On irrational fears and ISoc

 ›  › On irrational fears and ISoc

Comment

On irrational fears and ISoc

As UCLU’s election results were announced, there were cheers, sighs and shouts of victory from winning candidates and tears of disbelief, exhaustion and disappointment from candidates who were unable to secure their position in office for the academic year 2015/16. The results followed two weeks of campaigning from all candidates; very few walls in UCL were safe from the plastering of posters, slogans and manifestos as candidates and their campaign teams tried their utmost to secure the positions in their students’ union for the upcoming year.

But as I sighed with satisfaction at many announcements that informed me of the victory of candidates I’d supported, I started to hear things that made me feel uncomfortable. Several students seemed to be rather disturbed by the fact that all of the Muslim candidates who had been supported by members of the Islamic Society (ISoc) had secured their positions.

“This is just an ISoc election”…”This is ridiculous, how can all these ISoc people win?” were just some of the questions that I have heard since the results were announced. That ISoc candidates winning a union election can be an issue at all, bothers me. In short: yes, a lot of the candidates are Muslim. Yes a lot of those Muslims won. Yes, their campaign teams were made of Muslims. But, so what?

Had all the candidates who had won been members of sports societies, I doubt very much that there would be this level of uncertainty, criticism or cynicism. Likewise, if a lot of the candidates had been of the Left in the political sphere, would anyone say, “this is ridiculous, this is just a Leftie union”.

Perhaps they would, but for some reason, and maybe I am being a cynic, I don’t believe that the undertones of (let’s be honest) fear and distrust would be present to this degree. For whatever reason, be it the current level of misrepresentative media reporting of Islam (although I most certainly believe UCL students are smart enough to critically analyse what they read, see and hear), or an irrational fear that more “ISoc” officers means a lifelong ban on alcohol in union bars, something about Islamic Society members being officers in the union does not sit well with everybody.

isoc discover islam

UCLU Islamic Society annually host a week to educate students about Islam. Credit: ISoc

I am not painting UCL students with a brush of racism or Islamophobia. I am simply confused as to why it is such a problem if candidates campaign fairly, secure votes fairly, and then won positions, that their identity or societal affiliation should be brought into question. Surely candidates with such strong campaign teams as those who won should be commended, and learned from, rather than scrutinised and criticised. Politics aside, I believe it’s also important to identify exactly what the problem is with the Islamic Society.

Are people afraid of officers suddenly enforcing gender segregation on every lecture, union event and graduation ceremony? Given that there are Muslim union officers across the UK, and none of them enforce segregation on their unions in any way shape or form, it seems an irrational fear. Are people afraid that suddenly the call to prayer will resound from the cloisters 5 times a day, and all infidel UCL students will be killed, or worse…expelled? (Harry Potter reference, please appreciate.)

I know that UCL students are (thankfully) open-minded, intelligent and inquisitive individuals, and the fears I have mentioned here are irrational and probably don’t exist. What then, is the problem?

Following recent claims of fraudulent behaviour on the part of certain candidates, let me say that this is not a response in order to refute such claims – I strongly believe (in line with Islamic principles that justice should be firmly fought for) that such claims should be thoroughly investigated, and anyone who has felt coerced or bullied into voting should be listened to.

However, while I won’t pretend that the Islamic Society is in any way perfect – and neither are any of us as students or people – I also strongly believe that such claims of fraud, if deserved by individuals, is certainly not to be attributed to the society or group as a whole.

charity week isoc

I’m not providing a defence of ISoc, instead I’ll provide the reasons why ISoc is a society that should inspire us all, rather than instigate fear and suspicion. Take for example, Charity Week. For 12 years, the Islamic Society’s principle campaign; a week in which students collaborate to raise as much money as possible for orphans and children in need worldwide. Last year, the Islamic Society at UCL raised just over £78,000 for the amazing cause, while enabling students of all faiths and none to unite for this charitable aim.

Furthermore, the Islamic Society has for a few years been running a weekly food drive for the homeless, cooking food in student halls and delivering and distributing in Lincoln’s Inn Fields on Friday evenings. The aim of the project is to feed the hungry, and while they may not be able to solve the country’s problems, it’s one step of many. To further praise the Islamic Society’s successes, it has been the recipient of the Best Society award at UCLU, has won accolades for best campaign, and has generally contributed greatly to the UCL community.

Of course, like every student society, it has its flaws. This article isn’t meant to talk of the Islamic Society as one of spotless sunshine. The point of this article however is to point out that when looking at candidates with Islamic Society backgrounds and Islamic Society support, why is it that we too often look at Islamic Society flaws, and not all the successes that the UCLU Islamic Society has achieved?

Neither union politics nor student societies are perfect, but the reason I love UCL is that it gives us all the opportunity to be the best we can, and give the best we can. I wish all the winning candidates (Islamic Society-affiliated or not) the best term in office. And if there is ever reason to question them, may they be accountable for their own words, actions and promises.

On irrational fears and ISoc Reviewed by on March 7, 2015 .

Sara Baggins asks why some elections are seen more cynically than others

ABOUT AUTHOR /

18 COMMENTS

  • Henry Brougham

    These complaints have absolutely nothing to do with fears over ISOC banning alcohol, blah blah blah. You are predictably naive, not shocking for Pi.

    It is because a single society, with a massive (and evidently very obedient) membership can win any election they enter. It was the same with UK Uncut obsessives in past years. The many disgruntled students having a good old moan are watching candidates running for a cushy job and CV filler, without really caring about the needs and wants of the student body. Feedback about the Union from societies and students seeking help illustrates this perfectly – they are known to do a shit job year in year out, and they don’t care.

  • Steven

    You’ve completely missed the point. The problem many have with it is that it’s identity politics, pure and simple. They won because they were Muslim, not because they had the best manifesto or the right set of skills. When turnout is extremely low, this kind of voting can very easily swing the results one way or the other.

    Were some of the ISOC candidates very good? Yes, they were, and it would be expected that some of them would win. But every single candidate they put up winning? Come on. That would hardly be likely were it an election based on a critical examination of policies.

    This article misses the point, tries to turn it into an argument about Islamophobia (which it clearly isn’t, and which you yourself point out but then go off on one…) and then descends into a kind of ‘Muslims are humans to’ silliness as if you were arguing against some BNP nutter.

    • M A Anam

      “When turnout is extremely low, this kind of voting can very easily swing the results one way or the other.”
      Was the turnout extremely low? I don’t know the number but if it was then shouldn’t the union be spending more time encouraging students to vote for proper representation. Also I doubt Muslim being a very small percentage of UK (and assuming they have a slightly higher percentage at universities) they would be able to entirely change the result of the election just by voting blindly.

      “But every single candidate they put up winning? Come on. That would hardly be likely were it an election based on a critical examination of policies.”
      That is one of the problem of democracy. But unless any fraud was committed, I don’t see how anyone can disagree with the outcome.

      • Steven

        Turnout at UCLU elections has always been extremely low. Autumn elections typically have the lowest turnout, usually around 6-8%. Spring elections, which includes this one, do fare better but it’s still shockingly low at around 16-20%, with 20.7% the highest it’s ever been (which was last year). This year, turnout was 16.7%.

        The Union spends a lot of money on elections, and has introduced things like online voting and extended voting periods to try and maximise turnout. There literally isn’t anything more they can do to make it easier for people to vote, people just don’t care enough. Nobody is suggesting they’re voting blindly-the point made is that ISOC serves as a platform to ensure their members vote for their candidates. ISOC is among the largest of student groups at UCL.

        Well, there are serious allegations of fraud, some of which have already been proven correct and as such an ISOC candidate had 1% of their vote deducted (the most serious consequence within the rules, I take it). But that’s not what I’m arguing, and I’m not disputing the outcome. They won fairly. My problem is that it has descended into tribal identity politics, a process which ensures bad governance.

        • Adam

          This year had the highest turnout in voting, with 6315 voters compared to 6239 in last years elections. However due to the IoE joining the percentage has decreased as an overall turnout. Therefore I’d say this method is actually working in increasing student involvement.

          You say that ISoc serves as a platform for voting to its members, but that can exactly be said for candidates backed by sports or the left, which have a huge platform as well.

          Non of the allegations stated were proven, with complete lack of evidence, the 1% deducted was unnecessary and should be appealed against. If you put it down to the facts, Asad Khan won with over 2000 votes, so regardless of these accusations he won fairly.

          Regarding your last comment on identity politics, I don’t think that equates to bad governance, candidates shouldn’t be painted with the same brush. What people fail to see is that some candidates worked much harder than others and ran a far better campaign.

          • Steven

            ‘This year had the highest turnout in voting, with 6315 voters compared to 6239 in last years elections. However due to the IoE joining the percentage has decreased as an overall turnout. Therefore I’d say this method is actually working in increasing student involvement.’

            An increase of 76 people voting is considered a success? That’s around a quarter of a single percent of the student body. It’s statistically negligible.

            Yep, it’s not just ISOC, they’re all at it. Identity politics is rife at UCLU elections. It used to be left-wing Labour candidates winning the whole time.

            The allegations were proven, which is why they took disciplinary action….

            Identity politics nearly always leads to bad governance. If you don’t think critically about a candidate’s manifesto or skills for the job, and just vote based on what background they come from then you are rarely going to elect the best candidate.

    • Ben Monteith Ben Monteith

      Not entirely untrue, but – for better or worse – these are elections. The ‘best’ candidates will never necessarily win, and we’ll always have, to some degree, a popularity contest. But, while lots of people will vote for Left-wing candidates (as I’ve been guilty of) solely because they’re backed by Labour or whatnot, many fewer people will grumble, refer to it as ‘machine politics’, and refer, with such contempt, to the members of the Left as ‘blindly obedient’ – as has happened to ISoc.

      The article may be too nice, in fact. Islamophobia, maybe subconsciously in many, is rife at UCL, and manifests itself particularly visibly shortly after the Spring Elections every year.

      • Steven

        Yes, people voting for Socialist and left-wing candidates is also a massive problem. I’ve seen that first hand as well, with campaign leaflets going round saying ‘vote for your left-wing candidate’ and UCL Labour and other left-wing student groups telling members to vote for person x simply because of their membership of the society. It’s the reason why I don’t vote in these elections, and don’t feel represented at all by UCLU. This was before the whole ISOCgate stuff.

        A lot of people are just upset that ISOC has now emulated that charade of theirs, and left-wing candidates are no longer winning like they used to. Personally, I see it as two sides of the same coin-doesn’t matter if it’s Labour or ISOC or whatever, identity politics is still a massive problem. Have to say, I’ve never come across any real Islamophobia at UCL in my time here, nor any hint of it, and I think more generally the BME role should be scrapped. As far as I can tell, all the current BME officer does is write silly blog posts baiting and smearing other students (and no, I haven’t been featured on the blog or anything like that this isn’t any kind of grudge).

  • Nick Edmonds Sabeeh Imran Rasool

    Hi Henry and Steve,

    I am Sabeeh the current AEO, if either of you feel like I’ve done a ‘shit’ job, please feel free to email me at aeo@uclu.org. Highlight all the stuff that I’m doing wrong and I’ll try and do my best to alleviate your grievances. I get paid to serve the students and try and fulfill their needs, so air out your concerns, don’t feel that I’ll turn a blind eye to it.

    • Steven

      It’s Steven, not Steve.

      I’ve got no idea what you’re doing, and nor was your work mentioned until now. As far as I’m aware, you have nothing to do with running the UCLU elections, which is the topic under discussion.

      • Fredrick

        Well you did point out that the sabbs were doing a shit job, clearly you don’t actually know anything about the union or about the work sabbs are doing, as evident by your two comments.

  • Imran Ali

    From what I gather, the main grievance is that the candidates with the largest and most loyal campaign team won.

    Call it identity politics if you will, but the campaign team can’t be blamed for its relative strength nor the widespread voter apathy at UCL, which is what should be the focus of everybody’s frustration.

    In short, the above comments are criticisms of perfectly legal (and understandable) moves.

  • Hunter S.

    – “I know that UCL students are (thankfully) open-minded, intelligent and inquisitive individuals, and the fears I have mentioned here are irrational and probably don’t exist.”

    I think you’ve pretty much summed up your piece…

  • Joanna

    “Identity politics” implies that people are voting for these candidates because they are Muslim, thereby further implying that only Muslims (or people who desperately want Muslims in office for some reason) are those voting. Given that several of the winning candidates received well in excess of 1000 votes, and this is much higher than the number of people in ISoc (and indeed voter breakdown would undoubtedly show votes from students of a range of backgrounds), I would definitely argue that identity politics is not at play here. I am neither a Muslim nor a member of ISoc, but a number of the candidates I voted for were from ISoc, because when I spoke to them during the week they answered my questions well.

    Were the 1000+ votes really only either by Muslims, ‘fraudulent’, coerced, forced, or accidental? Or as I believe, was it indeed the candidates with the ‘largest and most loyal’ campaign teams who won?

  • Dominic

    “I am simply confused as to why it is such a problem if candidates campaign fairly, secure votes fairly, and then won positions” – Hasn’t it been proven that was not the case with evidence of fraudulent voting and disciplinary hearings for several candidates??

  • Zarrah

    I’m sure it would kill you all to know that the owner of UCL Spotted is Muslim.

  • HHamid

    ‘Have to say, I’ve never come across any real Islamophobia at UCL in my time here, nor any hint of it, and I think more generally the BME role should be scrapped. As far as I can tell, all the current BME officer does is write silly blog posts’

    It is absolutely ludicrous to base the existance of Islamophobia at ucl on your *own* experience. I’m going to be judgmental and take a wild guess here that you are not a Muslim and as such are not really in a position to ‘come across’ Islamophobia. This hardly negates the exostance of subconscious attitudes rife at UCL that Ben mentioned.
    A problem that these grievances have highlighted is disengagement with the Union. The idea that it is ineffective or does nothing is paraded as defence for apathy. Do students expect that the changes andimprovements Union Officers make are going to cone and knock on their forehead t

  • HHamid

    (cont.)
    In essence its unfair on the students from a society who’s membership does take active interest in the union and engage with it, to be vilified for furthering their involvement.
    This isnot identity politics its engagement; the isoc is not a political ideology andthe membership of the society is a tiny fraction of the number who voted.
    It’s sad that the assumption is made that as candidates with a common backer they couldn’t ALL possibly have been the best for the job.
    It’s time we had some faith (pun intended) in the people that those who care enough about the union to bother voting and campaiging chose to pick.

LEAVE A REPLY

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked ( required )