Free speech and civilized debate is not alive and well and living in these United States of America, if what happened at UC Irvine several weeks ago is any indication.
Israel's Ambassador to the United States, American born author, scholar and historian Michael B. Oren, was invited to speak at U.C. Irvine regarding U.S./Israel relations, from a historical perspective. Naturally it was opposed by the Muslim Students Union, and there was anticipation that there might be some disruptions, but what university officials had hoped would be a respectful albeit spirited discussion, turned into major disruptive, one-sided protest. Oren was incessantly heckled by the Muslim students as he addressed an audience of community members, students and faculty on February 8. He was barely able to get through his speech without being rudely interrupted. Every few minutes a student would stand up and shout some predetermined, anti-Israeli invective including "Michael Oren, propagating murder is not an expression of free speech!" and other, often unintelligible, words of protest. These verbal attacks were immediately followed by a loud cacophony of shrieks, hollers and clapping. Each outburst was followed by admonitions from both Oren and faculty members for civility and respect, which obviously was not part of their agenda.
The police escorted the first heckler out, but thereafter the punks proudly made their way to the police to be escorted out. Eventually the rest of the large, ragtag group of young males and females, both with and without hijab, left en masse to continue their disruptions outdoors. 11 or 12 of the students were arrested although they were later released. Neither the threat of being arrested nor being suspended or thrown out of school deterred them from their class-less actions. Oren, on the other hand, was a class act throughout the whole ordeal. The students had been told they would have the opportunity to ask questions and debate the issues once the speech was over, but they obviously had no intention of doing that.
What one woman was quoted as saying pretty much sums up the whole situation: “Every time there’s an event they’re opposed to, they disrupt it,” said Pam Chozen, a Laguna Beach resident who said she felt concerned for her personal safety. “No one from the other side would think of disrupting an MSU event.”
And so it is. We afford them their right to free speech, but it's not reciprocated. That has to change!