Time to mobilise and stop the witch hunt of Muslim students and pro-Palestine activists, argues law student Nadia Chan
The group 'Student Rights' claims to tackle “extremism” on campus. But, contrary to what the name suggests, it is in no way representative of students and their rights.
This week a new initiative to counter ‘Student Rights’, instigated and supported by students and known aptly as ‘Real Student Rights’ campaign, has been launched. I am thrilled to be a part of it.
Our petition states that ‘we are students, recent graduates, university employees and members of the public who believe in freedom of speech’.
Targeting Muslim activists
‘Student Rights’ has a record of targeting politically active Muslim students and pro-Palestinian activists. Its website states that the group has been set up to protect ‘vulnerable students on campus from increasing political extremism’, but they have targeted speakers such as critical Israeli professor Ilan Pappe.
Student Rights does not disclose the exact nature of its relationship with the neoconservative think tank the Henry Jackson Society - although they share an office and Alan Mendoza, the HJS Executive Director, sits on their advisory board, leaving little room for doubt. The petition notes that senior staff at Henry Jackson Society have made Islamophobic statements ‘prompting at least one MP to quit the advisory board of both the Henry Jackson Society and Student Rights’.
In recent years students unions have hassled pro-Palestine activists due to themselves being pressurised by Student Rights, which aims to prevent certain campus activities taking place by cynically branding them ‘extremist’. The organisation lobbies Student Unions and universities to cancel events and ban speakers – mostly Muslim speakers - often engaged in civil liberties campaigns or organising events on issues such as Guantanamo Bay.
Real Student Rights
Despite launching in the summer holidays the Real Student Rights petition already has over 300 signatures. The campaign’s objectives include discrediting ‘Student Rights’ in the eyes of the media and student unions by showing how many actual students oppose them and highlighting their shady funding situation and real agenda.
It aims to bring together students across the country who have been persecuted on their individual campuses. This is part of a wider fightback against Islamophobia in the press, especially the demonisation of Muslim students and the attempts to marginalise those campaigning for Palestinian human rights.
Comments on the petition give an insight into some of the concerns students have. Mohamed Harrath from the London School of Economic writes 'This organisation poses a threat to students on campuses and is only interested in dividing, stigmatising and demonising students, particularly those of the Muslim faith, who are already targeted by hatred from far-right extremists'. Puvani Reddy from Luton put it simply: 'I am a student and "Student Rights" does NOT represent me or my views.'
It is crucial that Students' Unions and universities refuse to attack their own students at the behest of a right-wing front group. I am concerned about the future for political activity on campus for university students in the UK. We must resist campaigns that seek to narrow the space for political debate on critical issues like Palestine and Guantanamo.
‘Student Rights’ seek to do just this by masquerading as a legitimate voice or protector of students while they smear students in the press and bully universities into harassing their own students. Universities have always been at the heart of radical movements and must remain so.
The Real Student Rights campaign wants to contribute towards a less divisive, more tolerant and more open atmosphere on campuses which will foster political engagement. ‘Student Rights’ must end its witch hunt of Muslim and pro-Palestine students.
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