In a move that will be welcomed by many, the National Union of Students (NUS) yesterday passed a motion condemning the activities of the increasingly controversial group Student Rights.
The decision comes as a result of resolutions passed at seven student union branches across Britain calling for a public condemnation of the group, due to what they see as its gratuitously hostile targeting of Muslim students.
Student Rights, which was launched in 2009 to tackle extremism on university campuses, and has links with the neoconservative Henry Jackson Society, whose associate director Douglas Murray infamously remarked that “conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board”.
Since its establishment, its critics say, Student Rights has attempted to discredit student Islamic societies across the country by publishing sensationalist and misleading claims about extremism on campus. The union at the London School of Economics, for example, argues that a 2013 report published by the group on gender segregation at Muslim student events failed to determine whether segregation was enforced or voluntary. Instead, they say, the report presented sought to present segregation as “part of a wider discriminatory trend” on campuses, resulting in the mainstream media following their lead and associating gender segregation with extremism.
Yesterday’s condemnation could be an important step in isolating the group and delegitimising some of its more aggressive claims. It means that universities across the country will be cautious before engaging with the group and offering them a platform – which, ironically, is exactly what Student Rights was hoping to achieve with Islamic societies.
Hillary Aked, who has been campaigning for such a move through counter-group The Real Student Rights, said: “This vote shows that Student Rights – despite their name – have no right to claim to be defending or representing students who in fact view them as a damaging force, marginalising Muslim students on campus and stigmatising them in the press. It raises big questions about why the Henry Jackson Society wants to monitor British campuses, and why the media gives them a platform. It also shows that students are challenging discourses about ‘extremism on campus’ with mature intersectional campaigns.”
Aaron Kiely, the NUS Black Students’ Officer, also outlined his views on yesterday’s resolution saying: “Student Rights are not a legitimate organisation, with a total lack of transparency and have been the source of many sensationalist stories demonising Muslims. The NUS condemning them will hopefully put an end to this toxic organisation.”
A spokesman for Student Rights said: “This decision by the NUS is very disappointing for us. I don’t think universities will disengage with us – we are committed to continuing our work on tackling all forms of extremism on campus, and will continue to do so despite this latest ruling.”
As someone who has been involved with student Islamic societies over the last few years, I’ve been at the receiving end of Students Rights’ campaigns and seen first-hand the fear-mongering, alienation and mistrust it has created around the Muslim community in Britain.
At a time where almost every aspect of Muslim life – from the niqab to halal meat – is often treated in as sensational a manner as possible, this NUS decision will be welcomed. It will also happily serve to increase their general trust and commitment to democracy and union politics – which are both proving to be potent forces against hate campaigns and Islamophobia on UK campuses.