In Orange County, California, it may have become a crime to be a Muslim and an activist.
On February 8, 2010, eleven Muslim students on the University of California at Irvine campus disrupted a speech by Michael Oren, Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. in protest of his refusal to acknowledge Israel’s war crimes and violations of humanitarian law in the Gaza strip. The students were hauled out of the speech, arrested, and now face criminal misdemeanor charges. They may serve six months in jail. On November 10, 2010, five Jewish students in New Orleans disrupted a speech at the Jewish General Assembly by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a similar protest. The students were escorted out and released. No charges were filed.
Almost a year after the Irvine protest, in early Feb 2011, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas filed CRIMINAL charges against the 11 Muslim students, 8 from UC Irvine and 3 from UC Riverside, charging them with two misdemeanor counts, for conspiracy to disrupt a speaker and for disrupting Oren’s speech. The D.A. has said the Muslim students’ protest of Oren’s speech is analogous to the actions of the Klu Klux Klan. Jewish Voice for Peace delivered a letter signed by 5,000 members of their organization charging that the District Attorneys attack on the Muslim students is racist.
What happens to free speech and the right to protest when non-violent student protest is compared to the violent racism of the KKK? My activism was birthed in the Free Speech Movement of the 1960’s at the University of California. In that era, we fought for every student’s rights to state their political beliefs. Now, student activism at the University has become an arena to foment anti-Muslim sentiment in post-911 America. What if these eleven had been Jewish or Christian students or a group of white women? The actions of the District Attorney and the rhetoric from his office feed a growing attack on Muslims and people of Middle Eastern descent in this country.
I see that same racist spirit infecting the hearings on the Radicalization of Muslims now being held by the Committee on Homeland Security, chaired by Republican Peter King. According to Bay Area Representative Jackie Spier: “This is one member’s bias that he is now putting forth as the policy of this country …To pinpoint Muslims as if they’re the only category — it’s wrong, it’s discriminatory, it’s racist and inappropriate.” Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/nov05election/detail?entry_id=84689#ixzz1HX654hWF
District Attorney Tony Rackauckas in Orange County and Representative Peter King in Washington, D.C. are fomenting the same brand of McCarthy-like suppression of free speech and freedom of religion.
I agree with the one hundred Irvine professors who have signed a petition calling for charges to be dropped. The suspension of the Muslim Student Union for one quarter was sufficient reprimand for their actions, according to both the UC professors and a group of over 100 faculty from Jewish Studies in campuses across California.
Here’s a quote from the Jewish Voice for Peace website, from Rachel Roberts’ letter describing the New Orleans protest, where Jewish students received no punishment. See http://jewishvoiceforpeace.org/blog/young-jewish-and-prouds-rachel-roberts-in-las-jewish-journal
“In November of 2010, I went to New Orleans along with a dozen Jewish students and young activists to participate in A Jewish Voice for Peace’s Jewish Youth Leadership Institute. That week culminated with five of my colleagues disrupting Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to the Jewish General Assembly…the protest was met with enormous warmth from the public. More than 300 Jewish students signed on to our ‘Young, Jewish and Proud’ declaration and we received praise from many others, including Jewish columnists and journalists. Finally, young Jews had challenged the “Israel right or wrong crowd” and had used American non-violent protest to do so.
Nine months before, 11 Muslim students at UC Irvine did the exact same thing when Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren visited their campus. In contrast to the way we were treated, they were met with contempt. The same voices who rushed to praise us stayed dead silent…
The marked difference in reactions reveals something disturbing about the American discourse on the Middle East.” …Rachel Roberts, Jewish Voice for Peace
The ACLU, National Lawyers Guild, and many Interfaith organizations have joined the protest over the charges pressed against the Irvine 11.
Learn more about the case and join a petition campaign requesting the dropping of all charges at http://www.irvine11.com/
“The Orange County DA is targeting the weakest and most vulnerable elements of society – students, youth, and what they perceive and identify as Muslims in their own internal documents. The DA has repeatedly and publicly analogized these students to the Ku Klux Klan in a deeply offensive and highly incendiary manner.
The Orange County DA is acting against the will of the universities as demonstrated by the petitions, emails and editorials published on behalf of the University of California. The DA is acting against the will of the Orange County community that has stood up and demonstrated its opposition to these charges. And the DA is acting against the will of the nation by criminalizing dissent and engaging in a discriminatory and selective prosecution of students that chills all of our first amendment protected activities. Reem Salahi, Defense Attorney