Why Can’t We Be Friends?

The administration’s one-year suspension of the Muslim Student Union (MSU) will have a perilous effect on the entire body of students and campus community. Banning the organization will not only affect the organization and its members, but will also cause an inevitable chilling within the entire campus and community atmosphere.

On June 14, information about the recent MSU suspension was disclosed to the public under the Freedom of Information Act by the Jewish Federation of Orange County. The punishment takes effect on Sept. 1 and lasts until the end of Aug. 2011. With this decision, the administration has chosen to revoke all MSU activities, both political and religious. In addition, it has sentenced the chapter to 50 hours of community service, to be completed before the group can apply for reinstatement. If these hours are completed, which they  undoubtedly will be, the MSU will face another year of disciplinary probation. MSU was notified of the recommendation on May 27 and has sent in a letter to appeal the decision. There has been no new information revealed as to whether the administration has acknowledged the MSU appeal and or as to how long the entire appeal process will take.

The problem with the administration’s response in this matter is that it ignores all the good that this organization has accomplished. The MSU has annually organized more than 300 events for its members and for the larger campus community. Most events aim to enhance students’ social lives through religious events, interfaith discussions, and a large amount of charity work. Recently, the Cross Cultural Center at UC Irvine honored the MSU with the Social Justice Award for its strong acts of advocacy. The group also raised $5,000 for Haiti relief just this year alone and won another award for having completed more community service hours than any other club or student organization on campus.

Apparently the decision to suspend the group was made after an investigation allegedly proved that the members of MSU lied when denying its involvement in planning and organizing the protests at Michael Oren’s speech on campus in February. For this reason alone, the administration has decided to suspend the organization for the entire school year.

OK, so the Muslim Student Union had one slip up. The administration is blowing this issue way out of proportion. The investigation was unwarranted and should have never gone this far. No one was punished as harshly and no investigations were made at UC Berkeley, UC San Diego or other UC campuses for similar conduct. It seems that the UCI administration are not the only ones claiming to have acted on their own individual accord. This just goes to show how strong of an influence the community has on nearly every sector of political life on campus.

In 2001, College Republicans violently disrupted and ended an MSU event with no response from the university. It was only then that civil disobedience was recognized at the university as a cherished American tradition.

Recently, in early spring of this year, the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) urged Jewish donors to withhold donations from UC Irvine and persuaded Jewish students not to enroll. The ZOA’s threat was intended solely to pressure the university administrators into harsh action against what they thought was a huge threat coming from the Muslim Student Union. This appears to have been successful with the recent condemnation aimed at an entire organization of more than 250 students.
If anyone is to be punished, it should only be the members of MSU who stood up and disrupted the Israeli Ambassador’s speech and who have already dealt with criminal charges. Most of those who stood up and interrupted the Michael Oren event graduated from the university, so it does not seem logical to punish a group of more than 250 students for something 11 people did, especially if most of them are no longer on campus anyway.

It seems that when sticking to religious and charity activities, the MSU never seems to get in trouble. So why not let them do what they do best? Leave the politics for a politically active group, not a religious one. The most fair and logical action is for the administration to declare disciplinary probation. The fact that the group denied being involved collectively in the protest was wrong. But the entire Muslim community and student body on campus should not be punished. With probation, the group will be given the opportunity to learn their lesson and be able to productively organize and develop their group in a more respectful and appropriate manner.
The MSU is not just like any other social organization. It is a religious and community service union on the UC Irvine campus, and the only Muslim one at that. Suspending the only Muslim organization on campus is targeting and defying a group of individuals their rights to freedom of expression and religion, that when compared to what MSU did, seems to be a significantly higher violation of University policy.

Nesma Tawil is a third-year political science major. She can be reached at ntawil@uci.edu.