Less than three months after UC Irvine’s Muslim Student Union found themselves in the national spotlight as a result of a decision by the College Republicans to show controversial Danish cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, the group is again at the center of a debate about free speech and religious expression. Only this time, they are the ones being accused of intolerance.
Campus Jews have reacted negatively to a series of events collectively titled ‘Holocaust in the Holy Land,’ which they say promotes anti-Semitism and trivializes the killing of millions of Jews during World War II.
MSU is careful to draw a distinction between anti-Zionism, opposition to the Jewish state of Israel, and anti-Semitism, opposition to the Jewish religion, which they say is contrary to their own religion, which follows the teachings of Jewish prophets.
On Monday, Imam Mohammad Al Asi presented a lecture titled ‘The Kingdom of Saudi America.’
Al Asi acknowledged the difficulties of speaking against Saudi Arabia among Muslims, which he likened to speaking against Zionism among Jews.
He especially criticized the ruling family of Saudi Arabia, characterizing them as people who ‘have very idle minds [and] haven’t worked up any rational understanding of Islam itself.’
‘People deeply in the know are aware that there are no differences between the rulers in Tel Aviv and the rulers in Israel,’ Al Asi said.
Al Asi also criticized the lavish lifestyles of Saudi Arabians, who have ‘trillions of dollars … in the financial institutions in the West,’ but who refuse to help Palestinians financially.
Although the true venom of Al Asi’s speech was reserved for Saudi Arabia, in accordance with the general theme of the week’s programs, he had negative things to say about Israel as well, and particularly about the lack of discussion of Israel’s nuclear program in the media.
The event was generally well-received by the mostly Muslim audience, but there were dissenters, such as one student who held a sign reading ‘Hateful Arab Militants Against Stability’ (a reference to Hamas, which was originally reported to be the subject of the speech).
Amir Abdel Malik Ali, a frequent visitor to UCI, finished the weeklong program with a Thursday-night speech about ‘Islamic Palestine.’
Among other points, Ali said that the United States government exaggerated or invented the threat of al-Qaida in order to draw attention away from important political issues affecting Muslims.
‘There are no Muslims in America waiting to attack,’ Ali said.
Later, Ali said, ‘The only empire left in the world is now trying to recolonize the Muslim world.’
Ali predicted a Muslim revival in the United States, but he said that it would not be brought about by violence.
‘Our jihad in America is a jihad of the tongue,’ Ali said.
Ali also said that he supports Hamas, a Palestinian group opposed to the continued existence of the state of Israel. Hamas is considered to be a terrorist group by the U.S. government.
‘We should support Hamas,’ Ali said. ‘They are not terrorists. They are freedom fighters. They are our heroes. They are our role models.’
Also present during Ali’s speech was Rabbi David Weiss, and anti-Zionist Jew, who spoke about his belief that Zionism is incompatible with a strict interpretation of Jewish law.
Again, the audience of the speech was predominantly Muslim, and although there were a few heated questions during the Q-and-A session at the end of the speech, there were no violent incidents.
Marya Bangee, a representative of MSU and second-year sociology major, spoke about the decision to use the word ‘holocaust’ in the title of the program.
‘[MSU] has been having events on campus for years that discuss the social, legal and economic disparities between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and have had a negative response every year from pro-Israeli groups,’ Bangee said. ‘The MSU believes the use of titles such as ‘Holocaust in the Holy Land’ and ‘Israel: The Fourth Reich’ illustrate the very real parallel between tragedies in the past