‘Muslim students are being pressured into political silence’

Strand's Muslim prayer room

IT CANNOT be said that the recent occurrences of Islamophobia were caused by the passing of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) motion, but what cannot be denied is that through these acts, Muslim students are being pressured into political silence.

We cannot take these instances out of their context. The BDS motion was passed through a democratic vote on Tuesday night. It has been labelled as anti-Semitic, and it has been claimed that Jewish and Israeli students will feel alienated on campus if the motion is implemented, yet we see this isn’t the case.

BDS is a human rights movement, not one that targets or perpetuates an ethnic or religious divide. The motion passed is focused on economic divestment and research into unethical companies contracted by King’s.

However, we see that two days after the motion was passed, after someone was witnessed saying “f*** Hamas, f*** Palestine”, after the President of the Israel Society posted an Islamophobic video on Facebook that portrayed BDS and the Israel-Palestine conflict as a religious issue, directions towards the Muslim prayer room are being pasted over with the word ‘#jewish’ on them.

The places we see as representative of the university’s appreciation of religious diversity, and representative of our right as Muslims to practise our faith, are being used by a fringe group or individual to create a climate of fear targeting the Muslim community on campus.

These messages will make Muslim students feel as though voicing their political opinions isn’t important. This is particularly troubling in a year when the College community – led by Muslim students – has vocalised its opposition to and passed a motion against the organisation Student Rights, which cloaks its attack on Muslim practices through claims that it is tackling extremism.

These acts promote the idea that Muslims should remain a silent community on campus in order to avoid hate crimes. They are being made to choose between their politics and their right to practise religion on campus. This negatively affects the welfare of communities on campus and repels students from engaging in politics directly linked to our university for fear of discrimination. This is unacceptable.

Universities are places where you will encounter different opinions, beliefs and ideologies, and no student should be pushed into submission.

4 Comments

  1. The Alchemist

    2 April, 2014 at 12:31 am

    It’s really saddening that the Muslim signs have been defaced – I honestly couldn’t believe the images when they were released – but what’s even more saddening is just how much polarisation has happened at university.

    BDS *may* be a solution for the suffering Palestinian people, but certainly not something which can happen on a university campus with such a diverse group of people: Muslims, Jews, Zionists and Anti-Zionists. By KCLSU debating (and later passing) the motion – it has given the false impression that students at KCL feel strongly about a very specific political issue, and that this issue is worthy of KCL’s investment.

    The overwhelming vast majority of people didn’t even vote. Has there ever been an election where less than 5% of people voted?

    All of this is a crying shame, because something constructive could have come from this. It is a brute fact that the actions of some Jews, Israelis and Zionists have created the most appalling and dire circumstances for the Palestinian people, but the bigger issue (that everybody seems to be missing) is that your average Jew, Israeli and Zionist are all part of the solution for increasing the status and well-being of Palestinians.

    Do you really think that these people are happy about the Palestinian situation? I invite anybody who doubts this to speak to members of these communities, both inside and outside of Israel. For me, their honest responses are some of the only things which give me hope for the Palestinians.

    Involving these communities for the Palestinian cause on humanitarian ground must surely increase the chances of anything getting done internally through Israel? But instead, by voting for BDS, people run the serious risk of actively disengaging these people from this issue, which is the last thing we need right now.

    The writer states:

    “It cannot be said that the recent occurrences of Islamophobia were caused by the passing of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) motion…”

    I’m wondering if the author is attending the same university as me and has spoken to some Jews and Zionists on campus? From my perception, it has done precisely that, because prima face – BDS is perceived as having an agenda which is Anti-Israel rather than Pro-Palestinian, despite it’s best efforts to put the Palestinian people first. This isn’t helped with the (rather ambiguous and subjective) anti-Semitic “Free Palestine from the river to the sea” chant after the event. It has caused these communities to be threatened – and who would blame them?

    Can somebody please remind me why there was even a debate? It seems that both sides agreed that there is a serious Palestinian issue which needs to be addressed, but instead of working together, people decided it would be better to divide opinion. Tackle the issue together!

    The people who have undergone great injustice by the Zionist movement seriously deserve so much better than this. From the outside, this all seems more like a rowdy football match rather than reaching out and supporting Palestinians who have been evicted from (what is now) orphaned land.

    • Nadine A

      2 April, 2014 at 11:19 am

      My article was focused on Islamophobia at KCL, and I mentioned that we cannot blame any specific person or assume that it was done by people who were opposed to the BDS motion being passed. It could very well (and most likely) have been done by a fringe group who took advantage of the situation to further their own islamophobic, far-right views. My article was an attempt to diffuse any kind of polarisation and show that despite there being differing views on campus, this should be embraced and instead of indirectly targeting one another, engage in dialogue which is what happened at the SGM on Tuesday.

      Just to address your qualms about BDS, even though this wasn’t the main focus of my article:

      “BDS may be a solution for the suffering Palestinian people, but certainly not something which can happen on a university campus with such a diverse group of people.” – Similar BDS motions have been passed at more than 15 student unions, this is not a unique motion or request. To say that this is giving a false impression that students care about a political issue is just untrue. More than 300 students signed a petition to call for a student general meeting to propose the BDS motion (only 100 signatures are necessary for the SU to be obliged to hold an SGM), and 348 students voted in favour of the motion out of the 645 who voted.

      Using the argument that just because the majority of students didn’t vote, the motion is less legitimate is very weak. In the past, KCL had the lowest election turnout in all Russell group universities, but just because not all students voted for their sabbatical officers, doesn’t make the work they do any less legitimate or important. 348 student voices do matter and form a vital part of the college community.

      It is also important to remember that the BDS motion proposed and the BDS movement itself make it explicitly clear that no individuals are targeted. Rather, it is institutions and companies that are directly involved in sustaining the occupation.

      It is really sad that the passing of the BDS motion is seen as a rowdy football match because it’s intentions have been to divest from unethical companies involved in making the lives of the Palestinian people significantly more difficult. There has been a lot of misinformation spread, and a lot of sensationalising the debate as well. It would be great if you could email your thoughts to kclactionpalestine@googlemail.com on how you feel the situation could have been better dealt with because the intentions with the BDS motion were to promote human rights through demanding KCL divest from unethical companies. The BDS motion aims to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people who called for the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement against a state that is in violation of international law.

      I hope this has been of some help.

      • The Alchemist

        4 April, 2014 at 7:17 pm

        Nadine, thank you for your response.

        In a desperate attempt not to excessively fan what already seems to be a dying flickering flame, I wanted to address some of your points…

        You may be right that the person who defaced the plaque may have taken advantage of the situation – however I don’t believe this is the most likely scenario. I think it may be safe to assume that the DBS issue was a major catalyst for the defacing of the plaque in a (rather pathetic) attempt to vent frustration. Of course, we cannot say for sure until we know who did it.

        You mentioned that “differing views on campus should be embraced”, however this is impossible when the term “Zionist” is used as an insult, and where ANY attack on Israel is regarded as “Anti-Semitic”. Understandably this issue touches a lot of raw nerves, however it is this overly-emotional behaviour which lead to the “rowdy football match” atmosphere. As somebody who has hosted a range of religious debates, talking about such issues when emotions are high is never productive.

        Regarding the vote turnout: I don’t disagree that the voting was done correctly and that there was a (relatively) large turnout, however I submit that BDS is not a light hearted issue. It goes without saying that it is a very bold political statement for world ranking institution like KCL to make. For this reason, I argue that we need to make sure that such a position *must* be held by the majority of students. You cannot compare BDS to something like library closing times as the former affects how the university is perceived to the outside world and external affairs.

        I agree that BDS made it explicitly clear that no individuals are targeted, however the “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” chant is implicitly anti-Semitic. It was even noted by KCLSU’s Pro-DBS, interfaith officer to be “incredibly offensive”. It is for this reason, that I sympathise with Jews and Zionists on campus who feel threatened and perceive pockets of the DBS movement to be anti-Israel than Pro-Palestine and I (at times) question the sincerity of the DBS movement.

        No doubt, some pressure on Israel may alleviate the suffering of the Palestinians and may be a step in a positive direction, but from what’s happened on campus, all I’ve seen is polarisation and nothing good to show for it.

  2. Nick

    22 April, 2014 at 3:19 pm

    You claim that BDS is a ‘human rights issue’ that has been skewed by your opponents into a ‘religious issue,’ yet you constantly refer to yourself and your colleagues as ‘Muslim’ students, that ‘Muslim students are being pressured into political silence.’ By referring to all Muslims as sharing one and the same political agenda, you are perpetuating the prejudice that you claim to be defending yourself from. You thus cry foul of semantics when convenient, while simultaneously committing the same mistake.

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