0 580

Some final words as Director of Inspire By Sara Khan

Sara Khan by Joe McGorty

As I wrote in my very first Inspire blog back in 2010, the reason why Inspire was created was borne out of a sense of sheer frustration.  In 2007, a small group of us as women activists met in Slough.  Recognising the reality of gender inequality in all aspects of our society, we shared our deep resentment with the lack of work being done by many of the larger and “representative” Muslim organisations.  We had every right to say and come to this conclusion because we had spent years trying to implement positive change in organisations like Young Muslims UK, the Islamic Society of Britain and the Muslim Council of Britain.  We knew just how bad the problem was because many of us from that small group were the ones appointed to senior positions in those very organisations.

Inspire conference, January 2009, East London and 4 months pregnant!
Inspire conference, January 2009, East London and 4 months pregnant!

The pushback, denial and lack of will to address gender inequality reached a personal boiling point for us; we could no longer tolerate such blatant attitudes and practices. I could not stomach any longer being told to accept the status quo or the argument I heard the most often, usually being made by men, “you must have patience with your situation” and “we must first eradicate Islamophobia, that is the priority  – only then can we address gender discrimination and abuse.”   A straw man argument if I ever saw one, which also ignored that both issues are sometimes interlinked,  as I elaborated in a Guardian piece in 2013.

Everyday in my role in these organisations, alongside the amazing stories of achievement, resilience and courage, Muslim women and girls would share stories of abuse, discrimination and attempts to eradicate their humanity, the extent of which, as I would discover, mainstream feminists struggled to comprehend.  These stories sometimes left me awake at night.  I will NOT tolerate or “have patience” to such gender injustice.  To do so would be an act of injustice on my part.

Alongside this in the shadow of the London bombings we knew the problem of Islamist extremism within British Muslim communities was growing.  Young activists had regularly been exposed to Islamist beliefs, preachers and the lionising of Islamist ideologues. Conflicting with my own egalitarian interpretation of Islam, the widespread active propagation of Islamist ideology in Britain perturbed me.  Then 7/7 happened.  I felt many of these organisations were not prepared to address extremism or gender inequality; despite being, what I call, the two elephants in the room.

So we did what female activists are so good at doing. Instead of waiting for men to take the lead, we rolled up our sleeves and did something about it ourselves.  We set up Inspire.  With no money.  No resources.  No manpower.  No office.  What we did have was an idea and something that even money can’t buy: commitment, a sense of burning injustice, thankless activism and the right to represent ourselves, our views and our voices, loudly and publicly.  In those early days, turning Inspire from an idea into a tiny organisation was led by Tahmina Saleem and I. Both of us had been former Presidents of the female wing of Young Muslims UK – we’d already had years of experience of empowering women.

Training to Muslim women in Wandsworth, 2013
Training to Muslim women in Wandsworth, 2013

 In the early years we approached a number of Muslim charities for potential funding.  Many of these charities had a healthy bank balance, relying on the generous donations of ordinary British Muslims. We argued for support in the form of funding; addressing these two elephants in the room were critical issues for Muslims – the societal harm to Muslim children, families, women and even communities was evident. It was Muslims who were victims of both these societal problems.  Nor did these issues help wider community cohesion in our country; on the contrary it undermined it.

Yet the charities turned us down.  Both the issue of extremism and gender inequality were just too “controversial” for them they told us.  I couldn’t help but see this as a lack of bravery, long term and visionary thinking and poor leadership; too much of wanting to be led as opposed to lead.  Today however, there are a number of great organisations doing vital work who I support.

Back then though we refused to allow this to deter us.

Through local government funding and even private donations we ran yearly conferences and training programmes on gender equality and countering extremism often in partnership with local authorities.   We began focusing on Islamist extremism long before the launch of our anti-ISIS campaign Making a Stand in 2014.  As part of our counter-extremism programmes from 2008 onwards, we were already delivering sessions to Muslim women on the narrative of Al-Qaida inspired and other Jihadist ideology and taught vital theological counter-narratives to extremist ideology.  We outlined how radicalisation took place, how women could safeguard their children and the vital role women play in tackling extremism.

Inspire delivering training to Muslim women in Leeds in 2013
Inspire delivering training to Muslim women in Leeds in 2013

Whether we delivered our programmes over 2 weeks or 4, the response was the same.  Hundreds of women felt empowered and confident – and as they told us in the vast majority of cases, no-one had ever taught or explained to them what Islamist extremism was.  It was precisely the vast expertise we had built up over the years of delivering these programmes to Muslim women that equipped us to run our local programmes in 9 cities as part of Making A Stand.

Training programme on counter-narratives to extremist ideology for Muslim women in Portsmouth, 2011
Training programme on counter-narratives to extremist ideology for Muslim women in Portsmouth, 2011

 In 2010, angry at the deliberately provocative attempts by Al-Muhajiroun and Anjem Choudary to sow division in our society by threatening to take empty coffins through Royal Wooton Basset, a group of us decided to organise a memorial service for our Armed Forces at the National Memorial Arboretum.  It was left to a small band of Muslim women to take the lead.   The simple but poignant service which we organised with the Muslim Armed Forces Association included the laying of wreaths and was also attended by the mother of Lance Corporal Jabron Hashmi, whose British Muslim son had died fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan four years earlier.

Our motivation as so aptly described by, Kalsoom Bashir (who later became a co-director of Inspire) was simple:

“We are here as ordinary members of the community. We have come together as women to show our respect for those young men and women that have died serving our country. We want to show that the grief of a mother losing her son is shared, and that the loyalty of those who have been lost is remembered. There have been other organisations – that represent nobody – who have tried to hijack the message from UK Muslim communities. We are here to claim it back. There was a strong feeling of disgust in the Muslim communities that anyone would try to exploit the grief of families at Wootton Bassett. We thought that this was an appropriate way to show our respects.

Despite the threats we received from some British Muslim extremists – both male and female – and the worries which plagued our minds about organising such a public service, we knew our contribution on that warm sunny afternoon in July was highly significant in not only undermining the narrative of both far right and Islamist extremists but in reinforcing the important role played by British Muslims in service to our country.

Service at the National Memorial Arboretum, July 2010
Service at the National Memorial Arboretum, July 2010
In solidarity; National Memorial Arboretum July 2010
In solidarity; National Memorial Arboretum July 2010

***

In the ten years I’ve served as director of Inspire there are far too many moments that I will cherish as I leave this organisation to recount.  Despite our continuous struggle for funding over the years and the lack of manpower, quite simply we were punching above our weight compared to organisations three times our size.  Our 2011 conference, Speaking in God’s Name: Re-examining Gender in Islamattended by Khaled Abou el Fadl, Mukhtar Mai and others was a monumental success in pushing forward the boundaries of debate within Muslim communities about gender equality.  At that same conference we launched our Jihad Against Violence campaign; the JAV declaration was signed by people from over 32 countries.

With speakers Amina Wadud and Sheikh Michael Mumisa at Speaking in God’s Name, 2011
With speakers Amina Wadud and Sheikh Michael Mumisa at Speaking in God’s Name, 2011

 

Inspire Conference Booklet: Speaking in God’s Name, 2011
Inspire Conference Booklet: Speaking in God’s Name, 2011

 

Pakistani women’s rights activist Mukhtar Mai, Speaking in God’s Name, City Hall, 2011
Pakistani women’s rights activist Mukhtar Mai, Speaking in God’s Name, City Hall, 2011

If fighting gender discrimination within minority communities was enough of a battle, I soon discovered that we also had to fight for our rights against British state institutions.  I was outraged that having experienced enforced gender segregation at Muslim events in our country, these institutions which had a legal duty to uphold the Equality Act, were now prepared to forsake their obligations of gender equality in order to appease the demands of Islamists.  Inspire bravely put its head above the parapet to voice our anger and to push back.

As has always been the case, our voices were minority ones.  Universities UK in 2013 sought to approve gender segregated events on campus if that was to be requested by an Islamic speaker no matter how misogynistic he was. In 2014, the Law Society published a practice note which if left unchallenged, would have also discriminated against Muslim women; read our legal proceedings against them here. More recently Inspire in 2017 challenged the gender segregation policy of Al-Hijrah school, submitting expert evidence in partnership with Southall Black Sisters.  We argued such a policy was a violation of the Equality Act 2010.  Three Court of Appeal Judges agreed.

Outside the Royal Courts of Justice – July 2017 Ofsted V Al-Hijrah School, Court of Appeal alongside Pragna Patel and Amina Lone
Outside the Royal Courts of Justice – July 2017 Ofsted V Al-Hijrah School, Court of Appeal alongside Pragna Patel and Amina Lone

 Each and every time we intervened, we, unlike our critics, proved that we were on the right side of history and even the law (Equality Act 2010).  Yet each and every time we did put our head above the parapet we found ourselves in the firing line of a barrage of abuse, threats of violence, racial and religious bigotry and character assignations.  We got the usual “get out of our country” bigotry from the far right, and while not acknowledged enough, we also received anti-Muslim abuse from the hard Left decrying us as “state-sponsored Islamophobes” and “token brown Muslim women.” As a Muslim human rights campaigner, a woman of colour and a victim of physical anti-Muslim attacks this was indefensible.

The overwhelming abuse however, came from Islamists and Muslim activist groups fixated with identity politics who threatened us and our children and who spread abhorrent lies about our characters in order to intimidate us into silence.  They fuelled new and wild conspiracy theories about Inspire over and over again in an attempt to scupper our counter-extremism work.

The unfortunate truth was that Inspire, like so many – in an era of social media and fake news in our post-truth society – became a victim of these unfortunate times that dominate our world today.  But it is precisely these dangerous conditions and our blind unwillingness to verify fact from fiction, which has allowed extremists of all persuasions to move from the fringes into the mainstream.

What my experience with Inspire has given me is a first hand insight into how extremists operate in our country today and the methodology they use to help normalise their toxic conspiratorial worldview within the mainstream.  It has also shown me how extremists and their supporters purposefully target counter-extremism voices; and the lack of assistance and support these vulnerable voices receive from our authorities or civil society. I am determined, in particular, to redress this.

***

Being hemmed in from all corners, there were many times when we felt we couldn’t go on.  It was physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting.  Who would have thought for example running Making A Stand, an anti-ISIS campaign, (I repeat: an anti-ISIS campaign) which was supported by the Home Office would bring us so much backlash and abuse?

At that time, when hundreds of British Muslims were travelling to Syria and Jihadi John was beheading British aid workers, many were arguing that Muslims leaders needed to do more to speak out and challenge extremism.  Vocal Muslim groups and politicians were arguing that the Government should be supporting and working with organisations in order to safeguard Muslim children.  Mothers were telling us they feared their kids could be radicalised.  Action was urgently required.

Article I wrote for the Big Issue, September 2016
Article I wrote for the Big Issue, September 2016
Making A Stand – Bristol 2015
Making A Stand – Bristol 2015

Having painfully discovered many charities were unwilling to fund such vital work, we decided to take the initiative ourselves and approached the Home Office in 2014 to fund and support our campaign – (watch how our campaign benefitted Muslim women attendees including Sunni, Shia and Ahmadiyyah women.

Making A Stand, Luton 2015
Making A Stand, Luton 2015

 Yet despite this, we found ourselves being repeatedly denigrated and cast in a suspicious light by Muslim groups who themselves had done very little to counter extremism, or who once upon a time had themselves received Prevent funding. We found ourselves not only stuck between a rock and a hard place but between the hypocrisies of this wider debate.

Our MAS campaign and Home Office funding for that campaign ended in 2015.  We did not receive any Home Office funding before or after that campaign. To our complete surprise, Inspire’s work was praised in a 2015 Number 10 Press release announcing the Government’s new Counter-Extremism strategy and fund of £5 million to help build a national coalition against extremism.Once again conspiracy theories and myths were abound.  Our detractors claimed this was proof that we were and that we would be in receipt of millions of pounds of government funding.  Yet we have never received a penny from the Home Office’s Counter-Extremism fund, and like many not for profit organisations – funding – throughout Inspire’s entire existence remained a constant struggle.  Every year, we simply did not know if we would exist the following financial year.  Operating on a shoestring, it hampered our ability to carry out the counter-extremism projects we were eager to deliver.

Yet despite this, Inspire regularly received a disproportionate level of abuse and focus compared to other organisations.  I believe that all too frequently the true motive was a firm opposition to our values and beliefs: equality, human rights, a liberal and progressive outlook.  All of which we see as being compatible with Islam. We were prepared to call out anti-Semitism, anti-Ahmaddiyah hatred, Islamist extreme groups and preachers and other forms of sectarianism and hatred.  We were also prepared to stand up for women’s rights, gay rights and other minority rights.  Nor did we hold an anti-Western or anti-state view and yes we were prepared to work with state and non-state agencies.  This in particular enraged both hard Left and Islamist ideologues. It of course didn’t help that we were women who regularly voiced our “opiniated” views in the public domain! All of this made us the “wrong” kind of Muslim, and certainly the “wrong” kind of Muslim women – unworthy of support or defence.  It was precisely this experience which inspired me to write The Battle for British Islam.  While others often critiqued our work through the poorly constructed prism of “good Muslim/bad Muslim,” for me, Inspire’s prism quite simply, was human rights.

Despite the hard times I will forever look back at my time with Inspire as life-changing.  I learnt much from women like Tahmina, Kalsoom, Yasmin and others who I had the fortune of working with directly.  My conversations with Muslim women, men and young people in cities like Leeds, Burnley or Birmingham were always eye opening.  The training I gave to thousands of teachers over the years and the real stories they shared with me always made me realise just how important counter-extremism work is and why it should be invested in.  Frank and honest conversations with ordinary Brits over the years about their fears of Islamist extremism in their towns and cities, always made me sympathetic to the anxiety of helpless onlookers.  Training I delivered to public bodies – and working groups I sat on, hammered home the huge challenges our authorities face in pushing back against extremism.  The cries of help from parents who feared their children were vulnerable to radicalisation will forever live with me.

These are the ordinary people’s voices we don’t hear, we don’t pay attention to and frankly we don’t want to listen to.  But during all the challenging times I endured with Inspire, it was precisely these people who encouraged me to continue struggling.  And it was their lived experiences that encouraged me to keep on fighting.

Training delivered in Camden – December 2015
Training delivered in Camden – December 2015

It has been an absolute pleasure to serve Inspire and as I move on and Inspire transforms into a charity, I wish the new board of trustees and the new team all the best for the future.  I hope they develop Inspire further, transforming it into an even bigger and better organisation.

But to all our supporters, funders, donors, friends, mentors, colleagues and to each and every person who kept our spirit going either through words of encouragement, sharing a supportive tweet or fundraising for Inspire by running a marathon (!)– words will never be able to express my gratitude to each and every one of you. For your support, kindness and help; and often from complete strangers.  In particular I would like to thank our funders: Sigrid Rausing Trust, Unbound Philanthropy, Barrow Cadbury, Mama Cash and all those Brits who set up monthly standing order forms.  Inspire would not have survived as long as it did, had it not been for your core support and belief in the urgency of our work.

I could write pages and pages of the work and causes Inspire championed and delivered over the last ten years.  But for anyone interested the Inspire website is a recorded account of some of our work and the issues we spoke out about.

It has been an honour; and the lived and eye-opening experience I gained during my time at Inspire will come in great use as I move on into my new role as Lead Commissioner of the Commission for Countering Extremism.

Thank you and till next time!

 

 

0 766
Photo Source: https://www.yahoo.com/news/donald-trump-retweets-deputy-leader-britain-firsts-anti-muslim-posts-115801522.html

The symbiotic relationship between Islamist extremism and far-right extremism is well established.   Sharing a common narrative of hate, intolerance and sometimes violence, both feed off each other, validating each other’s existence.  Following every Islamist inspired terrorist attack in Western countries, we see a spike in anti-Muslim hate both online and offline, against innocent law abiding Muslim citizens. This is then capitalised upon by groups such as ISIS for whom anti-Muslim hatred is a key recruitment tool in convincing Muslims to believe their message that the West is a hostile place for Muslims and an enemy of Islam.  Breaking this cycle is one of the challenges of our time; yet as was demonstrated yesterday, there remains a complete failure to understand this.

President Trump claims he wants to defeat “radical Islamic terrorism” yet part of his misguided strategy appears to legitimise extremists by retweeting Jayda Fransen, the Deputy Leader of the far-right, racist and anti-Muslim party “Britain First.”   This is not only irresponsible but incredibly dangerous.  What Britain First stands for is not a hushed up secret.  Jayda herself is convicted of religiously aggravated harassment of an innocent Muslim woman in front of her children. Britain First, like all extremists, seek to amplify their messages of hate by relying extensively on fake news to generate fear and justify their hate-filled politics.  The video shared by Fransen and Trump, which apparently showed a “Muslim migrant” beating up a Dutch boy has already been debunked by Dutch officials as fake. Despite the damage done in feeding anti-Muslim hate and bolstering far right hate groups like Britain First, this hasn’t resulted in Trump undoing his tweet which was shared to over 42 million of his followers or offer an apology.

On the day POTUS retweeted Jayda, she gained upwards of 15000 new followers and numerous mainstream media interviews where smilingly, she appealed to Trump to intervene in her conviction. David Duke of the KKK, tweeted to show his approval. However Trump’s actions were not just a gift for the far-right, who he has continually validated since he came to power.  It’s also a boost for Islamist extremists, who can now use Trump’s retweeting to evidence that the West is indeed a hostile place for Muslims whilst ignoring the fact that so many of the public expressed disgust and Government officials, including Prime Minister Teresa May and Home Secretary Amber Rudd who explicitly condemned the President as “wrong”.

According to a report published in August by The Nation Institute’s Investigative Fund and The Centre for Investigative Reportings, there were almost twice as many terrorist incidents by right-wing extremists as by Islamist extremists in the U.S. from 2008 to 2016. Looking at both plots and attacks carried out, the group tracked 201 terrorist incidents on U.S. soil from January 2008 to the end of 2016. The database shows 115 cases by right-wing extremists ― from white supremacists to militias to “sovereign citizens” ― compared to 63 cases by Islamist extremists.  So whilst Trump lectures us about dealing with Islamist terrorism, his silence on far right extremism demonstrates his complete inability (or unwillingness) to tackle far right extremism.

To date, far right extremists have been reliant on sophisticated social media strategies to push out their hateful narratives and recruit supporters and followers, including the use of Bots and fake accounts. However, this seems no longer necessary when the supposed leader of the Free World appears to be actively legitimising and promoting far-right extremism. And if he continues down this path, he makes Islamist extremism that much stronger and harder to challenge for the rest of us.

Finally just imagine if Mayor of London Sadiq Khan had retweeted Islamist extremists; Trump – and the entire world for that matter, would be the first to publicly rebuke him, yet the US President has defended his action of retweeting extremists and many more have stayed silent.   While lecturing our government to solve the problem of extremism in the UK, he is unwilling to address white supremacism in his own country while he himself legitimises the far right extremist worldview.    Our country does not need to take lessons from President Trump on how to defeat extremism.

Yasmin Weaver

30/11/2017

0 7467

5PillarsUK:  What are Muslims Islamists thinking?

Despite the global rise of Islamist extremism, the response to it here has been unfortunately predictable and highly counter-productive.  Partly because of widespread ignorance around Islamist ideology, coupled with the active deflection by Islamists themselves and their sympathisers, the debate around Islamist radicalisation in our society is nothing short of regressive.

Rather than acknowledging the threat it poses, time and effort has been spent on the downplaying and denial (even the existence) of Islamist ideology, coupled with a complete lack of pushback by civil society.  Worse still, some anti-racist groups have partnered with and supported Islamists.  This sorry state of affairs has in some quarters become virtually normalised in British society, in particular within certain Muslim apologist activist circles, the liberal Left and even amongst the authorities.

Which is why these very same people, who care about upholding human rights and our democratic values, should watch this recent video put out by 5Pillars , a British based Islamist website.  In their 1 min 45 second video, they helpfully expose their own anti-Western agenda and  support for the Islamist worldview by neatly summarising the central tenets of Islamist extreme ideology which include support for a caliphate, Islamic penal codes and physical jihad.

5 Pillars: “What do "Muslim reformers" want to change about Islam?”
5 Pillars: “What do “Muslim reformers” want to change about Islam?”

The same extreme Islamist worldview which was actively promoted for years by the now proscribed Al-Muhajiroun – ALM (led by the infamous Anjem Choudary).

5 Pillars: “What do "Muslim reformers" want to change about Islam?”
5 Pillars: “What do “Muslim reformers” want to change about Islam?”

The same Islamist ideology which also played a part in radicalising some British Muslims to leave the UK in support of ISIS’s caliphate.

Tellingly, the purpose of the video was to name and shame those British Muslim groups who 5Pillars believe threaten Islamist ideology and beliefs; I am proud to say Inspire being one of them.  Adopting the Islamist old age tactic of charging these Muslim groups of seeking to “change Islam” which needs “defending,” 5Pillars have repeatedly sought to denigrate and vilify counter-Islamist Muslim voices who support human rights, gender equality, and believe in the modern day norm of democratic nation states.

For decades, defending and promoting Islamist ideology has unsurprisingly been a key focus of British Islamist groups.  Their Islamist outlook however is totally at odds with leading Muslim theologians.  Prominent scholar, Sheikh Abdullah Bin Bayyah for example has highlighted how outdated religious laws must always change and has done so since early Islam.  While claiming to ‘represent’ and ‘defend’ Islam, Islamists themselves expose their own opposition to the Islamic tradition and Islam’s own historical record!

This is certainly the case with the outdated notion of a caliphate, or as scholar Wael B. Hallaq calls it “The Impossible State”  because of the inherently self-contradictory notion of an “Islamic State. ” Today, leading theologians have argued that the caliphate is an outdated concept and that Muslims should adopt the idea of the nation state and equal citizenship .

Islamists regularly bemoan the end of the Ottoman Empire, idealising the last caliphate.  They do so with selected memory. Their claim to establish a global caliphate is utterly at odds with the historical record.

It is well known during the 19th Century, how the Empire adopted secular laws and reformed it’s practices which included the decriminalisation of homosexuality.  (5Pillars also attacked the normalisation of LGBTQ ‘lifestyles’ in their video.)   Ottoman society in this period of time began to move away from punishments such as stoning; and the death penalty for apostasy was not implemented.  These laws ironically were hardly applied in practice in Muslim history; Syrian scholar Ibn Taymiyyah (d.1328) remarked that there has never been stoning in Syria up till his time. Imam al-Burzuli (d.1438) rejected stoning and lashing and replaced them with financial penalties and incentives in the 14th century.

Yet here we are in the 21st Century where Daesh carried out such practices and where British Islamists continue to support and call for these extreme practices. Telling us the dire state of debate among some British Muslims and the failure of our country to confront Islamist extremism.

Fundamentally what 5Pillars’ video did so well is a) expose them and b) highlight the existence and support for Islamist extremism among some British Muslims.  The comments on their Facebook page is proof of this.  Despite the regular playing down of non-violent extremism, the video is evidence of how Islamist ideology and the ideas behind it are central to groups like ALM and Daesh.

Yet as someone who has spent a considerable amount of time in the British counter-terrorism and counter extremism community, I am tired of those within that community display blinkered thinking and policy. Too often colleagues and partners exclusively focus on Daesh, while ignoring the radicalisation that is taking place right here under our noses by UK based Islamist groups and the brazen promotion and support for Islamist ideology.   It has become apparent to me that even for many well intentioned activists, faith leaders and authorities, challenging this ideology – and the British groups who promote it – has been placed in the “difficult box” leaving it to a few handful of people who are repeatedly vilified as demonstrated in 5Pillars’ video.

The authorities would do well to heed the words of Jason Burke.  The author, writing about the fall of Daesh’s caliphate, forewarns the next Islamist threat and has argued that Islamist militancy follows the same trajectory; the first a slow, unnoticed period of growth.Many of us are only too well aware of the growth of those ideas in our country, but the truth is nobody is prepared to do anything about them.  Which is why, at our peril, countering Islamist ideology will continue to remain in the “difficult box,” unless there is a sea change in our thinking.

History, as they say, repeats itself.  We, however, never seem to learn.  Just as we look back now and wonder how as a society we defended and condoned FGM, forced marriages and even CSE (and ignored the voices of the then campaigners), we today are witnessing the same inability and unwillingness to challenge and counter Islamist extremism. Another self-fulfilling prophecy which has already led to devastating consequences and will lead to more.

Sara Khan

20/11/2017

0 2856

On Friday, in a landmark judgement, the Court of Appeal ruled – as Asian and Muslim feminists have long argued – that gender segregation in co-ed schools is unlawful sex discrimination and is a violation of the Equality Act 2010.

The ruling overturned a previous verdict where Justice Jay at the High Court had suggested that “separate is equal” and that neither boys or girls were being discriminated against. Three Judges at the Court of Appeal unanimously disagreed and stated both boys and girls were being discriminated against. As a result, 20 other schools (Jewish, Muslim and Christian schools) are now going to have to change their unlawful policy so that it is in line with the Equality Act 2010. It is worth remembering that schools have a statutory obligation to uphold the Equality Act.

Having taken OFSTED to court, the school in question whose practice of gender segregation was found to be unlawful was Al-Hijrah, a voluntary aided co-ed school based in Birmingham. Founded in 1988, by the Al-Hijrah Trust, it openly publicises its practice of gender segregation which it says is a defining characteristic of the school and one of the main reasons why some Muslim parents choose to send their children there. This is irrespective of the inadequate Ofsted reports Al-Hijrah has received alongside having been placed in special measures.

The segregation enforced was extreme. From Year 5 onwards (age 9), boys and girls were segregated throughout the entire school day; during classes, break-times, lunch-times, afterschool clubs and so on. It no longer mattered to the school if for example, Muhammad since the age of 4 had been friends with Maryam and had played with her everyday. As soon as both children entered Year 5 they were now abruptly denied the ability to play and socialise together purely on the basis of their sex. This, was, rightly so, deemed unlawful by the Court of Appeal.

When co-ed schools have segregated boys and girls for particular lessons e.g. maths to help build girls’ confidence and improve understanding, Al-Hijrah made clear there was no educational reason for its policy of segregating the sexes throughout the day. The motivation was entirely religious based on a particular interpretation of Islam which is not practiced or accepted by all Muslims.

Inspire alongside Southall Black Sisters acted as interveners in this case alongside the Equality Human Rights Commission and the Department for Education. We made clear in our written evidence that the practice of gender segregation as seen in Al-Hijrah was not a benign practice. On the contrary, the practice of sex segregation should be seen in its right and proper context. Since the latter half of the 20thC, with the rise of Political Islam, religious fundamentalists in line with their ideological worldview, have aggressively sought to restrict and control women’s rights.

Over the decades, it has been clear that Britain has not been immune to the growing populist trend from the Muslim religious right and in almost every country, where-ever there has seen a rise of religious fundamentalism, women’s rights have come under assault. These new norms have been manifested most clearly through the imposition of gender segregation, dress codes, and the strict policing of women’s sexuality. Supporting the notion of the patriarchal family and traditional gender roles, they forcefully seek to remove women from the public sphere and relegate them to the private sphere which is deemed to be their only legitimate space.

Education has become a key battleground for fundamentalists. As the UN Rapporteur on Cultural Rights Karima Bennoune notes “Fundamentalists everywhere target education in different ways. In some places, they kill teachers or carry out acid attacks on students. Elsewhere they attempt to impose gender segregation in schools or to exclude women and girls altogether. In other places, they seek to change the content of education, removing sex education from the curriculum or censoring scientific theories with which they do not agree.”

When understood in this context, it is fundamentally clear that gender inequality lies at the heart and is a root cause of gender segregation; and whenever it is manifested it is almost always linked to other sexist and gender discriminatory attitudes and practices.

It was no surprise to us then, to learn about some of those manifestations at Al-Hijrah. Library books, some of which were prominently displayed on racks condoned violence against women, marital rape and teachings that included “women cannot leave their homes without their husband’s permission.” These messages about the subjugation of women promote chauvinistic rules and expectations of life in the modern world. They were written in our lifetimes; some of these books for example were published in 2009 and they contained intolerant views about women. They did not promote equality of opportunity.

Excerpts from work written by children and approved by the teachers showed highly gender stereotyped views being expressed and condoned within the school as well as regressive gender roles which sought to confirm that the role of women should be confined to the private sphere rather than the public sphere. These were just some of the deeply worrying findings. But serious enough for Lady Justice Gloster to declare it to be an issue “of such importance that it requires to be determined.”

And of great importance they are because Al-Hijrah is voluntary aided. For those of us who care about gender equality, it is nothing short of outrageous that the state ends up endorsing such teachings in a state school. Where once again Muslim girls are treated differently and their potential in life is curtailed because of the practices and teachings enforced at such schools.

For many longstanding Asian and Muslim campaigners, this ruling was long overdue. However not everyone was thrilled that the judgement would now act as a bulwark against those who have no interest in tackling sex discrimination. Some parents did not recognise sex segregation to be discrimination while others saw the judgement itself to be discriminatory against Muslims despite the fact that schools of other faiths would be impacted. Others argued that the parental choice for their children should be respected. Not so, said the Judges. While the Education Act 1996 provides for the accommodation of parental choice “this cannot negate the statutory right of each child to be educated in a non-discriminatory manner as required by the Equalities Act.”

In what can only be described as a Daily Mail tactic (remember “Enemies of the people”?) some Muslims even profiled each and every one of the Judges’ background pointing to what they saw as hypocrisy that they themselves had attended elite single sex schools. Lady Justice Gloster was ‘accused’ of having been educated at the single-sex Roedean School for Girls.

Firstly, this case was not about single sex schools. It was about segregation in co-ed schools and Parliament did not envisage or intend segregation by sex in co-educational schools. Secondly, the

failure to appreciate what a school like Roedean is trying to achieve and Al-Hijrah is incomparable. Take a look at the website of schools like Roedean whose aim for girls is to fulfil their potential and to break glass ceilings. Lady Justice Gloster is evidence of this! Roedean does not believe that gender is a reason to hold girls back from any profession or from playing a full and active role in public life. Nor would they have books promoting terrible views about women, domestic violence or reinforce restrictive views that the role of women is in the private sphere. Religion would not be used as an excuse to limit or deter women’s potential. Single sex girls’ schools in a patriarchal world, have played a critical role in empowering women and girls, not disempowering them and restricting their capabilities as Al-Hijrah sought to do. Rather than promoting equality of opportunity, Al-Hijrah end up enforcing the message that girls are different to boys.

It was reported that the Muslim Council of Britain were not happy with the ruling either. This is hardly surprising. In 2007 the MCB produced written policy guidance on Muslim pupils in state schools. Called “Meeting the needs of Muslim pupils in state schools,” the guidance discouraged many mixed gender activities, music, art, drama, dance and sex education and sought to normalise gender segregation as an essential aspect of Muslim identity. The absence of any reference to gender equality in the document is particularly significant given its claims to support the “Every Child Matters” agenda. And who provided the expertise and support for this guidance? None other than the Al-Hijrah Trust. Gender equality for Muslim girls and boys has not been a priority for the MCB and their opposition to the ruling has reconfirmed this.

This is why the judgement by the Court of Appeal was so important. The Judges were right to give a telling off to OFSTED and the Department for Education for allowing schools (and others like it) to have allowed such gender segregation to occur for years. However the law on this issue has now been strengthened and is a victory for those of us who subscribe to human rights and gender equality. The policy of gender segregation as practiced by Al-Hijrah and other co-ed schools across our country is unlawful and has no place in our multicultural and multi-faith society. I hope this serves as a reminder that equality and the rights of women and girls especially from minority communities cannot be sacrificed in the name of culture or religion, whichever culture or religion that is.

To read Inspire and Southall Black Sisters evidence click here.

Sara Khan

17th October 2017

 

0 2508

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

0 1191

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)

0 1279

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)

***********************************************************************************************************************

Contents

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

*************************************************************************************************************************

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

0 1254
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

0 1079

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

0 853

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.”

MORE FROM THE BLOG