Irvine, California, was recently ranked one of the safest cities in the country. But one would have a hard time squaring that reputation with the sight that greeted visitors to the University of California at Irvine on Tuesday evening.
A huge police presence and bomb-sniffing dogs were posted outside the Crystal Cove Auditorium. The reason: a panel discussion on Islamic extremism was being held inside and as many as 1,000 Muslim students gathered to protest the decision of the event’s sponsors to unveil the Danish cartoons of Muhammad.
I arrived at UC-Irvine early and decided to walk around the campus. Outside the Student Center, I overheard a large group of women who were wearing head scarves express their displeasure that the United American Committee and the College Republicans would have the temerity to sponsor such a hateful event. “Free speech does not equal hate speech!” one of them declared. That same line appeared on many placards held by the protestors. Others were: “Muhammad: Truthful, Trustworthy”; “A Racist Attack Against One Group Is An Attack Against All Of Us”; and—my favorite—“Muhammad: The Leader of the Free World."
In front of several television crews, members of the Muslim Student Union began the protest by rolling out green prayer mats and saying a prayer in Arabic. Green was the color of the night, as many protestors wore green armbands, just like two dozen students did at the 2004 UC-Irvine graduation. They represent allegiance to Hamas and were clearly designed to intimidate those on the other side of the police barricades. Fortunately, those in attendance did not include the editors of the American newspapers that have chosen not to publish the cartoons. Instead, behind an American and Israeli flag, the crowd spontaneously shouted “USA! USA!” and sang “God bless America.” The Muslim students responded by chanting: “Hey Republicans Stop the Hate! All You Do Is Instigate” and “Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho! The Prophet’s Cartoons Have Got to Go!”
When the panelists began to speak, it was clear that they wanted to appeal to moderate Muslims—not spout hatred. Frontpage Magazine contributor Lee Kaplan spoke of the Nazi-supporting activities of the German-American Bund before World War II. He then informed the audience that America’s entry into the war changed everything, so much so that 60 percent of GI’s were of German descent. Japanese-Americans also showed their patriotism by performing bravely in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Kaplan urged Muslims in America to act like the Germans and Japanese did in the current war against Islamist fascism. Up until now, though, self-styled Islamic civil rights groups have acted like cheerleaders for Islamists overseas, instead of embracing U.S. goals in the War on Terrorism.
It didn’t take long for protesters to start heckling Kaplan. One man called him an “Israeli agent.” Another repeatedly interrupted his answers by screaming off-topic questions such as, “How many Iraqi’s have died in this war?” The majority of the audience begged the many police officers standing guard to expel the saboteurs, but they were in no hurry to do so. In fact, the first person the officers escorted out of the auditorium was a person who confronted this heckler. When the shouts continued, the man was finally shown the exit to a standing ovation. Kaplan was joined on stage by Ted Hayes and Jesse Peterson, two black Republicans. Both of them expressed a desire to see Muslims start protesting in the streets against Islamic violence—not cartoons. Speaking of the cartoons, they seemed to be the last thing on the minds of the Muslims in the audience. The truth is that most Muslims can handle stupid or offensive cartoons.
There are exceptions, of course. While a member of the Free Muslims Association against Terrorism was on the panel, the seat reserved for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) remained empty the entire night. Nor could CAIR’s absence be explained by the controversial subject of the cartoons. The president of The United American Committee, Jesse Petrilla, explained that CAIR decided not to attend the event even before the idea to unveil the cartoons had been hatched. The night ended with a challenge to moderate Muslims everywhere. Kaplan named two actions Muslims might take to prove they are on American’s side in the War on Terror: 1) Volunteer to fight the fascism that threatens the entire Islamic world and that is supported by Saudi funding. 2) Issue fatwas for Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Unfortunately, this may take some time. The president of the College Republicans at UC-Irvine has been receiving death threats all week and now fears for her life at the hands of Muslim extremists. In the face of agitated Islamists, the refuge of one of America’s safest cities has proven illusory.