Pav and that presidential post April 3, 2006Posted by Rasheed Eldin in Uncategorized.
There have been some rumours going around about the recent NUS presidential elections, and where the support of the Muslim delegates, largely coordinated by FOSIS, went – or rather, where it didn’t. I can also see from search engine entries that are leading people here that you probably want some more perspective on this!
The Muslim delegation at the Annual Conference in Blackpool last week would seem to have been anything between 70 and 100, depending on how well or badly coordinated they were in their voting strategies – they would almost certainly be the largest single “faction” at conference. Looking at the election results, it seems that they voted for Sian Davies for president. Sian didn’t get in; Gemma Tumelty did. The interesting thing is that Pav Akhtar narrowly missed out, and would certainly have won, had FOSIS given him their votes.
Pav has headed up the NUS Black Students Campaign this year, and has led campaigns against Islamophobia along with other forms of discrimination; he must be a significant political ally for FOSIS. He is involved in the Student Broad Left faction, to which it seems FOSIS gave 2nd-preference votes in other elections.
People are now reaching for answers as to why FOSIS did not back Pav Akhtar. Some kind of falling-out? Deals made with another faction/candidate? The fact is that it could be anything. But according to whispers on the Educationet forum, amplified by Harry’s Place, it could be for a more “sinister” reason: that they “didn’t want a gay national president”.
David T of Harry’s Place takes the opportunity to add to the rumours, suggesting a big fight between FOSIS, whom he claims is “the student franchise of the MAB/Muslim Brotherhood”, and the office of Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London. Someone posted David T’s piece back at Educationet, and the comments that follow are more informed than over at Harry’s Place.
So what of the facts? Well, Pav Akhtar identifies himself both as Muslim and gay. [This is perfectly well-known, even though online evidence is not abundant: see here, here and here (pp.5-6) for examples.] Unlike the Adnan Ali type, he seems quite content to hold those identities, and do whatever he does, without making a big deal of it or indulging in ridiculous pseudo-theo-juristic justifications for his choices.
Muslim students’ organisation
Before discussing the apparent choices FOSIS made, let’s clarify who they are. I happen to know a fair amount about British Muslim groups. FOSIS is, as its name (the Federation of Student Islamic Societies) suggests, a federation to which most campus ISocs around the UK (plus Ireland, oddly) are affiliated. Of those who don’t bother affiliating, most are in broad agreement with FOSIS’ aims. There are some societies that stay away from FOSIS, and these are generally run by people of more hard-line opinions (by which I do not mean violent).
As for the claim by David T that FOSIS is part of the Muslim Association of Britain (which is seen as most closely representing the Muslim Brotherhood methodology in the UK), I don’t know what basis he has for it. The former is an independent federation that encompasses a broad range of Muslim opinions within a democratic framework. The latter is an ideology-based movement whose members would agree with its particular outlook and strategy for work within the UK.
FOSIS urges Muslim students to get involved in their local unions as well as becoming part of their delegations to NUS events. At the Annual Conference, they become a faction of sorts – differing from others (such as the Labour Students) by not being a political party with an easy-to-define party line to toe. On some issues, the Muslim position would be obvious to all delegates. On others, especially elections, where strategising is key, it is much more subtle. I have been assured that FOSIS decides its policies on more controversial matters by consulting with scholars, then establishing discussion between delegates, ending in a vote on how to proceed.
It seems to me that questioning their motives is rather futile, since they are an independent group of Muslim students who work together for their interests, and do not need to answer to anyone for the choices they make. If they are homophobic, then they are homophobic and they will vote accordingly. Every person’s vote is his/her own choice, and there is nobody who can question the individual over that. The votes are, after all, conducted by secret ballot.
We should ask why Pav would be the obvious choice anyway. If it is because he is Muslim, then this reasoning is misguided. Islamic scholars make it clear, and mature Muslim strategists understand, that it is not necessary to back a Muslim in preference to a non-Muslim for a position, if the latter is more suitable for the position. Our concern should be over who will do the job better. Backing a Muslim may have its own virtues, if we feel that he will imbue his position with the specific moral qualities that we value in our way of life. It may also be smart politically, if his sympathies are going to lie with us, benefitting our agenda. But in that case, it is more pertinent to note that Pav shares many political views with Muslims currently, and that would be more reason to back him than his Muslim credentials. [By the way, I really don't know his actual attitude to faith and practice.]
The LGBT agenda
Activists for the LGB (and now T) cause have not failed to involve themselves thoroughly with the workings of the National Union, and people of these persuasions are more than adequately represented on the Executive Committee (old and new). It is not necessarily the case that all gay people are fighting for “the cause”, but the coordinated goals of this movement should not be underestimated. Its aims and priorities generally conflict with those of Islam and its promoters. It’s known that Muslim activists can say insulting things about gays, but it also happens the other way round, and this highlights a deeper conflict.
Should Muslim students oppose the very idea of the NUS having a gay president? The simplest answer is, of course, “Yes”. But when you consider the complexity of real life, it becomes less of an open-and-shut case. Just how relevant is a person’s sexual preferences and habits to his/her suitability for the role? The more obvious requirements are the known qualities of leadership. But looking through Islamic eyes, we should realise that morality can never be considered insignificant. Again, this is obvious with such aspects as honesty and integrity, but what about sexual morality? [This is a religious concept that some people would rather shrug off.]
I believe that sexual morality should be considered an aspect of what is looked for in a person being elected to high office. This is particularly the case where it is a religious organisation; with the NUS, I feel it is much less of a relevant matter. What concern is it to us if the man in charge commits what we consider to be a sin behind closed doors? Is it of greater concern if he is committing sodomy with another man, rather than fornication with a woman? If so, why?
I think this is really a political issue rather than a religious one. There is a particularly religious dilemma here too, which I’ll come to shortly. But if FOSIS would really oppose a gay candidate for president, I think that would be senseless unless they were concerned about the political outcomes, i.e. related to the LGBT agenda. It should not be a matter of discriminating based on sexuality (NOTE: not “sexual orientation”, a dubious concept).
Backing the “gay Muslim”
We have noted the potential problem of Muslims supporting any LGBT activist, from a political angle. Some may say that such concerns are petty. But in the case of a “gay Muslim“, the problem is much greater, again for political reasons.
The position of NUS President is fairly prominent in itself, but is also a springboard for many into prominent careers, as it was for ministers such as Jack Straw and Charles Clarke, and CRE chief Trevor Phillips. If Pav is to become a big name in the public discourse, what implications could his identifying as a “gay Muslim” have?
Despite his not being openly problematic before now, he could easily be promoted as the Face of Moderate Islam: the star of the Islamic Reformation Generation. As Shaykh Riyad Nadwi points out, “Homosexuality is a crucial component in a coordinated mission to force a reformation on Islam.” The problem for FOSIS, and by implication the wider Muslim community, is that he could then point and say that he had been given legitimacy by them.
Here lies the religious dilemma too, in that those Muslim delegates who gave him the votes would bear responsibility (and ultimately, perhaps face divine retribution) for granting him this opportunity. Now, clearly Pav Akhtar is a very talented man who will probably rise through the Labour Party ranks [I saw him on the Islam Channel with Yvonne Ridley, talking about council elections he is running for], but at least Muslim groups should be free of the burden of blame for any harm that could be caused. Let’s hope that I’m being unfair to Pav.
All in all, if FOSIS did indeed think along these lines, then I think they made the right choice. But, as some people have already pointed out: who knows?
UPDATE: A key figure in FOSIS (the Muslim candidate re-elected to the NUS Block of 12) has attempted to clarify matters over at Educationet. Summary: FOSIS voted for Sian Davies because of her merits, and didn’t vote for Pav in case people panicked about Muslims apparently taking over the Union. Believe him if you want! He also refutes the claim about Mayoral interference.