Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Free speech & U. A. 08-3-3

Right of Free Speech At Univ. of Alabama

Mirza A. Beg

Written Monday, March 3, 2008

Tuscaloosa News, Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Counter Currents, march 7, 2008

Cross- Cultural Understanding, March 8, 2008

Unlike past wars in our nation's history, in the absence of the draft, the Iraq war is being waged primarily on the backs of less well-off and less educated soldiers. The military has reluctantly admitted that unable find enough volunteers, it has lowered its standards for recruitment.

Though the administration claims that it is an existential struggle for our survival, it has worked hard to insulate the American people from feeling the effects of war and the sacrifice of our soldiers. The news media has tried to inform about the nature and cost of war, but compared to previous wars, very few lives have been directly affected, particularly on the college campuses. The educational life and the partying go on. The death and destruction of a whole people and a country resulting from our blunder, does not penetrate the concerns of daily lives on the campuses.

Fortunately some students rise above their mundane concerns and take the promise of America and their moral responsibility seriously. They have imbibed values educational institutions aspire to teach. One hopes that most educators would take pride in nurturing better and well-informed human beings rather than robots that follow authority and discredited leaders; even after the lies have been fully exposed.

A few such students on the University of Alabama campus tried to raise the consciousness that Iraqi lives also matter; because all lives matter. The blatant killings and mistreatment of Iraqis by some of our soldiers and contractors under the immoral policies of the Bush administration are reprehensible. They are not only shameful for all decent human beings, but they sully the name and reputation of our country and us as a moral people.

In the five years since the invasion of Iraq, about 4,000 American soldiers have lost their lives. About 30,000 have been severely injured. Paradoxically, the purported beneficiary of our largess, the Iraqis have lost more than a million lives, many more millions injured and more than four million, about one sixth of the population have been rendered refugees.

The students had invited to the University of Alabama, Jason Hurd, from the Asheville, NC chapter of “Iraq Veterans against the War” (IVAW), to speak about his experiences during his tour of duty in Iraq, at 6:15 PM on Friday the 29th of February.

To raise awareness about the plight of Iraqis, the two guests from North Carolina and a few students from the University of Alabama followed the well-respected tradition of impromptu “Street-theater” at the Student Center, as Jason Hurd has done on many other campuses. Four students dressed as Iraqis were lounging, when the two guests and two University students dressed in military fatigues feigned to arrest them in a rough manner. It appears the impromptu play had more than desired effect. Someone called the campus police. By the time the campus police arrived, Jason was in the process of explaining the point of the street theater the students had just witnessed.

The campus police took the two UA students and the two guests from North Carolina into custody for questioning. After about four hours of questioning without legal representation, they were taken to the county jail and booked on the charges of disturbance of the peace, a misdemeanor. After an ordeal of about nine hours the arrestees were released on bail at about 10 p.m.

The University Police Chief, Steve Tucker was kind enough to call me at my request and explained the situation. It was clear that in the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings a few months ago and the shootings at the Northern Illinois University about a week ago, sensitivities are heightened and the campus police responded quite responsibly and with alacrity.

What is not clear is why the students were charged with misdemeanor, after it was obvious that the students’ intentions were completely peaceful. No harm was intended nor done, and no weapons were found. The irony is the students were protesting the evils of contrived war, misuse of authority and violence in our name.

Perhaps it would have been better had the students put up a placard indicating that a “street-play” was being performed. The worst they can be accused of is behaving in a sophomoric fashion. Well, they are young students. Some of them may even be sophomores.

Conscientious students tried to bring the issues of our involvement in destroying innocent Iraqi lives to our attention on Friday, February the 29th.The University Police should be commended for a quick response. The dean of students issued a statement, "The University of Alabama strongly supports the right to free speech and welcomes expressions of opinion; however, we cannot condone and will not tolerate behavior that mimics a true emergency on our campus."

The students could have been admonished for the inadvertent mimicking of actual emergency that stretched campus police resources. But throwing them in county jail and charging them with misdemeanor is completely contradictory to protecting the first amendment rights of free speech.

I hope better sense will prevail, the first amendment will really be upheld and the administration will drop the misdemeanor charges against the students.

Mirza A. Beg invite comments at

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