BY Alison Bellamy
The National Union of Students has elected its first ever black, female Muslim president.
Malia Bouattia, is originally from Constantine in Algeria, North Africa, but now lives in Birmingham, after attending Birmingham University.
She becomes the 58th NUS president and the first ever Muslim to hold the post. She won with 50.9 per cent of the vote and says she wants to ‘fight racism in all its forms’. She was elected by 372 votes to 328, beating candidates including the current NUS president Megan Dunn.
Ms Bouattia has been a leading advocate against the UK government’s counter-terrorism strategy Prevent which legally obliges civil servants – including those at schools and universities – to report anyone suspected of being an extremist. She says she has suffered Islamophobic abuse and received threats during a campaign against Prevent.
Ms Bouattia, who was the NUS‘s former black students’ officer, has recently hit the headlines and faced allegations of anti-Semitism during her election campaign, with more than 50 leaders of Jewish students’ unions penning an open letter to call for her to explain her ‘past rhetoric’.
She was the co-author of a 2011 article describing Birmingham University as “something of a Zionist outpost”.
The 28-year-old has also been accused of not supporting a motion condemning the so-called Islamic State. (Daesh)
But the NUS says this was because she disputed the wording of the motion and not the principle.
“Some committee members felt that the wording of the motion being presented would unfairly demonise all Muslims rather than solely the group of people it set out to rightfully condemn,” said an NUS spokeswoman about the vote in 2014.
Ms Bouattia later supported a second motion condemning both the atrocities committed by Daesh and Islamophobia.
On Wednesday April 20, 2016, she used her election speech at the NUS annual conference in Brighton, to address the claims and resulting media scrutiny.
Ms Bouattia, who fled persecution in her native Algeria at the age of 7, told the conference that right-wing media had muddied her name.
She said: “Many of you will have seen my name dragged through the mud by right-wing media.
“That I’m a terrorist, that my politics are driven by hate.
“How wrong that is, I know too well the price of terrorism. I was pushed into exile by its doing.”
She explained how her university lecturer father was almost killed by a bomb and her school had been attacked by gun-wielding militia, causing her family to flee.
“I know too well the damage done by racism and persecution, I faced it everyday. I will continue to fight it in all its forms,” she added.
“I am so proud to be elected as NUS’ first Black woman president and I look forward to the year ahead. I know the students have huge transformative potential when we come together and put liberation at the heart of our work. From cuts to maintenance grants, college closures, the Black attainment gap and the Prevent agenda, the number of voices and groups being silenced by this government grows by day. In the face of these attacks, I promise to unify, strengthen and lead our movement,” added the newly elected NUS leader.
Ms Bouattia’s campaigns have included “Why Is My Curriculum White?” and she has opposed the government’s Prevent counter-extremism strategy when she led the ‘Students Not Suspects’ tours and Prevent day of action across the UK, and co-authored the Preventing PREVENT handbook.
In her election manifesto she states: “Education in the UK is in crisis. Our education should be a right. It should be transformative and accessible, whenever and wherever it suits us in life. We need an educational system that works for everyone. Support me and I will build a stronger national union ready to lead the way in the fight for the education we all deserve and need.”
Being president of the NUS has long been considered a springboard to high office, with the union’s former leaders including Jack Straw, Charles Clarke, Jim Murphy and Trevor Phillips.