Were Muslim Student Union Free Speech Rights Infringed Upon?

UC Irvine administrators drew widespread criticism for allowing—or not damning vehemently enough—the Muslim Student Union's May 5-21 wrath-a-thon "Israel: The Politics of Genocide." But fourth year psychology major Alaa Alomar accuses the same university officials of denying the same free speech rights to MSU as it does to other campus groups. Writing in the New University student newspaper, Alomar refers to the event not by its controversial title but as the annual "Palestine Awareness Week."

Although MSU submitted their events to Anteater Weekly—an e-mail sent to all students on campus informing them of the events taking place on campus that week—their events did not appear in the e-mail. MSU also submitted a list of their events to appear on the marquees around campus. The events appeared for four days until the administration, under Zionist pressure, removed the title of the week without any warning to MSU. But the unfair treatment did not end there. Administration allowed AFI [Anteasters for Israel] to put their table on ring road in a space that MSU had booked a year in advance. And when MSU put up a flag display in the Free Speech Zone, an area it had also booked, administration asked them to take it down though it did not violate any UCI rules. When MSU asked for a letter explaining why the flag needed to be removed, administration refused to provide them with one. 

Alomar goes on to question AFI's claims that the event was anti-Semitic and filled with hate speech.
The speakers never criticize the Jewish religion or Jewish people, only Zionism and Zionists. So how did criticism of any country's political system or ideology become hate speech? Since when did speaking out about injustice, oppression and the suffering of others become hate speech? Doesn't having the right to freedom of speech mean the right to express your opinions about the political system of any country, the decisions made by political leaders, and even the political leaders themselves?

Alomar contends that each co-sponsor of the MSU event received "intimidating" letters asking them to rescind their support.

Rather than try to prevent students from sharing their opinions with others on campus and labeling events and speakers as anti-Semitic, those who disagree should let people come out and decide for themselves. Freedom of speech is a human right, and our right as students of UCI. We can't let anybody take that right away from us. We are the generation capable of change in this world, and as the old cliché goes, the future is in our hands.

Anteater Neelie Genya Milstein also touched on free speech in a letter submitted to The Jewish Journal of Los Angeles about the event on her campus.

I recognize that freedom of speech entails freedom to preach hate, lies and prejudice, but I am repulsed. The MSU depicts the suffering caused by Israel's recent war with Hamas, but it never acknowledges the reasons for Israel's actions, the suffering of Israelis, Hamas' goal to destroy Israel, or the tactics Hamas used, such as human shields, that raised the civilian toll. I, along with Israelis and the Jewish world, grieve for the innocent civilians who died. Why doesn't the MSU show equal concern for Jewish fears and suffering? Could they share Hamas' view that whenever an Israeli man, woman, or child is killed, it should be cause for celebration and passing out candy?

Milstein alleges that she, too, has been asked to curb her speech.

I have been told to censor myself so that potential students are not afraid to come to UCI, but I have had enough censorship. With truth comes power, not fear. The MSU's hate is dangerous.

She never exactly reveals who told her to censor herself. Blogger Fousesquawk blamed "Jewish elements": "I have an idea who they are, but since she did not identify them by name, I will not comment further excpet to say they should be ashamed." 

Milstein concludes with a request to campus administrators.

I am not asking the UCI administration to censor the hate speech. I am asking them to denounce this style of rhetoric and displays just as they would denounce campaigns for white supremacy, sexism, or Islamophobia. I am asking them to be as fearful of countenancing hatred as I was taught to be, not just because of its present impact, but because of what it bodes for the future.

So, interestingly, both Alomar and Milstein have problems with the UC Irvine administration, advocate free speech and, as their ending lines show, have strong feelings about a better future. Hey, maybe there's enough there to start a peaceful dialogue.


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