The Muslim Students Association of UC Berkeley (MSA UCB) is one of the more-than-150 affiliated campus chapters of the national MSA, and is alternately known as the Muslim Student Union of Berkeley and the Islamic Study Circle of Berkeley. Established “primarily to bring together Muslims of diverse backgrounds and cultures under one unified, organized, proactive community,” MSA UCB seeks to “please Allah and to obey Him and His Prophet”; educate non-Muslims “about the misconceptions regarding Islam and the Islamic way of life”; “educate campus authorities on how to better serve the needs of the Muslim community”; “encourage both Muslims and non-Muslims to evolve intellectually, physically, and spiritually during their tenure at UC Berkeley”; and “develop spirituality through halaqas [religious gatherings for the purpose of theological instruction], classes, and other activities.”
In practice, MSA UCB’s interests extend well beyond issues related to education and spiritual growth. The organization strongly encourages its members to become activists for various social and political causes important to the Muslim community. MSA UCB’s constitution explicitly states that one of its chief objectives is to “develop activism of Muslims on campus and in the community.” This activism is typically focused on efforts to counteract the “constant harassment and humiliation” which MSA UCB says Muslims have been forced to endure in the post-9/11 era.
In his 2000 publication, Wahhabism: A Critical Essay, UC Berkeley faculty member Hamid Algar acknowledged MSA’s historical ties to Wahhabism, Saudi Arabia, the Muslim World League, and other “radical Islamist organizations, including the Muslim Brotherhood and Jamaati Islam.”
In April 2000, MSA UCB sponsored a program titled “Continued Resistance in Palestine,” focusing on alleged human-rights violations by the Israeli government.
On October 23, 2001 (some six weeks after 9/11), MSA UCB held a workshop (run by Hatem Bazian) to explain the meaning of the term “jihad.” The organization’s vice president, Mohammad Naaman, lamented that the media were, for the most part, defining the term inaccurately. “It really does not mean killing innocent people, it does not mean killing people in any way,” he said.
MSA UCB has a history of hostility toward campus speakers who attempt to expose the historically violent manifestations of jihad or the dangers of radical Islam. One such speaker was the renowned Islam scholar Daniel Pipes, whom Berkeley’s Israel Action Committee and Berkeley Hillel jointly invited to address the university’s student body on February 10, 2004. Prior to Dr. Pipes’ appearance, MSA UCB posted an announcement on the leftist website SFIndyMedia.org, calling Pipes a “Zionist” and exhorting MSA members to join forces and disrupt Pipes’ lecture.
On the day of Pipes’ speech to an audience of approximately 700 Berkeley students, some 50 to 70 members of MSA UCB teamed up with the Berkeley chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine in an effort to silence Pipes. In direct violation of instructions posted outside the lecture hall stating that no verbal or visual forms of disruption would be permitted during the speech, these students sat together and repeatedly shouted derogatory slogans at Pipes, calling him a “racist” and a “Zionist.”
Moreover, the MSA UCB contingent booed when Pipes mentioned the need to support moderate Muslims rather than those who, like the 9/11 hijackers, subscribe to militant Islam; when he brought up the need to improve the status of women in Islamic countries; when he observed that the Palestinians’ “cult of death” was a major obstacle to peace in the Middle East; when he mentioned Middle East Studies professors who had been arrested on terrorism charges; and when he discussed the need to combat Islamic terrorism. Some of the hecklers were so disruptive, that university police had to eject them from the auditorium. When the question-and-answer period commenced, the remaining MSA UCB students all stood up and walked out of the lecture hall together, again calling Pipes a “racist” and a “Zionist.”
Also in February 2004, MSA UCB hosted the sixth annual MSA West Conference. The featured speaker for this event was the notoriously anti-Semitic Abdel Malik-Ali, who angrily denounced “the Zionist Jews” and asserted that “neo-cons are all Zionist Jews.” After reading aloud a newspaper article about Jewish leaders who feared that the Iraq War might lead to an anti-Semitic backlash, he said: “Let the backlash begin.”
In an October 19, 2004 event sponsored by MSA UCB, anti-Israel activist Hedy Epstein was the featured speaker. Without making a single mention of Palestinian terrorism, Epstein depicted Israel’s construction of a separation barrier in the West Bank not as an anti-terrorism security measure, but rather as a malicious undertaking intended only to harm, inconvenience, and humiliate the Palestinians. While emphasizing that she was “totally opposed to suicide bombing,” Epstein said she could well “understand why somebody might do that … [w]hen everything has been taken away from them” by Israel.
During the week of October 22-26, 2007, the David Horowitz Freedom Center’s Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week (IFAW) activities — whose aim was to educate students about the grave threat that radical Islam posed to the world — were held at Berkeley and 113 other college campuses across the United States. Derisively characterizing this event as “Islamo-Fascist Week,” MSA UCB organized a counter-demonstration titled “Peace Not Prejudice Week,” whose mission was “to foster the ideals of peace, diversity, and unity within the student body of our esteemed educational institution” — the implication being that IFAW sought to promote the antitheses of those ideals. “Islamo-Fascist Week represents ignorance and indirect oppression of American Muslims,” said MSA UCB member Saman Khalid. “It’s against Islam … It’s offensive not just to Muslim students but to everybody.”_
“Peace Not Prejudice Week” opened with a screening and discussion of the film Ghosts of Abu Ghraib, which depicted American military personnel as barbarians eager to brutalize defenseless Muslims for sport. According to film reviewer Sam Graham, the film suggests “that what went on at Abu Ghraib was less an aberration than a manifestation of defined government policy.” The week’s events concluded with a “peace rally” featuring Basim Elkarra of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and Rabbi Michael Lerner of Tikkun_.
Meanwhile, IFAW events at Berkeley proceeded as scheduled. The most prominent featured speaker was Nonie Darwish, the Palestinian-born author of Now they Call Me Infidel; Why I Renounced Jihad for America, Israel and the War on Terror. Her appearance was protested by MSA UCB, World Can’t Wait, and Students for Justice in Palestine. When Darwish told the Berkeley audience about the negative elements of Islam — most notably its degradation of women — that had led her to renounce the faith and become a Christian, MSA USB members repeatedly interrupted her. Hecklers called her a “racist” and a “fascist.” At some points, the disruptions were so loud that Darwish could not speak; campus police had to remove a number of the more unruly protesters from the auditorium.
In October 2009, MSA UCB co-sponsored a conference titled “Tortured Justice: Why the Torture Memos Were Illegal,” examining the Bush administration’s Office of Legal Counsel’s memos which, according to the presenters, “attempted to legally justify the torture of military detainees in violation of both domestic and international law” — a reference to enhanced-interrogation techniques such as waterboarding. Other co-sponsors of this event included the Berkeley Law Queer Caucus, the Boalt Hall Committee for Human Rights, the Boalt Muslim Students Association, the La Raza Law Students Association, Law Students for Justice in Palestine, the National Lawyers Guild‘s Boalt Chapter, the Native American Law Students Association, the Philipino American Law Society, the South Asian Law Students Association, Students for Environmental and Economic Justice, and the Women of Color Collective.