Last week, Ryerson University in Toronto hosted a four day conference of "Truthers." The conference was devoted to exploring and advocating the notion that 9/11 was an "inside job" and that the Bush administration, the CIA and the bicycle riders were behind it. (Well, not all bicycle riders...just the ones who, you know...).
In an interview in the Globe and Mail with one of the organizers (a professor of religious studies at McMaster University), this gathering seemed more about faith than facts. Mostly it seemed to be an excuse to indulge in another bout of anti-Americanism. Not so far below the surface of course is Israel's treatment of the Palestinians as the underlying cause of terrorism.
Which seems to be the point: are the origins of Middle East terrorism only about American policy in the region? Or is it about how so-called western values evoke and provoke Middle Easterners? Not easy questions with easy answers.
For the "truthers," the reality seems overly complicated. Like many today who find our present plight unbearable, "truthers" seek simple answers to complex issues. Conspiracy theories are an easy way out.
In some ways, "truthers" bear an uncanny resemblance to Holocaust deniers. They also claim It never happened. And if it did, there must be some reason that "they" are keeping from them.
Holding a "truther" conference the week before the 10th anniversary of 9/11 is offensive enough, but holding it on the site of one of the best journalism schools in the country is doubly odd. The fact that no new ideas or evidence were presented seems to be only about mutual psychological reinforcement rather than helping understand what happened and why.
Of course, some will say there are good, free speech reasons to hold a conference about unpalatable views and where better than on a university campus?
Universities have an obligation to be more than intellectual telephone poles, mutely standing there transmitting all signals. In this instance, Ryerson, in my opinion, did a disservice to the concept of open public inquiry and was actually offensive to the memory of those who died ten years ago this weekend.