Last year Pat Rose, head of the FBI’s Orange County al-Qaeda squad, was asked whether radical Muslim students at the University of California at Irvine posed a security threat. Rose responded evasively, saying that “it was a tough question to answer.”
Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes would have no difficulty with the question. On January 31, Pipes gave a talk at UCI titled “The Threat to Israel’s Existence.” Pipes was invited to speak by Hillel at UCI and Anteaters for Israel, UCI’s pro-Israel group. But it was another student organization that decided to give Pipes a welcome he won’t soon forget.
Roughly 100 member of UCI’s Muslim Student Union occupied the central seats in the lecture hall at the beginning of the speech. Most of them wore t-shirts reading “UC Intifada,” the latest in a long line of pro-terrorism fashion trends to hit campus. A coordinated disruption began about five minutes into the talk, after one member stood up and addressed Pipes. After being approached by UCI officials, the protesters exited the building while chanting slogans such as “Anti-occupation, anti-Israel!” and “Anti-hate, anti-Israel!”
Reut Cohen, a third-year student, decided to follow the MSU students outside with her video camera running. She was greeted with laughter and waving from the members of the MSU, who are well aware of the work Cohen does on her blog documenting their organization’s activities. Apparently unconcerned about the fact that he was being filmed, an organizer of the protest proceeded to give an impromptu speech. To shouts of “Takbir” and “Allahu Akbar,” he said:
They have no future. And it’s just a matter of time before the state of Israel will be wiped off the face of the earth…. Our weapon, our jihad, our way of struggling in this country is with our tongues. We speak out, and we deflate their morale, and this is the best we can do right now. And our brothers and sisters, on the other side of the world, they’re handling business in their own way. May Allah give them strength…
Cohen’s video immediately began circulating on the internet. In an interview with the present author, Cohen said, “MSU’s right to free speech does not require the administration to be silent when MSU calls for the destruction of Israel and threatens students who support her.” Indeed, silence was the initial response of UCI officials.
Not until Fox News aired Cohen’s video and inquired about the event did UCI release a statement. Media Relations Director Jim Cohen explained that “the protesting audience members stepped into the aisle and peacefully left the building.” As Daniel Pipes made clear on his blog, there was no condemnation of the protesters (the MSU wasn’t even mentioned by name), “much less [of] the horrifying statements their leader made outside the hall.”
This underscores a troubling fact about today’s college campuses: Calling for the destruction of Israel and supporting terrorism are tolerated. By contrast, calling for the destruction of terrorist groups is likely to earn students condemnation from campus officials.
Starkly demonstrating this double standard is a recent story from San Francisco State University. On October 17, SFSU’s chapter of the College Republicans held an anti-terrorism protest at the school’s Malcolm X Plaza. Members had painted flags of Hamas and Hezbollah on butcher paper, on which they stepped during the protest. An offended student, noting that the flags have the word “Allah” written in Arabic, filed a complaint. This led to allegations of “attempts to incite violence and create a hostile environment.”
In fact, if anyone at SFSU has a record of inciting violence, it is Muslim students. In November 2004, a mob of Arab students attacked a group of College Republicans during a “Turnout the Vote” event. Meanwhile, the General Union of Palestinian Students at SFSU has a history of issuing threats of violence against Jewish students on campus. During one pro-Israel rally, Jewish students had to be physically escorted off campus by 25 San Francisco city police officers.
Considering that such acts of real violence have taken place at SFSU so recently, the Office of Student Programs and Leadership Development could have placed the “terrorist flag stomping” incident in its proper context and dismissed the charges. Instead, the OSPLD sent the case for trial to the Student Organization Hearing Panel. If the panel of students, faculty and staff members finds the College Republicans guilty, the organization will be effectively disbanded -- a possibility that has rightly exercised free-speech advocates. Vice President Robert Shelley of the Foundation of Individual Rights in Education has said, “In a free society, neither SFSU nor any other agency of the government has the power to investigate a group simply for disrespecting a religious symbol.”
Conversely, there is nothing objectionable about investigating groups who support terrorism. Muslim students at UCI who spout such hatred as was heard during Daniel Pipes’ speech should be monitored. Omri Ceren, a PhD student who often blogs about the tense situation at UC Irvine, explained why earlier this year. “The kind of viciousness regularly on display at UCI Muslim Student Union events doesn't emerge in a vacuum -- it represents a sensibility built on the ground of very particular beliefs about Jews, Israel, and the US government.” Indeed, as Ceren notes, speakers who appear at the MSU’s events, while generally careful to avoid advocating violence, have on occasion done just that. Ultimately, allowing groups like the MSU to host such extremists creates what Ceren calls the “perfect hiding place for terrorism -- a place where the terrorists could hide in plain sight.”
What many college administrators in California and even some counterterrorism officials are reluctant to acknowledge is that those places are the state’s universities.
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