UPDATE FEB 29 8:40 A.M.: Despite a petition that has collected over 750 signatures, draft revisions and negotiations, organizers of this weekend's TEDxUCIrvine conference have decided against reinstating Osama Shabaik of the so-called “Irvine 11” as a scheduled speaker.
“We have unanimously decided as a TEDx team, with agreement from our professional speaker coach, a TED representative, and a PhD candidate on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict that the current TEDx Talk which we are working with right now is not ready for our TEDx stage,” Kamrin Klauschie says in a statement provided to the Weekly.
The licensee for the conference and International Studies major originally sought out Shabaik as a speaker late last year with the specific intent of the Irvine 11 protest being the subject matter. “This is a topic where there is much passion, controversy and misunderstanding, ” she says, “so I know it would make for a powerful and compelling TEDx Talk if done right.” [emphasis hers]
With that point of contention, Shabaik met with two of the organizers last week with his participation status as pending after initially being dropped. He says he was sent an email on Monday by them that deemed his planned speech as “too overtly political” and too long. When contacted by the Weekly yesterday evening for a response to TEDxUCIrivine's final decision, it was the first he had heard of it. “I actually have not been notified yet that I won't be participating,” Shabaik said. The activist had told organizers that shortening his speech would not change its tone and disagrees with the characterization of it as “too political” citing a TED talk given by Julian Assange of Wikileaks.
“TEDx completely supports freedom of speech, however, our talks focus, in essentially their entirety, on a clear purposeful positive theme or idea and the talk we are working with now is not focusing on those guidelines,” Klauschie says while mentioning the possibility of inviting Shabaik to be a part of next year's conference. To the contrary, the Irvine 11 member feels that his narrative and experience are being effectively marginalized outside of TED principles. Additionally, he wonders what would be so different about being invited next year as opposed to this weekend.
“I do not see why my talk is acceptable next year, but too politically charged for this year,” Shabaik says. “Considering that my talk is an expression of my story, I do not expect history to rewrite itself to allow for my talk to be “right” as the organizers have suggested.”
ORIGINAL POST, FEB. 20 5:35 P.M.: Osama Shabaik, one of the “Irvine 11,” is still listed online as a speaker for an upcoming TEDxUCIrvine conference planned for March 3, but a change.org petition in circulation is asking for his reinstatement. The UCI graduate and Muslim Student Union activist, who was the first to protestor to speak out during Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren's speech on the campus back on February 8, 2010, says that a student organizer phoned him on Saturday notifying that the invitation he had been initially extended was being taken back.
“I was given reasons as to how my talk didn't necessarily fit into what a TED talk was,” Shabaik tells the Weekly. “What that means, I still don't understand. I think it would be best for the organizers themselves to answer that question.”
Shabaik says he was initially contacted a few months ago through Facebook when a TEDxUCIrvine organizer reached out to him about being a speaker, noting that he first had to be vetted. He spoke of what he had gone through being an Irvine 11 protestor right through the two misdemeanor convictions Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackaukas levied at them and noted that he planned to center his talk around the issue as he accepted the invitation.
“I''m not Palestinian, but I was given the opportunity to visit the Gaza Strip after Operation Cast Lead, which was a military operation by Israel that led to the death of 1,400 Palestinians,” Shabaik says. “I was going to start off with the story of what I experienced there and how that motivated me to protest when I found out Michael Oren was coming to campus.” He was going to describe the emotional impact felt by students who had lost relatives in the violence and who described UCI as having rolled out the red carpet for the ambassador without mentioning his role in the operation likening it to a slap in the face. Shabaik characterized his speech-to-be as “keeping it real” and planned to be critical of UCI in not standing behind him and his fellow protestors.
TED talks are centered around the stated spirit of “ideas worth spreading,” and the lower-case “x” for the UCI conference denotes a local, self-organized event proclaiming to uphold that mission. Among the many listed participants is constitutional lawyer and Dean of UCI's Law School Erwin Chemerinsky. At the time of the Irvine 11 ordeal, Chemerinksy called the decision to prosecute the activists “harsh” but also publicly disapproved of their protest saying it wasn't a free speech right. “I've listened to TED talks for a long time and it seems like the purpose of TED is to allow for a free exchange of ideas regardless of whether or not people fully agree with them,” Shabaik mentions. “In line with those values, I don't really see why I was let go.”
In the petition circulating on his behalf, it's mentioned that initial pressure has nudged the conference organizers to revisit the decision and discuss the matter of whether or not the Irvine 11 protestor will have his place as confirmed speaker reinstated. The Weekly reached out to TEDxUCIrvine via its website for comment on this story, but at the time of this posting has yet to receive a response.
Should Shabaik be extended a re-invitation to participate, he says he would take up the offer once more as he had done before.