Saturday, September 4, 2010

The MSU Ban is Made Official

      A number of stories came out at the beginning of the summer, revealing university sanctions on the Muslim Student Union.  Curiously, these sanctions were not revealed by the university, but by an outside organization, The Jewish Federation (a pro-Israel group), through the use of  the Freedom of Information Act.  The initial plan banned the organization for a year, and would put it on probation for yet another year.  At that point, the decision hadn't been made official, and there were plans on the part of the MSU to appeal the decision.

     Well, that decision has been finally been made, and not surprisingly, Vice-Chancellor Gomez has upheld the decision.  However, the punishment has been modified to a ban of the group for a quarter, 100 hours of community service, as well as a two year probation period for the group.  This seems to confirm my initial suspicions about this action.  Members of the Muslim Student Union have made significant contributions to campus activism.  The most obvious contributions have been around the illegal occupation of Palestine by Israel, but they have also often played important roles within the organizing around the fee hikes.  This decision seems to be an effort to neutralize those contributions to the University's political life.

     I can't say that I have exactly been enthusiastic about all the actions that members of the group have taken in the past.  When I first came to UCI, the protests organized by members of the group often made basic mistakes, most significantly not making the distinction between criticizing the actions of the state of Israel and the diverse opinions of the Jewish diaspora.  These occasional slippages into anti-semiticism were problematic not only from the obvious ethical standpoint, but because they fell into a sort of uncritical acceptance of the narrative offered by the state of Israel, who also wants to present itself as representative of the diaspora. (More could be said about this, but this is probably not the best forum.)  However, the organizers have gotten much better in thinking through these problems, and most of the speakers for last year's Israel Apartheid week, with the exception of Amir Abdul Malik Ali, offered a useful critical analysis of the occupation.  More significantly, MSU activists haven't exactly been alone in making these kind of problematic statements.  We have seen racism from our school paper, Islamophobia from the college Republicans, etc. However, those actions never got the kind of institutional attention that was given to the MSU.

     At this point, anyone who is reading this blog knows about the official reason behind the school's actions, the protest of Israeli Ambassador, Michael Oren.  The protest briefly disrupted the speech of the ambassador, protesting the continued occupation of Palestine.  Anyone who has ever been on a university campus knows how ubiquitous this kind of action is.  In fact, there have been several other disruptions on the campus, most notably repeated disruptions of George Galloway by pro-Israel students.  My experience at the University was similar.  An organization I was involved in, the Progressive Student Organization, not only briefly disrupted UN Ambassador Bill Richardson's call for an attack on Iraq in the late nineties, but we stopped the speech entirely.  No University action was taken against the group.  (I'm pretty sure that we had Yudolf as the president at that point.) Both protests were taken up, not to suppress political speech, but to create the space for debate, which had been erased by the structure of the format being protested.

      Finally, I'd like to make a last comment from a personal perspective.  Over the past year, I've worked with members of the group around the fee hike protests, and have had nothing but a positive experience in working with them.  They have been a thoughtful and non-sectarian presence in coalition organizing, as well as contributing to some of the best actions on our campus.  Within this context, the attack on the MSU is an attack on all.  Perhaps, more significantly, the attack fits in with the atmosphere of Islamophobia that has become increasingly explicit in the past months.  (Although if one looks at the work of Edward Said, it certainly is not a new phenomenon.)  Our fight for social justice would ring incredibly hollow if we were not to respond to this phenomenon on our own campus.

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