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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

 

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COURT OF APPEAL FINDS THAT GENDER SEGREGATION CAN AMOUNT TO UNLAWFUL SEX DISCRIMINATION- October 2017

In a landmark judgement handed down today, the Court of Appeal found that ‘separate but equal’ treatment on the basis of gender at a school can amount to unlawful sex discrimination under the Equality Act 2010 (EqA).

The Court (Etherton MR and Beatson and Gloster LJJ) had been asked to consider gender segregation at the Al-Hijrah school, a voluntary aided Muslim co-ed school in which boys and girls are completely segregated from the age of 9.

The Court found that the school’s policy of strict segregation was discriminatory since it had an adverse impact on the quality and effectiveness of the education given by the school to both the girls and boy pupils respectively, and could not be justified under one of the exceptions set out in the Equality Act.

Moreover, Gloster LJ went further and accepted the submissions of SBS and Inspire that the effect of gender segregation, in the specific context of this Muslim school, was not gender neutral but informed by particular precepts and practices of certain Muslim communities.

Drawing extensively upon the ‘Casey Review’, which was referenced in SBS and Inspire’s submissions, Gloster LJ concluded that the school’s policy was particularly detrimental for girls in that it reinforced the different spaces – private and public – that men and women must occupy, and their respective stereotyped roles which accord them differential and unequal status.

This is an important judgment with far reaching consequences for the rights of minority women and girls to equality and the freedom to participate in public life as citizens.

To read Inspire and Southall Black Sisters evidence click here.

Pragna Patel of SBS said: “We very much welcome the judgment and its recognition that gender segregation can be unlawful and discriminatory, especially in contexts where the practice is tied to the rise of religious fundamentalist and conservative norms. For over three decades, we have seen how regressive religious forces have targeted schools and universities as a means by which to control and police female sexuality in minority communities. The imposition of gender segregation, dress codes and sharia laws are just some means by which gender inequality is legitimised and promoted despite the serious and harmful consequences. This judgment is a vital step forward in our effort to persuade the courts and state bodies to take account of the reality of the misogyny and gender stereotyping that is promoted in our schools and universities in the name of religious and cultural freedom. We are delighted that the court has seen through this and upheld the equality principle.

Sara Khan of Inspire said: “I am pleased the Court of Appeal has recognised that in the context of co-ed schools which apply gender segregation throughout the school day, separate is not equal.  Inspire have long argued that the practice of gender segregation is discriminatory and is a violation of the Equality Act.  Over the years, religious fundamentalists in our country have aggressively sought to normalise the practice of gender segregation in our schools and institutions; and unfortunately we have witnessed a growing accommodation to it in particular by local authorities.  This landmark ruling can now act as a bulwark against this.  The Court of Appeal’s judgment makes clear that 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 must not be sacrificed in the name of culture or religion.”

 

Read about Southall Black Sisters and Inspire’s intervention at the Court of Appeal in July 2017 here

 

END

 

To contact Southall Black Sisters please contact:

Pragna Patel
pragna@southallblacksisters.co.uk
020 8571 9595

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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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July 2017

Inspire logo counter extremism

Welcome to Inspire, an independent non-governmental counter-extremism and women’s rights organisation. Almost ten years old, Inspire has been at the forefront of empowering women, championing gender equality and countering extremist narratives.  In 2008, frustrated with the lack of concern and will from many so-called representative Muslim organisations (who were typically male-led) in addressing both extremism and women’s rights, Inspire was founded.  Since that time, some of our work has included:

 

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This is just a flavour of some our work.  Remarkably we have never had more than 2 full time and 1 part time employee in carrying out such cutting edge initiatives and projects.  Our funding has included donations from the public and private philanthropists, support from foundations and charities including Sigrid Rausing Trust and Barrow Cadbury, and in the case of our anti-ISIS project, the Home Office. (For clarity sake we have never received core funding from the Home Office, nor received any funding from them for over 2 years since the end of our Making A Stand campaign.)

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Yet now more than ever, the work of Inspire is critical.  As we witness the rise of all forms of extremism and the threat this poses to women’s rights in particular, the increasing polarisation and division in our society, Inspire’s aims which include defending our shared values and challenging hate is vital.

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Which is why we would like to inform you that Inspire is currently undergoing a stage of transformation and transition.  Over the next few months we are pleased to say that we are in the process of restructuring the organisation.  Our aim is to become bigger and better.  This is an exciting time for us, but we ask you to please be patient with us during this time. We are going to be very busy behind the scenes building Inspire.  While we will still be operating and working on a number of important projects, we are temporarily unable to resume many of our current services but please still contact us at info@wewillinspire.com if you have a particular request and we will try our utmost to meet your needs.  If you want to reach out to Sara Khan directly, you can contact her at mail@sarakhan.co.uk.

Over the years, the positive response we have received from ordinary members of the public (both Muslims and non-Muslims) has been incredible.  We have received hundreds and hundreds of emails, phone calls and other messages.  Many Muslims tell us that our work is essential in challenging the regressive, fundamentalist and anti-human rights Muslim lobbies who claim to speak on behalf of all Muslims.  Both Muslims and non-Muslims tell us that we are a voice of reason and that we demonstrably provide a vision of how it is possible for Muslims and non-Muslims to live together, on the basis of shared values, in this country we all call home.   The words of support (and donations) from the British public who urge us to continue and to never stop doing what we do, is a heavy responsibility we take seriously and profoundly.  Which is why we are looking to expand Inspire over the next few months.

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We would like to take this opportunity to thank all our supporters over the years and all those who continue to donate to us.  We would not be here today without your solidarity.

We look forward to updating you on our work and organisation over the next few months.

WATCH THIS SPACE!!

 

 

 

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30th June 2017

School X – a co-educational, Muslim voluntary aided school in the UK – segregates its pupils based on their gender. From the age of 9 to 16, Muslim boys and girls are segregated for everything – during lessons and all breaks, activities and school trips.

On 13 and 14 June 2016, the school was inspected by the regulatory body, Ofsted, which raised concerns about a number of leadership failings including those involving gender segregation, the absence of effective safeguarding procedures, and an unchallenged culture of gender stereotyping and homophobia. Offensive religious books promoting rape, violence against women and misogyny were discovered in the school library. Some girls also complained anonymously that gender segregation did not prepare them for social interaction and integration into the wider society. As a result of what it found during the inspection, Ofsted judged the school to be inadequate and placed it in special measures.

‘Separate but equal’

The school took legal action to stop Ofsted from publishing its report. They argued that, amongst other things, the report was biased and that gender segregation does not amount to sex discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.

On 8 November 2016, following a High Court hearing, the presiding judge, Mr Justice Jay, found that there was no sex discrimination because of his reading of the law and the lack of evidence before him. He found that gender segregation did not amount to sex discrimination since both boys and girls were ‘separated equally’. He noted that although women hold minority power in society generally, there was no evidence before him that girls suffered specifically as a result of the segregation in this school. Mr Justice Jay noted the differences between segregation on the grounds of race in the USA and South Africa in previous decades and gender segregation in the UK today, concluding that he had not heard evidence that gender segregation made girls feel disadvantaged or inferior.

Ofsted appealed against the ruling of the High Court which will be heard at the Court of Appeal on 11 and 12 July 2017.

The case for intervention

Southall Black Sisters and Inspire are intervening in the case because of its great public importance – especially for the rights of minority women and girls. Although, gender segregation and its implications are not specific to School X, but apply equally to a number of other faith schools, the point of our intervention is two-fold:

First, to show how the growing practice of gender segregation in education is not a benign development: Like racial segregation in the USA and South Africa, gender segregation within BME communities in the UK, has a social, and political history that can be traced back to the Rushdie Affair when religious fundamentalists sensed an opportunity to seize education as a battleground and a site on which to expand their influence. Since then, we have seen emboldened fundamentalists in South Asian communities attempting to impose gender segregation in schools and universities. Mr Justice Jay did not look into the wider social and political context in which gender segregation is practiced in minority communities. Had he done so, he would have seen its broad-ranging and devastating long-lasting effect on all areas of women’s lives: that gender segregation is a political choice and that the struggle against it mirrors the struggle against racial segregation.

Second, we want to ensure that gender equality is placed at the heart of Ofsted inspections in all schools, irrespective of their status and composition. We recognise that gender segregation can sometimes be educationally beneficial. But in the hands of ultra-conservatives and fundamentalists, it has an entirely different intent and consequence which is to mount a wholesale assault on women’s rights: socially, culturally and politically.

A violation of human rights

UN human rights experts have noted that ‘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’

School X’s approach is consistent with Muslim fundamentalist ideologies that strive to create a fundamentalist vision of education in the UK: one that discourages mixed-gender activities as ‘Un-Islamic’ and ultimately legitimises patriarchal power structures. Their aim is to reinforce the different spaces – private and public – that men and women must occupy, and their respective stereotyped roles, which accord them differential and unequal status. This approach constitutes direct discrimination under the UK’s Equality Act 2010. It also violates International human rights laws, standards and principles on equality and non-discrimination such as CEDAW and Goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals, to which the UK has signed up. Women’s rights must take priority over intolerant beliefs that are used to justify sex discrimination.

Gender segregation is gender apartheid

This is a significant and potentially precedent-setting case about sex discrimination and equality. Ultra-conservative and fundamentalist gender norms are seeping into the everyday life of minority communities. Education has become a gendered

ideological terrain upon which the potential of women and girls together with their hopes, aspirations and dreams are extinguished. Gender segregation in school X is part of a wider political project that is ideologically linked to the creation of a regime of ‘gendered modesty’: one that promotes an infantilised and dehumanized notion of womanhood and, ultimately, amounts to sexual apartheid.

What you can do

We are mobilising a cross section of advocacy groups for the Court of Appeal hearing on 11 and 12 July 2017 from 9.30am onwards at Royal Courts of Justice, Strand, London, WC2A 2LL.

We urge you to join us by:

· protesting outside the court on both days;

· packing out the public gallery in the court so that the judiciary is under no illusion as to what is at stake.

· publicising our campaign widely and encouraging others to join us.

We ask for your solidarity in what is becoming a key battle between feminists and fundamentalists.

‘Every step forward in the fight for women’s rights is a piece of the struggle against fundamentalism’.

 

To contact Southall Black Sisters please contact:

Pragna Patel
pragna@southallblacksisters.co.uk
020 8571 9595
@SBSisters

 

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Stop fretting over religious sensitivities. We must push hard against Islamists First published: Sunday 11 June 2017

In this time of political uncertainty, we can be certain about one issue. The battle against Islamist extremism is one we are losing. News of 23,000 jihadis living in Britain, each considered to pose at least a “residual risk”, indicates the breathtaking scale of the challenge facing us. The horse, as they say, has well and truly bolted.

We need to learn lessons from previous mistakes, including our comatose response to growing religious fundamentalism. Yet the truth is we remain blind to the facts. With our liberal blessings, extremist preachers are free to promote their hatred, virtually unchallenged. Anjem Choudary radicalised hundreds, if not thousands of Muslims freely over 20 years. As a result, he influenced more than 100 Britons to carry out or attempt to carry out terrorist attacks at home and abroad.

We defended the right of extremists to free speech in the belief that the most effective way of undermining them was for us to counter their speech. This was nice in theory; there was, however, one rather large problem. Apart from a handful of people, no one did counter them. And those who did were promptly labelled “Islamophobes.”

Fully exploiting the uncontested space we provided them, extremists promoted their supremacist, hate-filled ideology to thousands of Muslims on satellite channels, through social media, on campuses and community events, day in, day out. In the battle of ideas, deconstructing their ideological world view was then and remains now one of our greatest failures. And fail we did – collectively, as Muslim institutions, human rights organisations, anti-racist groups and governments.

While the Muslim Council of Britain perfected the art of issuing press statements, it did nothing to push back on such poisonous teachings. For 10 years, my organisation Inspire, in an attempt to build resilience to extremism in Muslim families, taught theological counter-narratives to extremist ideology. The response I heard from hundreds of Muslim mothers was the same. No one has taught us this before and no one has taught our children it either. What was apparent is that the weak “community” defence system would not be able to hold back the tidal wave of extremist propaganda.

 As extremists continue to radicalise people, we, however, are still flapping our hands over what we even define as extremism. Extremism has never been just about violence. Inciting hatred, discrimination and supremacist ideals for political, religious or ideological causes should be considered extreme in a 21st-century Britain which aspires to establish a culture based on equality, human rights and a pluralistic outlook. Yet thousands of videos of extremists such as Abu Haleema who seek to radicalise remain online.Our inability to recognise the ideological nature of the beast, in particular Salafist, Islamist and Barelvi-inspired extremism, meant we never fully understood who the key extremist groups, websites and preachers were. We lack the essential insight into the activism of these groups and their influence among British Muslims.

Instead of recognising the diverse picture, we blindly continue to lump all 3 million Muslims – the good, bad and ugly – all under the mythical banner of a “Muslim community”. This serves the interests not of the ordinary Muslim, but of the extremists who hide behind this same banner. As a result, we continue to legitimise the voices we should be calling out.

Take Sky News for example. Last week, it invited Dilly Hussain of the Islamist-run website 5Pillars to take part in a discussion on how we should tackle Islamist extremism. Hussain has expressed his support for key 20th-century jihadi ideologues including Sayyid Qutb and Abdullah Azzam. Qutb’s book Milestones became the blueprint for modern-day Islamist extremist ideologies and influenced Osama bin Laden. Azzam is a pivotal ideologue in shaping the al-Qaida network. Yet despite this, you may want to ask why is it 5Pillars has more than 184,000 likes on Facebook alone? Yet here was Sky News asking an Islamist sympathiser how we should tackle Islamist extremism.

So what do we need to do ? Inevitably, a huge responsibility falls on Muslim faith leaders and institutions in our country. Statements condemning terror attacks do not reduce the Islamist threat we face, nor address the challenge of 23,000 jihadis. They have a religious obligation to build resilience in teaching young Muslims theological counter-narratives to extremist ideology, while promoting a contextualised understanding of Islam in the UK and amplifying such teachings to the masses both in the online and offline space.

We must provide platforms for young people to air their grievances, whether they are concerns around anti-Muslim prejudice or foreign policy and challenge wild anti-western conspiracy theories. It is vital that we hammer home the message that violence and terrorism, no matter what grievances the terrorists claim to hold, is never justified in Islam. Crucially, Muslim activists and scholars must weed out the extremists in our midst who justify their beliefs in the “name of Islam.” As one scholar said last week, it’s time we #CallEmOut.

Second, we need to start investing in grassroots Muslim counter-extremism organisations. At the moment, these lack essential funding and resources. Philanthropies and charities have a social responsibility to support Muslims who are on the frontline. A disastrous combination of muddled thinking about political correctness and a risk- averse outlook has acted as an obstacle.

Government must do more to explain the threat emanating from Islamist terrorism and build trust among Muslims so we work together in countering the extremists. This work should be supplemented with broader government strategies that empower communities through programmes of engagement, inclusion and integration.

Investing and reinvigorating a civil society movement based on our shared values is desperately needed to push back against the extremists. This requires all of us to defend our values over and above political correctness or religious sensibilities, to help build the united Britain we all want. We have already lost too much ground to Islamist extremists. We will continue to do so unless we urgently step up to the mark.

Sara Khan is author of The Battle for British Islam: Reclaiming Muslim Identity from Extremism, and director of the counter-extremism organisation Inspire. @wewillinspire.

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First Published: Tuesday 6 June 2017

Our tolerance to intolerance is a familiar story. The book-burning rallies during the 1989 Rushdie affair should have been a wake-up call to religious fundamentalism. Instead we became paranoid about causing offence and tried to appease regressive community leaders who dishonestly claimed to be speaking on behalf of the “Muslim community”. We lacked the confidence to challenge them or extremists, and as a result they have thrived.

It is clear we have learned little about the diversity of Muslims. We have not only been prepared to legitimise Islamist preachers and groups, we continue to hold the misguided belief that we are serving the interests of the so-called “Muslim community”. We unhelpfully lump Muslims under the banner of a singular “community”.

This myopic perception of Muslims is part of the problem. How many times do we hear politicians and others tell us Muslim terrorists are not “true Muslims”, that they “don’t represent the Muslim community”?

Yet this outdated language conceals the problem. We fail to understand the battle taking place among Britain’s Muslims between those who advocate for a pluralistic humanistic interpretation of Islam against those who subscribe to a supremacist, intolerant and anti-Western Islam.

There are Muslims in our country who support this hostile Islam; they represent the far-Right of British Muslims, and the unfortunate truth is that they are pretty popular.

They preach on campuses, at community events, and have a large online following, some in their hundreds of thousands. Promoting conspiracy theories, calling for the establishment of a caliphate, pouring suspicion on any engagement with state agencies, endorsing anti-Semitism, and intolerance to other Muslims who don’t share their Islamist world view… they then employ the language of multiculturalism and human rights to win supporters while duplicitously playing the victimhood card.

I have seen this for a long time, yet naïve politicians with their singular myopic lens about the “Muslim community” are so eager to stand up against anti-Muslim hatred they end up legitimising the very people who provide the climate for extremism, and attack progressive Muslims who seek to counter Islamist extremism.

This tolerance to extremism was demonstrated by Citizens UK when it invited chief imam of Lewisham Islamic Centre Shakeel Begg to speak at a demonstration on child refugees outside Parliament last year. Only six weeks earlier a High Court judge had ruled that Begg was an “extremist Islamic speaker” who had “promoted and encouraged religious violence” and had glorified key 20th-century jihadist ideologues.

Citizens UK’s defence was that the event it asked Begg to speak at was about the issue of child refugees. One wonders if the charity would extend such a warm invitation to far-Right extremists who have advocated violence to come along and speak about child refugees. I doubt it.

Our tolerance to extremism is also demonstrated by anti-racist groups unwilling to challenge Islamists. Hope Not Hate is one of the very few; it has dipped its toe in the water to find itself — rather typically— of being accused of racism and Islamophobia. Yet so-called anti-racist groups like Stand up to Racism and the NUS invite groups like Cage and Mend to speak at their events, while last year the NUS “no-platformed” Hope Not Hate’s Nick Lowles for “being Islamophobic”. In other words, challenging Islamist extremism is seen as bigotry.

As a Muslim, I find this to be nothing but outright hypocrisy by anti-racist groups who, consumed by identity politics, are unable to see the wood for the trees. Although they are prepared to challenge traditional far Right extremists, they are not prepared to call out far-Right Islamist extremists in the erroneous belief that to do so is Islamophobic. This is the dismal out of touch state of our anti-racist movement today.

Which is why two days before the election, it is imperative that we ask our prospective candidates what their position on how they would challenge Islamic extremism. Find if they even have any understanding of the issue.

A few days ago I received an email from a councillor. For two years, he told me he had been pressing his council to deal with the alarming rising risks from Islamism, which he saw taking root among Muslims in his and neighbouring towns. With increasing segregation, it was clear policies were needed to reverse segregation. He came across resistance from others councillors “who rely heavily on the Muslim vote” but also “officers who seem to live in a parallel multicultural universe”. His story is unbearably familiar to me.

Almost 30 years on from the Rushdie affair, we remain stuck in a vortex of outdated multicultural, multi-faith policies and our ignorance about Islamist extremism remains unchallenged. Muslims need to acknowledge this without getting defensive and redouble their efforts in countering Islamist ideology. We are not doing enough. However, what is also needed is a broad coalition that seeks to defend our shared values and counters all divisive hate beliefs based on our common humanity. No such movement, fit for purpose in the 21st century, exists. It’s high time it did.

Sara Khan is author of The Battle for British Islam: Reclaiming Muslim Identity from Extremism, and director of the counter-extremism organisation Inspire. Follow Inspire on Twitter @wewillinspire

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Public debate has become toxic and polarised: on one side are the people who call all Muslims terrorists and extremists, and on the other are the people who cry 'Islamophobia' the moment anyone opens a discussion about Islamist extremism in Britain First published: Wednesday 5 April 2017

Islamist extremism in Britain isn’t new. Back in the 1980s and 90s, the proselytisation for violent jihad by prominent ideologues at Muslim events was an open secret. Non-violent Islamist extreme groups like Hizb Ut Tahrir attracted thousands of young Muslims to their conferences, decrying western democracy, secularism and human rights, and calling instead for the establishment of a caliphate.

As a child of the Eighties, I remember this period well and ever since I was a teenager I have witnessed how such extremism first and foremost destroyed the lives of Muslims – their sense of identity and belonging, their prospects and even their families.  It undoubtedly helped feed anti-Muslim prejudice and encouraged sectarianism amongst Muslims.

Unfortunately, since that time, the struggle against Islamist extremism has become even more potent. In 2000, MI5 discovered Britain’s first Islamist bomb factory; in the last three years they have managed to foil no less than 13 terror plots.

The rise and appeal of global terror groups are acutely felt here; approximately 1,000 people have travelled to Syria and Iraq, many seeking to join violent jihadist groups.  Between 1998 and 2015 there have been 269 convictions for Islamist-related offences. Intolerance and extremism has erupted in violence as we saw last year with the brutal killing of Ahmadiyyah Muslim Asad Shah by Tanveer Ahmed. And Muhammad Syeedy, a 21-year-old Isis supporter from Rochdale, murdered 71-year-old imam Jalal Uddin.

 These facts depressingly represent the tip of the iceberg. Online, the spread of Islamist beliefs is unprecedented. There are 54,000 searches each month in the UK alone for extremist material.  Teenagers and children as young as 10 have been declaring their support for Isis. In some cases the authorities have had to deal with parents who have been found guilty of radicalising their own children. The challenge of Islamist extremism is anything but insignificant, and the damage done is immeasurable.Yet despite this clear threat, public debate about Islamist extremism has become toxic and polarised. Entrenched black and white parochial positions, a common feature of our divided post-EU referendum society, predictably emerge.

On the one hand there are those who try to imply that all Muslims are de facto Islamists. Others go into denial mode, play down this reality and erroneously criticise those who dare raise the existence of Islamist extremism as “Islamophobia”.

Part of the reason for this is because both sides are guilty of homogenising British Muslims; terms like the “Muslim community” are woefully unhelpful, outdated and do a great disservice to the highly diverse and complex picture that exists among Britain’s three million Muslims. There quite simply is no single community. Yet when language is so important, this term is repeatedly used by politicians, the media and sometimes by Muslims themselves.

These entrenched positions cloud our inability to recognise the reality about British Muslims.  We fail to recognise the emerging positive trend: how young Muslims are excelling and contributing in many fields, whether in the arts, music, politics, fashion, the arts and drama.  They serve in the Armed Forces and the police, work in the NHS and, much to the displeasure of Islamists, are patriotic, rejecting wholesale the idea of an Islamic caliphate.

But there also exists a negative trend among some British Muslims, albeit smaller yet highly significant.  When third generation British Muslims inspired by Islamist belief want to join Isis or seek to carry out attacks in London because of their hatred for Britain, hard questions about identity, integration and belonging need to be asked.

Too often, depending on one’s political agenda, there is an acknowledgement of one of those trends but not of the other when both clearly exist; this demonstrates the battle that is taking place among Muslims in defining a “British Islam”.  Sadiq Khan’s embrace of democracy, human rights and love for Britain contrasts almost unrecognisably with that of fellow Londoner Abu Haleema who in typical Islamist fashion, while quoting verses from the Qur’an, decries Khan as a “kaffir”, precisely for holding such values. Despite being worlds apart in their viewpoints, both men claim legitimacy from Islam. In this fraught battle, I know whose version of a British Islam I would like to see dominate.

If we are to win this battle, we need to actively counter the propagation of extremist beliefs on satellite channels, on campus, online and in communities.  We must find solutions to the many challenges that exist within and among Britain’s Muslims including strengthening and reforming of faith institutions and leadership.

Muslims must define what British Islam stands for: an ethical and moral religious framework which advocates for human rights and equality while weeding out hate, violence and discrimination.  Likewise, confronting the wider obstacles facing Muslims in our country – socioeconomic and political issues, as well as widespread anti-Muslim discrimination – is vital. It’s important to remember that no one, apart from extremists, benefits from the presence of Islamist extremism in Britain.

Sara Khan is director of Inspire and author of ‘The Battle for British Islam: Reclaiming Muslim Identity from Extremism’ (Saqi Books.)  Sara is speaking on the panel ‘The Battle For British Islam’ at Southbank Centre’s Belief and Beyond Belief festival on Saturday 8 April

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First published May 26, 2017

Sara Khan by Joe McGorty

Following the horrendous terror attacks at Manchester Arena, Sara was invited to take part in a BBC Question Time special in Salford.  You can watch the entire programme here. If you are outside of the UK click here.

Here is a short clip of what Sara said.

Sara also shared her view on a video for the Sunday Daily Politics that following the attack, it cannot be business as usual.  She also took part in a discussion with Douglas Murray agreeing on the threat of Islamist extremism but disagreeing on how we respond to this threat.  You can watch the video and whole discussion here.

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