As a result of the dreadful events of Sept. 11, 2001, the United States began to tighten security at its borders and its transportation and strategic facilities. This is something I fully understand. In fact, since the explosion of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in December 1988, I have devoted my career to the development of technology for the detection of threat-materials.
But what disturbs me are the discriminatory practices all of us have heard of recently. U.S. officials, in an attempt to put an end to border infiltration, have decided to apply a border filtration process. They are filtering out people based on their ethnic or religious background. Because of my name, place of birth (Egypt) and my ethnic background, I am now a potential candidate for discrimination, although U.S. authorities have not personally harassed me yet.
Can you imagine government authorities profiling everyone of Irish background because of the IRA, or every Christian man for Timothy McVey’s Oklahoma City bombing? Some of us in academia who are potential subjects for this practice will avoid the U.S. Others will simply accept it as the price to enter the U.S.
I am writing here not to further expose these discriminatory practices — the Canadian media has done a superb job in this regard. I am not even complaining about the lack of respect the U.S. authorities give to the Canadian identity which I have assumed with great pride and devotion for more than two decades. Instead, I want to urge the Canadian academic community to turn these unfortunate American practices into an opportunity to enrich Canada and its academic institutions.
Canada established ties with Cuba and refused to join the U.S. boycott of this Caribbean island. Canadian universities opened their doors to scholars from the People’s Republic of China while the Americans were shunning them. After the Iranian revolution Canadian universities welcomed students from Iran. Can Canada do the same for the scholars among the one billion people the U.S. is filtering out? I am speaking here about citizens of countries friendly to the West — people the U.S. government is doing its best to alienate and turn into adversaries.
If you believe in the so-called “clash of civilizations” or “pre-emptive strikes,” my arguments will mean little to you. But if you believe clashes are not what we seek, and pre-emptive strikes are no way to solve a problem, then you would agree that it is unacceptable to cordon and condemn almost one fifth of the world’s population because of the deplorable acts of a few.
As the U.S. closes its borders, we in the Canadian academic community should seize the opportunity to strengthen and enhance our academic life. Our learned societies, living for many years under the shadow of their American counterparts, now have an opportunity to sponsor international events featuring the cultural and ethnic mosaic for which many of the American academic and professional societies are known. I am sure our American colleagues will happily join us here, as many international scholars shy away from the hassle of entering the U.S.
The superb international graduate students the U.S. universities have attracted like a magnet will be coming our way. Imagine the impact of having more of the best minds in our graduate schools to work on innovation and excellence.
Undergraduate applicants are already knocking on our doors and many of our schools are already welcoming them. The internationalization of academia cannot be anything but positive.
Many of us have established strong ties with our American colleagues. We value the experience of interacting and collaborating with them. Some of us even receive U.S. funding for research. Such ties must continue. If you have decided to avoid the U.S., invite your American colleagues to visit your school.
Let us show them how well we are doing and how good our educational system is. Ask them to raise the issue with their elected representatives and university administrators. Let them know the discriminatory practices of their government are not what American values are about, and not in the best interests of their country.
We value their contribution to knowledge, excellence in science and technology, and above all the American models of democracy and respect of individuality and human rights. Are our American colleagues prepared to allow the events of Sept.11, no matter how vicious and inhuman, to change their values and principles?
To my colleagues who are not affected by the recent U.S. discriminatory practices, I want to warn you that such practices are simply the first steps in restraining your freedom and assaulting your dignity, too. Many of us have experienced the cruelty of immigration officials in some foreign country and perhaps pledged not to return to that country.
Esam Hussein is a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of New Brunswick and the past-president of the Association of University of New Brunswick Teachers.
The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of CAUT.