To say this week has been difficult would be simplistic. You need to understand that for me its been like “the death of Michael Jackson,” the “lock out of the NBA for five years” along with getting news that Justin Bieber is getting married to some no name girl leaving all tween girls (..and some boys?) heartbroken- that’s been my week.
I heard my brother and really dear friend, Jamaal Diwan, give a khutbah at Islamic Center of Irvine (ICOI) where he talked about “waking up”- how he woke up to Islam, before that how he woke up from his “good life” to realize that there were folks who lived in way where his life was beyond luxury, how he woke up prior to that to realize that he had a life that was worth living. I don’t think you can discount how privileged someone is to realize that maturity of thinking. We, who are privileged, live a life worrying about what others think, our problems are about how Rubio’s discontinued the fish taco (no they didn’t) or how Facebook keeps changing things up.
God I feel like such a prick when I think that these are the challenges I face in my life when the person standing at a street corner is homeless and begging for change. Even that, our homeless folks, wear “brand name” clothes and carry around electronics. There are places where homeless folk are pushed into begging and preyed upon by those who have a slighter degree of power and they beg to only give what they have earned through begging to another person.
Here I am in my place of privilege talking about how the Presidents speech was a nightmare or how the Republican primary was scary – when there are people in this world who live through hell and who live through real nightmare. God, I feel so miserable knowing that I have a life in which my challenges are all relative to my situation- but what makes me privileged, what prevents me from being in those people’s shoes? I sometimes wonder why I was born now, as a Muslim, and not born as a Jew during the Holocaust?
The only thing that privileges me is when and where I was born. My privilege is derived only from two factors that I have little control over, BUT, I have all the means necessary and available to sustain those privileges. That is the freedom we cherish in this country that leaves us with two choices: one to be principled or the other to be miserly. In principle we choose to uphold our privilege but exercise our responsibility knowing full well that the privilege I have can be taken from me at any point and that those who do not have it are no less privileged then me. The second choice is to covet my privilege and guard against others encroaching on it. Everything becomes a threat, everyone becomes and enemy and I can live a life of paranoia but I will have that privilege to myself…right?
But thats why I think I needed a guilty verdict in the Irvine 11 case. Those 10 brothers, men, who stood up and exercised their freedom in conjunction with their responsibility to extend their privilege for the good of those who were prevented from having the privilege and freedom to stand up for themselves gave us an opportunity to check within ourselves for what we stood for, for what our principles are.
The OC DA’s contention was that there actions were an infringement of free speech, that they were exercising a hecklers veto that prevented a forum for the exchange of ideas in a marketplace of ideas, that by prosecuting these students they were setting standard for protecting our value of free speech in Orange County. (The irony does not pass me by without slapping me, silly OC DA, you have no clue what goes on in the marketplace of ideas and its free exchange.) But what the OC DA might have done now with having gotten a conviction is emboldened students to challenge pro-Israeli and pro-Zionist forums more so then before. Simply to set an example that we challenge your notion of free speech behavior. I mean how many folks and events will the DA prosecute at the level of that they prosecuted the Irvine 11.
Maybe that won’t happen. Maybe students and supporters of Palestinian cause will not want to stand up and protest. But then thats a shame. Our cherished freedom of speech just suffered an immense blow because a minority opinion, one not necessarily liked by a majority of people just got silenced. But that energy that could have been put into peaceful protest will get channelled somewhere and it will show up somehow, maybe this will give rise to a Boycott and Divestment campaign against Israel. Either way the clear losers today were our cherished value of free speech and the Zionist cause.
Zionist have not shut down the opposition, if anything they have invigorated it. I mean I went from feeling uneasy about my continued support for just the Palestinian people at the expense of the Kashmiri’s and the Cham and the countless other oppressed people, to once again understanding that September 23, 2011 was the day that I renewed my commitment to the Palestinian cause for justice and freedom.
Thank you to the Irvine 11 for showing courage, leadership and commitment to principles that truly make us the Americans our founders had wanted us to be. When they envisioned this great country they realized that in the future Americans will need to rise up to the greatness that was possible and the way that we would rise up as Americans to greatness is to experience adversity, to face challenges head on and to learn what our principles and values are rather then to see our greatness as an entitlement, to chant rhetorical exclamations of our values and principles and to feel that our privilege was a birth right.
I for one will not mourn or stay in a state of despair. Neither are qualities of a Muslim, or of an American. But instead I will donate, I will commit myself to the cause of justice and I will find the energy and optimism to pick myself up and keep the fight going.