In late 2015, Jeremy Corbyn called for a “kinder politics” – well, we have further proof this week that some people didn’t get the memo. The ex-president of the National Union of Students, Malia Bouattia, has penned a scathing attack on Sara Khan, a Muslim woman now overseeing counter-extremism in the UK, under the headline “token brown faces are not what Muslim women want”.
Bouattia had a year to showcase her approach to anti-racism as NUS president. At the April 2017 NUS conference, 56% of delegates voted Bouattia out of office in favour of Shakira Martin – a black, working-class woman.
In January this year, Sara Khan was appointed to head up the new Commission for Countering Extremism – a body intended to offer external advice to the government on how to tackle hate politics, building community cohesion and stopping our society becoming increasingly polarised.
The role was contested by other candidates and Sara Khan was chosen on the basis of having run the Inspire human rights NGO for a decade and her work campaigning for gender equality. None of this cuts the mustard with Malia Bouattia.
She decries Khan as an “ideal Muslimah”, a token Muslim and worse, a “token brown face”. It’s apparently OK to refer to the colour of a woman’s skin these days if she is a UK government appointment.
There is a patronising, racist assumption here, that what Muslim women seek, at the height of Islamophobia in the UK, is tokenistic brown Muslim faces in high places, regardless of what they represent politically.
Bouattia also drags out the Good Muslim/Bad Muslim argument much beloved of Islamists and some sections of the Left – that Muslims who support counter-terrorism/extremism policy (ie Prevent) are establishment pets whereas those who don’t are REAL Muslims. It portrays Khan as a dupe and ignores her extensive campaigning experience.
With the Good-Muslim Bad-Muslim framework used to categorise us in relation to our commitment to so-called “British values”, every once in a while we are presented with the “ideal Muslimah”. This Muslimah of 2018 – as decided by the Tory government – is Sara Khan…
Bouattia doesn’t employ the terminology that others on Twitter have resorted to in reaction to Khan’s appointment. “Native informant” and “house n….gger” have been used to denigrate Khan. The clear intention of these insults is to deter other Muslims from even thinking of participating in public institutions or assisting the authorities with policies to tackle supremacist and extremist ideologies.