Commentary Regarding Elmasry at University of Waterloo

January 2005

I have been somewhat acquainted with Dr. Elmasry over the years. I'm rather sorry he's got himself into this mess, but in another way, I'm very glad, for it will help clear the air - a lot, I hope. I don't think Elmasry REALLY meant to say what he is said to have said - whatever he did say. The interesting, and serious, point is that what he said could, without grave injustice, be so readily interpreted as implying just what the newspapers did trumpet across the land. This has forced him to retract - except 'forced' of course is not literally correct. What is correct is that the plain evil of the view ascribed to him wasn't obvious enough to him when he said what he did to keep him from saying it. I hope that from now on, the air will be clearer.

We know that in too many places in the world, coming right out and saying, in so many words, just what he is alleged to have said would be thought perfectly OK, and even greeted with pretty general enthusiasm.

There is little hope for peace in the middle east, or really anywhere, so long as people are ready to think that such things are "OK." It does not take a lot of thought to see why. Wars are bad enough, but "wars" in which the distinction between combatants and noncombatants is simply ignored by one side are far, far worse. Dr. Elmasry surely knows that.

He should also surely know that the basis for our common human morality has NOTHING to do with Islam in particular. It is independent of religion, and must be understood to be so. Nobody should be allowed to get away with proclaiming that it is only wrong to murder people because Jehova, or Allah, or any of the indefinite number of candidates for a similar position, just happened to feel like taking that view. And the sooner this is generally understood, the better.

Should professors of chemical engineering be fired for fall afoul of that? No. But professors of anything, need to learn this conceptual lesson, and it would not be a bad idea for universities to afford occasion for the lesson to be broadcast and emphasized, fairly frequently.