Politics | Campaign launched against ‘witch-hunt’ of Muslim students by ‘Student Rights’ group

A student campaign has been launched against ‘Student Rights,’ a UK-based group that has attracted criticism for its failure to speak up for Muslim students' rights as well as controversy over its funding and associations.

New in Ceasefire, Politics - Posted on Saturday, November 30, 2013 19:34 - 23 Comments

By

Hemmoraghing support - huff po cropped

Students have launched a campaign against the pressure group ‘Student Rights’, which appears to have little or no connection to actual students – but does appear to be connected to a right wing think tank. In the wake of the severe rise in anti-Muslim bigotry this year and with the second annual Islamophobia Awareness Month falling this November, the new counter-campaign, ‘Real Student Rights’, aims to challenge the dog whistle politics of Student Rights, which serves only to fuel the ever-more entrenched Islamophobia in Britain today.

Although only a two-man operation, Student Rights has been instrumental in feeding sensationalist stories of alleged ‘extremism on campus’ to the mainstream media. Its most recent report ‘Unequal Opportunity: gender segregation on UK campuses’, focused exclusively on Islamic Societies – plus one externally organised event which constituted the report’s completely non-representative ‘case study’ – and described the practice of seating men and women separately as ‘discriminatory’.

Though Student Rights has since claimed to ‘have no problem with students choosing to self-segregate’, in the vast majority of cases its report paid no attention to whether women were making their own choices in the matter. And the organisation last week attacked new guidance from Universities UK, accusing it of excusing gender discrimination. In fact, what it did was to note the issues, noting that provided one group are not subject to ‘less favourable treatment’, segregation of the audience by gender does not necessarily amount to discrimination or contravene the Equality Act 2010.

‘Witch hunt’

Student Rights’ report was amateurish and inflammatory by contrast. Yet the media lapped it up and it gave rise to a string of headlines conflating gender segregation with extremism. Understandably this caused anger amongst students, and as a result of the report and its longer track record, Student Rights was accused of ‘demonising’ Muslim students. Meanwhile Pete Mercer, then NUS Welfare Officer, described the report as evidence of ‘a witch hunt’ and noted that its ‘sweeping judgments about student Islamic societies without knowing the details denies the women involved the very equality it claims to wish for them’.

The ‘Real Student Rights’ campaign – an independent grassroots network of students across UK universities – grew out of intense frustration with the approach of the ironically-named Student Rights group, which is seemingly intent on grabbing scaremongering headlines regardless of the impact this has on campus cohesion or the welfare of actual students.

One problem is that allegations it has made to the press have in the past proved to be inaccurate, in one case leading to the BBC re-writing an entire news story and admitting that the original had been based on highly questionable claims. More recently, The Times had to apologise for and correct a grossly misleading claim in its front page story – based on Student Rights gender segregation report – which had made the astonishing and untrue assertion that a quarter of all Islamic Society events were segregated, when in fact a small pre-selected sample of events had produced the significant-sounding 25 per cent segregation figure.

In the past it has been referred to inaccurately in the press as a ‘student anti-racism’ campaign group – though whether this is due to misrepresentation by Student Rights or misinterpretation by journalists is not clear. It seems the confusion persists to this day however, as last week a BBC article made reference to ‘a student group’ supposedly claiming ‘that segregation at talks given by people it described as radical Islamists had become widespread’ – almost certainly a reference to Student Rights. The group has responded to criticism by blaming the media for ‘mistakes’ but never seems to have made an effort to correct them. It is perhaps understandable that journalists assume that ‘Student Rights’ is a student group and its choice of name may well have been a deliberate attempt to manufacture a façade of legitimacy.

Deafening silence

Student Rights’ record of calling for a host of – mostly Muslim – speakers that it regards as extremists to be prevented from speaking on campuses, seems inconsistent in light of the fact that it has previously expressed opposition to student unions having a ‘no-platform’ policy regarding the BNP, even though part of the rationale for such policies is student welfare. Interestingly, Student Rights now appears to have removed this article from its website, perhaps because it is aware that this stance makes them seem somewhat hypocritical, and their claim to oppose ‘all forms of extremism’ very doubtful. (In this case however, Student Rights didn’t do as good a job as Tory HQ, and the article in question can still be viewed via the Web Archive here.)

Even more worryingly, as the Institute of Race Relations has noted, Student Rights’ alarmist material about events organised by Muslim students has been picked up by far right groups, including Casuals United and the English Defence League, to further their own efforts. In one incident, apparently alerted to the event by Student Rights literature, members of the EDL came on to campus at Reading University, which was forced to cancel an event due to credible threats of violence and fears for students’ safety. A similar situation occurred at Essex University, when an event that Student Rights had attacked again saw far right activity pose a threat to student safety and resulted in its cancellation.

Very serious questions should also be asked about why Student Rights thought it was appropriate to re-blog a story from ‘Atlas Shrugs’, the Islamophobic hate-site of U.S. based fanatic Pamela Geller. Geller, who was a major inspiration of Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik, and even tried to justify his actions, was banned from entering the UK this year where she was due to address an EDL rally. Despite this, Student Rights has directed readers to her website without any warnings or disclaimers about the hateful nature of the content – in fact, given the context, apparently offering implicit approval of the site.

However, perhaps more damaging then even this is the simple fact that Student Rights maintained a deafening silence when a group of Muslim students were violently attacked in London. The City University students had just left campus when a gang set upon them, hurling racist abuse, wielding metal bricks and metal sticks and stabbing three people. It was a serious Islamophobic hate crime and the most severe infringement of students’ basic right to safety imaginable – and yet ‘Student Rights’ had nothing to say, a failure to speak which is arguably sadly telling.

Although Student Rights condemned the threat of violence at Reading university and disassociated itself from the far-right, the group has never disputed repeated reports – dating back as far as 2010 – that it receives funding from the Henry Jackson Society, a right wing think tank accused of having an ‘anti-Muslim tinge’. Its associate director, Douglas Murray, has made comments that some interpret as ‘defending the EDL’, he is apparently something of a hero to that group’s former leader Tommy Robinson, and is notorious for having said that ‘conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board’.

Front group?

We don’t know whether the Henry Jackson Society is the sole funder of Student Rights or one of several, but the fact that Student Rights website domain is registered to the address of the Henry Jackson Society office (43-49 Parker Street, London, WC2B 5PS) lends support to suspicions that it is a ‘side-project’ – or, to phrase it less generously, a front group – for the neoconservative think tank.

The fact that Student Rights is not transparent about its funding and connection to the Henry Jackson Society severely limits its legitimacy. What little it had took a further blow when Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake resigned from the advisory board of both the Henry Jackson Society – following criticism from a former staff member there – and of Student Rights, following criticism from students.

Bizarrely, Labour MP Jim Fitzpatrick, who initially said he too would resign from the Student Rights board in light of the ‘developments’, has since changed his mind and refused to offer and explanation for the U-turn.  It is especially strange that he chooses to remain affiliated with a group that is seen as whipping up Islamophobia when his own constituency, Poplar and Limehouse in east London, has a significant Muslim population.

Dog whistle politics

Perhaps Fitzpatrick will reconsider his position as it becomes clear that Student Rights has no legitimacy on campus, as Real Student Rights is supporting students in universities across the country who want to propose motions publically rejecting the organisation’s divisive, marginalising and counter-productive tactics.

Real Student Rights is also asking students and others to sign and circulate its petition which already has over 1000 signatories. It calls for an end to the ‘witch-hunt’ of Muslim students and pro-Palestine student activists, another group who have been on the receiving end of Student Rights attacks (unsurprisingly so, since the Henry Jackson Society is staunchly pro-Israel.)

Supporters of Real Students Rights include: NUS Black Students Officer Aaron Kiely; NUS VP Welfare Officer 2011-13 Peter Mercer; his successor this year, Colum McGuire; Omar Ali, the President of FOSIS (the Federation of Student Islamic Societies); Michael Chessum, the president of ULU (University of London Union); Maham Hashmi-Khan, ULU Black Students Officer; Shabina Raja of the NUS Black Students National Committee; Kaled Mimouni, Westminster University SU President, Malia Bouattia, NUS National Executive Councillor (Black Students’ Campaign) & Black Women’s Forum UK; Samayya Afzal, Bradford United 4 Palestine President and many more.

We feel that the campaign’s transparency and openness stands in stark contrast to the modus operandi of Student Rights, whose approach has always been deeply paternalistic and arguably anti-democratic, frequently bypassing students themselves in favour of lobbying  SUs or university administration, whilst disregarding the fact that both abide by pre-existing regulations prohibiting hate speech on campus.

Real Student Rights supports genuine attempts to oppose discrimination in all its forms, including sexism, homophobia and racism but is founded on the premise that those problems – which exist in all sectors of society – are not challenged by disproportionately and unfairly attacking an already-targeted minority group increasingly affected by discrimination itself

You can like Real Student Rights on Facebook or follow @RealStudentRts  on Twitter.

Hilary Aked

Hilary Aked is a freelance writer and researcher, qualified journalist and doctoral candidate at the University of Bath. She has worked in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and is researching the pro-Israel lobby in the UK.

23 Comments

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Joanna Bryson
Dec 1, 2013 12:58

With respect to whether forced segregation (by any criteria, including gender) can be non-discriminatory — the problem is that when historically one group has had more power, there is no track record of “separate but equal” working out. So while it might be OK to segregate equally by an arbitrary criteria, it cannot be OK to mandate segregation by protected characteristics like gender or race.

Hilary Aked
Dec 2, 2013 18:51

Hi Joanna, thanks for your comment. I think the issue of ‘force’ /coercion as opposed to voluntary / chosen segregation is critical. It’s not a simple issue in a world where – I’m sure we both agree – patriarchy is pervasive, and some practices are perhaps better described as expectations / social pressures. However, I think in this case we have to err on the side of respecting women’s agency as opposed to being paternalistic and if some religious students wish to self-segregate I support the NUS / UUK advice suggesting both mixed and segregated areas are provided so students can choose for themselves. Student Rights – rather creepily – seem to have simply monitored the facebook pages of various Islamic societies and made no attempt to find out if the women concerned were making their own choices or not, which makes their report very problematic.

Johnson
Dec 3, 2013 22:17

I am not for segregation. Does that make me a bad person?

Solomon
Dec 4, 2013 1:37

Does the author of this article also support “voluntary/ chosen segregation” on grounds of race, sexual orientation, caste or sect at our universities as well? “Separate but equal” leads to discrimination and exclusion in practice.

Many Hindus believe in the caste system where effectively the Brahmins are the priestly caste and Dalit ‘Untouchables’ are often destined for the lowest and most degrading work. There is a longstanding practice of segregation between the castes which traces its justification to Hindu texts, namely the Bhavagad Gita.

Should Hindus be able to practice “voluntary/ chosen segregation” by caste at events in UK universities?

Frank
Dec 4, 2013 11:18

This fallacious argument about Hindu castes could equally be applied to toilets or hospital wards, as eloquently explained by Geoffrey Alderman at the Jewish Chronicle (www.thejc.com/comment-and-debate/columnists/106414/when-segregation-acceptable). We wouldn’t accept separate toilets or hospital wards based on race, caste or religion, but gender is different. Voluntary separation of gender for religious reasons is no more sinister than established cultural practices universally accepted in the UK.

Hilary Aked
Dec 4, 2013 11:41

I agree with Frank’s point – I think there’s a strong whiff of hypocrisy about the outrage of gender segregation. Polly Toynbee went to a single-sex girls school (as did I!) and no-one insisted we were being oppressed. Is segregation somehow bad when it’s in the same room but ok provided men and women are in different buildings?

@Joanna of course it doesn’t make someone a bad person that they are ‘not for segregation’. Personally, i’d rather not be segregated from anyone either! However, the issue is how much we force our own preferences on others. Just as I’m not for anyone being forced into segregation if they do not want to be, I’m not for anyone being forced NOT to sit separately if they do want to. That’s why I support the NUS/UUK line advising the provision of both mixed and – where there is demand – segregated seating areas.

@Solomon – the comparisons that have been made by the likes of Nick Cohen to racial segregation in the pre-civil rights era are SO far off the mark as to be insulting – both to the agency of Muslim women who do choose to sit separately and to all those who struggled against institutionalised state racism in the U.S.

Hilary Aked
Dec 4, 2013 11:42

sorry that @Joanna comment should be @Johnson

Hilary Aked
Dec 4, 2013 11:59

Also, regardless of what you think about the segregation issue, the main point of this article is to ask why a supposedly respectable think tank seems to have created a front group as a vehicle to monitor university campuses, and specifically student Islamic societies? Surely I’m not the only one who finds that pretty sinister…?

Usamah
Dec 6, 2013 9:39

Hilary, you’re certainly not the only one who find this sinister. ‘Student Rights’ is one of many front groups targeting Muslims, with an agenda set and financed, at least in part, by the worst sort of right wing US ‘counter jihadist’ groups; they have been linked to the equally misnamed and dubious ‘Stand for Peace’, which is backed by the notorious Gatestone Institute. Little surprise, then, that they’re all promoted by hate blogs like Harry’s Place. We have to welcome this initiative to expose ‘Student Rights’, it’s shameful how they’ve been allowed to operate almost unchallenged by the mainstream media.

Solomon
Dec 9, 2013 2:36

@Frank: If you equate ward and toilet “segregation” where nudity and exposed genitalia are common occurrences to segregation of fully clothed members of the opposite sex, you are using the same logic as those that equate and exposed face to nudity and thus “advise” women wear the niqab lest they provoke a man to sexual arousal.

@Hilary
The calls for segregation of women do not come from a neutral vacuum, they come from a theology, history and practice that often leads to a de facto second class status for women.

In this report ‘Inclusive Mosque Initiative’, made by Muslim women for Muslim women, the following is stated:
“mosques are widely perceived as ‘prayer-clubs for men’’ (Maqsood, 2005, 4-5) is often reflected in the physical spaces and facilities made available to female worshipers, and it must be noted that some mosques do not provide any at all (Dispatches, 2006). Shockingly, a recent survey found that ‘women form part of the congregation in [only] half (51%) of the organisations surveyed’ (Coleman, 2009, 10). Relatedly, UK Mosque management committees privilege male involvement, decision-making and leadership roles, with figures of as few as 15% in management positions (Asim, 2011, 34) and more who ‘will simply not entertain the idea’ (Asim, 2011, 39).”
http://inclusivemosqueinitiative.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/research_proposal-in_the_shadow_of_uk_minarets.pdf

The theology states the following:
“The best rows for men are the first rows, and the worst ones the last ones, and the best rows for women are the last ones and the worst ones for them are the first ones.” Sahih Muslim 4:881

Literalist interpretations of Islam have not lead to equality for women in 2013 in theory or practice.

Frank
Dec 9, 2013 10:41

@Solomon: I very much doubt “nudity and exposed genitalia are common occurrences” in female toilets. Moreover, even if it were, why should it be a barrier between sexes? Why should women be forced into long queues for toilets when there are no queues for the cubicles in the male toilets next door? It’s just a cultural practice.

Similarly, in hospitals wards why should exposure between sexes be an issue in this day and age? Nevertheless, mixed wards have been closed in recent years to pave for the return of single-sex wards.

Hilary also mentions single-sex schools, of which there are very many, both private and state-funded.

If men and women want to sit separately at a university talk, why not? And if they don’t want to be separated, why should they? Provision of both options, leaving individuals to choose, is perfectly reasonable.

Article about Real Student Rights campaign in Ceasefire | Students for Real Student Rights
Dec 11, 2013 14:05

[…] The Real Student Rights campaign has been written about by Hilary Aked in Ceasefire Magazine. You can read her piece here. […]

Student Rights director promotes ‘counterjihad’-style propaganda against Islam | Students for Real Student Rights
Dec 11, 2013 22:13

[…] the fact that Student Rights has directed its readers via a link to the Atlas Shrugs website (a hate-site run by U.S.-based Pamela Geller who was banned from entering the country earlier this […]

Solomon
Dec 14, 2013 2:44

@Frank:

Well at least that issue’s resolved now.
😉

‘Universities UK withdraws advice on gender segregation in lectures’
http://www.theguardian.com/education/2013/dec/13/universities-uk-withdraws-advice-gender-segregation

“A context so heavily shaped by an intolerant Western ‘liberalism’” » Butterflies and Wheels
Dec 16, 2013 20:52

[…] the wake of Student Rights’ aggressive campaign, which clearly targeted Islamic student groups, Universities UK – not a body known for championing social justice – issued guidance […]

Concerns about the motivation » Butterflies and Wheels
Dec 18, 2013 0:48

[…] the wake of Student Rights’ aggressive campaign, which clearly targeted Islamic student groups, Universities UK – not a body known for championing social justice – issued guidance […]

Students branded ‘fools’ by director of “Student Rights” | Students for Real Student Rights
Dec 18, 2013 19:54

[…] fact is there is an alarming amount of evidence showing that Student Rights agenda is to target Muslim students and that as a result of their […]

EXPOSED: Quilliam leadership directly involved with neocon Douglas Murray’s Henry Jackson Society | Islamophobia Today eNewspaper
Dec 23, 2013 18:44

[…] A detailed Ceasefire Magazine article from November 2013 is also very informative, as it includes some expanded background information confirming “Student Right’s” links to the HJS and the highly questionable activities of some of the individuals involved, including the organisation’s director Raheem Kassam. (Also see Guardian/Liberal Conspiracy political journalist Sunny Hundal’s article from June 2012, focusing on Kassam). […]

Ironically Named ‘Student Rights’ Group Exposed by Actual Students | Islamophobia Today eNewspaper
Dec 23, 2013 19:21

[…] its denial, the evidence demonstrating how its discourse and activities fuel Islamophobia, even to the point of endangering students’ welfare by – inadvertently or not -attracting […]

EXPOSED: Quilliam leadership directly involved with neocon Douglas Murray’s Henry Jackson Society - Mushy Peas - The Nation's favourite
Dec 25, 2013 21:58

[…] A detailed Ceasefire Magazine article from November 2013 is also very informative, as it includes some expanded background information confirming “Student Right’s” links to the HJS and the highly questionable activities of some of the individuals involved, including the organisation’s director Raheem Kassam. (Also see Guardian/Liberal Conspiracy political journalist Sunny Hundal’s article from June 2012, focusing on Kassam). […]

Rocky Lore
Dec 29, 2013 18:59

No surprise that liberal fascists make excuses for the same Muslims who cheered Lee Rigby’s murder.

Dee
Jan 3, 2014 12:33

If Student Rights mainly campaigns against speakers identifying themselves as Muslim because these speakers offend the moral sensibilities of anyone who believes in equality of all sorts – gender, religious – and in respecting the boundaries of other cultures, it isn’t witch hunting Muslim students and speakers. It’s just wolves in sheepskin bleating to further their Islamism campaign. Islam practiced socially and not following an agenda to impose Sharia and other medieval mindsets – without trying to Islamify other countries – is the right and personal prerogative of individuals. Islamism – whether through violence or insidious lies that Muslims or “religious freedom” is facing attacks or a combination of both – is a crime, alright? The only religions whose freedoms are being attacked are those that aren’t Islam. If these “moderates” are truly moderate it’s high time for them to differentiate themselves, NOT by accusing anyone who doesn’t agree with Islamism (again, NOT Islam) of being Islamophobic, but by denouncing Islamism and those who support it in any guise.
Islamophobia DOES exist, in some places, but it is an extremely rare breed compared to Islamism. And for the record, stamping out one religion (as the most extreme of Islamophobists might have it) vs stamping out every other religion and liberal strain of Islam (as the majority of Islamists would have it), it’s not hard to see which is the greater threat to humanity.
Keep pushing though, and the odds are that even more moderate or formerly apathetic people like yours truly will be pushed into a truer definition of Islamophobia for the sake of self-defence.

The Henry Jackson Society – “Political Propaganda Masquerading as Education” | CoolnessofHind
Apr 16, 2014 8:24

[…] which “counters extremism”. Student Rights is known to disproportionately target Muslims and whip up anti-Muslim sentiment, stirring right-wing extremist hate groups like the EDL and Casuals United. […]

Leave a Reply

Comment

 

More Ideas

More In Politics

More In Features

More In Profiles

More In Arts & Culture