Dalhousie University, the Halifax school notorious for its misogynistic dentistry students, is in the news once again, this time for a scandal involving tongs instead of teeth. Last week, in the aftermath of terrorist attacks in Paris that killed French cartoonists, police officers and Jews, the wildly popular hotdog vendor known as the Dawgfather decided to chirp in on Twitter.
“Give a Jew an OVEN as a gift if you want to make them feel all warm all over,” tweeted Jerry Reddick, followed by the hashtag #Freespeechworksbothways. There were more comments about ovens and one about Hitler, as well as a reference to the victims of 9/11: “Last time I saw some good Americans, they were taking flight 9/11 to the ground in 2001. Freedom of speech works both ways.” In interviews, Reddick was quick to explain that his remarks were satirical, and he used them to show that freedom of speech works both ways—if others can say anything they want about the Prophet Muhammad, then Muslims are free to say anything they want about other sacred subjects. Reddick is a colourful character who playfully claims on his Facebook page to have a Ph.D. from the University of Hot Dawgology.
The Twitter outburst drew the attention of the press and the police, who received a complaint about the anti-Semitic remarks from an unidentiﬁed member of the public and are investigating the tweets as a hate crime. Reddick, a devout Muslim who elicits waves as he drives around the city in a van emblazoned with the Dawgfather logo on it, has since apologized profusely for his comments while simultaneously justifying them. “I was making a point about freedom of expression,” he wrote in an emailed response to a Maclean’s request for an interview. “I had to use some hateful words to show the double standard, which does exist. How would you feel if they put a swastika on the head of Moses?” Reddick has since posted more inflammatory and anti-Semitic messages to Twitter and Facebook, including a link to the website of David Duke, an American white supremacist.
Now Dal students are caught up in their own microcosm of the free-speech debate that began in the wake of the attacks on the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo. When 19-year-old undergrad student Asrar Haq saw what Reddick had to say he organized a boycott on Facebook asking people to avoid the Dawgfather’s stand outside the Student Union Building.
Haq says Reddick’s displeasure over Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons of Muhammad does not justify violence—or hateful speech—which is what he believes Reddick is guilty of. “I believe in free speech with certain limits,” says the student. “I don’t think we should make him [Reddick] into a monster based on these comments, but I do think we have to make clear that what he said is extremely hurtful.” When Reddick apologized on Twitter, Haq shut down the Facebook group and thanked Reddick, via email, for coming to his senses. Soon after, Reddick sent him an email withdrawing his apology. The email, which Haq posted to Facebook, includes several complaints about Zionism and references to the double standards of free speech. Now the boycott is back on and Haq reports the Facebook group is “slowly growing.”
Haq is planning a demonstration near Reddick’s stand at the end of the month, though he admits he isn’t sure what a live protest will accomplish. “Maybe it will show that if people make these hurtful remarks they aren’t accepted,” he says.
Meanwhile, Jewish students decided to fight hate with love and organized their own lunch, handing out free kosher dogs on campus on Monday and offering the option of donating to a Holocaust education charity. “We wanted to lift the students’ spirits, especially the ones who feel hurt and betrayed,” says Chana Grossbaum, a program director at a Jewish organization on campus. She was disturbed by Reddick’s Twitter comments, but they didn’t shock her. “Jews are a scapegoat. This is part of our history,” she says. The group has no plans to boycott the Dawgfather’s business, mainly because his hotdogs are not kosher, so they don’t buy from him anyway.
It turns out the Dawgfather does not conduct business on university property, says Brian Leadbetter, Dalhousie’s director of communications and marketing, and Reddick “has no formal relationship” with the school. “Though located near campus,” says Leadbetter, “his business is on City of Halifax property.”
Still, Reddick’s stand sits directly across from the SUB, which is, in spirit, the heart of the campus. “You can’t really ignore it,” says Dalhousie Student Union president Ramz Aziz. “It’s right in everybody’s face, everyday.”