by Dan Randall
On 7 November, Federation of Student Islamic Societies and Muslim Association of Britain-supporting National Union of Students Executive member Jamal El-Shayyal posted an entry on his blog entitled “The relativism of injustice”, defending the recent call by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad for Israel to be “wiped off the map”.
This piece claimed that Ahmedinejad was only “saying what his people feel” and that in any case Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians made it impossible to condemn him. I replied with a posting entitled “The injustice of relativism” which you can read at
Readers of Solidarity will be will aware of the general political issues raised by Ahmedinejad’s “anti-Zionist” ravings. What I want to concentrate on here is what Jamal El-Shayyal’s article tells us about the political current he represents in the student movement.
Since its rise to prominence in the last two years, the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (which is led by the Muslim Association of Britain) has frequently spoken the language of justice, human rights and even democracy. Jamal’s defence of Ahmedinejad shows how hollow all this really is.
Iran, let us remember, is a state without even the limited bourgeois-democratic norms of civil and social liberty which we (including Jamal) enjoy in Britain. It is a society in which students protesting for democracy are harrassed and beaten by government thugs, in which women are forced to wear the veil, in which young men are executed for having gay sex and in which workers demonstrating on May Day are arbitrarily arrested and imprisoned without trial.
The same President Ahmedinejad who Jamal claims is speaking for his people represents the most conservative, viciously reactionary section of a ruling class that has been repressing, torturing and murdering those people for more than two decades.
What about the Palestinians? Of course we should support their resistance to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza and their struggle for national liberation and an independent state. As consistent democrats, socialists support the right of self-determination for every nation. This is not, however, the approach of the highly inconsistent democrats who run FOSIS.
When NUS voted recently on support for Holocaust Memorial Day, Jamal El-Shayyal opposed it on the grounds that the event did not commemorate “other genocides” in the 20th century. He specifically mentioned the ethnic cleansing of the Kosovar Albanians by Slobodan Milosevic’s Serbia in 1999.
Leaving aside the illogical argument, why support for the Kosovars necessitates opposition to Holocaust Memorial Day, it is instructive to look at how serious Jamal El-Shayyal and his friends are about their opposition to genocide. FOSIS talks a lot about Bosnia, Kosova, Chechnya, Afghanistan and Kashmir — all examples of the suppression of Muslims by a non-Muslim state. It never mentions Turkey’s historical genocide of the Armenians, Iraq’s suppression of the Kurds or Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara, since in these cases the oppressing nations are majority Muslim.
One irony of this is that FOSIS is now in alliance with a political group, Student Broad Left, whose parent organisation Socialist Action supported Russia against the Afghans and Chechens and Serbia against the Bosniacs and Kosovars, while denouncing as “Islamophobic” socialists like Workers' Liberty who gave the liberation struggles of these mainly-Muslim peoples our support.
It’s clear pretty clear, it seems to me, that Jamal El-Shayyal and co. don’t really care about national liberation. As with Ahmedinejad, their purpose is not to help the Palestinians, but purely to attack Israel.