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By Mohamed Harrath and Rayhan Uddin
At a time when hate crimes against Muslims are rapidly rising in the capital (up 92.3% in the year to August 2013 according to the Metropolitan Police), the second annual Islamophobia Awareness Month, happening this November, could not have come at more apt a time. Whilst events and exhibitions held on campuses across the country to raise awareness about this pernicious form of prejudice are crucial, what is most important at a time like this is that students of all backgrounds stand alongside their Muslim classmates to say that hatred, prejudice, and bigotry are unacceptable and ought to be challenged. That is why we are proposing a motion at this week’s UGM urging students to say no to Islamophobia, especially when directed at Muslim students.
How the ‘campus extremism’ debate fuels Islamophobia
At a recent conference on campus extremism at the LSE, featuring experts on the issues of extremism, freedom and security, there was a consensus view amongst the speakers that the debate on campus extremism has been exaggerated and distorted creating a climate where Muslim students are increasingly demonised. Indeed, Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK, has consistently sought to redress this misconception by explaining that there is no evidence of a link between “student radicals” and violent extremism, a view endorsed by the Home Affairs select committee report on ‘The Roots of Violent Radicalisation’. So why all the hysteria?
In his book, The Islamophobia Industry: How the Right Manufactures Fear of Muslims, Nathan Lean argues that “the tide of Islamophobia that is sweeping through Europe and the United States is not a naturally occurring phenomenon”, he insists it is the “design” of a network of anti-Muslim bloggers, politicians, pundits and religious leaders who have been all too successful in whipping up anti-Muslim sentiment with all its devastating consequences.
Photo Credit: Takes from LSESU Islamic Society Facebook
Organisations such as Student Rights, a supposedly ‘non-partisan’ group, yet which has strong links to the hard-right Henry Jackson Society, an organisation who’s senior staff features Douglas Murray, who infamously argued that “conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder,” has continuously sought to inflate fears of campus extremism. This injurious campaign has had a detrimental impact on the welfare of Muslim students by feeding into a climate that increasingly demonises them. In turn, this has contributed to a climate of suspicion surrounding Britain’s 100,000 Muslim students, who nonetheless work tirelessly to build more inclusive and accepting educational environments.
(For example, Student Rights has been instrumental in motivating far-right groups, including the notorious English Defence League, in their efforts to intimidate Muslim students at campus events in Essex, Nottingham, Reading and other towns and cities across the country.)
It’s also worth noting that the organisation has zero input from actual students, and further diminishing credibility in face of the growing calls for the organisation to cease its activities.
Liam Burns, former President of the National Union of Students, was right to express his concerns about Student Rights and condemn the organisation’s tactics in seeking to divide students at a recent meeting in the House of Lords, a sentiment I know is shared by many students’ union leaders up and down the country, including our sabbs here at LSE.
If Student Rights wants to play a positive role in contributing to more inclusive and cohesive campuses, they ought to have a radical rethink of their approach to questions on faith, the public square and campus life. But until then, organisations that serve to inflame Islamophobia on our campuses ought to be made aware that students, regardless of their political leanings, will not sit idle whilst a hostile campaign of intimidation and bullying is waged on some of the more vulnerable in their number.
Muslim student contribution
Muslim students contribute immensely to their campuses and are an integral part of our national fabric. The annual ‘charity week’ has raised a total of £2.4m since its inception in 2004. Not bad for a bunch of students living on shoestring budgets. Or there is the Islamic Society at Oxford University which organised the ground breaking ‘Rethinking Islamic Reform’ conference in 2010, demonstrating the leadership of Muslim students in grappling with the big questions of faith, politics, identity and citizenship. And even on the question of campus extremism, the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS) held a conference with leading experts and stakeholders in 2011 and supported another one organised by the LSE Students’ Union this year. Who can say then that Muslim students do not play a key role in enriching university life and building inclusive campuses?
The problems faced by Muslim students met with an often indifferent and silent mainstream, the problem is only becoming exacerbated. The increase in anti-Muslim sentiment in Britain has had disastrous consequences for the inclusion of Muslim students in civic society. It’s time we took a stand against hate and bigotry and put an end to the demonisation of Muslims on our campuses.
Here is the full version of the motion we are proposing at this Thursday’s UGM.
An incident occurred on Thursday afternoon at the LSESU LGBT Alliance’s stall on Houghton Street. Remarks were made to members of the LGBT Alliance that were deemed homophobic, violent and intimidating. LSESU and the School want to reiterate that homophobic, biphobic and transphobic behaviour of any kind will not be tolerated. We fully support the LGBT community at LSE and want to ensure that our campus remains an open and respectful environment. The Union and the School are thoroughly investigating the incident. Should you have any concerns, please email Matt White, the LSESU LGBT Officer (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Peter Howlett, the Dean of Undergraduate Studies (email@example.com).
Professor Paul Kelly Anneessa Mahmood
Pro-Director for Teaching and Learning Community and Welfare Officer
Get in touch with your Disabled Students’ Officer, Jade Symonds (above) on firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know what the SU is doing right, or where we could improve.
Maddy Kirkman, from NUS Disabled Students’ Committee, blogs on ‘coming out as disabled’.
Read the original version of this blog on the NUS website and find more info from gov.uk.The International Day of Disabled People is a difficult thing to get right. Disability in the public mind is so often focused on the headline welfare cuts, or else on the kind of inspiration porn that makes a lot of us feel uneasy. But the day does have a purpose, and it’s all about community and confidence.
I have always been comfortable with the concept of disability. Perhaps this is because I lost my sight when I was old enough to understand that it was a loss. Perhaps it’s because my parents are the kind of educated working class parents who talk bluntly round the dinner table and never wrapped me in cotton wool. I think it might also have been my involvement in disability sport as well; it’s hard to captain a swim team of people with a dizzying variety of disabilities and not see yourself as one of them.
Either way, feeling comfortable with the concept of disability and embracing the identity to be an empowered disabled person is somewhat different. I think that the disabled people’s movement differs from other liberation struggles. LGBT has Pride; Black communities celebrate culture and heritage, and women’s group foster solidarity. I think it’s hard to do that as disabled people.
It’s partly because of a lack of understanding of disability – as I have written elsewhere, even by disabled people themselves. Disability is socially constructed when the world around us makes it difficult for those whose bodies and minds don’t work like the majorities. Disability is part of my political identity because it has shaped the way I see the world, and the way the world sees me.
And it’s that last bit; ‘how the world sees me’, that brings the relevance of this day of blogging around coming out. Expressing your disabled identity has so many connotations and they will be different for each person. Being viewed as defective or in need of charity, or even the presumption of strength and resilience, are all confusing and difficult attitudes being disabled throws up at you.
I remember, when I still really quite young, I used to love getting on the bus home from school with my friends, muck around, using my phone and so on, the flicking out my white cane when it came to my stop and striding off down the pavement, while my fellow passengers did a double-take and raised their eyebrows. Even then, I quite enjoyed challenging perceptions!
I’ve also had the bullying, the being patronised, and feeling like the odd one out. Sometimes is just horrible to be using my cane as a mobility aid but have it feel like a neon sign above my head. Sometimes people are well-intentioned but misguided, and sometimes plain ignorant - sometimes though, people are just strange. I was using binoculars to read the departure boards at a train station once and some bloke nudged me and said “you blind or summat?” chucking to himself, “well, err, yes actually”. Awkward.
But the point I’m trying to make is that other people and their misguided help, ignorant interference and their strange reaction, they just don’t matter. It’s a pain in the arse, don’t get me wrong, but the important thing is embracing my own identity; feeling comfortable in my own. The moment you stand up and say “yes, I am a disabled person, and what?” is the moment you throw away stigma’s hold on you.
The point I’m making is that ‘coming out’ as disabled is not just about people with invisible disabilities revealing what they’ve been through, and of course it sucks to be denied the privilege of keeping it private, but those of us with visible disabilities can still come out and empowered.
I say this because I also have an invisible disability, and it took me a long time to realise. I think I’ve probably had an unhelpful mix of anxiety and depression ever since my early teens, but it gets passed off as puberty or exam stress, then you suddenly find yourself as an adult not really being able to cope with much.
When I was coming to terms with the fact that this is a long term form of illness that needs to be dealt with on a daily basis, it still never occurred to me that it was a disability. Partly because I could see how
The social model applied to mental health and was simply feeling like my brain had let me down, but partly because I didn’t think it was that bad.
What I mean by this is that it didn’t seem to compare to my blindness which effects everything I do, and that I was ‘as depressed’ or ‘as anxious’ as others I knew. I had no reason to complain.
I think a lot of people don’t embrace their disabled identity, people they don’t feel like they share the same depth of experience as other people – I think this is often the case for people with dyslexia and dyspraxia or similar, who look at someone with cerebral palsy and think ‘it just not the same’.
Well no, it’s not the same, in the same way that being Trans is the same as being gay, or being afro-Caribbean is the same as being Pakistani. But, coming out and coming together can only make our movement stronger.
So there we go, I’ve told you all about embracing my disability as a blind person, and have come out as publicly as possible a person with mental illness – and it feels good. I can’t wait to see other experiences and insights in all the blogs. Have a great International Day of Disabled People!
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