Interviews

Campus Controversy at U.C. Irvine

This is a partial transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," June 19, 2004 that has been edited for clarity.

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BILL O'REILLY HOST:  In the "Factor Follow Up" segment tonight, the dean of students at the University of California-Irvine held an emergency meeting after we reported that some Muslim students wanted to wear a sash, apparently honoring Hamas at tomorrow's graduation ceremony.  Dean Sally Peterson (search) also told "The Los Angeles Times" that she had sent us a statement about the situation.  We received no such statement and frankly, we believe the administration is not being up front about the controversy.  So a Factor producer showed up on campus today. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  My family, my friend's family, I'm sure people in the audience have been affected by terrorism.  I know for sure that Hamas has affected certain people, and for them to wear it proudly is a slap in the face. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  They've outright supported Hamas Hezbollah like at their at their speeches, and calling -- and then calling Usama bin Laden (search) and members of Al Qaeda (search) freedom fighters.  They said, they're not terrorists, they're freedom fighters. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O'REILLY:  Two of the students on campus who are upset.  Joining us now from Irvine is Associated Press Mark Levine, who teaches Middle Eastern history at U.C. Irvine. 

So we've got a problem here, because Jewish students -- and you're a Jewish-American, some Jewish students -- most Jewish students, feel that this is absolutely an outrage at the graduation, being sympathetic for Hamas.  Now I don't want to get involved in a micro on this, but we've done the history of these Muslim students and there is no question that they brought in speakers who are anti-Zionist and pro-al Qaeda.  What say you, Professor? 

MARK LEVINE:  Well, there are several issues here.  The first issue really is the context.  I think the context, when Muslim students want to wear a sash that says -- that has the Shahada (ph), testifying to the faith, to make an assumption, which I think you have done and which someone on your show last night did, that wearing that means you support terrorism and support Hamas, is basically like saying 1.4 billion Muslims, all the Muslims in the world and Islam itself is a terrorist religion.  It's like saying... 

O'REILLY:  All right.  Let me stop you here.  I want to deal with facts here.  All right? 

LEVINE:  Well, this is...

O'REILLY:  Well, the Jewish organization got a hold of one of these arm bands and they had it analyzed.  And they say that the calligraphy on the arm band is the same that is used on the Hamas Web site.  Do you dispute that? 

LEVINE:  First of all, all I've seen is a sash, a stole, that you had mentioned, that was pictured in the "Orange County Register." I've not seen an arm band.  I have seen -- I've been  to enough Hamas demonstrations, covering them.  I've been to demonstrations in Baghdad (search) where people were chanting "death to Jews." So I know exactly the kinds of things that are worn when people are trying to engage in this kind of rhetoric, Palestinians or other Muslims. 

This stole in no way resembles that. 

O'REILLY:  All right, so you feel...

LEVINE:  And the fact that some Muslims -- let me just finish, the fact that some Muslims use this declaration of faith to mean something negative or even to endorse violence cannot be used to say that all Muslims use this to mean violence.  It's like saying that any Jew who use the Shama (ph), "here o Israel, the lord is God, the lord is one," just because some Jews engage in violence against Arabs or Palestinians, it's like saying Judaism is...

O'REILLY:  But there are certain symbols that stand for certain things.  But I'll get to that in a moment.  So you believe that these sashes that some Muslims students are going to wear, and these are all Muslim activists, by the way, are signifying what, their faith in Islam, their faith in Allah? 

LEVINE:  Well, first of all, I haven't spoken to any of the students, so I cannot speak for them.  What I can say -- here's way think the biggest problem is.  Since I haven't spoken to them, and to my knowledge, there is absolutely no evidence that any of them is wearing this in any way as a symbol for support for terrorism.  And in fact, the chancellor -- they spoke with the chancellor and other university officials, and all of them said very adamantly this is not what it's about.  We are doing this to signify our belief in God. 

O'REILLY:  Yes, but they can say anything they want. 

LEVINE:  Well, of course, but the point is...

O'REILLY:  I mean, their track record is one of pro-terrorism and anti-Zionism. 

LEVINE:  ... that you want.

O'REILLY:  But it's a bigger issue, though.  If -- look, I've got you both ways, if they're lying and they're trying to glorify Hamas and just trying to con you, they're bad guys, and if they're saying, well, I want to wear this to honor Islam, that's a separation of church and state issue.  If you had somebody show up and say "Jesus is lord" on a sash, you can't wear that at a public school graduation.  You're a public school. 

LEVINE:  You know what?  What you're talking about sounds like we're living in France and not like the United States.  In France, you can't wear very obvious religious symbols.  As far as I know in the United States of America, you can wear religious symbols in school... 

O'REILLY:  That would be challenged by...

LEVINE:  ... symbols of faith.

O'REILLY:  That would be challenged by the ACLU in a heartbeat.  Not I -- see, I don't have any problem myself...

LEVINE:  ... I'm not a law professor, so I can't address those issues. 

O'REILLY:  I don't have a problem myself with wearing a cross or a Star of David or a star and crescent.  No.  But to make a statement at a graduation, number one, inappropriate, number two, offensive to Jewish students and others... 

LEVINE:  But why is it offensive? 

O'REILLY:  Because they feel that you're glorifying terrorism because you have in the past. 

LEVINE:  Exactly, you have just answered the question.  They feel.  Now...

 O'REILLY:  Because you have in the past, it's based on something. 

LEVINE:  Now just because they feel something doesn't mean that it's necessarily accurate... 

O'REILLY:  But it's based on something. 

LEVINE:  If you'll let me finish, sir.  By assuming -- it's not based on anything. 

O'REILLY:  Sure it is.  It's based on bad behavior. 

LEVINE:  I have seen...

O'REILLY:  It's based on the Muslims -- all of these people were involved in...

LEVINE:  I have never heard a Muslim student -- I know...

O'REILLY:  You just heard the two guys we had on.  You just heard them.  They're guys on your campus. 

LEVINE:  I've heard students at school claim things.  I've seen -- let me put it this way, OK?  I have many problems with the Muslim Students Union, with the Jewish Student -- various Jewish student unions.  Most of the students don't come to me anymore, Muslim and Jewish students, because they know when they come to me and they try to have me take a certain side or prove a certain point, I'm usually going to wind up spending the time trying to educate them and show them that there are other perspectives.  So what I find most ironic is that the faculty, there's at least three, four or five faculty members who are very knowledgeable about Islam, no one in the media has contacted us.  The students don't bother talking to us.  The outside people who advise the students on all sides go out of their way to avoid us or at least accuse us... 

O'REILLY:  Well, I want to hear what you have to say.  But I've got one more very specific question for you. 

LEVINE:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

O'REILLY:  I've got a specific question.  Say I show up at U.C. Irvine graduation, I'm a student.  I've got a swastika on my arm.  And you, rightly so, go, hey, you're not wearing that swastika, it's offensive.  It symbolizes evil and it's totally inappropriate.  I say that's not really what you think it is, Professor, that's a Native American sign, all right, for nature.  As you know, that's the derivative of the swastika.  This is the game you're playing, and I think you're getting con... 

LEVINE:  How do you know that?  (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

O'REILLY:  I'll give you the last word -- because we've researched it.

LEVINE:  ... you're equating...

O'REILLY:  No, we know who these people are.

LEVINE:  ... if it was a Native American who was wearing swastika, first of all, as opposed to a white person, there obviously had to be a...

O'REILLY:  No, no, it would be me and I'd be giving you the big con to get the swastika up there. 

LEVINE:  Here's what would have to happen, all right, what should have happened.  What should have happened, all right, when the Jewish students or any Jewish organizations found out that they were wearing a sash, if they found it offensive or if they were troubled or if they  mistrusted, all right, the Muslim students because of the past controversy, and again, I've been critical of all the groups...

O'REILLY:  All right, all right, you've got 15 seconds.  Make your point. 

LEVINE:  Wait.  Let me just finish answering your question.

O'REILLY:  You've got 15 second, go.

LEVINE:  Right.  What should have happened is that the students should have come together and when the Muslim students said that this is a statement of our faith and we do not mean in any way that it's terrorist, you have to take them at their word for it because if you don't... 

O'REILLY:  All right, I don't have to, but...

LEVINE:  ... then there's absolutely no way to have any conversation and you're accusing all Muslims of being terrorists. 

O'REILLY:  All right, Professor, we appreciate... 

LEVINE:  And that doesn't lead to any kind of harmony or any kind of working together.  Thank you. 

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