‘Irvine 11’ case: America convicts Muslim students for criticising Israel
As I came out of a meeting, I checked my phone and saw a message that the Muslim students (popularly referred to as the ‘Irvine 11’) had been convicted – for heckling the Israeli Ambassador’s speech.
It was one of those times I know I’ll remember for the rest of my life, a seminal moment that shows how America treats ordinary Muslims in the era of the so called ‘war on terror’, which many regard as a war on Islam.
On February 8, 2010 the Israeli Ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, arrived at the University of California Irvine, to deliver a public address. During his speech, he was interrupted by Muslim students, who did nothing more than heckle him over the Israeli entity’s brutal violence in the occupied territories.
Oren previously served in the Israeli Defence Force and was a military spokesman during the 2006 Israel-Lebanon and other conflicts.
You can see a video of their protest here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WsdtafcbqrE&feature=youtube as the eleven students were removed one by one from the room, to boos and cheers.
US President Obama has been booed, demonstrators have interrupted proceedings in Congress and the Senate and non-Muslims who heckled Netanyahu the previous year were never prosecuted, so to many people’s surprise, the Irvine 11 were prosecuted and found guilty on the 23rd September 2011.
This is an indictment of America’s claim to free speech, the supposed First Amendment constitutional right that protects free speech, and its justice system. The Muslim students were prosecuted and found guilty of disrupting the ambassador’s speech.
The prosecuting District Attorney (DA) said the students had violated the first Amendment by substantially limiting Oren’s ability to communicate his ideas. Was this argument used against those who heckled Obama or Netanyahu? No. Didn’t the students also have a claim to the First Amendment ‘free speech’ as their supporters argued?
By prosecuting these Muslim students, America proved it has a two-tier system of justice for Muslims and non-Muslims – not surprising when you remember that African Americans face similar injustices. It also proved that ‘freedom of speech’ is not for all – it is subject to political considerations. Although these ten students (charges were dropped against the eleventh) were not imprisoned, they face community service, a fine and criminal records – for heckling a speaker!
Next time Obama – or any US politician – stands up to speak about how America upholds ‘freedom and democracy’ and about the great treatment of Muslims in America, all one needs to say is “Irvine 11”. Yet, the biggest casualties are the values America claims to uphold.
When it takes a principle – that it proudly claims is one of its defining features – and violates it for political interests (as happened in Britain in some of the arrests and prosecution of Muslims under the Terrorism act) it demeans those values and shows its own public and the world that they are not actually as important or robust as they formally claimed them to be.
While subjected to this injustice, these students have stood with honour and dignity knowing that their brave sacrifice is small compared to the dead and injured in Palestine, whose plight they tried to highlight. They have engaged in the Islamic duty of enjoining the good and standing against the evil and bore the consequences. Muslims in the West must take heed of the example of these brave men when fulfilling our Islamic duty of enjoining the good (maroof), forbidding the evil (munkar) and speaking against the injustices faced by our ummah in Palestine, Kashmir, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Like the Irvine 11, we must be prepared to endure the consequences of our stance – seeking the help and pleasure of Allah (swt).
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِن تَنصُرُوا اللَّهَ يَنصُرْكُمْ وَيُثَبِّتْ أَقْدَامَكُم
O ye who believe, If you support (the cause of) Allah, He will support you and make your foothold firm. [TMQ Muhammad 47:7]