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Just Yorkshire’s false statements about Inspire

We were appalled to read Just Yorkshire’s “Rethinking Prevent” report which while claiming to be “credible,” peddled shocking falsehoods about our organisation and director, Sara Khan. The authors, Dr Waqas Tufail and Dr Bano Murtuja claimed that Inspire “were funded directly by the Home Office and managed by a professional public relations company called Breakthrough Media, despite their claims of being grassroots and independent.”

The report then quoted an “anonymous source” claiming Inspire is “managed by Breakthrough Media” and as a result have been given a media platform that we otherwise would not have had.

We reject these false and entirely inaccurate accusations Just Yorkshire have made about us.

Inspire is an independent, non-governmental organisation. We have been in existence for almost ten years; founded by Muslim women who sought to focus on the realities of terrorism, extremism and gender inequality within Muslim communities, when others did not want to. As a result and directly because of our work, we have always had interest from the media and have pro-actively engaged with them. The suggestion we are “managed” by a media firm is as absurd and condescending as it sounds.

Over the last ten years, Inspire have worked hard delivering many projects, campaigns, conferences and training programmes. As we have publicly stated on numerous occasions previously  only one of our projects, our anti-ISIS campaign, Making A Stand that we delivered almost three years ago now in 2014/5 was funded directly by the Home Office. At a time when teenagers were travelling to join ISIS, Muslim mothers themselves were expressing concern to us about the potential radicalisation of their children. Our campaign engaged directly with hundreds of Muslim women in over 9 cities. We not only taught Islamic theological counter-narratives to extremist ideology, but provided women with a safe space to talk about Islamist extremism that they come across within their families and communities.

In the period before this campaign and since it’s conclusion, we have not received any direct Home Office funding. There are many BME women’s groups who have had projects funded by the Home Office whether dealing with forced marriages, honour based violence, FGM etc. Just Yorkshire do not question the independence of these women’s groups. Nor do Just Yorkshire appear to recognise that over the years, countless Muslim organisations in our country have received Prevent funding. However highlighting their own divisive agenda, Just Yorkshire have focussed on Inspire, one of the most prominent female led counter Islamist extremist organisations in the country, which in of itself speaks volumes.

Unlike Just Yorkshire we believe, when Muslim women are seeking help to safeguard their vulnerable children from radicalisation, the Home Office has an obligation to provide such support to British BME women and their families, irrespective of their religion, race or colour.

Muslim women themselves shared the positive impact of our campaign, but despite claiming to represent BME concerns, Just Yorkshire appear only interested in reflecting the views of those BME people who fit their narrative and worldview. This is further demonstrated by the fact that despite writing about us they did not undertake the basic step of contacting us to seek to verify or corroborate the accuracy of the information they relied on to make such claims. Indeed, having interviewed many, including CAGE, whose links to prominent jihadists have been repeatedly exposed by the media, they did not contact us once, despite us being named in the report and having had first-hand experience, both positive and negative, of delivering a Prevent- supported project. We believe therefore that this ‘report,’ rather than being neutral or independent, was intended to be biased and prejudicial and was undertaken in order to advance pre-conceived agendas.

Inspire is a counter-extremism and human rights organisation. We recognise that terrorism and Islamist extremism pose a threat to the right to life, women’s rights, gay rights, minority rights, cultural rights and freedom of expression. We fundamentally believe in order to counter extremism and terrorism, human rights must be the prism through which we do it. This is demonstrated extensively through our work. It is why for example, we gave evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights on our opposition to the Government’s proposed Counter-Extremism Bill. It is why we have campaigned in support of the Human Rights Act, when the Government threatened to scrap it. Just Yorkshire however, appeared not to mention this in their ‘report’ as it would have laid bare the flaws in their own argument about our organisation.

While claiming to be a human rights organisation and a champion for BME people, Just Yorkshire sought to malign and discredit not only an independent Muslim women’s organisation and our human rights, equality and media work, but the voices of the many academics, think-tanks, counter-radicalisation experts and activists who agree with us. While lamenting “the good Muslim, bad Muslim narrative,” a narrative we have never used, Just Yorkshire ironically themselves engage in and promote this binary discourse by implying that we, as an organisation that counters Islamist extremism, are “bad Muslims.”

The Inspire Board

29th August 2017

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As someone who studies female supporters of Isis, it's clear the writers have done their homework - By Sara Khan

Like a fish takes to water, satire was inevitably going to take on Isis. Having scratched our heads to think what could possibly possess British Muslims to travel to live in Isis’ caliphate (as Syrians ironically travelled in the opposite direction to escape the group), mocking and ridiculing those British Muslims was always going to be on the cards.

Especially as bemusing stories emerged of those British Muslims, who, having burnt their passports and pledged allegiance to Isis, would declare that their caliphate was the “perfect society”, where women were “looked after”.

After declaring their lifetime enmity to Britain, other British jihadists were found later complaining online that Isis members lack the “etiquette of queuing”. Never mind the stoning to death of Syrian women, the grisly deaths of homosexuals, or the beheading of aid workers, one British jihadist’s grumblings of Isis included the dismal fact that “you could be waiting in line for half an hour and then another Arab would come and push in the queue and go straight in”.

After declaring their lifetime enmity to Britain, other British jihadists were found later complaining online that Isis members lack the “etiquette of queuing”. Never mind the stoning to death of Syrian women, the grisly deaths of homosexuals, or the beheading of aid workers, one British jihadist’s grumblings of Isis included the dismal fact that “you could be waiting in line for half an hour and then another Arab would come and push in the queue and go straight in”.

Perhaps it is this truth instead which uncomfortably offends some. The existence of female jihadists and terrorists continues to shock and unnerve us, as if by merely possessing two x chromosomes, women are unable to commit or support such heinous violence.

What should offend us more: the reality that there are women who endorse Isis’ patriarchy and its oppression of women – or a show mocking these women? A satirical sketch does not offend me, but real women like Sally Jones do. Jones was once a one time lead singer of an all girl rock band from Kent who in 2013 converted to Islam and travelled to Syria to join her jihadist Birmingham-born husband Junaid Hussain who she had met online.

It is alleged that Jones plays a key role in training female recruits to attack the West. With her appalling spelling, punctuation and grammar, she openly gloats for the killing of Christians and has issued a number of terror threats against UK cities via her Twitter account. The Real Housewives of Isis pales in comparison to the likes of Jones.

Satire through the use of humour and ridicule is a unique tool which exposes and criticises the stupidity of people’s vices and depravities in a way that only this device can. Satire’s job is to expose problems, ugliness and contradictions, it’s not obligated to solve them, so taking offence to satire misses its raison d’être.

Satire would have to be declared dead if mocking Isis supporters and terrorists is “offensive.” Nor should we so easily dismiss its effectiveness as a counter-narrative to impressionable teenagers.

Terrorists ultimately seek to change the way we live our lives by creating a climate of fear. Satire is a long standing British trait, which helps to neutralise fear through such ridicule. Which is why, despite continuing to work daily to counter violent extremism and Isis propaganda, I will be watching the Real Housewives of Isis next week and laughing along.


Sara Khan is director of the counter-extremism and women’s rights organisation Inspire. She is also co-author of the book The Battle for British Islam: Reclaiming Muslim Identity from Extremism (Sept 2016, Saqi Books)

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December 2016

Inspire logo counter extremism

“Thank you!” from Sara Khan- Inspire Co-Founder and Director

With regular requests and demands for Inspire’s services from across all sections of society, it’s been another busy year for us.  Our work challenging extremism, defending human rights and promoting equality, has never been more important particularly as we saw a rise in hate crimes after the EU referendum.  The challenge of extremism, both far right and Salafi-Islamist, continue to post a threat to our values and country.  Through our work we have seen first-hand how young people in particular are falling prey to the coordinated activism of both far right and Islamist extremists respectively, whether operating online or in our communities.  Undoubtedly this will continue to pose a significant challenge as we head towards 2017.

Globally, 2016 has also seen a rise in populist movements, the active promotion of the politics of fear, of “us verses them” and calls for the ‘closed’ society; in contrast to an open, inclusive and pluralist society which champions freedom, human dignity and equality.  Inspire also believe in an ‘open’ Islam which champions such values.  It is not surprising therefore that British Salafi-Islamist groups and websites who advocate for a closed, narrow and supremacist interpretation of Islam, continue to spread lies about our work and denigrate us.  We will however, not be deterred or intimidated by such tactics and will continue to speak out against hate, discrimination and violence.

On a more personal note, I am pleased to say I  co-authored and published a book “The Battle for British Islam: Reclaiming Muslim Identity from Extremism” (September 2016, Saqi Books – available on Amazon and all good bookstores.)  The book has received excellent reviews including from the Sunday Times.  Fundamentally it explains why the work of Inspire matters in the battle against extremism and in defending our shared values but also highlights in groundbreaking detail the influence, reach and widespread activism of British Salafi-Islamists in Muslim communities and within wider British society.

Below is a snapshot of some of Inspire’s work over the last year.  Looking forward, Inspire will be undergoing some changes.  Firstly, co-director Kalsoom Bashir will be moving on from the organisation.  Kalsoom attended our very first conference in East London back in January 2009.  She was appointed project manager of our pioneering conference “Speaking in God’s Name: Re-examining Gender in Islam,” and later became co-director of Inspire.  Since that time, she has played a pivotal role in helping Inspire to achieve its objectives.  We would like to thank her for her hard work and support over the years and wish her the very best for the future.

Secondly, Inspire will be restructuring and expanding in the coming year.  This is an exciting time for our organisation and we will keep you updated.  So watch this space!

Finally we would like to thank all our supporters, donors and friends who once again helped Inspire achieve so much this year.  We would not be able to do what we do without your support and are grateful for your encouragement and aid. 

We would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a merry Christmas and a happy new year.

Warm regards

Sara Khan

(Director and co-founder)

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Contents

  1. Safeguarding Against Extremism
  2. Muslim Women and Girls: Raising Aspiration, Challenging Misogyny
  3. Policy
  4. Media Outreach
  5. Awards and Recognition
       

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Safeguarding Against Extremism

Since our Spring update which details our training activities for the first half of the year, Inspire has maintained its work with schools on safeguarding pupils from extremism.  We have now delivered training to approximately 5000 teachers and senior leaders across the country.

We have continued to produce counter-Isis videos.  A video we released following news of the death of Khadiza Sultana- one of the schoolgirls from Bethnal Green girls who left for Syria in 2015, was viewed over 100,000 times in 48 hours.

2016 saw Inspire travel the breadth of the country, training and speaking at schools, Further Education and Higher Education establishments in the South West, Midlands, Hampshire, East Midlands, Cambridgeshire, the North West, Yorkshire, the South East, Central and Greater London. Inspire has worked hard to respond to all invitations and requests for our expertise and help, although this has not been possible with the increase in demand, combined with limited resources. We are ever grateful to our funders and donors who by supporting Inspire, have enabled us to respond to many of the demands received from numerous schools, colleges and universities.

A particular highlight for Sara was being asked to be the guest of honour at the awards evening of JCOSS, a Jewish school in Barnet, and being presented with a “peace plant.”

The latter half of the year has seen Inspire focus more on what appears to be the increasing polarisation and divisions within our society.   This led to Inspire delivering sessions to hundreds of pupils following the EU referendum on the topic of extremism, inclusivity and overcoming the politics of fear. This message was further echoed during Sara Khan’s talk for Virgin Disruptors where she addressed 600 people on how the politics of fear is contributing to closed societies, the rise of extremism and the responsibility on all of us to defend the political middle ground whether as individuals, businesses, civil society and within our schools.

At Inspire, we recognise that safeguarding children from radicalisation is a joint effort between schools and parents.  In 2016, our work to empower parents and in particular mothers to safeguard their children against radicalisation was further emphasised by our live webchat and Q&A with Mumsnet and address at Mumsnet’s Blogfest held in London in November 2016.

Muslim Women and Girls: Raising Aspirations, Challenging Misogyny

Of continued importance and priority for Inspire is the work we do directly with Muslim women and girls. During 2016, Inspire held writing workshops with Muslim students at secondary schools on faith, women and power, designed specifically to empower pupils, address low self-esteem, raise aspirations and help build resilience to extremism.

Inspire also conducted a series of workshops in partnership with Avon and Somerset Constabulary aimed at Muslim women to help raise awareness of the dangers of radicalisation and of travel to Syria in July 2016.  Inspire also hosted consultations and workshops at the Bristol Big Sister’s Conference on “Barriers to Employment” and “Radicalisation and Islamophobia” in October 2016.

We continued speaking out against misogyny, appearing on a panel at the Old Vic in October 2016 alongside Stella Creasy MP and activist Nimko Ali, chaired by BBC’s Emilie Maitlis on challenging misogyny.  Sara also delivered an inspirational keynote speech on leadership to the Leeds Female Leaders Network.

Policy

Inspire continues to inform policy in relation to Muslim women’s rights, counter extremism and radicalisation.

In addition to the meetings set out in our interim report, we have also provided evidence to the Joint Committee of Human Right and to the Liberal Democrats Liberty and Security working group alongside Lord Carlile, the former Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation. Sara is also currently contributing to the Department for Education’s Counter-Extremism Expert Reference Group.  Inspire also attended and spoke at a Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (RUSI) event about the review of CONTEST (the Government’s Counter-Terrorism Strategy.)

In November, Inspire was invited to deliver a keynote speech at the Youth Justice Board Annual Convention on safeguarding young people from extremism.  We also spoke on a panel at TrustWomen, on de-radicalisation and prevention.

Media Outreach

Inspire actively harness the media to amplify our voices in challenging extremism and in providing analysis on live issues. With weekly, if not monthly media appearances and contributions via mainstream national press and TV outlets, the demand from the media takes up a great deal of our time.

In addition to our work earlier in the year, including Sara Khan’s appearance on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, there have been further interviews with BBC hardtalk, BBC Radio 2, BBC radio 5live, Sky News, BBC Radio 4 and Channel 4 News.

Following the EU referendum vote and the spike in hate crime, Kalsoom published a piece in Bristol’s local press about how becoming united will we be able to weaken hatred and heal the divisions in our country.

On the same theme, following the murder of a French priest and the attack in Nice by Islamist extremists, as well as the mass shooting in Munich by a far right extremist, Sara wrote an op-ed for ” The Evening Standard titled “We must all unite to defeat politics of hate from IS and the Right” .  Inspire also added our voice to the campaign against the burkini ban in France in both the Telegraph and Left Foot Forward.

We published our response to the Women and Equalities Committee’s report on Employment Opportunities for Muslims in the UK, released on the 11th of August 2016 which was quoted in the Guardian.

The tragic news of Khadiza Sultana’s death was addressed in “The Herald” along with in depth commentary on how to prevent such future tragedies and what we can do to protect our sons and daughters from radicalisation.

In light of Isis’s welcome decline, The Big Issue and The Arab Weekly  covered Inspire’s view on the threat of extremism here at home and reminded us, as published in Newsweek that “Not all Muslims are against the prevent counter terrorism strategy”.

On social media, Inspire used its Twitter and Facebook accounts to rebut regressive views expressed by some other Muslim organisations including challenging the view promoted by Bradford Council of Mosques who suggested that the Government should reintroduce blasphemy law in the UK. Inspire was also one of the first British Muslim organisations to condemn the glorification of Mumtaz Qadri, a Pakistani man who murdered the Punjab governor Salman Taseer. Inspire did this because a number of British mosques and imams glorified his actions in defense of blasphemy.

Awards and Recognition

2016 has been hugely successful and high profile for Inspire.  Our work with the education sector, communities, policy makers and media during this funding year resulted in number of awards and recognition for Inspire and co-director Sara Khan. Alongside being named BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour Top 10 Power List of influencers in 2015, Sara was again named in Debrett’s list of Britain’s 500 most influential people.  She also won the Social and Humanitarian award at this year’s Asian Woman of Achievements Awards, and was named as Marie Claire’s Future Shapers award for Groundbreaking Activist (October 2016).  Sara was also featured in the Sunday Times , as well in Standpoint Magazine (November 2016) and Good Housekeeping ( December 2016 )

For more information about Inspire, please visit: www.wewillinspire.com

Follow us on Twitter @wewillinspire and join our Facebook page

To donate please click here

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Photo: Representational Image/AFP

Louise Casey’s Integration report suggests that as a society we are more divided and segregated than ever, driven in part by high levels of inequality resulting in social isolation. Her figures show that 41%-51% of Black, Pakistani, Chinese and Bangladeshi families are on relative low income compared to the 19% of White households.  People from the formerly mentioned group are three times as likely to be unemployed; the figures for young black men for example are 35% compared to 15% for young white men.

With a particular focus on Muslims, the key findings of the report make it clear  that women in isolated communities are the most severely disadvantaged and negatively impacted especially in relation to their human rights, opportunities and economic wellbeing.  This has come as a result of the failure to tackle social and economic inequalities but also harmful cultural and religious practices that exist due to the misogyny and patriarchy identified in isolated communities. Part of the failure to tackle inequality and regressive practices has been because of the fear of statutory agencies and individuals being labelled racist, or culturally insensitive.

This comes as no surprise to Inspire given our work over the last nine years. We have been at the forefront of highlighting some of the issues raised in this report.  Some of these findings were also noted recently in August in the Women and Equalities Committee report into employment opportunities and also in the census figures behind David Cameron’s English language policy announced in January 2016.  While this report reconfirms some of these barriers to integration, it has been evident that both successive and current governments have not done enough to address integration and social cohesion. The Prime Minister herself on the steps of Downing Street made it clear that she would make Britain a country that works for everyone, and not just for the privileged few. As of yet, there has been no official statement from the Government about what it intends to do in light of Louise Casey’s findings.

Louise Casey has clearly identified the need for urgent action and a new integration strategy – one that is entirely separate from Government counter terrorism and counter extremism policies. For real change, an integration strategy must be one that is holistic and permeates through all aspects of government policy, for example housing, education, welfare, culture etc.

We are concerned that if we do not urgently address the barriers to integration, the isolation, separation and inequalities that currently exist, some communities will become more isolated, and divided helping to breed resentment.  This would provide fertile recruitment ground for both Islamist and Far Right extremists, neither of whom care about creating a unified and stronger Britain.  Together we need to create an inclusive country based on a common set of values, nurture a genuine culture of belonging and ensure that all our citizens believe they have an equal stake in our society. We hope the Government will lead in delivering a Britain that does indeed work for everyone.

Yasmin Weaver- Project Manager, Inspire

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First published October 2016 on the London School of Economics (LSE) website

Despite the government engaging with hundreds of mosques, community organisations and faith organisations in the last year, many Muslim organisations do not want to publicise the fact that they support Prevent. Sara Khan argues that this is because of a loud anti-Prevent lobby that is dominating the discourse on Prevent and vilifying those Muslim organisations that do engage with it. Khan argues that a far more complex and nuanced picture exists amongst British Muslims than is commonly presented. 

I have lost count the number of articles, academic blogs and assumptions that are made about Prevent, in particular that the “Muslim community” opposes it.  Not only is the use of the term “Muslim community” problematic – ignoring the rich diversity in thought, belief and practice of Britain’s three million Muslims – but it is also simply not true that all Muslims do oppose Prevent.

The at time lazy and uninformed debate around Prevent is in part a result of our post-truth society, where, as Kathryn Viner, editor of the Guardian once wrote we should be concerned about how technology and social media now has the ability to disrupt the truth.  Does the truth matter anymore, she argues, where “outlandish claims are published on the basis of flimsy evidence,” and when “a fact begins to resemble whatever you feel is true it becomes very difficult for anyone to tell the difference between facts that are true and “facts” that are not.”

There is no greater example of this than the EU referendum campaign which was repeatedly marked by lies and misinformation.  But I have seen how, through a combination of technology, ideologically driven activists, fervent anti-establishment sentiment and a lack of balanced media reporting, Prevent – and indeed many Muslim groups who support Prevent – have become victims of our post-truth society.

Last month Tariq Ramadan wrote in the Guardian that the government’s counter-terrorism strategyPrevent is flawed because it is based on “a process through which individuals pursue a continuing trajectory, leading from a “moderate” understanding and practice of religion, to an increasingly violent or extremist involvement.”  Ramadan is referring to the oft-repeated claim that Prevent is based on the so-called “conveyor belt” theory of radicalisation.  In an article for the Independent last year, Rabah Kherbane wrote “our government’s current anti-radicalisation strategy is based entirely on the premise of a so-called “conveyor belt theory”. The Home Office vouches for this theory, and it forms the basis of the government’s flagship counter-terrorism policy Prevent.”

Yet despite these claims not being based on fact or truth they have been repeatedly stated.  Nowhere in the Prevent strategy is there support for the conveyor belt theory let alone that the Home Office “vouches” for it.  Instead the government has made it clear in official documents that there is “no single way of identifying who is likely to be vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism.”  Factors, the guidance goes on to say, are wide and varied and can include bullying, family tensions, personal or political grievances among others.  The Security Minister, Ben Wallace MP, in response to Ramadan’s claim argued that “the Prevent strategy has never conflated religious practice with radicalisation.”

But the damage by such articles are already done; the myth, one of many, is spread widely on social media and becomes cemented in the mind of many as fact. The Independent comment piece noted above for example was shared four thousand times. Technology is used to spread myths, in an unprecedented way to an unsuspecting audience, who then end up conflating this untruth as fact.

In my book The Battle for British Islam: Reclaiming Muslim Identity from Extremism, I highlight such concerns. While there are legitimate concerns about the delivery and effectiveness of Prevent, I evidence how British Islamist organisations have led on delivering a highly effective campaign in deliberately misinforming not only British Muslims but wider society about what Prevent is and is not.  These Islamists have not only partnered with teaching unions, students, lawyers, teachers and academics in an attempt to end Prevent, they have sought to malign the many Muslim organisations who do support it creating a “toxic” climate where many Muslims do not want to openly admit their support for Prevent.  As a result the loud anti-Prevent lobby end up dominating the discourse – and narrative about Prevent.

There are valid reasons why many Muslim organisations do not want to shout from the rooftops their support for Prevent, despite the fact that the government has engaged with 372 mosques, 385 community organisations and 156 faith organisations in the last year. Many of these Muslim groups, doing important counter-narrative and CVE work, are vilified because of the opposition by Islamist groups to this area of work. They are labelled as “native informants” and “sell outs.”  These counter-radicalisation groups, including my own, have been declared “apostates” “government spies” and “traitors” by Islamists precisely because of our anti-extremism work.  Yet in an era of ISIS radicalisation, it is precisely this counter-narrative work and partnership which is so urgent.  The Home Office reports that 130 community based projects were delivered in 2015 reaching over 25,000 people.  Online counter-narrative products to counter ISIS propaganda produced in partnership with Muslim groups and the government generated over 15 million views online in 2015. This is vital work.

Alongside this, the debate around Prevent has exposed the continuing alliance between Islamists and some on the British Left.  Together both continue to propagate myths around Prevent and equally pour scorn on counter-radicalisation Muslim groups who increasingly find themselves in a beleaguered space.  What does it tell us about the state of debate today when non-Muslim socialists openly write that organisations like mine – a non-governmental organisation founded by Muslim women – are “state sponsored Islamophobes”* because one of our projects, Making A Stand was supported and funded by the Home Office?

Our campaign visited hundreds of Muslim women in 9 cities across the UK which taught mothers theological counter-narratives to extremist ideology and how they can safeguard their children against radicalisation. Our campaign was well received by British Muslim women – whether Shia, Ahmadi or Sunni.  We delivered this campaign because of the high demand; these same women did not feel that “representative” Muslim organisations or mosques were providing them with such support.  At the same time we knew that without the government’s support through Prevent we would not have been able to deliver this campaign.

But such work has come at a price.  The vitriol, abuse and threats we – and other counter-radicalisation Muslim groups – have received from Islamists has sadly been a blind eye for many in the world of academia – and indeed the media – who instead focus their efforts on those who shout the loudest about their opposition to Prevent rather than acknowledging the far more complex and nuanced picture that really exists amongst British Muslims.  It also ignores the battle of ideas that is currently taking place amongst Britain’s Muslims.

Prevent is by no means perfect and the government’s weakness in communicating what Prevent is and is not and in reassuring the public has undoubtedly been part of the problem.  Much can be said of the government’s unhelpful focus and over inflation of its security policy when engaging with British Muslims.  The announcement of a counter-extremism bill, separate to Prevent, and the government’s attempt to legally define what an extremist is, is a policy I have repeatedly spoken out against and one that I oppose.  Such policies will not only undermine our human rights and freedom of speech, which must be protected especially at such heightened times, but I believe will also undermine our struggle against extremism which seeks to polarise our communities.

Through my work I have seen first-hand how Prevent is playing out on the ground. We need a far more balanced and accurate discussion about Prevent for the sake of truth, intellectual rigour and academic debate.

Sara Khan is author of “The Battle for British Islam: Reclaiming Muslim Identity from Extremism” co-authored with Tony McMahon.  Sara is also co-director and co-founder of Inspire, a counter-extremism and women’s rights organisation.  www.sarakhan.co.uk

*The article mentioned appeared in the Socialist Worker paper and has since been removed, following legal action

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Sunday Times interview with Sara Khan by Rose Kinchin- first published Sunday 4th September 2016

Like all the most effective activists, Sara Khan has perfected the art of being cheerfully cross. She hobbles into the central London hotel on crutches and, for the next hour, is both engaging and enthusiastic despite being barely able to contain her rage. Khan is the head of Inspire, an anti-extremist charity, and a leading voice in Britain’s efforts to stem the flow of more than 800 young people thought to have gone to Syria since 2007.  She and her staff go into schools around the country, training teachers and warning students about the dangers of the radical preachers lurking online.
When three schoolgirls, Shamima Begum, Kadiza Sultana and Amira Abase, ran away from Bethnal Green Academy, east London, last year, Khan’s open letter, sent to hundreds of schools, was reprinted by newspapers around the country. “You won’t know me but like you I too am British and Muslim,” it began. “Some of your friends may have gone out to join Isis and you are also considering going out too . . . I have no other intention in writing this letter but to tell you that you are being lied to in the wickedest of ways.”
It is vital work that requires conviction, authenticity and patience, all of which Khan, 36, has in abundance. Lately though, that patience has started to run out. It is not the Isis radicalisers who are getting to her but a new battle much closer to home. “The Salafi Islamists absolutely hate me,” she laughs. “I think the fact that I’m a woman, that I’m opinionated, that I don’t wear a headscarf, gets to them,” she says, tucking her bobbed hair behind one ear. Internet forums are brimming with loathing for Khan, the “traitor”, while hardline commentators dismiss her as a government “stooge”.
What annoys her even more is that people who ought to know better are falling into their trap. “Sections of the British left have aligned themselves with the Islamist far right who think that people like me are Islamophobic,” she says. “When that happens something has gone horribly wrong with discourse in British society.”
She says many Muslims are grateful for what she is doing: “The number of emails I get — these are your silent majority who will say to me we love what you are doing but we don’t want to speak out because we are scared.”
Her new book, The Battle for British Islam, is an attempt to understand the chaos engulfing her religion but also to make people realise that “we are maligning the very voices we need to support on the front line of the battle against Islamism”.
It does not take too much inquisition to figure out whom she is talking about. In 2014, about the time that Isis declared its caliphate, Khan says “something shifted”. Inspire launched a campaign encouraging Muslim women in Britain to speak out against radical preachers, providing them with counterarguments to give to their children.
She won the backing of the Theresa May, then home secretary, and wrote an opinion piece in The Sun. The response was vitriolic. “I’ve lost count of the number of articles written about me by Salafi Muslims, smearing me and calling me an Islamophobe and an informant because the campaign was supported by government.”
She was bombarded with abusive messages on social media. Some threatened to kill her, others said she would be gang-raped. She installed a fireproof letterbox. Her husband, a lawyer also of Pakistani descent, supports her. “He tells me to ignore it and do what I want,” she says.
I ask whether she was scared. She nods. “When the police said maybe you should consider changing your route to drop the kids off at school.” The abuse has continued, more or less, to this day. Her greatest fear is “that I will have some nutty 18-year-old standing outside my door with knife who just might do something stupid”.
Khan comes from a middle-class family in Bradford. Her father, a businessman who worked in insurance, arrived here from Pakistan and “loved it” she says. “He very much embraced British life. He always said, ‘This is your home. Yes, your roots are in Pakistan but you have to contribute to the wellbeing of British society’.”
As a teenager she dabbled briefly with the more fundamentalist interpretations of Islam. She started wearing the veil at 13 (and continued to wear it until her early thirties). She had qualified as a pharmacist and completed an MA in human rights when, in 2008, she co-founded Inspire. It was born from a feeling that groups such as the Muslim Council of Britain were failing in two key areas: gender inequality in the Muslim community, and extremism. “I’ve seen more and more young British Muslims expressing extreme Islamist views and thinking that’s acceptable,” she says.
For the first few years they focused on Muslim women, “some of the most marginalised people in this country”, she says, campaigning against forced marriage and educating them about their legal rights. But it was the rise of Isis and the willingness of third-generation Muslims to travel to Syria that propelled Khan into the public eye.
She believes there has been an “explosion” of puritanical ideologies, not just in Britain but globally. Where once the Salafists and the Islamists were staunch enemies, they have now united and created an incredibly powerful lobby, pushing “a very hardline interpretation” online, on campuses and on social media.  The “9/11 generation”, as she calls them, find their identity in this global Islamism from preachers who argue that their faith must take precedence over their British identity.
One of the reasons Khan is a target for the Islamists, aside from her bright red nails and refusal to keep schtum, is her association with Prevent, part of the anti-terrorism strategy launched by the last Labour government. It puts the onus on teachers and community groups to identify and “divert” potential extremists.
Before she left her post as director of Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti called it “the biggest spying programme in Britain in modern times and an affront to civil liberties”. It has generated a number of ludicrous stories including one child hauled out of class for drawing a bomb — which turned out to be a cucumber.
Khan admits that Prevent “is not perfect” but argues that it is still doing a lot of good. In her book she tells the story of a 13-year-old girl from Birmingham, radicalised online, who believed that Syria would be an “Islamic Disneyland”. Her behaviour was flagged up early enough and she is now back at school.
I ask whether the strategy alienates people who already feel marginalised. She denies it. The problem is the “Islamic lobby” spreads lies, “telling children that if they grow a beard they’ll be questioned under Prevent”.
The government often fails to allay those fears: “If young people think ‘I’m going to be referred to Prevent for growing a beard,’ then there has clearly been a breakdown in communication.”
She is happy to criticise the Tory government and believes that May’s anti-extremism bill, announced in the Queen’s speech, goes too far. “I don’t believe that we are going to solve this battle by banning organisations, gagging orders or closing venues. These are not going to help. Rather than driving discussion underground, we need to be openly challenging it.”
Khan, I sense, could happily joust with a bearded fundamentalist for all eternity (she believes it is important that her two young daughters learn to “stand up to bullies”) but what bothers her is when the rest of us fail to back her up. She was recently invited to speak at a school but when an Islamist group told them she was “Islamophobic”, they cancelled. “This from a group who are openly anti-semitic,” she says.
She is constantly meeting “well-meaning, liberal teachers” who will meekly agree to the demands of strict Muslim parents on the modesty of a school uniform or skipping religious education classes.
“I tell them, ‘You have to stand your ground. This isn’t a faith school’.” She gives me a warm, tolerant smile: “I wish our society had a bit more backbone. I think most Muslims would be grateful.”

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First published in the Herald Scotland on Sunday 28th of August 2016

Sara Khan by Joe McGorty

KADIZA Sultana, one of the three London schoolgirls who fled to Syria last year, was said to have been disillusioned with life in Isis territory when she was reportedly killed by a Russian airstrike. Kadiza, who was just 16 when she and her friends Shamima Begum and Amira Abase left their Bethnal Green homes, had been radicalised and groomed online into believing that life under Isis would be some kind of religious utopia. Instead it led to an early death.

One 13-year-old girl from Birmingham, who was identified under the UK Government’s counter-terrorism programme, Prevent, told an intervention worker she thought life under Isis would be an “Islamic Disneyland”. Luckily for her, she never got out of the UK. The authorities prevented her from travelling to Syria and she is now back at school, grateful to have seen the error of her ways.

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by Sara Khan, first published in "The Telegraph" on Wednesday 24th August 2016

Police patrolling the promenade des anglais beach in Nice fine a woman for wearing a burkini CREDIT: VANTAGENEWS.COM

Who would have thought a woman, lying on a beach and minding her own business, could present such a threat to the French state?

Bu today, pictures have emerged of four armed police officers – armed with pepper spray; batons in hand – confronting a woman doing just that and ordering her to remove some of her clothing. Namely, her burkini.

Violating both her dignity, and freedom in deciding what adorns on her body, the woman is seen dutifully and humiliatingly removing the blue tunic in front of countless other sunbathers – some of whom reportedly shouted ‘go home’ and applauded, as her daughter wept – in the name of “women’s rights” and “protection of the public.” The ban on the garment was announced by the Mayor of Cannes, David Lisnard, earlier this month in the wake of the Nice lorry attack, which killed 85 people on July 14. A number of women have already been fined and arrested for breaching it.

As France finds itself in the grip of emergency law brought about by the numerous Islamist-inspired terror attacks that have plagued the country in recent times, you would think the authorities would have more pressing concerns on their mind than the burkini, which as many have pointed out is really not dissimilar to a wetsuit.

France’s intelligence and police agencies have found themselves severely criticised having missed vital clues that could have thwarted terrorist acts. From the Charlie Hebdo incident to the Paris attacks in November 2015, the authorities knew some of the attackers – but had failed to intervene effectively.

The threat to France and its population by extremists requires a sophisticated, multi-pronged counter-terrorism approach, which must include building trust and co-operation with the country’s Muslim communities – especially if they are to deal with homegrown jihadists.

Yet it appears France believes the way to “protect the population” as Nice’s local Mayor Ange-Pierre Vivoni argued is by banning a swimsuit. Going further, highlighting the join-the-disjointed-dots approach France has in countering terror, a Nice tribunal ruled on Monday that the ban was “necessary, appropriate and proportionate” to prevent public disorder.

Rather than making war against the jihadists as France keeps telling us, they appear to have made war against Muslim women’s bodies and agency. This, after all, is a country that already has a ban on women wearing full-face veils in public. And, ironically, just like the jihadists who seek to control, deny and prevent women from making their own choices, France too has now made women’s bodies a key battleground instead of standing up for the values of ‘liberte, egalite, fraternite’ it claims to hold.

France has fallen right into the Islamists’ trap: abandon your values that we despise.

Sadly the French authorities fail to see this; and how these pictures will be used as propaganda by terrorists. Banning the burkini doesn’t really achieve much apart from protecting a few illiberal people’s sensibilities; what it does do however is undermine France’s counter-terror efforts at a time when it matters most.

I would be very interested to know the statistics of how many burkini-clad women the French police have arrested for plotting a terror attack while lying on a beach, gazing at the clouds as their children splash about in the sea.  I doubt such information will be forthcoming.

But we know this is not about the burkini. It’s not even about women’s rights. It’s about the religious identity of those women who wear them. It’s about the very presence of Muslim women and Islam in France, and the unease some have towards that religion.

France, while a secular country, appears to struggle with Article Nine of the European Convention on Human Rights: the freedom to hold and manifest religious belief. The manifestation of religious belief can be curtailed under strict conditions – where the freedoms of others could be compromised or in the interests of public order.

Promoting hatred, violence and discrimination in the name of religion, as many Islamist preachers do, would be legitimate grounds for curbing the so-called religious rights of such individuals. Banning a swimsuit, is not a reasonable or proportionate response.

I hope France’s feminists stand on the side of these Muslim women, and not with the authorities or Islamists – both ironically two sides of the same coin in seeking to enforce their clothing choices on women. And I hope French government officials recognise how they are undermining not only their own values but also their counter-terror efforts at this critical time.

Sara Khan is the author of The Battle for British Islam: Reclaiming Muslim Identity from Extremism (now available with Saqi Books), co-authored with Tony McMahon. She is also the co-director and founder of Inspire, a counter-extremism and women’s rights organisation.

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Inspire statement on the HASC's report "Radicalisation: the counter-narrative and identifying the tipping point" released on Thursday 25th of August 2016.

Inspire welcome the HASC’s report “Radicalisation: the counter-narrative and identifying  the tipping point” released on Thursday 25th of August 2016.

The report rightly highlights that there is no single path to radicalisation and that therefore government response needs be sophisticated and multi faceted in it’s approach, both in identifying the factors and tackling them.

Some excellent recommendations are made, in particular about the role of technology and social media companies. The internet is a key tool for radicalisers and more needs to be done to win the cyber war with terrorists and extremists organisation. This also includes a more “high-tech, state-of-the-art, round-the-clock” Counter Terrorism Internet Referral Unit (CTIRU).

Effective counter narratives need to be community led and the government has worked effectively in partnership with civil society groups to make these messages impactful and strong. We agree that Muslim organisations that claim to have wide-scale influence and engagement with communities need to see it as ‘one of their primary duties’ to tackle extremism, and ‘do so much more to expose, remove and isolate those who preach or advocate race hate and intolerance’, which to date has not been the case.

The suggested rebranding of Prevent alone will not fully address those that have made it their cause to undermine its work by spreading lies and myths. We are disappointed that some within the anti-Prevent lobby are deliberately peddling untruths within Muslim communities and wider society, while offering no effective alternative to safeguard those most vulnerable to radicalisation.

Prevent is a strategy to support British citizens from being drawn into terrorism and an essential as well as valuable safeguarding measure to protect our communities and loved ones. Whilst it is not perfect, there have been no other strategies put forward to deal with the very real threat of radicalisation. We acknowledge there needs to be improvements in delivery and training and Inspire would welcome these.

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Image Source: http://www.bristol.ac.uk/news/2015/april/muslim-women-and-employment.html

The Women and Equalities Committee’s report entitled “Employment opportunities for Muslims in the UK”, released on Thursday 11th August 2016, makes a great number of recommendations to the Government on improving the accessibility to employment for British Muslims. According to the report, unemployment rates for Muslims are more than twice of that of the general population at 12.8%. A further breakdown shows 41% of Muslims are economically inactive, 65% of which are women.

Addressing and removing barriers to employment for Muslims, and Muslim women should be an absolute priority for the Government. The recommendations made in the report about the need for better, comprehensive data, will go a long way in helping us understand better where the issues are within our systems and institutions. Once we have these, other suggestions, such as “equipping Job Centre staff with the tools and training to improve their understanding of employment issues”, and asking universities to publish “strategies to improve the under-representation of Muslim students” can be enacted effectively, based on evidence. The move towards “name blind recruitment” is also a welcome step towards ensuring equality and reducing discrimination at application stage.

Whilst addressing unemployment in Muslim communities must be a priority for Government, it must be a priority for Muslim communities too. And this is where I fear, we fall down. No matter how excellent the recommendations and proposals set out by the report are or how effectively they are implemented, they will only lead to minimal improvement for the biggest proportion of Muslims that are economically inactive: Muslim women. The report does well to highlight the additional barriers faced by Muslim women, borne out of cultural, parental and religious expectations and limitations, especially regarding matters such as going to university, childcare and traditional family roles.

For example, following on from the point made about the under representation of Muslims at Russell Group universities, the report rightly points out that for Muslim girls, parents will push for the nearest university rather than the best one- due to expectations that girls must stay at home, driven by religious beliefs or cultural norms that discourage Muslim girls and women from living alone or exercising their agency.  Another example is the statistic that 44% of economically inactive Muslim women are inactive because they are looking after the home, compared to the 16% of the national average. The report notes that there may be lack of awareness of free childcare available to individuals, however there is also still the reality of the stigma about “leaving your kids and going to work” when it is oft-repeated that a woman’s primary (and often her sole role) is motherhood.

Initiatives cited by the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) such as their work with Reed employment agency to “access Muslim women” are welcome, as are requests by the group to the Government to “provide Muslim women with more focussed support”. However, what we also need to see is groups like the MCB engaging with their own hundreds of affiliates, mosques and Islamic community organisations to start changing attitudes towards women and pursue a more active gender egalitarian approach.  The Committee’s report states “mosques can also play an important role in promoting opportunities for women”- but who will make them? Apart from a few exceptions, to date, they have shown little appetite for such positive action.   The vast majority of mosques, affiliates of the MCB, are still hostile places for women, failing to offer adequate provisions and facilities for women, still running male only boards, making women sit in separate rooms and talking to them through doorways and publishing guidance that women must not travel alone more than 48 miles, wear trousers or have Facebook accounts.

Instead, efforts from some Muslim organisations and our so called community leaders are concentrated on much less significant matters. There is a recommendation for the Government to publish their timetable to introduce Shariah compliant student finance- groups, something the MCB lobbied hard to bring about. However, the lack of “halal” students finance is only a barrier for the tiniest of Muslim minorities. HSBC, who with much fanfare announced so called “halal mortgages” in 2008 after being led to believe there was an overwhelming demand discontinued the product in the UK in 2012 due to the lack of uptake. This should highlight how small an issue this is.  If only a similar amount of energy and efforts went in to our communities when it came to changing attitudes and working towards gender equality and economic freedom for Muslim women.  Instead, Muslim organisations such as Inspire and others that endeavour to undertake this work are attacked, rubbished and subjugated to misogynist abuse, highlighting how difficult the struggle for gender equality within Muslim communities is.

It is not only the intra-community gender discrimination that disadvantage Muslim women. The report correctly draws attention to the increase in anti-Muslim prejudice in our society and the disproportionate way it impacts women who are “visibly Muslim”.  There has been quite substantial evidence indicating that Muslim women are being discriminated against in the workplace, in job applications and during interviews; in fact in every stage of the recruitment process.  Muslim women experience what is often referred to as the triple penalty: discrimination on the basis of their gender, ethnicity and religion.  This is a clear violation of the equality act 2010 and the report is right to address this.

Yet whilst we ask the Government to ensure that employers are sensitive to the needs of Muslim employees, colleagues and team members with appropriate diversity and equality policies to ensure no one is excluded, it is also important for some Muslims to develop what the report calls ‘soft skills.’ Socialising at work is cited as a barrier, alongside the lack of these soft skills, which are developed through engaging and socialising with wide and varied circles. While employers can do more to ensure all staff socially feel part of the workforce, offering diverse out of office venues for example, it is also important to recognise the limitations and even harm of those who hold puritanical interpretations of Islam which often actively discourage socialising or striking up friendships with non-Muslims. I have seen how this can become an inhibiting factor when searching for work or considering an employment opportunity.

In conclusion, yes the Government needs to separate their attempts to tackle inequalities within Muslim communities from their counter-extremism policy, provide more support through their systems and job centres. Yes, employers need to look at how they can be more inclusive and ensure universities are more accessible. And yes, we need to deal with the barriers brought about by anti-Muslim prejudice and preconceptions.  But there is also a huge amount of work that needs to be done from within, that can only be done by Muslim communities.  These include challenging patriarchal attitudes and beliefs put upon women either culturally or religiously, which limit their potential in life and have a negative impact on our society and our very own communities who, as we have seen, continue to remain economically the most disadvantaged in the UK.  We need to and can do better.

Yasmin Weaver

Inspire Project Manager

 

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