counter extremism

0 4845

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 3192

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

0 810

First published in The Mail on Sunday, 20th August 2017

Image from Murcia Today

The Islamic State-inspired atrocity that killed 14 and injured many more in Barcelona will be claimed as another example of the clash of culture, religion and ideas between the world of Islam and the West.

There will be a swift recognition that the perpetrators were young men, either first- or second-generation immigrants, radicalised by fundamentalist Islamism.

There will be hand-wringing about what motivates them to carry out such horrific attacks and how to prevent it.

But to restrict ourselves to the same narrow questions can only result in failure to get to grips with global jihadism.

I run an organisation which works to oppose Islamist extremism and have seen at first hand the reality of radicalisation of young people in Birmingham, Bradford and Luton.

It is clear to me that we must also look at the wider context of why so many young people are seduced by extreme Salafi-Jihadism. Only by knowing the nature of the beast can we know how to combat it.

To do that, we must recognise that despite the oft-repeated claims that there is a clash between Islam and the West, the real battle is within Islam.

Islam has more than a billion followers, but large swathes of today’s Muslims hold competing and often conflicting claims of what values and principles the faith stands for.

The result is that contemporary Islam is suffering a colossal crisis of identity which has created a vacuum. Islamist extremism and the terror it incubates has helped fill the vacuum.

Millions of Muslims across the world subscribe to interpretations of Islam that endorse co-existence, humanity, tolerance and compassion.

They genuinely believe Islam is a religion of peace. It’s why for centuries Christians, Muslims and other minorities lived together peacefully in many Middle Eastern countries before the ascent of ISIS.

When my parents moved from Pakistan to Bradford in the 1960s, they and many others of their generation had no expectation of Sharia law or wearing the veil. They did not believe Islam was incompatible with a secular democracy.

They were comfortable with being British Muslims, proud to integrate with their adopted country while keeping their religion.

However, equally a growing number of Muslims here and abroad have a different understanding.

Their beliefs are based on a politicised, puritanical ideology which is anti-Western, advocates religious supremacy, intolerance, the requirement to live in a caliphate, and an opposition to democracy and fundamental human rights.

They look to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi who once claimed: ‘Islam was never a religion of peace. Islam is the religion of fighting.’

This was once a minority interpretation.

But over the past 40 years, aggressive Saudi proselytising of Wahhabism, the tyranny of authoritarian leaders in Muslim countries, and the propaganda opportunity provided by Western intervention in Muslim countries, has seen an exponential worldwide growth.

In 2015 the security organisation The Soufan Group revealed 27,000 Muslims from 86 countries had been drawn to ISIS’s so-called caliphate.

But rather than being an authentic representation of Islam, the fundamentalist ideology of Salafi-Islamism is actually a far-Right interpretation of it.

The ideology of the Salafists has won over an increasing number of young Muslims who misguidedly believe that Salafi-Islamism represents ‘normative Islam’.

You might expect second- or third-generation immigrants to be well integrated into British society. But it is among these young people that radicalism is spreading. They are of a generation where the internet is more influential than the mosque.

Just like the white supremacists in the USA, they have been exposed to YouTube preachers of hate. In powerful and emotive propaganda films, these Islamist preachers oppose democracy and integration and tell them they should be living in a caliphate.

I recall speaking to one young British Muslim woman who was adamant the extremist lectures she had been attending were mainstream Islamic teachings.

She did not understand she was defending a far-Right Islamist ideology and had no understanding of the differences between Islam itself and politically inspired Salafi-Islamism.

It is clear to me that Salafi-Islamism has become mainstream and that more enlightened versions of the faith have been marginalised. It is here that the battle against extremist Islamism is critical.

After the attacks in Spain, the Syrian Muslim scholar Muhammad al-Yaqoubi tweeted: ‘The Barcelona attack proves that we Muslims haven’t done enough to counter extremist ideology in our communities….it frustrates me when some Muslims say: “It has nothing to do with Islam.” ’

No, IT has. ISIS is from within us and is our problem. It is a problem we must tackle. We need to recognise that statements condemning terrorism will not diminish the appeal of Islamism.

 Groups such as ISIS recognise that the ‘them’ and ‘us’ narrative is an essential part of their recruiting propaganda.

Anti-Muslim bigotry has the same effect, as former CIA director David Petraeus acknowledged when he said such hatred ‘directly undermines our ability to defeat Islamist extremists by alienating [those] whose help we most need: namely, Muslims.’

Instead we need to challenge head-on the worldview and ideology of the extremists.

Muslim theologians need to provide an alternative to the toxic narrative propagated by Islamists and clarify theological issues such as jihad, sharia, the caliphate and the global Muslim community (ummah).

ISIS and its allies have been hugely successful in using the internet to spread their propaganda of hate.

Now those same techniques should be urgently used to powerfully articulate an Islam which embraces equality, human rights, freedom and democracy while exposing the incompatibility of Salafi-Islamism with Islamic teachings.

Similarly, counter-terrorism initiatives need to recognise this existential battle for the soul of Islam and support those Muslims who are on the frontline. It is a battle we must win.

 

0 669

Sara Khan is the British Muslim activist behind the campaign group Inspire on a mission to counter Islamist extremism here in Britain, which she believes seeks to deny women their rights, freedom and agency. Her own upbringing as the daughter of a Pakistani immigrant and her work in Muslim communities has given Khan an insight into the extremist mentality. The bomber responsible for the Manchester terror attack earlier this week - 22-year-old Salman Abedi - killed 22 people, including children, when he detonated an improvised bomb at the Manchester Arena as crowds exited after an Ariana Grande concert. Here, Khan speaks about the Manchester attack, how we need to pull together as a country and why we all need to do more. “We can’t afford to be politically correct or culturally sensitive about this issue any longer.” First published: Friday 26th May 2017

by Benjamin McMahon

I was in tears all day after hearing about the attack. As a mother of two young girls and an activist who works in this space, it impacted me even more. What happened is heartbreaking and distressing. At the same time, I feel a lot of frustration, because the whole reason I co-founded my organisation, Inspire, was because I knew that the threat of Islamist extremism was real. And yet again we’ve seen an act by another young British Muslim with devastating consequences. People have lost their children.

What most concerns me about the Manchester terror attack is that explosives have been used. Some of the more recent attacks we have witnessed here and in France have used knives or cars as weapons, there is no great amount of planning required in these attacks. The Manchester terror attack is quite different because there must have been a network who helped assist Abedi plan the attack and make the bomb. This is going to cause the security services a huge amount of concern. The sad reality of terrorism is that you always have new and emerging trends.

Since the attack, I’ve noticed many Muslims display real anger at what happened, with many saying Muslim communities need to do more. On the one hand, there is this positive trend where British Muslims are contributing positively to society and are incredibly integrated – like London mayor Sadiq Khan – but at the same time there is a negative trend emerging that justifies such violence, which doesn’t subscribe to human rights and vehemently opposes democracy, and we have to address that.

There is no easy answer when or how we can work better together; it’s a multi-pronged approach. We need to continue engaging with the police and support them in their attempts to protect us all. We need to work with the government and with counter-radicalisation schemes like Prevent. Faith institutions and religious leaders have a role to play too; amplifying theological counter-narratives to extremist ideology is so important. When you have young people who buy into the Isis propaganda and think they are fulfilling some sort of religious mandate, it is really important to have people who can challenge that. And families too; they are really the first line of resistance because if anyone is going to notice changes in their children’s behavior it will be them. It is about recognising those signs and educating parents on where they can seek support and the steps they can take.

As a country, we shouldn’t feel nervous speaking about Islamist extremism. I think a lot of the time we fear that if we talk about it we may feed anti-Muslim prejudice attacks and abuse, but I think that sentiment has actually hindered our work in countering Islamist extremism. We have to recognise what Islamist extremism is: it is a far-right ideology that mirrors far-right ideological beliefs. We have to recogonise that this is a serious problem; we can’t always be culturally sensitive about this issue. Things have to change.

0 1709

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 1095
By Sebastian Mann

This article including a quote by  Inspire co-director Sara Khan first appeared in “The Standard” Saturday 16th of July 2016.

“British Muslim leaders today denounced the Nice lorry attack as a “senseless murder of innocence” after Islamic State claimed responsibility for the massacre.

Eighty-four people were killed when a truck was driven into crowds celebrating Bastille Day in the French Riviera city on Thursday night. Scores more were injured, many of the critically.

So-called IS said one of its “soldiers”, Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, carried out the terror atrocity after responding to the group’s calls to target its enemies in the West.

Inquiries are continuing into whether the 31-year-old driver acted alone or had accomplices before he drove the 19-tonne hired truck at speed into revellers before he was fatally wounded in a shoot-out with police.

British religious figures today joined world leaders in condemning the actions.

Qari Asim, senior imam at Leeds Makkah Mosque, said: “We pray for the victims and their families following the attack in Nice, the same as we did for those in Orlando, Dallas, Medina, Baghdad, Istanbul, Dhaka and all the other places around the world terrorists have struck in recent weeks.

“Yet again we condemn the barbaric acts of an individual determined to spread hate and prejudice across the world.

“The senseless murder of innocence is always deplorable yet this attack is just another, in a long line of examples, that demonstrates the savagery and brutality of a twisted ideology.

“This a time when people of all faiths and none must come together, we must not let terrorists and extremists win in creating the divisions they viciously seek to sow.”

Sara Khan, director of counter-extremism group Inspire, described the incident in Nice as “appalling”.

She said: “This attack, along with all the other recent atrocities, are part of a strategy by terrorists to strike out against what they call the ‘grey zone’ of co-existence, and to create a more polarised society in Europe.

“Terrorists aim to provoke division and propagate a binary world view. With each mass murder they deliberately seek to foster hatred and suspicion – with the hope that our societies restrict the very values and freedom that define our democracy.

“We must not give in to the aims of terrorists and instead remain even more vigilant about the preservation of our ideals and principles. While we pray for all those killed, we must recognise the need for the prioritisation of counter-radicalisation initiatives at this crucial time.

“The recent spate of terror attacks has brought society to a critical juncture. We must realise that integration and human rights are the twin enemies of extremism, and are our strongest weapons in defending our shared humanity.”

 

 

0 1482

On Wednesday 12th July 2016, Kalsoom Bashir, Inspire’s Co-Director had the honour of hosting the South West launch of the new film “Left Behind” by Prevent Tragedies.  The National Counter Terrorism Policing Headquarters campaigns team’s latest film features four police Prevent Contact Officers talking about the impact on families when a loved one travels to Syria or another conflict zone. They describe the distress and heartache families go through and appeal to viewers to seek help if they are concerned about someone they know and love.

DSCN1260

In attendance at the event were women and representatives from a number of communities in the region, providing valuable feedback and and committing to provide ongoing support to the initiative.

The short (6 minute) film,  hosted on the Prevent Tragedies website www.preventtragedies.co.uk, has also been produced in subtitled format in Turkish, Somali, Urdu, Punjabi, Sylheti, Kurdish, Bengali and Arabic. An English subtitled version has been developed for deaf and hard of hearing communities.

 

 

0 2276

Inspire is shocked and disappointed that some British imams, Muslim groups and individuals in our country have expressed their support and paid tribute to Mumtaz Qadri following his execution* yesterday in Pakistan, by declaring him to be a “martyr” who defended the honour of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him)

Mumtaz Qadri assassinated Punjab Governor Salman Taseer in January 2011 for his stance against Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and his robust defence of Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman who is currently on death row for allegedly insulting the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). 

Governor Taseer pointed out in November 2010 in an interview with CNN that the blasphemy law is not a religious law but a political tool implemented in 1979 when he stated: 

“The blasphemy law is not a God-made law. It’s a man-made law. It was made by General Ziaul Haq and the portion about giving a death sentence was put in by Nawaz Sharif. So it’s a law which gives an excuse to extremists and reactionaries to target weak people and minorities.” 

Also in 2010, during an interview with Newsline Governor Taseer made the following statement:

 “The thing I find disturbing is that if you examine the cases of the hundreds tried under this law, you have to ask how many of them are well-to-do? Why is it that only the poor and defenceless are targeted? How come over 50 per cent of them are Christians when they form less than 2 per cent of the country’s population. This points clearly to the fact that the law is misused to target minorities.” 

Such remarks angered Qadri enough to murder Governor Taseer in cold blood. Yet today in Pakistan thousands of supporters cheered and threw flowers at the casket of Mumtaz Qadri. Here in the UK since yesterday, a number of imams, Muslim groups and individuals have praised and defended Qadri’s act of murder.
 

We believe there is absolutely no justification – whether religious, moral or ethical – for supporting individuals like Qadri, least of all from an Islamic perspective. Qadri’s supporters have argued that he honoured the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) by murdering Taseer when in fact Qadri and his supporters have tainted the name of the Prophet and dishonoured his teachings by murdering a man in cold blood who showed solidarity with minority communities, as did the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).  As Governor Taseer rightly pointed out: “Islam calls on us to protect minorities, the weak and the vulnerable. 

This Islamic position was recently re-emphasised at the historic Marrakesh Declaration which was attended by Muslim theologians from 120 countries in February 2016 and can be read here

We at Inspire believe that we must stand for equality, human rights and the rule of law. We also recognise we must challenge those who seek to bring our faith into disrepute by justifying violence and death in the Prophet’s name.

1st March 2016

*Inspire do not support the death penalty

 

SOCIAL MEDIA

EVENTS