Student protesters wrongly attacked at University of New Mexico

By Heather Scroering

A peaceful protest that turned violent went viral Feb. 23 after student demonstrators were wrongfully attacked by audience members at a pro-Israeli lecture at the University of New Mexico. The video, posted on YouTube after the uproar, shows students using a popular Occupy Wall Street tactic called the “human microphone” approximately 30 minutes into lecturer Nonie Darwish’s speech. They shouted, “Mic check! Nonie Darwish speaks for Israeli apartheid and genocide at the hands of the [Israel Defense Forces]!”

Stirred by the disruption, people from the crowd began swarming around the students before grabbing, shoving, ripping things from their hands and cursing at them.

In the last few seconds, a voice assumed to be the videographer says, “Sir, you don’t have a right to touch my property,” twice before a hand covers the camera lens. A male voice says, “Get the f–k out.”

Often times we see individuals putting their personal feelings first and blatantly disrespecting others’ First Amendment rights. I’m not shocked by the actions of the crowd members. Quite frankly, I’m a little embarrassed.

These weren’t heated students attacking other fervent students for their beliefs. The crowd was made up of individuals who appeared to be well out of college, perhaps in their 50s and 60s.

While I’m not in sympathy with the pro-Israeli group’s views, I do think a silent protest would have been more polite. My upbringing taught me to never interrupt someone while he or she is speaking, but that is not to say that I blame these brave students for being vocal. I’m proud of them for being headstrong and thinking outside of themselves, especially considering we come from a generation that demonstrates complacency and entitlement.

These students should be an example of the importance of being vocal. It gets a rise out of people. If your goal is to be heard, you want to piss people off. It’ll get those angered individuals thinking and talking about you.

Darwish’s statements made just before the interruption turned out to be ironic. Regarding religious rights and behavior, she said, “You can eat whatever you want, you can pray as many times as you want, you can behave in a certain way, but you cannot violate other people.”

It is interesting that these people who were eating up Darwish’s words completely went against what she said minutes later by harassing, violating and even physically assaulting students. Darwish also mentioned in her speech the issue of women being stoned in Iran minutes before a man from the audience leapt over a chair to attack a female protester. The crowd started to applaud as Darwish began to speak again, as if they had just won some battle rather than made asses of themselves by attacking a group of overzealous college kids who were exercising their right to free speech.

We live in a very polarized country. For this reason, it is absolutely imperative to have conversations about sensitive subjects like the Arab-Israeli conflict and learn to recognize differing perspectives and react to them without violence.

We see violence resulting from disagreements everywhere, like the Jewish-American activist who was hospitalized after disrupting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress last May or the three Occupy protesters in Atlanta who, in November, violated their own protest guidelines by attacking police.

A disagreement of opinion never merits an attack. Not only is it wrong, it’s disappointing. In moments like this, I cannot be proud of a nation whose voters are vastly uninformed and do not understand the First Amendment.