Last month, a UK anti-extremist student organisation, Student Rights, was banned by seven students’ unions and condemned by the National Union of Students (NUS). Student Rights describes itself as a ‘non-partisan group dedicated to supporting equality, democracy and freedom from extremism on university campuses’. However, it has faced criticism due to its links to the Henry Jackson Society, a think-tank led by such loathed ‘neocons’ as Douglas Murray.
Some suggest that Student Rights’ links to the Henry Jackson Society have shaped its campaigns, and led it intentionally to target Muslim students. Critics of Student Rights substantiate this claim by arguing that a report published by the group in 2013 regarding gender segregation at student society meetings deliberately demonised Muslim students. Pete Mercer, former vice-president of the NUS, even called the report a ‘witch hunt’.
A spokesman for the London School of Economics Students’ Union (LSESU), one of the unions that banned Student Rights, suggested that the report was flawed, since it did not state whether the gender segregation was enforced or voluntary. A fair point, but if LSESU was that eager to take on the findings of this report, one would have thought it could carry out its own research and take on Student Rights point-by-point. Instead, the nominally left-wing union took such offence at a right-leaning organisation commenting on university affairs that it decided simply to silence them.
Calling Student Rights ‘Islamophobic’ seems a little strong. Indeed, in the past, Student Rights has condemned the defacement of Muslim prayer rooms at King’s College London. The intolerant zeal with which students’ unions have clamped down on this organisation is far more disturbing. This is not the healthy, free-thinking intellectualism that students are supposed to aspire to. Instead, it’s another attempt by students’ unions to monopolise political thinking on campus. All students who wish to uphold the truly liberal values of free speech and pluralism should do all they can to stop this – we are the only people who can reverse this disturbing trend.
Ivor Jones is a writer and student based in Brighton.