US persecutes pro-Palestinian sentiments


Commentary


If you’re not a minority, you don’t have these awesome minority 3-D glasses which allow you to see really cool and interesting things that otherwise go unnoticed by the majority of our fist-pumping, Jersey Shore-watching society. Unless you really look for them, you get to miss the hilarious invisible punch lines at the end of our country’s finest statements. For example, Uncle Sam wants you to be in the U.S. Army … unless you’re a woman. America is the world’s melting pot … unless you’re a Mexican. The Constitution grants citizens freedom of speech, of press, of religion, and the right to assemble and petition … unless you’re a Muslim and especially if you’re calling out our B.F.F. Israel’s policies.

It is no secret that the definition of freedom of speech has become different for Muslims. I’m not talking about the less-formal, self-imposed restrictions over freedom of speech that Muslims and Arab Americans have been pressured into since Sept. 11, such as when headscarf-wearing Muslim girls like myself are shopping and see a really cute dress and have to stop ourselves from screaming, “That’s the bomb!” lest we ignite the whole mall into hysteria.

I’m talking about the official, legal condemnation of the exercise of free speech last Friday for young Muslim Americans. The Irvine 11, a group of University of California (UC), Irvine and UC Riverside students, were found guilty of disrupting Israeli ambassador Michael Oren’s speech at their university. Throughout Oren’s speech, each student individually stood up and interrupted the speaker by shouting lines such as “You, sir, are an accomplice to genocide!” and “Murder is not free speech!” — you know, things that are true — and each time, as countless YouTube videos can attest, the student willfully, cooperatively and sometimes even eagerly complied with the police officers that escorted them out of the room and arrested them. Oren was able to complete his speech, but — hold your tears — had to cut out a planned question-and-answer session.

By why would they want to protest the respectable and highly upstanding Michael Oren anyway? Sure, he’s representing a country that has been condemned by the United Nations for more human rights and international law violations than any other country in the world, but so what? He simply wanted to push the pro-Israel agenda in Orange County, and what’s so bad about supporting Israel? All it did last year was launch a military siege on a bunch of defenseless and impoverished brown people in Gaza. Big deal.

Uncle Sam wagged his huge, obnoxious white finger at us on Friday and said, “If you’re Muslim and you open your mouth about my homie Israel, who, you know, is killing your Muslim brothers in Gaza, I’m taking away your right to free speech!” Neither the UC Irvine administration nor the Orange County prosecutor cared to wag that same finger at the group of Republican students that rampaged Muslim speaker Amir Abdel Malik Ali at the same university in 2001, who, unlike Oren, was forced to completely stop his speech due to the disruptive protesters.

The picture is starting to look scarier and scarier for us American citizens. Is it just me, or is America pretty much selling its soul for Israel? I understand having a strategic ally in the Middle East, but the United States is supporting and facilitating Israel’s genocide of a civilian population, using our tax money to support foreign policies that we do not approve of and is discrediting itself in front of the global community by shamelessly defending Israel’s near universally illegal actions. And with all that, it is now robbing its citizens of the right to run their mouths about it.

As Defense Attorney Lisa Holder said, what was disruptive about the Irvine 11’s actions was their message. Their only crime was being a voice for the millions of Palestinians whose voices aren’t heard. Through their conviction, our government has officially criminalized criticizing Israeli policies. Our government is now trying to dictate the way we think and tampering with our society’s moral balance. Regardless of how far left or right you are on the pro-Israel spectrum, what ever happened to “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it?”

One thing has become clear: the pro-Palestinian voices are at a social, societal and now institutional disadvantage. Our energy must now not only be exerted to fight against Israeli policies, but also to retain our right to fight them in the first place. Like it or not, we are all the Irvine 11. Once one of us is silenced, we are all silenced. But our voices will not be quieted. Instead, the Irvine 11 case has served to unite us all into one loud, concerted call that will refuse to be ignored any longer.

Amani Al-Khatahtbeh is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in Middle Eastern studies and political science with a minor in French.


By Amani Al-Khatahtbeh

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