I am worried not by Chowdhury’s antisemitic comments – but by his divisive politics

7th May 2019

There’s a petition going around requesting for Omar Chowdhury to resign from his post as BME Network Chair in the Bristol Student Union, following the antisemitic comments he made to me on Facebook last year. I want to offer my perspective on the matter.

Omar has apologised to me and to the Jewish studentship in Bristol and I believe his apology to be genuine. However, I think that most people enraged by this saga are missing the point entirely.

I have been following Omar’s politics for a while now and I am worried, not because of his antisemitic remarks, but because of his divisive politics. Omar seemingly views campus politics as being a war between the oppressors and the oppressed. On the one hand there are the oppressive whites and on the other hand are the oppressed minorities.

In his campaign promises he does not once mention anything about fostering good relations and good will between groups. He doesn’t talk about coexistence, integration, social cohesion. It is not about that. It is about a culture war that needs to be one at all costs. What changed with the current antisemitism saga is that he will shift from seeing Jews as part of the oppressive whites and will instead see them as part of the oppressed minority. His divisive politics have not changed. They are just becoming broader in scope to include Jews (this is under the assumption that he is indeed genuine and wants to change his attitudes towards Jews). But to accept this is to entirely to miss the point of what is wrong and dangerous in Omar’s politics.

The fact of the matter is that if you are a student on campus, you are living in one of the most tolerant and diverse subcultures to ever have walked the earth. That doesn’t mean it’s a perfect culture. No culture is perfect. But it is definitely the place where goodwill abounds.  Students of all backgrounds have every right to feel safe and accepted on campus. The university years are the best chance to expand one’s horizons to meet people from different backgrounds, to engage in different opportunities and so on.

But these narratives of oppression and culture war make students fearful and confrontational. Instead of wanting to engage with a diverse group of people, minority students might be too afraid to do so, from the narratives that they are told. Instead seeing goodwill in others and enjoying the safe and tolerant campus environment, students are anxious and scared by exaggerated narratives of hate on campus. I want to argue that the whole “liberation” paradigm is outdated and no longer reflects the reality on the ground on campus. Whilst there are isolated instances of bigotry, this does not justify a paranoid worldview that sees hate and oppressors everywhere. Instead of “liberation”, we should be engaging in “integration”.

Instead of “fighting hate”, we should be working towards bringing rival communities on campus together. We can dispell prejudice and bad will much more effectively by working with different communities and bringing them together to see the humanity in each other, rather than by writing others off as the enemy that needs fighting. Let’s do less fighting and more engaging. If we see hate, let’s respond to it with love, not with more hate. If we see prejudice, let’s dispel it by getting groups together to recognise each other’s humanity, rather than by going full on battle mode and retreating as “oppressed”. Coming back to the antisemitic incident, I have been an open and proud Jew on campus for 3 years now and never have I experienced any antisemitism. The only negative experience that I had came from a “liberation” representative.

The truth is that there is no problem of antisemitism on campus (which is not to say that isolated instances do not occur). The fact that my only antisemitic experience was at the hands of an “anti-hate campaigner” is telling. It tells us that the “fight mode” paradigm is not fit for purpose and that it breeds more hatred than it destroys. We need to stop being hateful. If Omar Chowdhury should resign, it is not for the antisemitism that he has apologised for, but for his divisive politics. Let’s do away with the politics of hate and embrace the politics of love instead.

This is a cross post from Epigram