An online petition was launched this week against the “counter extremism” organization Student Rights.
The group named the “Real Student Rights” have 221 signatories on their petition already. They aim to hold SR to account for their targeting of Islamic speakers, Muslim activists and university Islamic Society events.
The group comprises of Muslim and non Muslim students, graduates, university staff and general members of the public who believe freedom of speech and association on university campuses are important. They accuse SR of “threatening” these freedoms in the wake of the Woolwich murder.
They stated on the petition that “right-wing groups like SR have stepped up efforts to police universities despite the absence of evidence for the alleged problem of ‘extremism’ on campus”. They also described how politically active Muslim students are being unfairly demonised, stigmatised and intimidated.
RSR have highlighted that SR is an indirect project of the right-wing and neoconservative think tank The Henry Jackson Society, whose senior executives have made several controversial statements which resulted in a Liberal Democrat MP to quit the advisory board of both the HJS and SR. They have also criticised SR for its lack of financial transparency and how much money it receives from the HJS and other donors.
SR is known to use an unclear definition of “extremism” usually taking comments made by Muslim speakers out of context. The organisation was set up in June 2009 in reaction to what it called “increasing political extremism”, which was a reference to a wave of peaceful demonstrations by student activists on British campuses protesting against Israel’s bombing of Gaza. Though SR claims to be acting in “students’ interests” it bypasses students themselves and lobbies Student Unions and universities to cancel ISOC events and ban speakers.
Some of the speakers have included well known Muslim lecturers engaged in civil liberties campaigns on issues like Guantanamo Bay like CagePrisoners and intellectual debates with scientists like IERA’s Hamza Tzortzis. RSR have stated that: “SR has no legitimacy to speak on behalf of students, to claim to be ‘protecting’ them, or acting in their interests.
“They are in fact victimizing, harassing and intimidating them, ignoring pre-existing laws and strict university policies proscribing the incitement of violence and hate speech and in effect infringing on freedom of speech and freedom of association”.
The Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS) has also been flagged by SR, most recently about some of the speakers at their annual conference. President of FOSIS, Omar Ali said to 5 Pillarz: “Student Rights are not a legitimate representative of any student organization or views. Their reporting is very shabby and misinformed.
“I do not worry about Student Rights because their reporting is more illegitimate and witch hunting, so just let them write. Ultimately FOSIS and university ISOC’s will carry on doing the good work that we are already engaged in.”
SR argues that it is a non-partisan group dedicated to supporting equality, democracy and freedom from extremism on university campuses. They state that they were formed as a reaction to increasing political extremism and marginalisation of vulnerable students on campus.
On their website it says: “A worrying shift in the priorities of Student Unions means that the needs of students are often inadequately addressed.
Student Rights exists to ensure universities value their greatest assets and serves them appropriately – that is to say that prominence is not afforded to extremist individuals that political action on campuses is proportionate, appropriate and does not detract from the primary function of universities: education.”
SR does not hide the fact that they are the “ear to the ground for extremism and radicalisation occurring on university campuses” which include a range of different groups belonging to extreme political parties, fascists and Islamist elements on campuses.
The organization also claims that they have been “effective at exposing foreign funding streams coming in to UK universities with a particular focus on caveats placed upon donations and from what type of governments they emerge from i.e. totalitarian dictatorships”.
RSR’s petition has demanded that SR should be “treated with a high degree of scepticism by SUs and universities who may be pressured by the group and should resist calls to cancel events unless there is hard evidence that student safety may be jeopardised”.
They have also made clear the links “identified in the media as a project of the HJS and should be treated with a high degree of scepticism by media outlets that may have stories pitched to them or seek them out for comment in the belief that they are a legitimate voice”.
The final demand was for SR to end its witch-hunt of Muslim students, speakers and pro-Palestinian activists and to come clean about its financial donors.
The petition can be viewed on the link below: