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Dozens walk out of Oxford Union debate in protest against ‘institutional racism’

During Thursday night’s debate, 17 Oxford Union Committee members threatened to resign as part of a protest against “institutional racism.” They delivered a list of demands, including the reinstatement of disqualified ex-President-Elect, Ebrahim Osman-Mowafy. If not met, they will resign on Monday. 

Details surrounding the “unreasonable claim” that Osman-Mowafy was removed for making remain unknown.

Secretary Rachel Haddad Moskalenko, the highest-ranking officer who walked out, said in her speech: “The deep-seated issues within our institution cannot be overlooked, cannot be excused, cannot be ignored.” She said that Osman-Mowafy’s “only crime was to make this Union a more inclusive and diverse place.”

Her other demands include calling for the tribunal report to be published Monday morning and the Appellate Board to be called by Thursday 6pm. Given that Osman-Mowafy was only given 36 hours to prepare for his tribunal, Haddad Moskalenko believes this is enough time.

President Louis Wilson acknowledges that the three governing bodies passed motions declaring the Union “institutionally racist” and that he “recognises the pain and emotional distress” from recent events. After the business, dozens of attendees walked out of the chamber instead of staying for the debate.

This follows Monday’s motions by the Union’s three governing bodies – Consultative Committee, Standing Committee, and Secretary’s Committee – each declaring the Union is “institutionally racist”.

Osman-Mowafy alleged that a Clerk made Islamophobic comments regarding hijabi women, after which Graduate Officer Sarah Rana had resigned, stating that she felt “unsafe, disillusioned, used, and extremely disturbed.”

Recently, a number of ex-Presidents of colour and top officers signed letters stating that the Union has been overly litigious and those proceedings have been “disproportionately targeting individuals from non-traditional backgrounds.”

The debate’s motion was ‘This House believes Britain is no longer a fighting force.’ Speakers in proposition are former British army officer, Lord Robathan, former Commander Joint Forces Command Genera,l Sir Richard Barrons, and Union President Louis Wilson. Speakers in opposition are retired British army officer Lieutenant General Sir Graeme Lamb, presidential candidate Israr Khan, and director of press Noah Robson.

Regarding the claims of racism, a Union spokesperson said: “The Oxford Union Society acknowledges the concerns of its members that resulted in the passing of the motions on Monday at its committees. The Union is unequivocal in its condemnation of discrimination in all its forms.

“The union seeks to be an open, diverse, accessible, and inclusive society in which all members feel welcome and are treated with dignity and respect as set out in the society’s equality, diversity, accessibility, and inclusion policy.”

At the end of his floor speech, presidential candidate Israr Khan spoke on the recent events. He said he is saddened by the “entrenched racism and Islamophobia” and discusses his upbringing in villages of Pakistan and Afghanistan. He argues that resigning is not the solution because “you need to be part of the system to make a change.”

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