One Society Many Cultures event launches
By Noorulann Shahid, Politics editor
Using the infamous Edmund Burke quote: “The only thing that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing,” the one society many cultures campaign formally launched last week, a campaign which is fronted by Samaira Anjum, the community officer at MMU’s student’s union. The event had the slogan “rejecting islamophobia, racism and fascism,” and such ideologies were at the very heart of the discussion that took place.
Samaira Anjum began by emphasizing that diversity should be celebrated, as society consists of many different cultures and faiths. University campus life is an example of multiculturalism in practice. However, the media and politicians always seem to be stirring hatred among community groups, which causes tension. With the rise of many fascist ideologies spearheaded by groups such as the BNP and the EDL, hatred of all kinds including homophobia, racism, islamophobia, and sexism are rife in Britain, and internationally. The recent Norwegian massacre in which Anders Behring Breivik killed 85 people in an hour-long shooting spree proved that such extremist ideas have now spread to Europe, since it was found that Breivik had links to the EDL in London. When the terrible news of the massacre broke out, many news channels and newspapers quickly began to label the perpetrator of such a crime as a “terrorist” who “had links to Al Qaeda”, and that it was a “revenge attack”. As soon as it was clear that Breivik was white, and non-Muslim, the sensationalism halted, and he was no longer branded as a terrorist. Such incidents prove that islamophobia and racism are on the rise, and the event today called for us to unite against a “common enemy”.
Kanja Sesay (pictured), the NUS Black Students’ Officer was next to share his view. He began by reiterating that since more than 20% of the student population are from diverse backgrounds, it is up to the student body to take action against hatred and ultimately challenge it. Islamophobia was coined in 1997, and it means discrimination due to Islamic faith. Islamophobia seems to be separated from racism, but it shouldn’t be, because Islamophobia is equal to racism. Ideologies from far-right groups such as the EDL have spread very quickly without any real defiance. Although 7/7 was a tragic event, what’s even more tragic is that in its aftermath, attacks on Muslims rose by 500%, causing Muslims to feel
isolated, vulnerable and exposed.
He reminded students that the campus is not autonomous from the wider community. Students are a vital part of every city, and must use platforms to condone hatred. Simple things such as registering to vote and actually voting can ensure that parties such as the BNP are not gaining seats. The NUS has a no platform policy since young people are easily influenced, and if groups such as the BNP were given a platform within universities, they are able to recruit more members and spread their fascist ideas. He finished by emphasizing that we all have a common enemy, and we need to unite to fight against discrimination.
Jonny Wineberg, from the Muslim Jewish Forum began with Martin Niemöller’s famous poem that begins: “First
they came for the Jews, but I did not speak out, because I was not a Jew.” He described how discrimination has changed over time; it began with Economist Thomas Malthus, it then moved to Darwin in his theory of natural selection, which he applied to humans, it then moved to Eugenics, a theory which stated only the “better humans” should breed, and it finally moved on to Hitler. This shows that fascism has bred and changed over time, but is essentially due to the theory of superiority. Superiority is a dangerous idea as it promotes one race, whilst denigrating another. The celebration of diversity is significant since it enables us to understand, tolerate, respect and ultimately love each other more. Manchester itself is one of the most diverse cities in the world, with an array of cultures taking residence here. We must celebrate who we are and who we will become.
A representative from “Love Music Hate Racism”, Paul Jenkins, also shared his opinions. He began by reminding us that over the years, discrimination has been ubiquitous. The target changes yet the racism remains. Although the BNP won two seats in the European Parliament, this is still a minority. He called for support with Unite against Fascism’s upcoming campaign entitled “Griffin Must Go.”
Dick Withecombe, the joint secretary for OSMC with Unite against Fascism, began by recalling an event in Oldham a while ago, in which one of the panellists simply said, “they shall not pass”- the slogan first used in WWI by a French general. He emphasized that the tolerant majority, should adopt this slogan against the racist minority. In order for change to occur, the majority must be mobilised, and this is done by making them aware of injustice. Individuals must realise their power and utilise it. We collectively represent history- the good and the bad instances, but we also represent the future. He stressed that multiculturalism is good for society, and it IS in fact society. We cannot have a society without divisions; therefore, we must all unite to make a difference.
Ali Yousef and Mariam Belattar were both representing FOSIS- the Federation of Islamic Societies, a body that is the voice of national Islamic Societies. They both stressed that although FOSIS has come under attack repeatedly by the government, it is support for FOSIS and ISOCs that Muslims need. Muslims have a duty upon themselves to integrate within society and combat islamophobia. Mariam explained that under the guise of the government’s prevent strategy, lecturers are being asked to spy on Muslim students and identify vulnerable ones. However, there is no evidence that radicalisation occurs on campus, it is simply sensationalist. If anything ISOCs are a valuable lifeline to Muslim students to meet other Muslims, to network, and to integrate into the campus community. The prevent strategy threatens to suffocate ISOCs and will, ultimately, cause an increase in hate crimes, especially islamophobic attacks.
Usman Ali, the NUS Higher Education Officer expanded upon this by saying that prevent will hinder students from getting involved in ISOCs, and will have a detrimental effect on the Muslim Student Experience, as it will mean Muslims won’t contribute to student activities. He argued that, if anything, ISOCs do not breed terrorists but they breed activists, and they encourage people to stand up against injustice.
Overall, this event was excellent in that it highlighted the prejudice many groups of society still face. To find out more about One Society Many Cultures, please visit www.onesocietymanycultures.org/ or http://uaf.org.uk/ .