A verdict has been reached. All ten of the Irvine 11 students have been found guilty on two misdemeanor counts of conspiring to disrupt and then disrupting a speech given by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren at the University of California – Irvine in February 2010. The ten students have each been sentenced three years of probation, roughly $200 in fines, and 56 hours of community service, according to reports.
But that wasn’t the only verdict reached today.
The court’s decision complements traditional American policy towards Israel and its supporters. The excuse that Israel is forever under existential threat has embedded itself within the framework of the Constitution of the United States. First Amendment rights are no longer guaranteed if an individual is tried for being on the wrong side: for not supporting Israel’s policies in the Middle East, its occupation, its abandonment of the most fundamental form of justice, or its perception of public nonviolent dissent as institutionalized death-wishing festivities. So in a very obvious sense, the real verdict is that Israel’s interests stand above the right to express, to speak, to engage, and to openly challenge the injustices legitimized by Oren’s words.
In another relevant and disturbing perspective of the verdict, the court’s decision reflects that “Muslims are permanent foreigners, at least in Orange County,” according to Shakeel Syed, executive director of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California. In yet another blow to Muslim freedoms and civil liberties here in the United States, the ten students have been publicly denied their right to free speech. The Muslim Students Association chapter at UC Irvine will continue to face both legal scrutiny and a heavily watchful eye — unnecessarily and undeservedly, of course — from campus authorities and anti-Muslim groups in the area. This entire case has become a breeding ground for the most virulent and bigoted anti-Islam sentiment enthusiastically shielded by the courthouse’s roof (and, ironically, the principle of “free speech”).
If the Irvine 11 are conspirators, then we are all a part of this conspiracy. The students represent themselves, yes, but they also represent the upturning of the lobby to secure support for the continued occupation of Palestine. Although the court has attempted to physically silence the Irvine 11, we will continue to keep our voices raised. This is not an issue of Islamic principles, the way the prosecution attempted to frame it, nor is this an issue of butting ideologies. This is an issue of free speech — a universal right, highly regarded in the United States but not afforded to those who see through the veil of propaganda.
It is comforting to know that the prosecuted students have shown us that people are willing to face even the most unjust consequences for the sake of defending our rights and values. Let this be a lesson to all.