York student group hosts Iranium screening despite protests

Controversial documentary creates tension rather than discussion

Because the political climate at York University isn’t quite hot enough, a group of students decided to host a screening of Iranium on campus last week.

The controversial documentary made headlines last month after a screening scheduled at the National Archives was canceled due to complaints from the Iranian Embassy. But this past Thursday, the movie was successfully screened at York University’s Computer Science and Engineering Centre.

Organized by Hasbara@York, the film was originally to be shown at Vari Hall but the location was moved after Toronto Police received “unspecified threats.” About 50 to 60 people showed up to protest the screening, organized by the Iranian Student Association at York.

My apologizes if I’ve led you to a yawning fit. Obviously, this sort of issue is not new for York University. Generally speaking, Group A will host controversial speaker/association/screening, Group B will protest said speaker/association/screening, and Group A will assert its right to free speech/peaceful assembly. Is everyone following so far?

I’ve seen Iranium and it is certainly not a feel-good flick. While obviously centred on the Iranian ruling regime, I took it as highly critical of the U.S. government as well. Of course, none of that should really matter. The belief that a documentary is biased or propagandistic does not give one the right to prohibit others from seeing it, especially on a shared campus.

A more tactful approach for dealing with this or similar issues would be to tackle the content directly, rather than try to stifle the message overall. The first five minutes or so of Iranium could probably make for an hour-long lecture on Orientalism, for example. Another missed opportunity was when George Galloway spoke at York in November. Instead of protesting his presence, why not host a subsequent event titled “Funding Hamas and Other Poor PR Moves” instead?

Questioned by York University’s Excalibur, Iranian Student Association at York president Mehraz Javadyniya said, “We acknowledge that there are human rights issues in Iran […] but the Iranian community within the university do not agree with them speaking about our human rights issues when it’s our problem.” His statement is problematic for a number of reasons–namely for suggesting that discussion of issues in a community should be exclusive to its members. Rather than trying to quiet other people’s discussions, why not seize the opportunity to add to the conversation?

Now I think I’ve got a whole new group of people yawning (and probably preparing their placards). As you were, York University.

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