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BBC News Channel

Sara Khan by Joe McGorty

Sarah Montague speaks to Sara Khan, director and co-founder of Inspire. Kadiza Sultana was 16 when she ran away from her home in London to join the so-called Islamic State group in Syria. Her family have heard reports that she is dead, killed in a Russian airstrike. It’s hard enough to understand why young men join IS, it’s harder still to see what attracts women. Sara Khan is at the forefront of efforts in the UK to prevent young women being radicalised. What does she say to them? And is it making any difference?

To watch the video, click here

First aired Wednesday 31st of August 2016

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

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

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

Sara Khan by Joe McGorty

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

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

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BBC Radio 5live, Thursday 25th August 2016

On Thursday 25th August,  Kalsoom Bashir- Inspire Co-Director was invited on BBC Radio 5 Live to discuss the Home Affairs Select Committee’s report in counter narratives to extremism, focusing specifically on the Prevent duty.

Listen in to hear Kalsoom on the importance of safeguarding young people, as well as address the hysteria, myths and deliberate misconceptions surrounding the measures, including the oft-cited  “terrorist tots” and “terrorist/terraced house” cases.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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One of the three British schoolgirls,  Kadiza Sultana who travelled from Bethnal Green in east London to join the so-called Islamic State in Syria is believed to have been killed.

Inspire co-director Sara Khan discusses how vulnerable children are being targeted by radical Islamists groups, and the important work of preventing radicalisation to stop future tragedies.  With interviewer Mishal Hussain and Rushanara Ali, the MP for Bethnal Green and Bow.

You can listen to the interview on iplayer  or view the segment on Radio 4 here

First aired Friday 12th August 2016

 

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Sara Khan by Joe McGorty

First aired on Sunday 26th June 2016, Sara Khan was invited on to BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs to talk about her life, work countering extremism and the tracks that made her.  As it’s Sara, it’s fair to say there are few surprises!  You can here the complete interview and Sara’s eclectic choices on BBC iPlayer .

From the BBC Website :

A British Muslim human rights activist, Sara is director of Inspire, a counter-extremism and women’s rights organisation which she co-founded in 2009.

Born in Bradford in 1980 to Pakistani parents, she decided to wear the veil when she was thirteen changing her mind eighteen years later. She studied Pharmacy at the University of Manchester but never felt she was fulfilling her potential, and set up Inspire in her home. She has been at the heart of various campaigns to raise awareness of her cause from Jihad Against Violence to #MakingAStand which encouraged women in particular to stand up against extremism.

In 2009 she was listed in the Equality and Human Rights Commission Muslim Women’s Power List and in 2015 was included in BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour Power List. She is currently sitting on the Department for Education’s Due Diligence and Counter-Extremism Expert Reference Group and on the Government’s Community Engagement Forum.

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1st July 2015

Inspire founder and co-director Sara Khan has today been named on the BBC Woman’s Hour 2015 Power List: Influencers.  The list identifies ten women who have had a huge impact on women’s lives in 2015; those who have influenced the way we live our lives and the way we see ourselves and the world around us.

Sara said “I am humbled at being recognised as worthy of such a prestigious title.  Having set up Inspire in 2009 to challenge extremism and to champion women’s rights, I do this work because I passionately believe there is a great need for it especially as we witness the threat of Islamist inspired extremism both here and abroad.  Whether working with local authorities, schools, the police, with parents or young people, it is a cause I am committed to regardless of recognition or award.

However it is heart warming to know that people do recognise the hard work and positive influence of Inspire.  I am grateful to the judges for even considering me as someone worthy of such recognition.”

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