October 1st, 2011
05:00 AM ET
By Aman Ali, Special to CNN
The Irvine 11. Nope, it’s not the 37th installment of George Clooney and his gang of crackerjack criminals trying to pull a con job on a California casino owner.
Instead, the “Irvine 11” are of a group of Muslim students in California who were found guilty last week of disrupting a speech at the University of California Irvine by Michael Oren, Israel's ambassador to the United States.
One by one, the students disrupted Oren’s speech and shouted at him over his support for Israel. They were subsequently found guilty by an Orange County jury.
To paraphrase, the students pulled a Kanye West and told Oren “Yo Michael, ima let you finish, but the Palestinians have one of the greatest rights to statehood of all time.”
That’s why I’m having trouble wrapping my shiny bald head around this case.
Most Muslims will say we’re sick and tired of only talking about ourselves in a post-9/11 context as victims of oppression. But I feel like in a subconsciously sick and twisted way, we secretly enjoy playing the victim card.
I know I’m guilty of it.
Anytime I fly at the airport, in my mind there’s a part of me that wishes a TSA agent will grope me or take forever to search through my bags so I can call up one of my friends with an awesome story like “BRO! You’re not gonna believe what just happened!”
The more I learn about this Irvine 11 case, the more and more I keep getting vibes this is another example of Muslims playing the victim card.
Once these students were arrested, immediately the case went viral. They called themselves “The Irvine 11” and several Muslims formed campaigns to rally in their support. There’s even a banner on the Irvine 11 campaign website drawn in a style of staging some kind of Latin revolution. "Viva La Irvine!"
What irked me the most though was this photo taken of one of the students after the trial, where he’s clenching a peace sign in the air to build some kind of solidarity with the Irvine 11 supporters.
Dude, you got a misdemeanor and were sentenced to community service. You’re not Nelson Mandela.
Even funnier, one of the 11 students took a plea deal to avoid a conviction. So technically we’re only talking about 10 students here. Irvine 11 is false advertising. I want my money back.
Of course, it’s completely bogus for these students to face charges, let alone be found guilty, on protesting a speech. Even if it’s a misdemeanor charge. It’s a slap in the face to the First Amendment and this case should have never entered a court room.
But I refuse to deem these students as some kind of political prisoners. Look at the name Irvine 11 for example. I’m assuming it was inspired by the name for the Little Rock Nine, a group of Black students in Arkansas who were barred from entering a racially segregated school in the 1950s, an event that helped ignite the Civil Rights Movement. To even try to associate the Irvine case with Little Rock is insulting.
These students will do no jail time for what they did and will probably get a year of probation and around 60 hours of community service, according to reports.
On the Irvine 11 campaign web site, supporters are asking people to pray for the Irvine 11. For what, the community service they have to do? “Oh Allah, please protect these students from running bingo night at the senior citizens center.”
I’m not trying to be insensitive or even remotely imply these students deserve the legal punishment they were slapped with.
But just because they have a legal right to free speech, does that give them the ethical right to stomp out the ambassador’s right to free speech?
Regardless of what the students feel about Michael Oren, the university invited him there to speak as a guest and the students barged in on that. And according to evidence released by the Orange County prosecutor’s office, it appears these students had several e-mail discussions and meetings to plan their protest. One of the e-mails even implied they’re fully aware they could get arrested.
I'm not saying they should not have exercised their right to protest. They should not be surprised at the consequences, especially since they discussed them.
Think of it like this. When I was 9 years old, my 3-year-old little brother was intent on placing his hand on the kitchen stove. He was well aware it would burn his hand but he didn’t listen. He cried like an idiot pretending to be shocked that the stove could be so hot. So it’s hard for me to be join La Irvine Revolucion’ when it seems like it didn’t have to happen to begin with.
All I’m saying is, let’s calm down and not blow this case out of proportion.
It’s a terrible thing that happened to these students, but let’s place it into perspective of all the racial and religious injustices that have happened around the country.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Aman Ali
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.