At the last National Union of Students (NUS) National Executive Council (NEC) meeting on Wednesday 3 December 2014 in Liverpool, the NEC voted unanimously in favour of the motion 'Kurdish Solidarity' which was submitted by NUS Black Students' Officer, Malia Bouattia. In doing so, the NUS has officially taken steps to condemn ISIS and express solidarity with the Kurdish people. It has been mandated to raise awareness about the situation Kurdish people are facing and to pressure the government to meet the needs of the Kurdish people in the UK and within the region.
Let me be frank, the NUS is not an 'ISIS sympathiser', an organisation that is 'soft on international terrorism' or anything else misleading news articles would have you believe. The media went into overdrive following the previous NEC meeting on the 16th of September where the motion entitled 'Iraqi Solidarity' did not pass, with the vast majority of NEC concluding that the NUS should indeed stand with the Iraqis, Kurds and Syrians in their struggle against ISIS, albeit without inadvertently encouraging repression of Muslims in Britain.
The motion presented in September was flawed and Malia expressed concern at the resolve that encouraged 'students to boycott anyone found to be funding the IS or supplying them with goods, training, travel or soldiers'. She argued that there was no formal system of identifying these targets, thus the motion would effectively be outsourcing MI5's role students. In a climate where Muslim communities and student groups are already under heavy scrutiny and subject to targeted surveillance by the Home Office, police, universities, healthcare sector and more - this would only help legitimise further clampdowns and prejudice against Muslims.
The motion was voted down on the condition that it would be re-written and brought back to the next National Executive Council meeting, maintaining the spirit of support for the Kurdish people, but free of any of those problematic elements.
However an article posted on the website of the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) by an NCAFC member on NEC, a month after the September meeting, was picked up by fringe outlets like Harry's Place as well as mainstream papers including the Huffington Post, the Daily Express and The Independent that perpetuated the slanderous lie that Malia led the NUS National Executive to vote down a motion because she saw condemning ISIS as Islamophobic.
The Independent stated in their article that the NUS 'rejected a call to condemn [ISIS]' out of the fear that this would be Islamophobic and the Daily Mail that Malia had 'led a team who either abstained or voted against the proposal'. These are gross misrepresentations of the situation, only fuelling and framing a narrative which appears to state overtly that 'you're either with us or against us', whilst ignoring the fact that a democratic vote in opposition to the motion was taken by the clear majority of the National Executive Council.
As someone who monitored Malia's social media feeds, I witnessed a torrent of racist, sexist and Islamophobic abuse, including rape and death threats, directed at her and her family. 'Transparent fascist', 'politically degenerate', 'terrorist-loving traitor', 'fascist apologist' - were among the hundreds of slurs she received across social media. Commentary from career racists like EDL founder Tommy Robinson labelling her 'a complete disgrace' were joined by suggestions for her to go 'back to whichever hellhole she's from' and to 'join [her] ISIS friends', with many explicit posts relating to sexual violence.
Within the student movement, we often talk about getting more women into leadership positions and encouraging political engagement however this level of malicious hostility and threat only serves to widen the increasing gap of engagement and entrenches exclusion for the sections of society most failed by politics. Student activism should not be a place where abuse and wilful misrepresentation is the norm. Public debate must be able to reflect a basic level of nuance and thoughtfulness; where a Muslim student's fear of racism and opposition to military intervention can be considered properly and afforded some measure of respect, without their stance being equated to support for a terrorist group, as has been churned out by sections of the media.
The student movement - and those that comment about it - should be striving to foster a political culture which allows us to express ourselves freely, to disagree without being disagreeable, without fear from harm and that accommodates these freedoms for all, including women and Black people.