The Legacy of the Irvine 11
J.D. Candidate 2012, UCI Law
“Propagating murder is not free speech!” “Michael Oren, you are a war criminal!” “You, sir, are an accomplice to genocide!” “How many Palestinians did you kill?” These were some of the outbursts that disrupted Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s speech at UC Irvine on February 8, 2010. The law school co-sponsored the event. The 11 students, 8 from UC Irvine and 3 from UC Riverside, who were arrested are collectively referred to as the “Irvine 11.” Each student claimed to have acted independently, but a series of internal Muslim Student Union (MSU) emails suggested otherwise. The university punished the Irvine 11 and suspended UCI’s MSU for a quarter.
On February 4, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas’s office announced its decision to press criminal charges against the Irvine 11. Protesters coalesced outside the DA’s office, about 100 UCI faculty members urged Rackauckas to drop the charges, and NGOs, including the Jewish Voice for Peace, demonstrated overwhelming support for the Irvine 11. The international publicity of the events that have unfolded over the past year has transformed the collective actions of the Irvine 11 and the MSU into a meaningful dialogue and powerful protest against the human rights violations that occur daily in Palestine. Rackauckas’s decision to press criminal charges has transformed the Irvine 11 into veritable martyrs.
I would list the names of the 11 individuals who will bravely face arraignment in Santa Ana next month, but many have received death threats and hate mail since that fateful day last February.
Although the question of whether the methods they employed were desirable or even constitutional is up for debate, the organized actions of the Irvine 11 and the MSU have shed a necessarily powerful light upon the rampant Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism that plague our society. Rackauckas’s choice to press criminal charges gives these courageous individuals the international attention they may very well have sought from the beginning. Now that they have a forum that extends far beyond the UCI campus, the MSU and Irvine 11 can continue to raise awareness on domestic and international issues through nonviolence. They no longer have to interrupt speeches or face criminal charges to be heard.