Tim Harvey is Politics editor for Sonder and a second year English Literature student at The University of Manchester. He writes poetry and political analysis, with a focus on Western foreign policy and the Middle East.
The Ghettoization of the NUS
Weeks ago, in response to the Brussels attacks, social media was awash with defenses of the Islamic Community, with many rightfully pointing out the distinction between terrorists and the non-violent mainstream. In accordance with the fashion of simplistic rhetoric, which usually engenders online responses to major news stories, there were memes backed by pictures of Auschwitz, conveying the eerie reminder that a certain terrible event occurred when one group was blamed for all the troubles of the nation.
One day, hopefully, we may all mature and realise that not everything is comparable to the Holocaust. Those fulminating against the supposed torrent of blame aimed at Muslims-at-large were exacting something of a narcissistic wail; preaching the beauty of their ostensibly unique insight to a group of people who largely mirrored their sentiments. The fact is that, despite all our problems, we are a remarkably tolerant nation concerning non-autochthonous faiths and groups.
This narcissistic wailing is the defining quality of the National Union of Students (NUS), which has elected Malia Bouattia as its new president. Why were there no Holocaust memes in response to the election of a woman who argued that the NUS should not commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day because it isn’t ‘inclusive’, described the University of Birmingham as a ‘Zionist outpost’, and voted against a motion to condemn ISIS and show solidarity with the Kurdish Peshmerga? (Apart, of course, from the fact that nobody could care less about the overgrown children who run the NUS).
Miss Bouattia has insisted that her anti-Zionist stance is politics- and not faith-based, which begs the question of why she welcomed the endorsement of her candidacy by the Muslim Public Affairs Committee (MPACUK), a group which was itself banned by the NUS in 2004 for its worrying reproductions of material posted on neo-Nazi and Holocaust denying websites. She has dismissed the value of peace talks between Israel and Palestine as “essentially the strengthening of the colonial project”, recommending instead a “solidarity” with Palestinian “resistance groups” and the prospect of the student body “tak[ing] orders” from them. This is an unequivocal endorsement of violence in an area of the world which has been ravaged by it for decades, accompanied by a call to action for the British student body. What kind of action would this be, if we were to “take orders” from terrorist groups such as Hamas? The suggestion is as ludicrous as it is concerning.
The obsession of the NUS with the issue of Israel/Palestine is a curious one, considering they are supposed to be representing the interests of students in this country, which could not be much further removed from the tragedy of perpetual violence in Gaza and the West Bank, over which they are certainly going to have no influence. I’m sure, for instance, that Benjamin Netanyahu was not trembling in the wake of Miss Bouattia’s election victory, although some terrorists’ ears may have pricked up at the thought of being able to command a portion of the British student body. If she is so determined to advocate violence against Israel (in the midst of which, regardless of your views on the state, one must accept that many innocent Israelis are killed), why would she not encourage violent action in this country if she thought it could help to achieve her aim? Certainly, a recommendation to “take orders” from groups such as Hamas, for whom Palestinian lives are mere cannon fodder in attempts to weaken Israel’s alliance with the West, seems a dangerous step towards such violence.
It is hard to believe that the new president’s anti-Israel stance is not faith-based, considering her inability to answer a question put forward by Jon Snow in an interview for Channel 4, concerning why she supports boycotts of Israel for human rights violations, but has not taken on Saudi Arabia, a far more autocratic and oppressive state. She is a mere strand of the same selective approach to morality adopted by our government against which she rails so fervently for supporting Israel; an approach which has seen us commit to useless and unnecessary bombing campaigns across Syria and Iraq, and which daily sees British weapons used by the Saudis against Yemeni civilians. If her dislike of Israel was purely founded upon its persecution of Palestinian Muslims, and not a prejudice against Jews, she may focus more on these issues, for which many thousands of Muslims suffer.
What’s more, her attitude is one which will inevitably lead to a conflation of Islam and violence in public understanding – the very danger of which the aforementioned Holocaust memes were warning. This fact was observed by Maajid Nawaz, head of the Quilliam think tank, who wrote in the Jewish Chronicle that this sends the country a message of:
‘don’t you know? We Muslims are angry. We are so angry, in fact, that we wish to enslave indigenous Yazidi women for sex, bury adulterers neck-deep in the ground and stone them to death, while throwing gays off tall buildings and burning our enemies alive. All because… Israel.’
By sending this message, the far-left extremism of the NUS will only give further ammunition to the rise of far-right groups in Britain.
Another curious phrase used by Miss Bouattia was ‘internalised anti-blackness’, by which, presumably, she means racism which has no outward expression and thus cannot actually be shown to exist – in other words, a ‘thought crime’. By preaching against ‘thought crimes’, which are defined by anyone other than the person supposedly thinking them, she is both symptomatic and an instigator of the ghettoization of the NUS. It has become an organisation in which only one form of radical, specific, yet contradictory expressions of political opinion are acceptable. It is immensely intolerant of anyone who does not share these views, opting to exclude these people in the name of ‘safe spaces’, rather than taking on their opponents with reasoned debate. The election of Malia Bouattia is a pertinent example of the failure of UK students to any longer think for themselves, and recognise that the form of politics which she represents is dangerous and immensely radical. It’s time to dissociate ourselves from these ridiculous and infantile individuals, and bring back proper debate to university life, where it should be thriving.