Commentary on the Irvine 11
By Waleed Ahmed
Michael Oren, the Israeli Ambassador to the United States, was invited to speak at UC Irvine last February on Israeli-American relations to a packed university auditorium of over 500 people. He was in the midst of his speech when a student bravely stood up and defiantly shouted out to him, ‘Michael Oren! Propagating murder is not an expression free speech!’ The ambassador continued speaking after this short disruption only to be disrupted again; and again; and again, for a total of eleven times.
The protesting students were escorted out of the building and arrested for “disturbing a pubic event,” though not charged criminally. An investigation later alleged that the Muslim Student Union (MSU) organized the protest; the MSU was suspended for the term and placed on probation for two years. The students’ protest was of the whitewashing of Israeli crimes by Ambassador Oren, who was a national tour to rebrand the Israeli invasion of Gaza in 2009.
About three weeks ago, three days shy of a year after the incident, the Orange County District Attorney decided to lay criminal charges on the 11 students, now referred to as the Irvine 11, for heckling during Ambassador Oren’s speech. This has sparked outrage across the Muslim community and beyond. Debates on freedom of expression and civil disobedience ignited across university campuses. How can a non-violent protest possibly be labeled a criminal activity in a free democratic society?
Whether or not the method employed during this protest was justified is arguable. No doubt that disrupting the speech of an ambassador is rude and inappropriate. However, there are times when people need to be dealt with harshly and perhaps the actions of Israel warrant such treatment. Perhaps the students could have employed less disruptive means, but then again, their voices would have not reached as far were other methods to be used. Either way, I think we can all agree that disciplinary actions by the University were enough to reprimand these students; bringing criminal charges is going too far.
Speaking of insulting foreign dignitaries, one must not forget that back in 2007, President Ahmedinejad was invited to speak at the University of Columbia in New York. He was introduced on stage by the President of the University, Lee Bollinger. Bollinger’s introduction was essentially a verbal assault on the Ahmedinejad, during which he said, “Mr. President, you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator,” adding, “You are either brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated.” These are the words used by the president of a world-renowned university to introduce the leader of another nation! Whose to blame students if teachers set out such an example?
Disrupting speeches are par the course across American campuses; criminalizing dissent sets a chilling precedent which discourages activism for all students. As we know from American history, student activism has played a significant and powerful role in shaping the discourse and policies of our nation; if the traditional bastions of free speech – college campuses – were to be stifled, this would be at great detriment for citizens as a whole. The fact that this situation is without precedent - and looking at the recent anti-Islam hate rally in Orange County, the same county these students were charged in - it makes one wonder if these charges were laid because of the importance of the speaker to America or because of the faith of the students protesting.
Regardless of the validity of the methods employed by these students, I must commend them for their courage and gallantry. Risking something as valuable as your university career to protest a cause you strongly believe in is the epitome of activism.
Considering the importance of this cause to Muslim community, it becomes our responsibility to stand behind these brave individuals who have been wrongfully charged for defending the oppressed and saying that which is just. Please visit Irvine11.com to learn how you can stand with the 11.
Want to help out the Irvine 11? Here are some action items you can do to make your voice heard.
- Visit www.irvine11.com for action items and updates.
- Follow the 11 at on Facebook (facebook.com/irvine11) and Twitter (@irvine_11).
- Contact the Orange County District Attorney by phone, letter, or email:
- Phone: (714) 834-3600
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org OR log on to orangecountyda.com >> Contact Us >> Feedback Form.
- Address: 401 Civic Center Drive, Santa Ana, California 92701
- Speak Out & Voice Your Support: Media Coverage: Lend your voice to the media coverage of the Irvine 11.
- Call-in to your favorite radio station.
- Write a letter-to-the-editor to the local newspapers.
- Pen an op-ed piece. Or just comment on a previous story.
- Spread the Word & Educate Others: Fight injustice with knowledge. Flood Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Google Buzz, and the blogosphere with news and information on the Irvine 11. You can:
- Tweet about the campaign. Use the hashtag #irvine11 – example: “Stand with the Irvine 11 against injustice: www.irvine11.com #irvine11.″
- Host an event at your college campus, your mosque, your church, your library. Start a discussion; educate people on the situation and the fight for civil rights in this country.
- Email your family, friends and community about the Stand with the Eleven campaign. Give them quick, easy tips on how they can help. A sample email is available at irvine11.com.
Not sure what to say?
Suggested Talking Points:
- Any decision to prosecute the students is a form of selective prosecution. There are student protests practically every day on American campuses. Even if we disagree with how the Irvine 11 staged their protest, there is no merit in criminal prosecution of their behavior.
- The University has already disciplined the MSU by banning the Muslim Student Union for the Fall quarter (which just ended), followed by two years of probation.
- Criminal prosecution is a waste of taxpayer funds.
- Prosecuting students for a peaceful protest on a university campus would establish a negative precedent that will affect university students throughout Orange County and beyond Southern California.
You can find this information in digital form (and more!) by visiting irvine11.com.