The National Union of Students has condemned a group that monitors extremist speakers on campus as an “insidious” organisation whose work has led to “witch hunts” against Muslims.
But Student Rights, which published a report in May 2013 that suggested a quarter of university Islamic society events it monitored had enforced gender segregation, has hit back and said the NUS condemnation has been pushed by a group which itself has links to Islamic extremists.
The NUS National Executive Committee passed the motion condemning the organisation on Tuesday.
In a statement, Aaron Kiely, the NUS black students officer, said: “The unanimous condemnation of Student Rights by the NUS National Executive Council is a big step forward in the fight against this insidious organisation that has led witch hunts of the Muslim community.
“Student Rights are not a legitimate organisation, [they have] a total lack of transparency, and have been the source of many sensationalist stories demonising Muslims.”
Student Rights’ report on gender segregation last year hit the headlines, and prompted a major political row after Universities UK released guidance in November that suggested that universities would legally have to allow gender segregation if a religious speaker demanded it.
A group called Real Student Rights is coordinating a campaign against Student Rights and has already secured motions against the group by several university student unions.
On its website, Student Rights said that the condemnation showed that the NUS was “failing utterly to challenge extremism and hate-speakers”.
It alleged Real Student Rights had links to extremist speakers, including that the group had previously asked for support from Hamza Tzortzis, a speaker at the Islamic Education and Research Academy, which was banned from University College London for allegedly trying to segregate a debate by gender.
Given these links “their motivation for attacking an organisation dedicated to keeping the kind of extremism and bigotry they look to promote off campus is obvious”, Student Rights said.
“The NUS should be taken to task for having failed to perform even perfunctory background checks on the ‘Real Students Rights’ activists making their lurid claims,” the statement said.
Responding, Hilary Aked, a supporter of Real Student Rights and doctoral student at the University of Bath, said: “Student Rights’ response is predictably characterised by highly tenuous, immature mud-flinging and meaningless ‘extremism’ smears.”
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