One of the worst things about being a student today is not just the crippling student debt. It’s being told by someone who has more grey hairs than you’ve accumulated birthdays that you are doing student life, and specifically student politics, wrong.
Everyone knows student politics only makes sense on heavily subsidised beer at the student union bar and a legal high. So to see our columnists /hacks go after student organising, safe spaces, no-platforming and the first Muslim woman President of the NUS has at times felt a bit like a parent borrowing your skinny jeans and septum ring and lecturing you.
I can see if you are a middle-aged IC1 white man you’ll agree with the other middle-aged IC1 white men that when a Muslim woman becomes President of the NUS on a platform fighting against an “All IC1 and male curriculum” and leads the fight against Prevent, that it might seem that student politics has become divisive identity politics overnight. (Never mind that she was voted in and is supported by non-Muslim students, non-female students, etc.)
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles used to say “radical” all the time in the 90s and this was meant as a good thing, if you were IC1 or a mutant turtle. But when it’s used as a prefix for Malia Bouattia, it means more 7/7 bomber than surfer-bro. When Craig David said “Craig David all over ya boink” we all knew what the “boink” meant. In the context of Malia, the first Muslim woman NUS student president, it means “terrorist sympathiser”.
To bloviate in a 1400-word think piece on how minority students should toughen up and stop being “snowflakes” is to misunderstand the reality of being a minority in the UK, of crossing to the other side of the road when you see a group of people who look like the only immigrant they’ve truly embraced is St George. Nadiya bakes cake for the Queen, but has she slain any dragons?
As someone who was born a Paki (pre 9/11), chased to and from school for being a Paki, discriminated against for jobs due to a Paki name, and who started questioning my own parentage because I got daily reminders from classmates that my dad was Sanjay from Eastenders (well, these non-Pakis telling me so couldn’t ALL be wrong?), I would have loved a safe space at university rather than spending my formative years in constant fight-or-flight mode.
Coming as I do from the generation growing up Paki I can certainly see why the Muzzrat generation of students might want to organise against Prevent. I can also see why trans students and other minorities want to have safe spaces within universities.
If, as a middle-aged white man, you can’t see that insisting on being listened to by students who have exercised their right not to listen to you is a little bit like uncle-dancing-at-a-wedding, then you’re more out of touch than Eden Hazard this season. I say let the students play in their safe spaces. Their souls will be crushed soon enough post-university, with the unbearable mediocrity and uniformity of white male Boris Johnson clones.
Also it hasn’t gone unnoticed by Muslim students that most of the arguments from non-Muslim celebrity activists boils down to, “Why is my freedom of speech to criticise Muslims being curtailed?”, That’s not free speech; that’s claiming the right to free speech on the basis of not being Muslim.
Warning: the following passages contain a drag of problematic faves.
Peter Tatchell, with all the self-awareness of someone who has named a foundation after himself, has been moaning that an ungrateful student has no-platformed him. How do I know? He has retold this story numerous times in the press and TV, and each time he has, irony has curled up into a foetal position and cried itself to sleep.
If Peter wants to appeal to the students and not come across as a badly-dressed children’s presenter from the 70s waiting for that call from Operation Yewtree, then waging a tone-deaf three-month media campaign is not the way to go about it.
Surely he must question that if no one knows the name of the LGBT Officer who didn’t want to sit with you that one time, that it might not be him being silenced? When you carpet bomb the press with a “love me students” campaign and they still don’t love you, then they aren’t going to love you or, at the very least, they recognise the relationship is like a Facebook status, complicated.
FYI Julie Bindel: if you’re on a national debate on the BBC about how students are mean to you, and in the course of showing us on a metaphorical veiled Muslim doll where the mean students upset you, and after trans university communities tried to no-platform you let slip that you’ve been to many universities since what, for the unholy love of Germaine Greer, are you whittling on about?
Maybe they’ve outgrown both your politics. Maybe they’re more about student fees, grant cuts, rising Islamophobia, transphobia, and unprecedented attacks on free speech by the government in universities; call them a bunch of bad-credit-rating, live-with-their-parents-until-they-die idealists, but at least they’re not co-signing letters with Germaine Greer or appearing in a double-page spread with Rod Liddle.
Tatchell and Bindel are now akin to the white middle-aged men at the Spectator who get misty-eyed over the Rhodes statue. All this wailing in print and TV fis giving me flashbacks to a Drake album where he constantly talks about his ex. She’s moved on, and students have too; they’re going to do politics on their own terms.
Perhaps they should be more like the greatest activist of them all: white Jesus. When the people turned on him, he didn’t wage a media campaign; he simply forgave them and walked away.
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Raf is a vegetarian Muslim who does current affairs with jokes. Follow him on Twitter @1Rafz
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