NUS President Malia Bouattia says she will be ‘branded an Isis sympathiser’ as ‘a Muslim woman in a position of power’

President insists: 'I have always condemned Isis, and I will continue to'

Aftab Ali
Student Editor
Wednesday 27 April 2016 11:38 BST
Malia Bouattia interview

The new head of the National Union of Students (NUS) has said she will always be branded “an Isis sympathiser” because she is a Muslim woman in a position of power.

In an interview with Channel 4 News, Malia Bouattia, who was elected the NUS’s first ever female black president, addressed the mixed response surrounding her election one week ago.

Speaking about life post-election, Ms Bouattia said she had received “overwhelming support,” but that it had also been “very, very difficult.”

She said: “My parents have been personally harassed in their home in Birmingham by media, and they’ve had to see death and rape threats over social media.”

The new president has been at the centre of controversy after an article she co-authored in 2011 surfaced and caught the attention of 300 heads of Jewish student societies and protesters who issued Ms Bouattia with an open letter.

In the article, Ms Bouatta referred to the University of Birmingham as “something of a Zionist outpost in British higher education,” which prompted the letter to ask her: “Why do you see a large Jewish society as a problem?”

Speaking to journalist Cathy Newman, Ms Bouattia also defended her decision to delay a motion condemning Isis in 2014 when she was NUS black students’ officer.

She said there was some “problematic wording” in the motion which “blurred the lines” between condemning Isis and holding all Muslims accountable for their actions.

Having, instead, brought forward another motion which was “clearer in its condemnation of the group” and “extended solidarity to the Kurdish people,” Ms Bouattia said that motion passed through unanimously.

She said: “So, really, the attacks that followed, and the total lies that have been published across the media - and social media - are totally unfounded.

“I have always condemned Isis, and I will continue to.”

She continued: “But, being a Muslim woman, in the limelight, holding a position of power has meant that it doesn’t matter that there are total untruths to it. I will still be branded as an Isis sympathiser.

“It’s no surprise that a Muslim woman elected into a national position will receive such extensive national attention, and quite racialised and sexist abuse over social media.”

Ms Bouattia also said that while academics, trade union leaders, civil society groups, and human rights organisations are free to show opposition to the Government’s controversial Prevent strategy, if she does, she “bears the brunt” of attacks, and is “particularly targeted and seen as a national threat.”

Rounding off the interview, Ms Bouattia spoke of her parents fleeing the Algerian Civil War, and said: “They thought they’d left Algeria with the intention to protect us and ensure that we thrive and succeed in education here in the UK, only to be met with this when we do reach those positions of success.”

Ms Bouattia is due to begin her role as NUS National President on 1 July. However, since her election last week, several students’ unions from across the country have announced campaigns to disaffiliate from the NUS.

Outgoing president, Megan Dunn, addressed this issue and told the NUS National Conference in Brighton in her closing remarks: “To anybody here or back on campus that is whispering of disaffiliation from NUS because of this conference, know this: we are stronger when we work together.

“When students’ unions are under attack, we are better off united than we are standing on our own, believing we can defend ourselves by standing apart.

“So don’t walk away. Get organised, and stand up for your beliefs. Fight for what you believe in because, when you do, win or lose, we are stronger together.”

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