Cross-posted by Gary Fouse
Amir Abdel Malik Ali at a previous appearance at UCI.
Today, I was caught quite by surprise to learn at the last minute that the Muslim Student Union was having another anti-Israel rally at UC-Irvine. In fact, I just happened to read an e-mail that Imam Amir Abdel Malik Ali was speaking at the flag poles at 12 noon. I was already 10 minutes late! By the time I arrived, Ali was already 20 minutes into a one hour talk. After the speech, I spoke with him for about 20 minutes. (Note) Ted Bleiweis of the Orange County Independent Task Force on Anti-Semitism heard the entire speech and will be reporting on it as well.
Ali's speech was the standard, fiery anti-Israel rant that he always gives, spiced with anti-American rhetoric, calling George Bush an idiot, and referring to certain blacks-and Mahmoud Abbas as "poop-butt Uncle Toms" (I think I have that right.) Near the end, he called upon the Muslim students in the audience from other countries to spread the word back home to boycott all American products. How patriotic!
When his talk concluded at 1pm, I approached and asked if Ali was taking questions. I was told no, but that I could speak with him directly. So I walked over and introduced myself. We then proceeded to have a civil but spirited debate on various points for about 15 minutes as some 30 or so students gathered around to listen in. My question was this; in recent anti-Israel demonstrations in Ft Lauderdale, Los Angeles and other places, some demonstrators had made comments such as,"Go back to the ovens", "you need a bigger oven", "long live Hitler", "Hitler rest in peace". Further that some posters had contained swastikas over the Star of David. I asked him if he would condemn those expressions. He replied in the affirmative except for the swastikas over the Star of David, which he considered a means of equating what the Israels are doing to the Palestinians to what the Nazis did to the Jews. (Later in the discussion, I suggested that he let his audiences know in his speeches that references to Hitler and ovens were wrong.)
I also called his attention to the mock wall that was back at the scene and that last year, it had contained a caricature of Ariel Sharon in the old Nazi style of depicting Jews (Der Stuermer). He said he was not aware of it. (Apparently, it had been on the wall earlier that morning, but had been taken off according to a statement made by a Muslim student to a Jewish professor-who relayed it to me.) I also reminded him of his last appearnce at UCI when he had referred to Obama's Jewish advisors, "Rahm Israel Emanuel, Madelyn Albright and David Axelrod-a Zionist". He stated that they were indeed "Zionists". My point was that he himself had made remarks that could be interpreted as anti-Semitic (which brought up an exchange over who is "Semitic"). He pointed out that he had never made negative remarks about Jews-only "Zionist" Jews, at which point, I noted sarcastically that putting the word "Zionists" in front of it made it all right.
The debate went back and forth about Israel, the US, Middle Eastern Jews who were driven out of Arab countries after 1948, etc. He asked if I supported Israel, I stated that I did and supported Israel's right to exist and defend itself. I pointed out to him that at no time, does he ever talk about peace between the Israelis and Palestinians or a negotiated settlement with two states, which is actually the policy of the US Government. As I asked that question, he nodded in silent acknowledgement.
I also expressed to Ali that, in my opinion, he was poisoning the minds of his young audience, leading them to believe that America was an evil country. When I expressed my love for America, he told me America was an empire, and asked me if I believed that (I said no). There was also an exchange over the meaning of Zionist, which I still consider an imprecise term. When he mentioned that there was a "witch hunt" on-going in the country against people who believed like he did, I reminded him that no one was dragging him off to jail for his statements. He replied that people in America were being arrested and held without charges in some cases for saying something in mosques. He brought up the name of Sami al Arian. I replied that Sami al Arian belonged in jail, and if released, should be deported.
One thing I have learned about Ali is that he believes in conspiracies. He believes that the FBI was involved in the murder of Martin Luther King and "influenced" the Nation of Islam to murder Malcolm X (previous talks). When I raised the question of the almost one million Jews driven from Arab lands after 1948, he passed it off as happening because some unspecified people had arranged to move them to someplace which I believe he was referring to Israel.
As I said, the conversation was civil and the students listened silently. As I left, a young man said to me that if I favored peace why did I support the IDF's actions in Gaza. My reply to him was to imagine if the Cuban Government were lobbing rockets into Miami-what would the US do? His answer?
"We would deserve it."
My response to that was simply if that is what he believed, there was no point for further discussion.
So that was pretty much it as I recall the conversation. Depending on your point of view and bias, you might have different opinions on who carried the day and made the best points. Ali, though he believes in some far-out conspiracies, is a formidable adversary. In our final exchange, he told me that the government was destroying America, at which time I stated that I agreed with him on that point, but for entirely different reasons. With that, I told him I had to teach a class and I looked forward to our next encounter. Whether anyone else stepped in to challenge him, I don't know.