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This trend continued last Saturday, when NUS Black Students’ Officer Malia Bouattia spoke at an event organised by Middle East Monitor (MEMO) titled ‘Targeting Dissent: Israel’s Crackdown on Arab Citizens’.
Director Daud Abdullah was criticised by the British government in 2009 for signing a declaration which praised “the victory that Allah accomplished by means of our brothers the mujahidin, our defiant and steadfast kinsfolk in Gaza”.
Meanwhile, MEMO’s senior editor, Ibrahim Hewitt, was removed from an Oxfam event after comments referring to the “so-called Holocaust” and claims homosexuals would suffer “severe punishments” in an Islamic state for their “great sin” were revealed.
During her talk Bouattia linked the Palestinian cause to the campaign against Prevent in the UK, suggesting counter-terrorism policy was designed to “stifle activism and opposition”; part of a “trend among ‘Western’ so-called democratic states to clamp down on protest and dissent”.
She argued Prevent was part of this process and was aimed at “suppressing activism in solidarity with the resistance”.
During her speech Bouattia also made the divisive claim that:“Muslims in the UK find themselves in a situation where their democratic freedoms have been comprehensively stripped and whereby our religious and political motivations are rendered aberrant and ‘extreme’”.
This sort of criticism is not only misleading, but also risks scaring students into believing they could be targeted for engaging in democratic political activism or adhering to certain religious practices.
More worrying though was Bouattia’s use of the phrase “so-called terrorism”, her complaint “Palestinian resistance is derided as terrorism”, and her derision of the threat posed by “invisible ‘terrorists’” – all of which downplays the very real threat faced from Islamist militants and risks legitimising violence.
This follows the release of a handbook by the NUS Welfare Black Students’ Campaigns last December which blamed the government for terrorism, and described the murder of Lee Rigby “as ‘revenge’ for British military intervention in Muslim lands”.
Yet another example of students teaming up with extreme organisations to spread misinformation about Prevent, this speech also suggests some senior NUS officials simply don’t believe Islamist terrorism is a concern, and are instead intent on undermining efforts to challenge the problem.
Until this changes, the NUS will simply have no credibility on the issue – and we would urge the organisation’s leadership to challenge Bouattia and others within the group if it is to be taken seriously in future.