Saturday, November 14, 2009

Misconceptions and Rebuttals

By Rachel Anjorin

The case against Dr. Hassan Diab has inspired a raft of misconceptions and misinformation. Let’s examine some of them.

Misconception #1: “Well, you say he’s a nice guy, but haven’t you heard what they say about former Nazis? They make the best neighbors. They’re polite, quiet, keep their property neat, don’t complain or pick fights. So this guy fits the profile, doesn’t he?

Rebuttal: Putting aside the fact that
Hassan is a really nice guy, according to the “neighborly Nazi” theory, the more innocent Hassan looks, the more likely he must be guilty. Does an innocent man stand any chance against this conflicted logic? Once the burden of proof is shifted from the accuser to the accused, we completely dispense with unfashionable ideas like the presumption of innocence.

Misconception #2: “French authorities have based their case against
Dr. Diab on well-established facts and reliable information

Rebuttal: For a case that is nearly three decades old it would be a remarkable feat for even the most skilled narrator to keep the storyline straight. The Rue Copernic case has been handed down from one juge d’instruction to another like so much moldy fromage.
Perhaps l’affaire ancien languished for so many years because there simply is not enough reliable evidence to justify pursuing any particular lead. The dossier must be voluminous with information of dubious value accumulated in the process of tracking down various false leads. What makes the authorities so confident they aren’t running down yet another dead-end path — and taking an innocent man along for the hellish ride?

The theories behind this case have changed over the decades to the point where the “facts” can no longer be made to cohere unless they are selected with great care. The improvisational nature of the prosecutorial narrative shows through from time to time. For example, there’s the little problem of the changing description of the person sought, notwithstanding the supposedly definitive nature of the information obtained years ago regarding the perpetrator’s identity.

He’s not Palestinian you say? Well, he’s Lebanese. Isn’t that close enough? What’s the difference between one Arab and the next?

He’s not a psychologist you say? Well, he’s a sociologist. Surely that’s far worse!

So much for “well-established facts” and “reliable information”…

Misconception #3:Diab’s bail conditions require him to be accompanied by a surety when leaving home. In addition, he must wear a GPS monitoring device, refrain from owning or using a cell phone, and abide by a curfew. With these kinds of conditions in place it would seem that it is not only the French who think this is the right guy.”

Rebuttal: This list of bail conditions is essentially correct. However, the conclusion drawn from them regarding the probability of wrongdoing is demonstrably faulty. Hassan’s bail conditions have far more to do with process than with any determination of guilt or innocence — which will not be decided by a Canadian court. The facts that (a) bail was granted, (b) the decision withstood an appeal and attempts to tighten them by the Crown Attorney, and (c) Hassan is allowed to continue working (including teaching) clearly indicate that the judge believes Dr. Diab poses no threat to the community and is not a substantial flight risk.

As of this writing, Hassan has been out on bail for over seven months without incident.
Adil Charkaoui and Mohamed Harkat were also subjected to very stringent bail conditions. Yet both men recently saw their bail conditions entirely removed (Charkaoui) or significantly relaxed (Harkat). The case against Adil Charkaoui has been formally dropped, and at the rate things are going the case against Mohamed Harkat may also collapse. These examples illustrate that restrictive bail conditions don’t necessarily have anything to do with the authorities having “the right guy”.

Misconception #4: “If there is any risk that Dr. Diab holds violent, hateful views, he must be removed from teaching until we are sure he poses no threat to students. If he's innocent then an innocent man will have been inconvenienced, and that's sad. But if he's guilty, then who knows what kind of hateful nonsense he could be teaching in the classroom? Many more lives could be damaged.

Rebuttal: At least this position allows that Dr. Diab might be innocent. What’s missing, of course, is negative testimony from a single student among the countless students he has taught over the years. Dr. Diab has never exhibited bigotry of any kind, in or outside of the classroom. He has never expressed hateful opinions or demonstrated violent tendencies. Positive testimonials from students, professors, colleagues, and friends are available, but few have made the papers, and none have been published in quite a while. It’s very simple: If he’s never exhibited such sentiments before, then there’s no reason to expect he will exhibit them now.

In closing, we encourage everyone to
take a good, hard look at the case against Dr. Hassan Diab and exercise independent judgment. Carefully examine your personal reactions and prejudices. History is replete with examples of collective responses driven by fear and prejudice that violated human rights and undermined democracy. This should concern us far more than whether or not Dr. Hassan Diab is allowed to continue teaching sociology courses. When we act as if there are exceptions to the presumption of innocence, and especially when we base these actions on prejudice, we open the door for people to be charged and punished more for who they are rather than for any actual wrongdoing.