Trudeau’s visitation of the mosque than it did by any terror-related activities that took place there.

I’m not defending Justin Trudeau. This is, after all, the man who absurdly pontificated on the need “to look at the root causes” of the Boston bombing while refusing to acknowledge it as an act of terrorism. It is also the same Trudeau who addressed the radical Reviving the Islamic Spirit conference in 2012.

But I’m most disappointed in Stephen Harper, the tough-on-crime and tough-on-“Islamicism” Prime Minister whose office, on Wednesday, offered up Roxanne James, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety, as a guest on my radio show on London, Ont.’s AM980 to specifically discuss Trudeau’s visit to the mosque.

When the PMO arranged my interview with James, I was looking forward to hearing what the government had done or was doing to address the radicalization alleged at the Al Sunnah Al Nabawiah mosque. Shockingly, what I presumed was the most relevant question to the discussion, appeared to dumbfound James, who skirted it no fewer than three times, offering up only scripted condemnations of Justin Trudeau.

“I think it was completely outrageous. I think it’s completely unacceptable that the leader of the Liberal Party, Justin Trudeau, would associate with a group that allegedly radicalizes Canadians to join al-Qaeda and has even been listed by the Pentagon as a location known to them,” James told me during the live interview.

I asked, “Why is this a politics question and not a question of Canadian public safety and intelligence?”

I was expecting anything but the answer she gave.

“I thank you for that question, but as you know, I probably —I cannot comment on operational matters of national security, Andrew,” she said. “But I think the real question is here — Justin Trudeau knew about this. He knew about this and instead he went into this mosque, did a whole lot of handshaking and trying to win votes. He will stoop at nothing to try to win over terrorist organizations. I can’t believe this.”

Different approaches to the issue produced the same result.

Politics should never trump national security, if genuine public safety concerns exist within this discussion.

As has come to light since the original story broke, the terror connection of Al Sunnah Al Nabawiah came from several captured terrorists associated with the mosque — including its former Imam — in the late 1990s.

Does the mosque preach radicalism or hold any connections to terrorism now, or when Trudeau visited in 2011? I have no idea.

But if the only anti-Canadian event at the mosque that troubles Conservative government is an invitation to Justin Trudeau, the partisan attacks are far more “inexcusable” than Trudeau accepting it.

What’s to stop non-citizens from voting in our elections?

First published in the National Post on October 5, 2011.

As a result of a recent relocation, I wasn’t on the voters list in my riding for the upcoming Ontario provincial election. So, when I showed up to vote in the advance polls, I had to show my driver’s licence and a piece of mail — my phone bill, as it so happens — to prove identity, age and residency. No problem. But something neither of these documents did was verify my citizenship.

Citizenship is, in theory, a fundamental criterion in voting eligibility. Now, perhaps I’m being unfair in not considering the possibility that citizenship verification takes place on some sort of psychic, metaphysical level by the attending poll clerk, or, perhaps, merely a behavioural profile on whether the would-be voter exudes the essence of Canadian-ness. But I doubt it. I’m more apt to wager on a profoundly simpler idea: Elections Ontario, much like its national counterpart, doesn’t verify citizenship of electors.

A couple of years ago, (thankfully) former Toronto mayor David Miller backed an unpopular proposal to allow non-Canadians residing in Toronto to vote in municipal elections. That would have been a first for Canada. In the last federal election, Michael Ignatieff’s wife was unable to cast a ballot to support her husband due to her citizenship status. (Little did Mrs. Zsohar know that as long as she could drive or had a health card, no one would have stopped her from giving her husband a much-needed sympathy vote.)

What would happen if a non-citizen, armed with phone bill and driver’s licence, went to vote and, by coincidence, the polling clerk happened to know for a fact that they weren’t a Canadian citizen? Could they be prevented from casting a ballot? A phone call to Elections Ontario to pose that very question had a confused customer service agent ask me, “What do you mean? You need to be a citizen to vote.” How enlightening.

The non-statement from Elections Ontario aside, it’s well established that foreign citizens have voted in Canadian elections. I know of at least one American who voted in our last election, and a French citizen who had to call Elections Canada to explain that she was ineligible to receive the voter cards they were sending her. Tales of foreign citizens voting in our elections have even been reported in the media, typically as curiosities.

Much has been written about the historical pattern of politicians in Chicago wooing the graveyard vote, but those indiscretions are minute compared to the systemic indifference to non-Canadians being able to vote in Canadian federal, provincial and municipal elections.

There are 1.5 million non-citizen residents of Canada over the age of 18. There is little to stop any or all of them from influencing our democracy. Forget “foreign workers.” A better use of time during the current campaign would have been figuring out how to update our election laws to rule out any interference by foreign voters.