The NUS and Black History Month

This post was prompted by a recent piece on the excellent Student Rights blog.  It was revealed that the latest NUS Black History Month Guide heaped praise on Hamas-sympathiser Azad Ali – the same Azad Ali who has openly stated: “democracy, if it means that, you know, at the expense of not implementing the Sharia, of course no one agrees with that”.  Although genuine anti-fascists ought to condemn his views he is also of course the Vice Chair of UAF.

Although some quite unobjectionable people are listed in the NUS publication – Doreen Lawrence for example – the overall pattern of selection reveals a very marked and tendentious political agenda.  Why include the Palestinian performance poet and activist Rafeef Ziadah over, for example, Malorie Blackman OBE. Children’s Laureate for 2013-15. (Blackman uses her popular  YA fiction to explore racism and prejudice in an effective and original way.)  It’s striking that the one example of injustice around the world the compilers of this publication choose to single out is the Israel/Palestine situation.

• Promote international campaigns that tackle injustice. Host panel discussions  on the illegal occupation of Palestine. The Campaign and our affiliated organisations such as War on Want and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign can help provide materials.

Palestine and cognate terms feature nine times in the document – but there is not one mention of Darfur, Congo or Syria.

Student Rights identifies the NUS guide’s misplaced enthusiasm for the Islamic Human Rights Commission.  Its Director of Research, Arzu Merali, is one of many dubious choices in a section titled ‘Black British Activists and Revolutionaries’. Here’s an extract from an article she wrote about ‘real human rights’.

UNHCR has already confirmed that 80% of the world’s refugees are Muslims, yet (or perhaps because of this) Europe’s asylum regime is catastrophically diminishing the rights of refugees to stay within its borders despite falling within established international legal criteria. Just as these rights disappear, new ones which feed into age old anti-Muslim paranoia and stereotype appear. New types of refugees in particular Asian women (aka Muslim) fleeing abusive husbands and homosexuals from homophobic (aka Muslim) countries are currently being integrated into the definition of refugee for the purposes of human rights law, regional, national and international.

She seems to be implying that women fleeing abuse and LGBT people fleeing persecution, or worse, are not worthy to be considered refugees.  She makes no secret of her own homophobia:

The European Muslim response to this has been just that. A response. It’s either a, “Yes we need to meet the challenge of homophobia within our community,” (I have heard these exact words from a conference platform by a hijab-ed and highly respected muslimah) or the flyer-favourite, ‘homosexuality is a disease in Islam, therefore we reject, reject, reject…’ (since when did Allah s.w.t. punish someone for a disease rather than a deviation?). Living in the illusion that we alone need to get ourselves sorted out, as the rest (here meaning the west) have their own house in order (whether we like all or some or none of its facets) has reduced us to particularists or worse still Muslim nationalists.

Although her views are hedged around with some evasion, she appears to scorn those of her co-religionists who oppose bigotry and to condone the punishment of homosexuality because it is a ‘deviation’.

Here she is again, apparently acknowledging that women’s rights, human rights, free speech and homosexuality do not sit easily with her own brand of Islam, and implying that Muslims who do broadly go along with liberal values are naive sell outs.

You told us that the rules of the game had changed, and that as Muslims we must accept women’s rights, human rights, free speech, homosexuality and deny any type of political Islam like khilafah or vali-e-faqih as inimical to democracy and modernity and all of the above.  We should accept the existence of Israel and be silent to any of its (inherent) brutality.  In a desperate bid for survival, or maybe just out of stupidity, our civil society capitulated in grati-servitude, yet it wasn’t enough.

Such views are perhaps shared by the authors of the NUS publication – it certainly ignored more liberal Muslim figures such as Fiyaz Mughal – although as an active campaigner against Islamophobia he’d seem like a good candidate for inclusion – or perhaps Sara Khan of Inspire, which works to promote the rights of British Muslim women. Leyla Hussein, the anti-FGM campaigner, would have been another possible candidate for the list. But the compilers preferred Salma Yaqoob and  Sofia Ahmed – here’s a representative sample of Ahmed’s views from 5Pillarz.

When I tried to offer my comments and criticisms of  Tehmina’s piece on the Facebook Page for BMSD, those great bastions of all things “liberal” and “democratic” chose to censor me and curb my fundamental right of freedom of speech by removing my comments and blocking me from the page within minutes of my first post. Kazi also went on to personally contact at least one news outlet in order to ask them not to print anything I submit.

I am not surprised by Tehmina’s tactics and attempts at shutting down debate. Ordinary Muslims who may have alternative views have been progressively marginalised and shouted down by these purveyors of a particular brand of Islam tinged with a Eurocentric fundamentalism.

But let’s return to the anti-democratic Hamas sympathiser Azad Ali and the homophobe Arzu Merali. Would the NUS tolerate, let alone promote, a right wing activist who was as ambivalent towards democracy as Ali?

It is true that the NUS Black History Month pamphlet also singles out LGBT activists for praise. But would the NUS promote a gay rights activist who was also an anti-Muslim bigot, perhaps someone who thought Islam was some kind of unpleasant ‘deviation’? I don’t think so.