Friday, October 17, 2014

Why would Britain's National Union of Students refuse to condemn ISIS?

According to the veteran Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn, the month-long struggle by Kurdish militia fighters to defend the northern Syrian city of Kobani against unrelenting attack by ISIS "has become part of the Kurdish national legend like the killing of 5,000 Kurds with poison gas at Halabja by Saddam Hussein in 1988."  ISIS, let us not forget, is a group described by UN human rights officers as guilty of a "staggering array" of atrocities and other human rights abuses just over the past few months. It proudly boasts of slaughtering and decapitating both military captives and civilians, systematically enslaving and raping Yazidi women and girls, and persecuting non-Muslim minorities as well as Muslims it regards as heretical or just insufficiently fanatical. A week ago the UN special envoy for Syria warned of the imminent threat of another Srebrenica massacre if ISIS conquers Kobani. Muslim spokesmen and organizations around the world, including even reactionary and intolerant ultra-fundamentalist Islamic clerics in the Middle East, have condemned ISIS is very strong terms.

Yet the National Executive Council of the National Union of Students in Britain just refused to pass a motion condemning ISIS and declaring solidarity with the Kurds in Syria and Iraq they are trying to massacre.
The National Union of Students has rejected a call to condemn the militant group Isis on the grounds that the motion was “islamophobic”, in a move which has promoted campaigners to accuse the body of being in the “stranglehold” of divisive “identity politics”. [....]

However the call, which also called for unity among Muslims and has already been passed by the Scottish NUS, was rejected by a members led by black students’ officer Malia Bouattia, according the student website The Tab.
That's despite the fact that the motion seems to have been drafted in in a way that aimed to make it as politically correct and unobjectionable as possible:
The motion, proposed by Daniel Cooper and Clifford Fleming with international students officer Shreya Paudel, called on British students “to condemn the IS and support Kurdish forces fighting against it, while expressing no confidence or trust in the US military intervention.”
=>  The most depressing feature of this incident is that although it's astonishing, it's not entirely surprising. It fits into a pattern.

As the British democratic-left writer Alan Johnson asked in a column today:
How can we explain British students who refuse to commemorate the Holocaust because that would be ‘eurocentric’, refuse to condemn ISIS because that would encourage ‘Islamophobia’ and refuse to support the Kurds on the grounds that it would be ‘warmongering’?
You can read Johnson's attempts to pull together some elements of a possible explanation here. But whether or not you find them entirely convincing is a secondary matter. What's most significant and appalling is the bizarre and disgraceful ideological syndrome that needs to be explained.

—Jeff Weintraub