The current Oxford Union Treasurer, and Presidential candidate in Trinity’s elections, has been accused by a number of current and former Union committee members of calling the Secretary a “terrorist” on multiple occasions.
Speaking to Cherwell, current Secretary Cansu Uyguroglu claimed that upon meeting him, “he was surprised by my name and asked where I was from. Upon informing him I am from Turkey, he said that then I am surely a terrorist.” This particular claim is supported by an ex-officer that asked not to be named. They were present during the conversation, and claimed that the Treasurer said “oh, so you’re a terrorist”, upon learning of her nationality. Uyguroglu said that “I spoke to him privately after this occasion to tell him it wasn’t okay to call me a terrorist, and thought he was being receptive to this.” She has since posted a statement on Facebook laying out her claims.
She went on to say that “This was a repeated behaviour. He showed that he in fact wasn’t receptive of my telling him it’s not okay to call me a terrorist. He later called me a terrorist on multiple other occasions, sometimes in passing.” This claim is supported by current Chair of the Consultative Committee, Louisa Broeg, who said that she was present when he “called Cansu Uyguroglu a terrorist but wasn’t confident enough to speak up about it at the time, because I was subject to his abusive behaviour myself.” Another ex-committee member, asked not to be named, stated that the Treasurer “called Cansu a terrorist during the Union’s vacation days whilst in the office with a small group of committee in the room at the time”.
In a comment to Cherwell, the Treasurer denied these claims. He stated “I did not call the Secretary a terrorist, and obviously see why doing so would be deeply, deeply unacceptable.”
The Treasurer has also been accused of making comments denying the existence of Palestine. The Hilary Term Access Officer, Mirza Sameer Baig Chughtai, stated to Cherwell that a comment in front of the full committee took place during Union vacation days. In the context of a discussion about the “importance of discussing the plight of the Uyghur population of China whilst also paralleling it to the Palestinian plight in order to demonstrate [a committee member’s] point about the importance of holding nations accountable to human rights violations”, the Treasurer “chuckled and stated that ‘Palestine does not exist’.” The Secretary also supports this point, stating that he “expressed that Palestine doesn’t exist”.
In response to these claims, the Treasurer said he was “believing (sic) that there is a recording of debate day that ought to be adduced.” The Bursar of the Oxford Union did not respond to a request to see the recording, or indeed confirm the existence of a recording.
In a Facebook post on Wednesday, the Treasurer said: “Seeing everything in the past week, I’ve taken some time to reflect on views that I previously held and expressed. I know that in the past, I have made comments about Israel and Palestine that were insensitive and ignorant, and, more important than just being uncomfortable, began to invalidate people’s identities.
“For a long time, I’ve stayed quiet about this, and that unbelievably cowardly and self-absorbed. In calling out discrimination, I know the importance of actions and not just words. It’s easy to stay in the wings and to not speak when it is clear that I am implicated and have displayed problematic behaviours.
“Without reservation, I am wholeheartedly sorry for this. I apologise to everyone who I made to feel alienated as a result of my own direct actions and comments, and I apologise to those who were ostracised by me being complicit in the legitimising of views that I know I should have never have given air to.
“I am not giving any excuses because this statement is not about providing ANY justification whatsoever, or explanation, for what I said. In light of everything that has gone on the word ‘introspection’ has stuck in my mind. It would be hypocritical for me to call out others but not force myself to do better, which I am trying to, and will, do. In changing my views, I have started to look within myself and educate myself beyond the privileged bubble in which these views formed.
“I am, above everything else, incredibly sorry for this, and going forward will actively tackle discrimination in all its forms.”
Most recently, the Union Librarian resigned following a controversy on his slate over messages invoking the George Floyd killing and protests as a reason to register to vote.
The Secretary stated: “I’m proud of everyone who has been speaking out about their personal experience and otherwise on racism and discrimination issues. I do not want to take away from the focus on the Black Lives Matter movement in any way.”
In a Facebook post in response, she wrote “I think this is no apology; I believe it is an attempt to save face considering he is running uncontested for President of the Union in the elections starting tomorrow. Instead of coming clean about the discriminatory speech that he is responsible for, Jack has offered nothing but platitudes. Not only does this lead me to believe that he never cared about how he made me feel with his offensive comments, but it makes light of issues of institutional racism that have recently been in the spotlight. A real apology would not reduce his racist statements to a simple political dispute and would acknowledge the racist comments that he has made against me.”
“It is shocking that an officer is allowed to continue holding office having made such comments and showing such biases, and even more shocking that they are running for higher positions. Having studied the rules, I believe there is no rule explicitly against those holding office from being discriminatory or racist. I hope this can be remedied in the future, and I think I’d want to play a role in that.”
Beatrice Barr, the President-Elect, commented that, “I have committed to the Union being an actively anti-racist space, using our international platform for good. This applies to speakers and debates, but also to the Union’s internal structures.The Union’s rules limit transparency in many ways, in particular by failing to allow members and committee to effectively hold their leadership to account.
“Two weeks ago, I established a Disciplinary Reform Committee, to overhaul these disciplinary rules. This will work over summer to make huge changes, as part of which I intend to make racism an explicit offence – not just the current provision of ‘bringing the Union into disrepute’. Like many of the changes we are making at the Union, this change is long overdue. There is no place for racism at the Oxford Union: our members must know that, and our rules must reflect that.”
Image credit to US Department of State/ Wikimedia Commons.