BERKELEY, California — University of California chancellor Nicholas B. Dirks has refused to rescind an invitation to controversial comedian Bill Maher to address mid-year commencement. That has not deterred Berkeley’s Muslim Student Association, which organized a massive “town hall” meeting on Thursday to strategize and plan ways to block Maher, whom they describe as an “Islamophobe” and “bigot,” from visiting and speaking.
The goal of the nearly three-hour meeting, observed firsthand by Breitbart News despite efforts to eject observers from the meeting, was not to remove Maher as the school’s commencement speaker, but to lay the groundwork for a much larger firestorm against the administration, which students say has silenced their voices for far too long. “We need to be defending ourselves from the administration,” said one student.
“I don’t want this to be a protest against Bill Maher,” another said. “Let’s make this about the administration.”
Many of the students at Berkeley–the symbolic home of liberal social movements–do not consider Maher to be a liberal, evidently. And many of the Muslim students expressed the view that the UC school system’s president, former Obama administration Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, is a conservative.
“Bill Maher is a symptom of a bigger problem,” one participant said. “The UC Berkeley administration does not care about its ‘colored’ students as a result of their investments,” she continued, implying the administration has been bought by outside interests. A member of the MSA, who was wearing a hijab, told Breitbart News that she was gravely disappointed that Berkeley does not have a Filipino or Palestinian studies department.
Several activists suggested an occupation of the administration. A student named Mohammad, who wore a blue jacket with the word Qatar on it said “we need to be occupying something,” to which another said “this is not Occupy,” referring to the 2011 social protest movement. “We are going to have a clear list of demands.”
On Wednesday, UC Berkeley administrators released a statement that they would not uphold the student petition to block Mr. Maher from speaking, drawing upon the university’s core tenant of fee speech:
The UC Berkeley administration cannot and will not accept this decision, which appears to have been based solely on Mr. Maher’s opinions and beliefs, which he conveyed through constitutionally protected speech.
However, almost everyone present at Thursday evening’s meeting said Maher’s words were not free speech. Rather, the Berkeley students suggested, he was spewing hate speech against Muslims.
A six-point plan of action was drawn up nearly on the large chalkboard in front of the the nearly 100-person group. One of the points highlighted the use of social media, specifically Twitter.
Several hashtags, including #BlocktheBigot and #FreeSpeechNotHateSpeech, made their way around the room. A few hours before the meeting, this tweet was sent out:
— Not Frantz Fanon (@violentfanon) October 30, 2014
One petite African-American female student found a way to compare the Maher controversy at Berkeley to the ongoing racial drama in Ferguson, Missouri.
With great conviction, she said “N*gga’s ‘aint gotta worry about Twitter….N*ggas ‘gotta worry about getting shot at point blank.” She asked to remain anonymous, but told Breitbart News that she was from Oakland.