My speech at the public meeting held by Stand Up to Racism at Edinburgh University on Thursday 9 March.
I’m an extremist. Government policy is that people like me should only speak on university campuses if special measures are in place to marginalise us.
It’s great to be speaking here in Edinburgh university. It’s great because published guidance to universities, which may or may not be in effect in Scotland, says that people who oppose the racist state in Israel, who support Palestine, who oppose the racist Prevent strategy here in Britain, are extremists. If they speak on university campuses, they are a risk that needs to be managed, perhaps by having other speakers to mitigate the risk.
So I’m an extremist. I’m speaking here either because my white skin means my extremism doesn’t count and is somehow acceptable, or perhaps because someone in authority thinks that one or another of the other speakers will mitigate me. Well, they’re comrades and colleagues and I’m sure they’ll do no such thing. In fact, I hope they’re all extremists too.
Last week was Israeli Apartheid Week. That’s to say, a week against Israeli Apartheid, not for it. There was a public meeting on that theme at Glasgow University last Friday. University security staff sat in on the meeting. That isn’t normal. Security staff aren’t jannies. At some universities they are the people who are getting training in the Prevent strategy, since the lecturers union, the UCU, rightly objects to it.
Everyone is supposedly against racism, but you’re on thin ice if you want to fight Israeli racism with boycott, as we must.
Everyone is against discrimination, but you’re on thin ice if you want people of all races and religions to be free to speak against government policy, if you want people to organise to assert their rights, if you want not just to criticise Prevent but to reject it, as we must.
So we’re fighting racism with our hands tied behind our backs.
Does that matter, when as well as the bad stuff there’s a flowering of progressive politics all around us? I’m afraid it matters a lot.
In Scotland, 4% of us, or a bit more, are from minority ethnic groups. 1.45% of us or a bit more – about 77,000 people – are Muslim.
Those few percent of us are the people who understand what racism looks and feels like and gather the bruises, emotional and physical. Contrary to mythology, it happens right here in Edinburgh. But the real damage is done amongst the 96%.
Racism poisons our collective ability to relate to the majority of the world’s population. Islamophobia poisons our ability to relate to the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. It boosts public support for more resource wars in the Middle East.
A meeting that SACC be holding on Sunday 19th March, at Punjabi Junction, will be looking at the links between the hardcore Islamophobia of Guantanamo Bay and the long history of colonialism and racism that got us there. Please come along to it.
Islamophobia is the cutting edge of present-day racism. It’s the rocket-fuel for the growth of the extreme right. I don’t mean people who write graffiti on mosque walls, I mean people who are close to holding our destinies in their hands. I mean Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen, I mean Viktor Orban in Hungary and the Jobbik fascists to his right. I mean Theresa May’s march rightwards.
If we unite in complicity with racism, we’re going to lose, whether we are fighting against austerity or war or anything else.
United against racism we will never be defeated.
See you in Glasgow [on the Stand Up to Racism march, Saturday 18 March].
This article is based on the written text of my speech, with an additional opening paragraph (in bold). The speech delivered may have differed slightly from the text.
Other speakers at the meeting were: Ian Murray MP (Labour, Edinburgh South), Nick Gardner ( Leith Labour Councillor), Estifa Zaid (former President of the Islamic Society of Edinburgh University), Safeena Rashid (Muslim Women’s association of Edinburgh), Helen Martin (STUC Assistant Secretary), Monica Medina (EIS anti-racism sub-committee), Issa Robson (One Day Without Us), Celia Gonzalez (organiser of No Muslim Ban demo in Edinburgh) and Larry Flanagan (EIS General Secretary).