Sunday, May 19

Letter to the Editor: Irvine 11 Protested Inappropriately


Though I like to consider myself a fan of the First Amendment, the logic in Avni Nijhawan’s “Protesters at UC Irvine were ineffective, but not criminal” (Feb. 6) concerning the protesters at UC Irvine seems pretty flawed to me.

There is a difference between a protest and a disruption, and calling the incident at Irvine anything but the latter seems entirely inaccurate.

Nijhawan describes the incident as an “organized protest,” yet to me, categorizing this ill-mannered interruption as a protest devalues freedom of speech, and to portray it as “organized” encourages the Orange County district attorney office’s conspiracy theory.

If you ask me, it was more of a pre-conceived and disorganized disruption. There is both a time and a place for organized protest, and shouting out grievances in a lecture hall during the middle of a speech by a foreign ambassador and renowned former visiting professor from Harvard University does not seem to fit the criteria.

However, even if I did consider these disruptions to be a manifestation of freedom of speech, the freedom of speech clause is nonetheless a bidirectional law, meaning that it also includes a person’s right to listen.

Such impolite outbursts as those that occurred during Michael Oren’s speech at Irvine infringed upon the rights of all those with hopes of listening to Oren’s talk. How would those same Muslim students who disrupted Oren have felt if a group of Jewish students inhibited them from listening to a pro-Palestinian speaker?

Had these students protested Oren’s lecture outside of the lecture itself, this would have been a perfectly acceptable expression of freedom of speech.

Yet by rudely interjecting their sentiments in the middle of Oren’s speech, the “Irvine 11,” as they are now known, were not only overstepping their First Amendment rights but also inhibiting those of Oren by preventing his point from being heard.

If they were looking to start a productive discussion among people with various, and often conflicting, perspectives, they should have done so during the allotted time after the lecture.

Nijhawan minimizes the offensiveness of the interruption, referring to it as “mild” and even “expected,” given the Arab Middle East’s shaky relationship with Israel.

Despite the fact that there was no infliction of physical harm or damage, the interruption was nonetheless offensive and even oppressive to both Oren and those looking to learn from his lecture.

This type of behavior should never be expected from educated and open-minded college students.
To say otherwise demeans the credibility of all UC students.

Nijhawan depicts the Irvine 11 in a somewhat heroic light, commending them for “risk(ing) their reputations.”

Yet these students were not risking their reputations as individuals.

To the general public, they have come to represent the entire Muslim community and UC students in general, and I do not see the heroism in sullying the reputation of either of these groups.

Although Nijhawan states that she does not endorse the behavior of these misguided students, it is clear that she does not condemn it either. I agree that dialogue between both sides is crucial, but I think that the first step in promoting it is to admit that the Irvine 11′s interruption was not only “ineffective,” but also rude and offensive.

Ultimately, I agree with Nijhawan in that the punishment did not fit the crime. The misdemeanor charges for conspiracy faced by the Irvine 11 could result in a sentence of up to six months in jail, which is rather harsh and unfitting for college students seeking to express their disagreement.

However, dismissing the charges as “racist” shows a disregard for the immorality of the offense.

Perhaps the Muslim Student Union would not have to suffer the unfair suspension punishment if it were to express its regret for the disruption caused by the Irvine 11.

While I agree with Nijhawan that the district attorney has unfairly charged these students, I nonetheless hold that their manner of disagreement was completely inappropriate, disrespectful and unconstitutional.

Molly Cornfield
Fourth-year, environmental science

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