The National Union of Students, compared to recent years, has a stronger base of “left-wing” activists and full time officers on its National Executive Committee. This makes it hard to see why they recently voted down a motion to make solidarity with the Kurdish people.
That motion was written by activists in the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (including NEC member Daniel Cooper) and by Roza Salih, a member of the Scottish executive committee of NUS. A similar motion had been passed by NUS Scotland before the NEC meeting. Roza is a left-wing Iraqi-Kurdish woman, who has been campaigning to make solidarity with Kurdish people.
A similar text was proposed at the first NEC meeting of the academic year but was not discussed due to time constraints. It was proposed a second time on 16 September by Daniel Cooper and seconded by Shreya Paudel, the international students’ officer, and Clifford Fleming.
Versions of motions had been circulated to all NEC members twice with no amendments proposed by anyone.
If no one was aware of the motion on 16 September, if they didn’t read their emails or bother to think about the issues in advance (and thus propose amendments), they still had the option of deleting particular lines on the day. But neither of those things happened.
No wonder Kurdish students are angry at the people who spoke and voted against the motion; from their point of view the urgency and perilousness of the situation is being sidelined in favour of what can only be described as petty factional point-scoring.
There is an idea that the AWL submitted this motion to “spread our agenda”. Yes! We do indeed want to spread our “agenda” of solidarity with the Kurdish struggle, just as we want to spread our wider agenda of liberation, democracy and socialism.
The NUS Black Students Officer (BSO), Malia Bouattia, claimed that the motion was Islamophobic, racist and pro-US intervention (despite containing the following line: “To condemn the IS and support the Kurdish forces fighting against it, while expressing no confidence or trust in the US military intervention”...). No time was given to clarify where those accusations came from or what they meant.
This was the line which people found racist: “Encourage students to boycott anyone found to be funding the IS or supplying them with goods, training, travel or soldiers.” It has been argued that it is encouraging the government to further spy on Islamic Societies and Muslim students, to further marginalise a group of people who are already scapegoated by the government and the media. But it doesn’t call on the government or college authorities to do anything of the sort! For the record the AWL categorically opposes government “Prevent” policies. This was a call on students.
But fair enough, if people disagreed with the wording of that part of the motion, it could easily have been deleted or amended.
Subsequently Daniel Cooper posted a report of the NEC meeting on the NCAFC website as is a routine thing for him to do. At the time the report was met with little or no response.
The right-wing media got hold of it and used it as an opportunity to whip up a media storm. They accused Bouattia of supporting ISIS. I, the AWL and NCAFC strongly condemn this. Not one of us has spoken or will speak to any right-wing media outlet about this.
The NCAFC subsequently published a response to Cooper’s article by Bouattia, which lacked political substance and didn’t explain any of the points made by Cooper. It said that a new motion would be submitted to the next NUS NEC, which would support the Kurds but not “pander to Western imperialistic intervention”. That’s fine and good — if true — apart from the six week delay!
The fact that the media used quotes from Cooper’s report in their articles was enough for some people to blame him, and by association, both the AWL and NCAFC. If people are so insistent on looking at this set of events as a chain reaction then why stop there? By that logic anyone who spoke and voted on the motion on either side of the debate should also be blamed.
Cooper has been accused of not pointing out in his report that Bouattia condemns ISIS. But it is blindingly obvious that the NUS BSO is not an ISIS supporter; in so far as there was any coherent argument at the NEC it was over issues about Western intervention! How was Cooper to know that anything he didn’t say would be used so maliciously by the capitalist press?
In hindsight, for the sake of comprehensiveness this point could have been included. But it would not have stopped the sensationalist headlines of “NUS BSO won’t condemn ISIS because it is Islamophobic”. The right-wing media will use what they want to suit their own agenda. In this case presenting “lefties” as holding wildly incoherent and reactionary positions. Being honest about one’s own actions is one thing, to self-censor because of how the media or internet trolls might twist our meaning is another. That is a recipe for political paralysis.
The leap people have made between Cooper making criticisms of the NUS and accusing Cooper and others of orchestrating a witch-hunt of Bouattia is too big to make any kind of sense.
A bad political decision was made by people on NUS NEC. We should have a debate about why that happened and more to the point, take action to put right NUS’s lack of solidarity with the Kurds.