Notes From Babel

UCI’s Muslim Student Union Association Embarrasses Themselves

with 11 comments

I have long been sympathetic to Muslims in America and in favor of a more balanced conversation when it comes to Israel and the Middle East.  All the more reason the behavior of the Muslim Student Union at UCI is such an embarrassment.

By the way, Michael Oren’s Power, Faith and Fantasy is a worthwhile primer on U.S. involvement in the Middle East.

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Written by Tim Kowal

February 9, 2010 at 11:08 pm

11 Responses

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  1. It seems the students at UCI don’t like a dialogue… as I see them in the news quite often.

    Was it like this in your day?


    February 10, 2010 at 12:28 pm

  2. I don’t remember anything like this during my time there, but then again I wasn’t very politically engaged in my youth. What is really disappointing for me is that I see a lot of criticism of the MSU’s events as hate speech against Israel and Jews that ought not be permitted in a public university. How is one supposed to stand up for the MSU’s rights to advocate their message when they attempt to drown out their opponents in such a repugnant manner?

    Tim Kowal

    February 10, 2010 at 12:33 pm

  3. I also attended UCI and naturally at that time things were not as heated, but that was a pre 9/11 era when Muslims weren’t silenced and sidelined and maligned as they are now.

    I am also disappointed in the MSU. They have succombed to their frustrations and acted in desperation. But I feel sorry for them for reducing their cause with these actions.

    To those who consider themselves fair and neutral to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and who are disappointed in what the MSU did, I ask that you keep in mind that these are kids acting under immense pressure of not being heard or treated fairly. I’m not excusing what they did, but I’m trying to put it in context. These kids are simple-minded, they aren’t sophisticated like their opponents are, who act in quiet and calculated strategy as opposed to rants. For example, when the MSU brought Norman Finkelstein to speak at UCI about Israeli state terrorism and human rights abuses (Norman is himself a Jew,, instead of silencing Norman in a barbaric way as the MSU did to Oren, the Zionist Organization of America instead quietly planted a series of accusations and setup elaborate ploys using its sophisticated network of think tanks and government lobbying, to spread accusations that UCI is a hotbed of funding for terrorism, and it got to the point where FBI agents were following MSU students around and one student even got pushed/hit by an FBI agent’s car (

    The bigger picture, of course, is that most Muslim organizations in America don’t operate in this irrational way, so you have to remember that a University environment is always going to have the angry, rebellious, emotional, and passionate youngeons that haven’t yet had a taste for how the world really works.

    Jason Sidney

    February 10, 2010 at 8:54 pm

    • Thanks, Jason, for your thoughtful comment. Your point is well taken. I read Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer’s The Israel Lobby with great interest. A close friend of mine, a Muslim, has long commended to me the argument that, without claiming that there was some kind of vast Hebrew conspiracy, at the very least the scales are tipped against Arab sympathy. While I had only tacitly accepted that argument, Walt and Mearsheimer’s work provides overwhelming detail in evidence. My friend also went to UCI (we met there), and was involved with the MSU. I will need to solicit his comments on this.

      Tim Kowal

      February 10, 2010 at 9:22 pm

    • Speaking of conspiracies, I forgot to mention this: Although I don’t use the setting that would require my “approval” of comments before they appear here, I got an email from WordPress regarding Jason’s comment that I needed to moderate it, and it didn’t appear until I did. Is it possible that words like “zionist” and “Norman Finkelstein” tripped an alarm somewhere?

      Tim Kowal

      February 10, 2010 at 10:38 pm

      • There’s a funny scene in Community where one of the girls warns about referring to someone as “a Jew”, instead of as Jewish.


        February 10, 2010 at 10:54 pm

        • I saw that. Part of me was bothered by it, wondering if they were seriously suggesting the word “Jew” has become, in every application, offensive. I choose to believe they were playing on the irrational fear held by those of us reasonably sensitive people who cringe at ever having to say the word, even when it does apply.

          Tim Kowal

          February 10, 2010 at 10:57 pm

        • I mostly agree, though I think it is used derogatorily quite often. But I think the Community was doing the whole Seinfeld approach to racism… “I really don’t think we’re supposed to be talking about this.”

          And now Tim, you finally realize that my life and thoughts are all based on television quotes!


          February 10, 2010 at 11:01 pm

    • Jason,

      You suggest we should temper our condemnation of the MSU because they are not “being heard” nor “treated fairly.” Were I to accept that claim, I would certainly — as a staunch advocate of our rights to free speech and a fair shake — moderate my condemnation of the MSU, though their behavior was inexcusable regardless.

      For evidence, you say the MSU’s opponents stifle them with a vast, malicious campaign, including false accusations of connections to terrorism that resulted in aggressive FBI surveillance.

      However, in light of the MSU’s recent behavior, we are right to wonder whether the FBI had a good reason to be there (though the FBI agent’s alleged behavior is indeed inexcusable). Regardless, the complaints about their presence remind me of the crack dealers on COPS who are genuinely incensed that they are being harassed because their race, nevermind the 30 baggies of dope and the gun found in their possession.

      What is the more likely explanation, that the powerful Jewish lobby coerced the FBI into harassing some innocent, harmless college students, or that the FBI is dutifully investigating suspicious behaviors? Do cops pull over crack dealers because of their race or because they are acting like crack dealers?

      True, historically, minorities have been subject to greater levels of scrutiny and less sympathy, and the same has been true of Muslim Americans since 9/11, perhaps even more so, and none of this is fair. But such is human life; the many will always suffer for the actions of the few. This being reality, the solution is the same for everyone, irrespective of race or religion: if you don’t want to be treated like something you are not, then it is best to avoid looking and acting like you are that very thing.

      Mason Boyer

      February 13, 2010 at 1:27 am

      • Mason, thanks for your thoughtful reply. I appreciate much of what you are saying, especially the point that you made towards the end: “if you don’t want to be treated like something you are not, then it is best to avoid looking and acting like you are that very thing.” Now, that’s exactly what I would tell the MSU students, and what I stated I was disappointed in them for. They are hurting their own cause and giving themselves bad publicity, when their opponents are quite the opposite in being the most clever and sophisticated in their tactics.

        However, like I said, they are young and naieve and don’t truly grasp what (in their minds, justified) passionate protesting tactics could be viewed as around the world, and what kind of negative impact that can have on other Muslims working hard to clear their names and their image in the public. Not to mention that the behavior was inexcusable and just plain uncivilized, which I’m sure the faithful and true worshippers of Islam would despise as any decent people would.

        But at the same time, it isn’t fair to blur the lines here between unruly protesting tactics vs. terrorism. This was my larger point: that you can reprimand them, penalize them, keep them from acting in these uncivilized ways AS YOU WOULD ANY UNRULY COLLEGE STUDENTS PROTESTING ANY OTHER ISSUE IN AN UNACCEPTABLE WAY, but why is it that if a particular “powerful group” in specific here happens to be insulted and upset here (namely, the Zionist Organization of America, who has been upset with UCI since they brought Normal Finkelstein and held other anti-Israeli events), why would you choose to (in spite) utilize the powerful means at your disposal to accuse them of being al-Qaeda operatives undercover? Why is it assumed that if someone is against Israel they must be anti-Semite or, worse, a terrorist or terrorist supporter?

        And even if you say the FBI was playing it safe, did they ever find the “30 baggies of dope and the gun” or will it be a permanent suspicion sentence on this young and growing generation of American Muslims, regardless of their innocence from terrorism, but because of their political stance against Israel?

        Jason Sidney

        February 13, 2010 at 7:10 pm

        • Jason, I appreciate your patient and thoughtful reply. I was worried that I had let my emotions get the best of me and that I had come across as snarky when that was not my intent. I still have three points of contention:

          1) you write in both posts that the MSU students are “naive.” sure — they’re young and inexperienced — but are they any more naive than other college students? the vast majority of college students are naive, but the vast majority of them do not manifest their naivette in such destructive ways. therefore, if we are to accept this explanation of their behavior, we must believe that the MSU protesters are somehow more naive than average, an assertion that is essentially demeaning to said students and that I do not believe is true.

          2) you also write in both posts that the MSU is up against a vastly more powerful, more sophisticated opponent. here, you seem to be using a shifting definition of who their opponents are. aren’t their opponents on campus merely other student groups? why would other student groups be more powerful or sophisticated than the MSU? again, this seems essentially demeaning to the MSU. however, I assume you mean the powerful pro-israel lobby that supports the pro-israel student groups. yes, i am sure that at some level the wider, more powerful, and more sophisticated pro-israel lobby is helping/advising the campus groups, fair enough. but what’s good for the goose… would it not also then be fair to assume that at some level the wider, more powerful, and more sophisticated pro-muslim lobby is helping/advising the MSU?

          yes, as I think Tim mentioned earlier, the pro-israel lobby has been historically more robust and powerful in America, but I think that balance has shifted / is shifting quite substantially in the other direction. this is certainly debatable but besides the point at hand– I think it is fair to assume that both student groups have the support of their wider lobbies.

          I present these two objections because although you clearly condemn their uncivil behavior in both of your posts, you proffer their naivette and relative lack of sophistication as mitigating explanations. I do not give any weight to these explanations because, as I tried to show above, they only work if we assume the MSU is more naive and that their support is less sophisticated than their opponents, and I do not think there is evidence to support either claim.

          In my view, this leaves us with THE important question: how DO we explain their behavior? You certainly could argue that they are MORE naive than other college students and that their support system is LESS sophisticated than their opponents’, but you have not yet substantiated either claim.

          Now here, I think, is where the conversation gets dicey. As for my explanation, I start by assuming the MSU students are averagely naive college students. As such, I believe they are guided more by emotion than by substance, much of which has been fed to them in the guise of substance, and that they are expressing these emotions as they have been taught/conditioned to do so…

          3) finally, and secondarily, it does not matter if the authorities find a gun or not– that can never be the standard by which we judge investigations. the question that matters is: did they have a valid reason to look? it seems to me they certainly did.

          Mason Boyer

          February 14, 2010 at 4:23 pm

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