Edited version of this piece also posted at Suhaib Webb

Micheal 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, ‘Micheal 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 Students Union organized the protest and the club was subsequently suspended for the term and placed on probation for two years. The student’s protest was of course to Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people.

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 is sparked outrage across the Muslim community and beyond. Debates on freedom of expression and civil disobedience were 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 such as holding banners, but then again, their voices would have not reached as far were other methods to be used. Either ways, I think we can all agree that disciplinary actions by the University were enough to reprimand these students and laying 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 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, among other insults, that, “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! Who’s to blame students if teachers set out such an example.

Iran is not nearly as affluent in its injustices as is Israel. Sure, President Ahmedinejad makes outlandish and absurd statements denying the holocaust and expresses his wishes to destroy Israel; but when it comes to action, its Israel that is on the ground busy with the genocide of defenseless of Gazans. The Ambassador of Israel is certainly more worthy of such treatment than the President of Iran in my opinion. Also to note, as pointed out on Irving11.com, disrupting speeches has been used as a means to protest on campus in the past and no criminal charges or arrests were ever made. 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 entire university career to protest a cause you strongly believe in is the epitome of activism.

As morally conscientious people 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 Iriving11.com to learn of ways you can support them.

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