The riot at Concordia University showed how such events are handled by police, as well as how events are communicated to the public for certain interests. In this final part, the ‘Netanyahu Riot’ will be put in perspective, and the power struggle which took place will be examined.
The protesters in this event were represented as one of several possible groups. The most obvious and legitimate was that they were opposed to then-former Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, since they were demonstrating against his speech. A more baseless characterization was that these demonstrators were anti-Israeli. This may very well be true for certain groups of the people attending, but opposing Netanyahu is too often conflated with opposing Israel – even though Netanyahu was not Prime Minister at the time, and therefore was not directly controlling the actions of the nation. More speculative labels attached was that they were Muslim and pro-Palestinian. While this certainly is not true for all protesters, these were among the dominant ways in which they were characterized (Rowe & Trickey, 2002).
The different ways in which groups taking part in the riot were portrayed played into a larger political agenda and power structure. The police were presented to the public as the ones protecting free speech, and it was the anti-Israeli and Muslim protesters who were doing their best to stifle it. This played well into both the Canadian political system that is allied with Israel, as well as Netanyahu’s agenda; who took the opportunity to show how the actions of the protesters were representative of the his political enemies (Rowe & Trickey, 2002; Gordon et al., 2002).
This narrative not only contributed to the idea that Muslims are against free speech, but also that they were diametrically opposed to the essence of Canadian culture. Canadians tend to take pride in allowing essential freedoms like speech to everyone, so the idea that this group was opposing our treasured values was used to create a social panic from regular citizens (Shankar,2002; Cutler, 2002).
As is often this case in the post 9/11 world, these perceived dangers to our national security stems from the rampant fear in society today with regards to terrorism. By labelling the demonstrators as pro-Palestinian, Arabic, or Muslim, the media – and especially Netanyahu – cause the fear and panic associated with terrorists to be associated with them; whether this is done intentionally or not. The people attending this protest are shown to have similar cultural influences as terrorists, and are a risk to national security through their violence. This need not only be applied to outsiders per se, but can also be used to stir up fears of a “homegrown terrorist”. This is a domestic foreigner that lives within our borders and is a danger to our national security. In essence, this all means that suspicion and fear towards terrorism can be brought our by simply tying a group to the religious, cultural, and territorial context that terrorists are thought to arise from – which seems to fit the narrative being made about the supposedly pro-Palestinian protesters (Dhamoon & Abu-Laban, 2009).
While these are the ways in which the events were used to serve political interests, the actual proceedings at the protest reveal much in the way of public order policing, as well as how collective dissent forms and takes action. With the announcement that a polarizing figure was speaking at a university, the status quo among political opponents had changed. No longer was the situation accepted, and people gathered together to actively oppose a speech from Netanyahu. The police sensed the possible deterioration of public order, and took persuasive and coercive steps to keep the people attending in-line. The building which held the speech was guarded, and the protesters were restricted from entering by the presence of riot police (Gordon et al., 2002).
Although these measures were meant to close off the demonstrators, the strong police presence actually seemed to further increase tensions. This effect is not new, and if often seen when large numbers of police are used to maintain strict control over specific areas (Noakes et al., 2005). A group of activists were determined to enter the building and bypass the police. They did this by finding a back door to the building, and making their way in without being notices by police. Faced with the increased threat and raised stakes, police resorted to physically subduing the protesters who has entered and began making arrests. With these stronger actions being taken, the situation among the protesters outside the building was further deteriorated as they saw the scuffle with police indoors. This was what raised tensions to a fever pitch, and led to demonstrators banging on the windows and eventually breaking them (Gordon et al., 2002).
Often times such heavy police presence can result in a self fulfilling prophecy. The strict denial of protesters into the building is what goaded several students into finding another way in. These unauthorized protesters were challenging the space provided by police, which resulted in a violent response from officials. The display of power by police only caused more unrest amongst the demonstrators, who retaliated by breaking windows. This is an example of police force and excessive control over specific space leading to violent breaking out (Noakes et al., 2005).
It quickly became evident that the use of restricted areas along with police presence in the building had not succeeded. The situation among the protesters was quickly escalating, and the methods used up to this point might not be enough to subdue the crowd. This loss of control was evident from the fact that a group managed to infiltrate building without the police noticing until they reached the escalators. It was as a result of this fear that they began using non-lethal means of crowd control – including tear gas and pepper spray. Ultimately, the unrest caused by the situation inside the building meant the police had to take more extreme measures to control the crowd outside. The unauthorized entry of protesters and the subsequent breaking of windows caused the relationship between demonstrators and police to break down, which was what led to the use of tear gas and pepper spray. The application of these tactics did succeed in dispersing the crowd, and police managed to put an end to the protest (Gordon et al., 2002; Noakes et al., 2005).
The actions of the police are important because it serves two purposes which tie into the narrative of Canadian values mentioned earlier. By driving away the rioters, the riot police had effectively legitimized their role as protectors of society. The demonstrators were depicted as being against our values, so police were shown to be its defenders, and therefore consent was gained from the public in support of their actions. This demonization of protesters not only helped the political interests of powerful people, but also the interests of the police as a whole (Gordon et al., 2002; Rowe & Trickey, 2002).
The implications of this event play into a much larger picture of Canadian society. Muslims are further made to be distrusted, and public suspicion of their loyalties not being tied to Canada’s intensifies – especially since the riot at Concordia University so closely followed the 9/11 terrorist attacks. This event also plays into the popular notion that universities harbor radical and revolutionary ideals. These ideals are shown to be against the Canadian way of life, and against the current power structure. This is especially true in the case of Concordia University, which is well known for its vocal and proactive student groups. The event with Netanyahu’s speech increased their bad reputation for having revolutionary students, which in turn somewhat smeared the identity of activists who oppose Netanyahu’s political positions.
Cutler, A. (2002, Sep 11) “Free Speech Trampled in Montreal”. National Post Retrieved fromhttp://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/docview/329965747?accountid=15182
Dhamoon, Rita and Yasmeen Abu-Laban. (2009) “Dangerous (Internal) Foreigners and Nation-Building: The Case of Canada.” International Political Science Review Retrieved from http://journals1.scholarsportal.info.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/pdf/01925121/v30i0002/163_dfantcoc.xml
Gordon, S. et al. (2002, Sep 10) “Protest halts Netanyahu: Violence derails speech”. The Gazette Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/docview/433862686?accountid=15182
Noakes, John A., Brian V. Klocke and Patrick F. Gillham. (2005) “Whose Streets? Police and Protester Struggles over Space in Washington, DC, 29-30 September 2001.” Policing & Society Retrieved from http://www.tandfonline.com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/doi/pdf/10.1080/10439460500168576
Rowe, D. & Trickey, M. (2002, Sep 11) “’Glint of hate’ in protesters: Netanyahu: Chretien apologizes”. National Post Retrieved fromhttp://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/docview/330154606?accountid=15182
Shankar, R. A. (2002, Sep 13) “Concordia riot was an affront to our values”. The Ottawa Citizen Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/docview/240570816?accountid=15182