By Rhydian Morris
NUS national conference made history today by electing their first black student president in its history. Malia Bouattia defeated the incumbent NUS president Megan Dunn by upwards of 50 votes, being one of only two people to ever defeat an incumbent NUS president.
Malia Bouattia, a left-wing former University of Birmingham student who has been the union’s black students’ officer for the past two years, stood on a radical grass roots platform opposing the government’s anti-radicalisation strategy, Prevent, and pledging to reignite the traditions of NUS activism. Malia Bouattia had this to say in an interview following her victory ““Running against an incumbent is always tough. I believe it has only happened before once in the NUS’s history. “It feels like a really powerful statement, especially to be the first black woman, the first woman of colour in the post.”
In her first speech following her victory Malia promised to “put liberation at the heart of NUS work. From cuts to maintenance grants, college closures, the black attainment gap and the Prevent agenda, the number of voices and groups being silenced by this government grows by day.” Key campaigns Malia has been involved with over the past year include opposition to the conservative governments PREVENT strategy and “Why is my curriculum white”, an investigation into inclusivity and diversity of university course content.
While Malia has numerous supporters among the student movement her election has sparked considerable controversy among many groups. Foremost of which have been Jewish students who consider Malia an anti-semite, based on her past statements and association with questionable anti-Semitic groups.
In 2011, she co-wrote a blog for a Friends of Palestine campaign group saying that “the University of Birmingham is something of a Zionist outpost in British Higher Education”.The group also publicised that they were “re-enacting an Israeli checkpoint outside the university’s main library”.In a 2014 video from a Gaza and Palestinian Revolution event she questioned the value of the Middle East peace talks and warned of the influence of “mainstream Zionist-led media outlets”.
It was widely reported in the media that Malia had refused to condemn ISIS in an NUS motion, though the NUS has denied this was the case. “Some committee members felt that the wording of the motion being presented would unfairly demonise all Muslims rather than solely the group of people it set out to rightfully condemn,” said an NUS spokeswoman. The NUS says a subsequent motion condemned “the politics and methods of ISIS” and that this re-worded policy was supported by Ms Bouattia.
Malia Bouattia was forced to respond to an open letter signed by 50 Jewish Societies asking to clarify her position on Israel and Jewish students preceding the National Conference. The Union of Jewish Students released a statement following her victory, stating it hoped that the relationship would be positive, though many Jewish students remained extremely concerned, ““There will, however, still be many Jewish students who have not been satisfied with Malia’s response so far to the concerns raised by Jewish students over the last few weeks,” it said. “Now, knowing the result of the election, these questions still need to be answered.”
Malia Bouattia has frequently denied being an anti-semite in multiple statements over the past few weeks, “I celebrate the ability of people and students of all backgrounds to get together and express their backgrounds and faith openly and positively, and will continue to do so, I know many of you will have seen my name dragged through the mud by right-wing media, and might think I am a terrorist and my politics driven by hate,” she said.“How wrong that is. I know too well the price of terrorism, the consequences of violence and oppression. I saw a country ripped apart by terror and was forced into exile. I know too well the damage done by racism and persecution, I’ve faced it every day. And I will continue to fight it in all its forms.”
Lewys Aron the current student union president and Robiu Salisu the union Education officer openly supported Malia during the election. In a facebook statement following the victory Robiu Salisu had this to say “Today, students from all across the country came together to Brighton and made history electing the first ever Black Muslim Woman to be their president. At the same time in our Parliament, we have the Prime Minister spouting Islamophobic rhetoric about Sadiq Khan.
Malia Bouattia has faced abuse in the right wing media in the past and is currently facing online abuse from anonymous trolls attacking her for her colour, gender and faith. It is without a doubt that Muslims face a big backlash when we become political, we have the government PREVENT agenda which actively spies on Muslims and Ethnic Minorities for being involved in activism on Campus or in their college. This needs to stop! I have every faith that our students movement under Malia’s leadership will challenge this abuse and hatred. I look forward to working with her in my role next year as Swansea Education Officer.