Building bridges, not walls
Two hundred activists, the majority from a BAME background, attended “Trump, Brexit and Beyond - Building Bridges not Walls”, an NUS-sponsored conference in mid-March. NUS President Malia Bouattia made a keynote speech, arguing that the politics of Donald Trump were already here with Theresa May’s threat to deport 48,000 international students. She called on people to do everything possible, including civil disobedience, to disrupt Trump’s UK visit later this year. Labour Briefing spoke to one of the international guests at the conference, Yasser Louati, a Paris-based civil liberties activist.
"How did Islamophobia become mainstream in France? Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, there was always a tolerance of anti-Arab racism: even Socialist Prime Minister Laurent Fabius said National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen was asking the right questions. The assault became visible in the 1980s when French Muslims became visible and demanded full equality. In response, the French establishment questioned the capacity of Muslins to become fully French.
The tool with which Muslims are attacked is “laïcité” (secularism). It used to mean the neutrality of the state, but has been redefined to attack people’s beliefs and violate the French constitution. France has a vast number of laws banning signs of the Muslim religion from schools, colleges, field trips and much more. This state-sponsored racism had been made acceptable by turning it into patriotism.
France today whitewashes its anti-Semitic past by putting the blame for the new anti-Semitism on Muslims. But if Muslims are targeted today, more minorities - including Jews - will be targeted tomorrow.
Focusing on Muslims allows welfare improvements to be avoided and austerity continued. Muslims should be given medals because blaming them allows politicians to dodge responsibility for all the social problems.
We have to reignite a tradition of defying the state. If the state doesn’t fear you, it will crush you. We must develop civil disobedience, boycotting companies that profit from the demonisation of migrants, exposing state officials when they do it. We have to be as radical in protecting our basic human rights as they are in protecting their social privileges.
The demonisation of migrants is a global agenda. Mass surveillance is a global trade. We work within our local communities but we also stand in solidarity with those persecuted elsewhere. When you stand with immigrants and refugees, you stand for yourself, against those who are exploiting them - and you. Don’t operate in separate silos. Only solidarity can save us all."