Without hesitation last week, the Muslim Student Union demanded that the UC Irvine administration step in and deny the College Republicans their right to free speech by preventing them from displaying three of the 12 now infamous Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad.
The College Republicans and the United American Committee scheduled a discussion on Tuesday, Feb. 28 titled, ‘Domestic Organizations in Support of Terrorism or Not? You Decide,’ in which these, along with three anti-Semitic cartoons taken from Arab newspapers, were shown.
MSU argued that this should not be considered a matter of free speech, but rather, hate speech.
However, this argument by MSU was made after the organization conveniently forgot that two years ago, it was on the opposite side of this so-called ‘hate-speech’ debate.
When it was made known that members of MSU planned to wear green sashes during their graduation ceremonies of 2004, several Jewish organizations on campus went to the administration with the same argument that these green sashes were a form of hate speech because they are traditionally worn by the terrorist organization Hamas. MSU argued that the word ‘shahada,’ which was printed on each sash, did not mean martyrdom in the context of a suicide bomber as those in Hamas claimed, but meant belief in Muhammad and Allah.
The administration decided to allow students to wear the sashes, as it was indeed their right to do so.
In addition, MSU has continually invited the Imam Amir Abdel Malik to speak at UCI even though many organizations on campus consider his speech to be hate speech.
Malik has been accused of anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist rhetoric, yet the MSU maintain that he has a right to express his views on campus.
In that same spirit, the College Republicans were allowed to show the offensive cartoons on Tuesday. But with the College Republicans’ monumental opportunity to hold an intellectual debate and create an open marketplace of opinions, they failed miserably.
In fact, the ‘discussion’ closely resembled a room of angry sports fans, calling each other names, cutting each other off and making derogatory racist and prejudiced comments about a culture and religion they are clearly and consciously ignorant about.
A place like UCI is expected to have a wide variety of views and opinions within its student population, but the moment these students stifle intelligent debate, hope for mutual respect and understanding is lost.
While the College Republicans had the legal right to show the cartoons, it was a decision that needed a careful approach in order to ensure that educational, positive dialogue would result.
Instead, an extremely biased and disrespectful panel, as well as Jesse Petrilla (founder of the United American Committee and the grossly incompetent moderator) were brought in to essentially say and do anything they wanted.
The discussion quickly left the subject of the cartoons and turned to criticizing Muslims and their religion.
The panel was so disorganized that, at one point, even ‘radical’ homosexuals were targeted and criticized.
Panelists were on their worst behavior as the arguments became heated. The only Muslim member of the panel, Abed A. Jletali, a soft-spoken member of the Free Muslims Coalition, was constantly cut off during his allotted time to speak, while the moderator failed to effectively regulate the debate.
While the College Republicans and the United American Committee had the right to show the cartoons, the decision to do so in such an irresponsible way severely damaged their reputation.
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