Suspending MSU the Right Move for UCI

I’m willing to bet that you, like me, are sick to your stomach with the feud that’s been raging on campus for years between Anteaters for Israel and the Muslim Student Union. It’s bad for the atmosphere and for the school’s reputation; too many people and institutions all over the world think UC Irvine is a vile cesspool of Jew-hatred. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could have just one year without all the saber rattling and mudslinging?

This is a question that has become ever more pertinent, especially with the recent MSU suspension. However, this punishment won’t extend through to the spring as originally planned. Had that been the case, UCI may have been spared the anti-Israel week that spurs so much divisiveness and vitriol on our campus. Maybe.

If I wanted to prove to you that we would have a quiet year if the MSU refrained, just once, from holding their annual week of blame and anger, all I would have to do is ask you when you last saw a demonstration at UCI – sponsored by AFI or any other campus group – antagonizing the Palestinians and painting them as Satan incarnate. Take a moment and think. Done? Right. There have never been any. Not one. Keeping that in mind, what change do you think we’d see if the MSU decided to turn their anti-Israel week into a pro-Palestine week? There would be no antagonism, no protests and no noise. We would have the most peaceful year this campus has seen in ages.

The MSU will probably cite the “atrocities” and “illegal war crimes” Israel has committed in order to justify their anarchic behavior, which they will try to paint as “fighting against apartheid.” They will likely complain that the suspension ignores their “numerous charitable activities,” which have never been publicized with nearly as much effort as their anti-Israel week.  They will very likely bemoan their suspension as “oppressive” and “unjust” on the grounds that the school is stifling their free speech. Most likely of all, they will claim that they were acting in their full right to assembly and expression, even in full face of the painfully ironic fact that they were trying to shut up another human being and prevent him from speaking. And the worst part of all this? It’s actually truth to them.

Unfortunately for the MSU, Saudi Arabia or Iran, this is not. Here, people have to accept the fact that there are others who think differently than they do. Even one of the New University’s cartoonists last year, who shared the same viewpoints as the MSU on the conflict, drew up a scathing comic in admonishment of their behavior.

Did pro-abortion students knock over the anti-abortion wall last year? Did homophobic students interrupt the LGBT kiss-in last year? Have the atheist and agnostic student club ever in their existence tried to out-scream the uber-Christians with the giant signs that list 50 reasons why we’re all going to hell (masturbating, reveling, sports-watching bastards that we are) and they’re not?

No. Why? Because, much as those groups of students may have disagreed with the event in question, much as they may have thought the opposing side to be the  most evil and foul group of sub-humans to slither the Earth, these students all understood one thing: that to give in to their emotions and attempt to silence their opponents would be to directly stifle their free speech. And much as the students may have hated them, they still respected their opponents’ right to express their ideas. The MSU, as they have made clear, does not.

It may have been different had the Israeli Ambassador interruptions really been just a group of isolated individuals but the incriminating string of e-mails makes it plain as day that it was an MSU-organized effort. What’s more, systematically interrupting an event eleven times, staging a walkout as loudly as vocally possible and then reassembling outside the windows behind the speaker in question is anything but freedom of speech. Aside from being small-minded and childish, it’s a clear attempt to suppress another person from expressing himself. This is exactly the kind of behavior that has repelled so many Muslim students away from the MSU and has even convinced a fearfully silent minority of members to leave – a couple friends of mine included. If anything, this behavior hurts the Palestinian cause more than helps it as it influences people to believe that all Palestinians are oppressive, angry fascists-in-training, when such is not the case.

I’m not here today to argue the politics of the conflict. I’m here to make this one point: no student group owns UCI. No single student group gets to decide what is and what is not heard on our campus. We attend one of the best universities in America, one where anyone and everyone is free to express themselves provided it isn’t hateful or violent speech (how the MSU has gotten around this rule escapes me). As a UCI student, the MSU interruptions thoroughly embarrassed me. And if the roles were reversed, if it was a group of Jewish or Zionist students, Hindu, Baha’i, Christian, LGBT or whatever that had interrupted an MSU speaker – violent or peaceful – in the same fashion, I would have been just as embarrassed, if not more so.

A piece of advice for the MSU: if they want to survive as a campus club, they have to grow up and face reality. There will always be people who disagree with you in life, no matter what your background or religion. The only people who aren’t expected to be able to handle dissenting opinions are pre-teens and demagogues. Suppression of free speech may work in the theocratic regimes of the Middle East but society has developed differently in America.  This is a college campus, a veritable marketplace of ideas where your members are going to face more opposition than they will in their entire lives, just like everyone else.

If they can’t handle that, life is going to be excruciatingly difficult for them. Perish the thought.

AE Anteater is a fourth-year English major. He can be reached at emailremoved@uci.edu.