Muslim Student Union

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Muslim Student Union
Muslim Student Union at UCI logo.png
The logo of the Muslim Student Union
Formation2001[citation needed]
AffiliationsMuslim Students Association

The Muslim Student Union of the University of California, Irvine[1][2][3] (MSU UCI, MSU, or Muslim Student Union) is a student organization at the University of California, Irvine (UC Irvine) in Irvine, California, United States, and an affiliated chapter of the national Muslim Students' Association. Its self-declared purpose is to embody that tradition[clarification needed] and engage the UCI campus with various programs from humanitarian to educational to political.[citation needed] It has sustained itself[clarification needed] as "the central community for Muslim students at UC Irvine."[4]

In 2010, the MSU was suspended by university officials, who found the organization guilty of deliberately disrupting a speech given on campus by then-Israeli ambassador to the United States Michael Oren. Eleven students were detained by the police, cited, and released during the protest; these students became known as the "Irvine 11". After an original recommendation of a one-year ban on the organization followed by another year of probation as well as fifty hours of community service by its members,[5][6] UCI administrators reduced the punishment on appeal to a ban for an academic quarter, one hundred hours of community service, and two years of probation.[7] The university's decision "cited e-mails between members of the student union and detailed minutes from a Feb. 3 meeting",[5][8] however, the MSU stated that the protest was done by individual students, and not MSU as a group.[9]

Of the eleven students cited at the event, one filed a plea bargain, and ten were prosecuted and found guilty of a misdemeanor. The guilty verdict was upheld on appeal by a panel of superior court judges; the students have appealed that ruling to a state appeals court.

Activities and events[edit]

The MSU offers daily congregational prayers at least three times a day, as well as weekly jummah(Friday) prayers on campus. The organization also it puts on programs in efforts to educate fellow students about Islam through "Islam Awareness Quarter."[4][10] MSU has also co-sponsored events such as Invisible Children, which brings light to and raises funds for the plight of Ugandan child soldiers,[11] and Fashion Fighting Famine, a student-led initiative which seeks to promote basic human rights across the globe through charity fashion shows and themed parties. Since its founding in 2007, Fashion Fighting Famine has raised and donated over $10,000 to various places including the Palestinian territories and Sudan.[12][13] In the 2009–2010 college school year, MSU consistently collected donations and spread awareness about the devastating events that took place in Indonesia and Haiti. Through coin drives, selling food on campus, and other creative ways, MSU sponsored relief efforts for Haiti.[14] After the deadly southeast Asian tsunami disaster in 2004, MSU raised $12,000 in relief money for countries affected by the disaster.[15]

Additionally, the MSU regularly collaborates with campus organizations to put on a variety of different events. In 2008 and 2009, MSU co-sponsored a week of events entitled "Gears of War." In the Winter Quarter of 2009, the purpose of this week was to host "a series of events surrounding the 6th anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq and the role of the university in supporting imperialism" and "to highlight issues concerning the occupations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine and elsewhere and discuss how we can collectively organize against imperialism throughout the world." The week was co-hosted by the UCI Worker Student Alliance, Muslim Student Union, Amnesty International at UCI, Darfur Action Committee, Campaign for Consciousness, and Students for a Sensible Drug Policy.[16][17] In 2015, the organization received a grant from the western branch of the Muslim Students Association to partially fund a food bank in conjunction with the university's student retention center.[18][19][20]

Israeli Apartheid Week[edit]

For several years, the MSU has organized a week-long event, usually coinciding with the Israeli Independence Day, calling for boycotting, divesting from, and sanctioning the State of Israel.[21] This annual event attracts local and national media every year[22][23] for what some, including academics who specialize in the study of antisemitism, refer to as anti-Semitic rhetoric advanced by the MSU.[24] The Anti-Defamation League, an organization that describes itself as dedicated to "combating anti-Semitism and bigotry of all kinds,"[25] has described the Muslim Student Union as being "responsible for staging large events every spring featuring virulently antisemitic speakers."[26] In regards to this notion an investigation in 2007 was conducted by the Office of Civil Rights (OCR). The OCR report stated:

OCR's investigation revealed that during these events many speakers criticized Israel, its governmental policies, its treatment of the Palestinians, and Jews throughout the world who support Israel. Most speakers distinguished opposition to Zionism from opposition to Jews. Other speakers did not do so, yet their criticism of Jews was focused on their perceived support of Israel. OCR's investigation also revealed that some speakers made broad generalizations about Jews, which were offensive to Jewish students. In addition during these events there were often symbols utilized that were offensive to Jewish students, such as mock checkpoints, green armbands; and a poster that contained a picture of a wall on which was painted a swastika, an equal sign, and a Star of David. Several students interviewed by OCR stated that they were deeply offended and, in some instances, intimidated and harassed by these events.

OCR determined that although offensive to Jewish students, the speeches, articles, marches, symbols, and other events at issue were not based on the national origin of the Jewish students, but rather based on opposition to the policies of Israel.[27]

In May 2009, the University of California system's president at the time, Mark Yudof, wrote in a letter regarding the Muslim Student Union's series of events titled "Israel: The Politics of Genocide":

As you can imagine, it is difficult for me to separate my public role as President of a state university from my private life as a Jewish man who is active in Jewish causes and a strong defender of Israel. Permit me now to remove my cap and gown and to exercise my First Amendment rights as a private citizen. In my opinion, the title of the series is virulent, historically inaccurate, and offensive to Jewish people everywhere. For me to feel otherwise would be antithetical to my life and beliefs.[28]

As part of this series of events, the Muslim Student Union hosted at the time British MP and founder of Viva Palestina, George Galloway, for a speech at UC Irvine. During the event, funds were raised for Viva Palestina. The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) soon after filed that an investigation be conducted with the belief that the funds were raised for Hamas, a US Designated Terror Organization.[29] However, no such allegations were proven to be true. In May 2010, campus officials concluded that there was no evidence to say that the MSU was guilty of wrongdoing and after referring the matter to the office of the Vice-Chancellor, the organization has since then been cleared of these allegations.[30] On May 14, 2010, Amir Abdul Malik Ali, a pro-Palestinian activist from Oakland, California gave an address. During a question and answer period that followed, Roz Rothstein, the CEO of StandWithUs, asked Ali if he supported Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, to which Ali replied affirmatively. When Rothstein asked if Ali supports jihad on the UCI campus, he replied yes, insofar as it pertains to "speaking truth to power".[31] Soon after the speech, UC Irvine Chancellor Drake made a campus-wide announcement condemning "the speaker's endorsement of terrorism."[32] The Muslim Student Union responded in a letter to the editor:

The Muslim Student Union at UC Irvine joins Chancellor Michael Drake in condemning terrorism and in reaffirming our university's 'commitment to dialogue and democratic rule, not violence.' The MSU condemns the killing of innocent civilians, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or any other label. As stated numerous times throughout the week, we will not tolerate the promotion of hatred against any particular group on the basis of their race, color, ethnicity or religion. As human beings, people of faith, and students of conscience, we will be the first to speak out against any form of injustice.[33]

The MSU further said that they do not "necessarily ... endorse everything that our speakers say" and added:

While we don't agree with blanket support of the actions and stances of groups like Hamas, Hezbollah and others, we do believe that it is important to distinguish that the expressed support for such groups, made by one of our speakers, comes in the context of leading resistance against a state that continues to function based on genocidal and apartheid-like politics.[33]

2010 protest of Oren speech[edit]

On February 8, 2010, eight UC Irvine students and three UC Riverside students were detained, cited, and released after a disruption of a speech made by Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the United States at the time.[9] Earlier in the day, the MSU had issued a press release condemning his presence on the campus. They criticized Oren as "an outspoken supporter of the recent war on Gaza and stands in the way of international law by refusing to cooperate with the United Nation's Goldstone Report, a fact-finding mission endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council." [34]

The university administration was deeply embarrassed by the MSU's actions. They had to shut down the event midway through Ambassador Oren's speech to maintain order. The event also confirmed UC Irvine's reputation as a flashpoint of anti-Israel extremism.[35]

An MSU spokeswoman said that the Muslim Student Union wasn't officially involved "in the protest, and that the students were 'acting on their individual accord.'"[9][36]

In April 2010, Congressman John Campbell stated that "someone" leaked MSU minutes and emails that showed "a mountain of evidence showing Muslim intolerance and antipathy towards free expression".[37] According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency,

In an e-mail to the Muslim Student Union board dated Feb. 6, union president Mohamed Abdelgany described the union's "game plan" for the Oren speech, including a call for "disruptors." Later in the e-mail, Abdelgany, who was himself arrested during the Oren speech, laid out the plan for the event itself, which he said would involve "disrupting it throughout the whole time" if possible. Abdelgany also allegedly cautioned disruptors to be loud and firm, but not lose their composure. "Remember," he wrote, "that this is a planned/calculated response."[38]

Suspension by the university[edit]

According to the OC Register, a May 27 letter – obtained and released by the Jewish Federation – sent to the Muslim Student Union from the student affairs disciplinary committee detailed the results of the investigation after the Israeli Ambassador protest in February 2010. The letter stated that after a thorough internal investigation it found the group guilty not only of "disruption of teaching, research, administration, disciplinary procedures or other University activities," but also "other forms of dishonesty including, but not limited to fabricating information, false information, or reporting a false emergency to the University."[5] In response to the findings, the university recommended the suspension of the Muslim Student Union for the 2010–2011 academic school year, a yearlong probationary period for the following year, and collective completion of 50 hours of volunteer service by the union's members.[6]

Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the UC Irvine School of Law, wrote to the Los Angeles Times criticizing those who disrupted the speech of the Israeli Ambassador, saying "those who yelled to keep the ambassador from being heard were not engaged in constitutionally protected behavior." Shortly after the disruption, but before the investigation and suspension, Chermerinsky wrote, "I also disagree with those who call for draconian sanctions against these students or of punishment for a larger group. Only the students who were actually disruptive should be punished."[39] After the university recommended suspension, Chermerinsky said, "What they found was that a group of students, the Muslim Student Union, engaged in intentional disruptive behavior that violated the student conduct code, misrepresented to the university in advance and after what they were doing is an organization that can and should be punished."[40] The suspension was condemned by the Asian Law Caucus, expressing concerns that the suspension would "deprive hundreds of current and future Muslim students of their First Amendment right to freedom of association."[41]

Some Jewish groups welcomed the suspension, calling it a victory against hate speech. Israeli Consul General Jacob Dayan accused the Muslim Student Union of "spreading hate" and suppressing "free discussion and open debate."[5] The president of the Jewish Federation Orange County commended "the University for its judicious decision in support of free speech and civil discourse."[42] Jeff Margolis of the Jewish Federation's Rose Council said, "UCI's administration has done the right thing and is to be commended."[43]Jewlicious Jewish Blog ran an editorial expressing "satisfaction" with the suspension.[44]

In September 2010, after the MSU filed the appeal to the recommendation of the suspension, UC Irvine decided to suspend the group for one quarter instead of one year. However, the group's community service was increased to 100 hours of community service instead of the original 50. In addition, UC Irvine put the organization on probation for two years instead of one.[7][45]

Incoming union Vice President Hadeer Soliman stated that during this time, members have endured personal attacks and received hate mail.[45]

Criminal charges[edit]

In February 2011, the Orange County district attorney's office charged the eleven arrested MSU students with counts of conspiracy to disturb a lawful meeting and the disturbance of the meeting.[46] Many opposed these criminal charges. The same month, more than 90 members of faculty at University of California Irvine wrote a letter to the District Attorney, published in New University, opposing the criminal charges. They stated:

"But the individual students and the Muslim Student Union were disciplined for this conduct by the University, including the MSU being suspended from being a student organization for a quarter. This is sufficient punishment. There is no need for criminal prosecution and criminal sanctions. The use of the criminal justice system will be detrimental to our campus as it inherently will be divisive and risk undoing the healing process which has occurred over the last year. It also sets a dangerous precedent for the use of the criminal law against non-violent protests on campus."[47]

In March 2011, 30 members of the Jewish studies faculty from seven campuses of University of California called for the dropping of charges against 11 Muslim students. They said "while we disagree with the students' decision to disrupt the speech, we do not believe such peaceful protest should give rise to criminal liability."[48] Erwin Chermerinsky, dean of the UC Irvine School of Law, had earlier written to the Los Angeles Times that "the punishment should be great enough to convey that the conduct was wrong and unacceptable, but it should not be so severe as to ruin these students' educational careers."[39]

However, others supported the criminal charges. District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said in a public statement, "These defendants meant to stop this speech and stop anyone else from hearing his ideas, and they did so by disrupting a lawful meeting. This is a clear violation of the law and failing to bring charges against this conduct would amount to a failure to uphold the Constitution."[49] Susan Schroeder, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office, said, "It seems that the basic question is what if we substituted different groups – what if this were the Klu Klux Klan [sic] who conspired to silence a speech by Martin Luther King."[50] The leaders of the Zionist Organization of America said in a public statement:

"We're pleased to see that the District Attorney's office is not hesitating to hold members of the Muslim Student Union responsible for possibly criminal behavior. Had the District Attorney decided not to prosecute, he'd be sending the message that the disrupters' conduct was acceptable, effectively making a mockery of the First Amendment and a mockery of our laws. Members of the Muslim Student Union aren't entitled to special treatment. If they violated the law, they should be held accountable and punished."[51]

Cecilie Surasky of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) noted that while JVP hecklers did not face criminal charges when they disrupted a speech by Benjamin Netanyahu in November 2010, the MSU hecklers were charged with regard to the Oren incident.[52] Rachel Roberts, in an editorial for The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles entitled "Muslim criminals, Jewish activists?", said that there are double standards in the treatment of Muslim students, calling the criminal charges against the Muslim students discrimination.[53] The Muslim Public Affairs Council promoted a petition in defense of the students.[54]

In September 2011, ten of the eleven MSU students who interrupted Oren's speech were "convicted of a California misdemeanor and sentenced to probation and a fine."[55] Shortly after the verdict, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas wrote, "History tells us of the dire consequences when one group is allowed to shout down and intimidate another or a group of people so as to not allow them to have opinions or be heard. History requires us to draw a line in the sand against this sort of organized thuggery."[56] Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz wrote, "It was a good day for the First Amendment when the prosecutor decided to apply the law to their censorial conduct. It was another good day for the First Amendment when the jury appropriately convicted them. And I hope it will be yet another good day for the First Amendment when the appellate courts affirm this constitutionally just conviction."[55]

In March 2014, the convictions of the 10 students for were upheld by the Orange County Superior Court. Lawyers for the defendants subsequently indicated that they intent to appeal the decision to California's Fourth District Court of Appeals.[57][58]


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