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Reference code: 
UP1330
Status: 
Lapsed
Date passed: 
04/02/2014
Date lapses: 
03/02/2016
PDF file: 
Text file: 

This Union notes

  1. That Student Rights is an organisation claiming to support ‘freedom from extremism’1 on UK university campuses and mostly criticises speakers it sees as ‘extremists’ who have been invited by Islamic and Palestinian societies23, but has in the past expressed opposition to student union ‘no-platform’ policy for the BNP4.
  2. That Student Rights was established in 2009 as a reaction to what it calls ‘increasing political extremism’ 1 on campus – which director Raheem Kassam is reported to have said is a reference to a wave of peaceful occupations that took place on UK campuses to protest Israel’s bombing of Gaza in Operation Cast Lead 2.
  3. That Student Rights’ Director Raheem Kassam was also the Executive Director of the controversial right-wing website, The Commentator, until recently5 – known for publishing disturbing articles such as this6. He is the founder of Trending Central7, another controversial right-wing “news” website, and has held various positions in the controversial neoconservative think tank The Henry Jackson Society8. Press reports that he was setting up a UK arm of the Tea Party have so far failed to realise9.
  4. That Student Rights has only recently admitted that it is a project of The Henry Jackson Society – a neoconservative think tank whose associate director, Douglas Murray, has argued that “conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board” and “all immigration into Europe from Muslim countries must stop” 10 – but is not transparent about its origins or funding on its website or materials.
  5. That Student Rights’ most recent report on gender segregation11, focusing on Islamic society events, has been shown to be deeply flawed in its methodology12 and failed in almost every case to determine whether segregation was enforced or if people were voluntarily choosing to sit where they want to, and presented the phenomenon as ‘part of a wider, discriminatory trend’ on campuses11, p. 17 which resulted in headlines in the mainstream media associating gender segregation with ‘extremism’13.
  6. That the Institute of Race Relations has noted with concern14 that Student Rights’ work and reporting has been used by far-right groups to target a Muslim student event15 which led to reported threats of violence and the event subsequently having to be cancelled by the university16.
  7. That LSE, Goldsmith’s and Birkbeck Student Unions have voted in favour of condemning Student Rights for its overwhelming focus on Muslim students, the way its approach tends to bypass students themselves and its lack of transparency about its links to The Henry Jackson Society17181920.
  8. That NUS President 2011-13, Liam Burns said that we need to “challenge the right wing bile that is spouted by groups like Student Rights and people like Douglas Murray”; and that NUS VP Welfare 2012-13, Pete Mercer, condemned Student Rights’ approach as a “witch-hunt”21.
  9. That the grassroots student campaign ‘Real Student Rights’ which aims to expose and oppose Student Rights is supported by NUS Black Students Officer (2013-14) Aaron Kiely; ULU Black Students Officer (2013-14) Maham Hashmi-Khan; NUS VP Welfare Officers for 2012-13 and 2013-14 Pete Mercer and Colum McGuire; and ULU President (2012-14) Michael Chessum among others22.

 

This Union believes

  1. That the claims Student Rights makes to the press have often been sensationalist and misleading, designed to grab alarmist headlines about so-called ‘extremism’ on campus, regardless of the impact on students; and Student Rights’ director Raheem Kassam – who called students who voted for the ‘Real Student Rights’ motion in SUs voicing concerns about his organisation ‘fools’ – continues to show disdain for students23.
  2. That whether intentional or not, it is deeply damaging that Student Rights’ approach – which tends to bypass students themselves – should lead to a situation in which far-right groups come onto a campus, creating a climate in which students feel persecuted and threatened and potentially endangering students’ welfare.
  3. That Student Rights’ activities fuel Islamophobia, by disproportionately and unfairly targeting Muslim students, contributing to their marginalisation and ostracisation, damaging campus cohesion and feeding into a growing trend of Islamophobic discourse in wider society which should always be challenged.
  4. That sexism, racism and homophobia are problems not confined to certain sectors of society and should, like all forms of discrimination, be challenged and opposed without contributing to the marginalisation of particular groups.
  5. That Student Rights legitimacy is wholly questionable given its limited or non-existent links to actual students, inconsistency on the issue of no-platform policies, creation in reaction to peaceful pro-Palestinian activism, and in particular its lack of transparency about its origins, funding, and links to The Henry Jackson Society – a think tank which has been widely criticised for comments made by its staff perceived to be Islamophobic10.
  6. That it is not the place of any external organisation – particularly one as non-transparent and dubiously connected as Student Rights – to undermine Student Unions’ autonomy or interfere with co-operation between the union and university in their work to ensure that pre-existing guidelines regarding external speakers are followed.

This Union Mandates

  1. The UCLU External Affairs and Campaigns Officer to release a public statement/open letter addressed to Student Rights criticising their lack of transparency, sensationalism, divisive and counter-productive activities and disproportionate preoccupation with Muslim students and calling on them to drastically change their approach and mentality. The statement should also outline UCLU’s commitment to challenging Islamophobia along with all other forms of prejudice and discrimination.
  2. The UCLU External Affairs and Campaigns Officer and the UCLU Activities and Events Officer to write to the university management, making explicit students’ concerns about the effect Student Rights’ activities have on students’ welfare, campus cohesion and freedom of speech on campus, as well as re-iterating the union’s desire to maintain its autonomy in determining guidelines on external speaker in co-operation with relevant stakeholders such as the university, without undue outside interference.
  3. The UCLU Activities and Events Officer to maintain ongoing communication and to report back to the UCLU Sabbatical Team and the UCLU Executive Committee on any developments including asking the university and the university press office to inform UCLU of any attempts by Student Rights to lobby them regarding any student groups’ activities.
  4. The UCLU NUS delegates and the UCLU Sabbatical team to work with other unions who have passed motions against Student Rights to put forward a motion to NUS Conference 2014 if possible, or later, encouraging NUS to publically distance itself from Student Rights.

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