City Life: 'Irvine 11' went too far but so did prosecutor

At the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, there are signs scattered throughout the venue reading, "Patrons disrupting the performance for others will be subject to removal from the theater."

Many other venues throughout the region offer similar warnings. Get too loud and you are kicked out and not allowed to return.

At UC Irvine, though, disruption gets you a national platform for your pet cause.

Last week, 10 of the so-called "Irvine 11" were each convicted of conspiring to and then disrupting the Feb. 8, 2010, speech of Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren. Each was sentenced to three years of probation, 56 hours of community service and fines.

The spotlight on the case shone from day one because the students were immediately labeled "Muslim" students instead of what they really are.

Are the students Muslim? Yes.

Did being Muslim drive them to disrupt Oren's presentation? No.

Is this a matter of a Constitutional right to free speech by the students or Oren? No.

What drove the students to organize and execute a plan to stop Oren in his tracks was this: They're rude, insensitive people. They are not heroes or martyrs. They are uncivilized, obnoxious, spoiled, ungrateful and immature, and they should have been treated accordingly.

The boorish behavior of the "11" is not unique to Muslims. There are obnoxious Jews, Christians and Buddhists. There are also obnoxious atheists.

Religion had nothing to do with the student's behavior during Oren's speech — rudeness is a personality flaw, not a religious calling. Unfortunately, the district attorney's failure to understand a basic element of basic human nature caused the department to prosecute as though they were on trial for murder.

You see, it is not human nature for us to want to understand another person's point of view. Oh, sure, there are a few folks who are good listeners — they're called psychologists. But the rest of us spend most of our time trying to get people to understand our own point of view.

We do far more talking than listening, and if you need proof, look no further than the talk show taking place in Costa Mesa between the local union leadership and the City Council majority.

Our inability to listen and understand is pervasive. In nearly every aspect of American society, we are far too busy telling people what we think instead of asking others what they think. And when we do ask, we're usually waiting for them to finish so we can tell them what we think.

Putting these brats on probation and sentencing them to community service is a waste of time and certainly not a deterrent. Does anyone really think that these kids are going to come out of probation and community service reformed? Of course not. They're rude now, and they will probably be rude the rest of their lives.

So, here is how the Irvine 11 case should have been handled. Instead of arresting them for disrupting the presentation, they should have been marched in front of the appropriate school dean who should have said this: "What you did was wrong. As your punishment, I want each of you to create a 15-minute presentation in 30 days on any subject you want. Anything at all. You can talk about global warming, sushi or why the Angels can't find a catcher who can hit a baseball. Once your speech is done, we will return to the auditorium where you will each present your topic in front of Israeli Ambassador Oren. Any questions?"

STEVE SMITH is a Costa Mesa resident and a freelance writer. Send story ideas to

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