Confronting the threat to freedom in America

Last night a student group at UC Irvine, the College Republicans of UC Irvine, along with the United American Committee, a group whose purpose is to promote public awareness of Islamic jihadist extremism, had a student panel discussion, “A Discussion to confront terror.” They also decided, in the interest of free speech in America to display the controversial cartoons.

An LA Times article describes the event this way:

Praying, shouting and waving signs, about 200 Muslims and their supporters converged on the UC Irvine campus Tuesday evening to protest a forum on Islamic extremism that included the unveiling of cartoons lampooning Muhammad.

The caricatures, first printed in European newspapers, incited riots worldwide that led to dozens of deaths last month.

Organizers of the UCI forum, which drew about 250 people to an auditorium at the student union, said the event was aimed at having an open discussion about the cartoons and the furor they’d caused.

The drawings were displayed alongside anti-Semitic and anti-Western cartoons that organizers said were published in Muslim nations.

Protesters denounced the event, which was co-sponsored by a student Republican group, saying it would incite “Islamophobia” and offend local followers of Islam. The religion forbids any depictions of Muhammad.

Ted Hayes, an activist for the homeless in Los Angeles and one of four panelists invited to speak at the forum, criticized the Muslim students.

“Why don’t they protest against terrorism?” he asked.

Other panelists included Abed A. Jlelati of Free Muslims Coalition; Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, a conservative minister; and Lee Kaplan, spokesperson for the United American Committee, which co-sponsored the event with the campus College Republicans. The Council on American-Islamic Relations was invited but boycotted the event.

Jon Fleishman of the Flash Report attended, and described the event:

Let me tell you, there was a ton of energy at this event, and I certainly realized that there is a significant group of folks in America who’s primary allegiance isn’t to America, but to their religion, and it was a solemn reminder of the importance of our rights to freedom of speech and freedom of religion. I will say, spending a lot of time outside watching the protestors, that the leader’s of UCI’s student Muslim group were very proactive in making sure everything stayed peaceful. This was something given the looks of pure hatred and disgust on the face of some of the more militant protesters who were holding up signs depicting the AK-47 assault rifles they would be waving had this been Damascus and not Irvine.

“I put out a call to Muslims in America: Put out a fatwa on [Usama] bin Laden, put out a fatwa on [Abu Musab] al-Zarqawi,” said panelist Lee Kaplan, a UAC spokesman. “Support America in the war on terror.”

Brock Hill, vice president of the College Republicans, said his group had a First Amendment right to display the cartoons.

“We’re not going against Islam whatsoever,” he said. “This is about free speech and the free marketplace of ideas.”

Kristen Lucero, 21, president of College Republicans, said the discussion was about free speech and an understanding of the origin of Middle Eastern terrorist networks, not an attack on Islam.

Lucero said discussion topics included an examination of Islamic militancy on college campuses and whether some Islamic groups in the United States are apologists for terror.

The Muslim Student Union’s Osman Umarji accused the evening program of inciting Islamophobia.

“They are discussing Islamic terrorism and how most Muslims are apologists for terror,” Umarji said.

Jesse Petrilla, 22, a student at Glendale Community College and head of the United American Committee says “The grassroots efforts of the San Fernando Valley Republican Club and our experience through them in learning about the threat to our freedoms by Islamic jihadists, inspired many members of that club to found the United American Committee with me just one year ago. The event the UAC held at UCI last night with the help of the College Republicans really showed that a few concerned Americans can stand up and tell the nation to not be bullied and intimidated by anyone who would tread on the freedoms of America.”