Sara Khan

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February 2018

The Trustees at Inspire are proud to confirm that Sara Khan, Inspire’s co-founder and CEO, has been appointed Lead Commissioner for the newly created Countering Extremism Commission.  This inevitably means that Sara must leave her post at Inspire but this appointment is well deserved recognition for the critical work that she has been doing at Inspire for over ten years.  We have implemented an interim strategic plan and are in the process of appointing an interim CEO. 

During 2017, Sara, assisted by an organisational development consultant (funded by Unbound Philanthropy) undertook a comprehensive review of Inspire’s structure.  The conclusion reached was that in line with Inspire’s focus and remit of work, the current Community Interest Company model no longer served the organisations’s best interest and that, instead, acquiring charity status was the most appropriate way forward for the organisation. 

We are pleased to say Inspire received charity status in November 2017 and we are the inaugural board of Trustees for that new charity. 

We are currently in the process of transferring the funding, assets and projects from the Community Interest Company to the Charity.   

Sara will leave Inspire on the 23rd February.  After that date, Sara will not have any operational or management involvement with Inspire Women.  Sara, as is required, will retain director status within the CIC but only for the purposes of closing it down and filing its final set of returns (a process which may take up to three months). 

We look forward to working with the new interim CEO and staff to continue building Inspire and continuing the incredible work led by Sara.  We would also like to take this opportunity to thank Sara for the hard work and effort she dedicated to Inspire over the last ten years and in often difficult circumstances.  The achievements made, as noted in the previous update and her final blog is testimony to the important contribution Inspire played in our country and we wish her all the best in her new role and future work. 

 

Board of Trustees 

Inspire Women Charity 

Monday 19th February 

 

 

 

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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!

 

 

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Sara was honoured to be asked by the organisers to speak to 600 people at this year’s Virgin Disruptors event in London.  She spoke about 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.

To read more about what Sara spoke about please read more here.

To watch Sara’s speech click here.

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Sara Khan has spent years battling the excesses of British Islamism -Review by Justin Marozzi, first published Sunday 11th September in The Sunday Times

It is a measure of the success of the vigorous campaign waged by some British Islamists against the government’s counter-extremism policy that I began this book with a sense of foreboding. It is a tribute to Sara Khan that by its conclusion the dread was directed entirely at the noisy proponents of Islamophobia, a cottage industry of extremists who do a great disservice to British Muslims and our wider society.

Thought the EU referendum campaign was marked by lies and disinformation? Not a patch on certain British Islamists’ relentless battle against the government’s counterterrorism Prevent programme. As Khan demonstrates with great acuity, they have sought to discredit it at every level within the Muslim and non-Muslim communities and, to a large degree, have succeeded, using lies and smears to achieve their ends. Khan, the co-founder of Inspire, a counter-extremism and human-rights organisation, and her colleague, Tony McMahon, have spent years fighting on the frontline against extremism and know what they — make that we — are up against.

Their work challenging the Islamist (for which read extremist) brand of the faith, fighting gender discrimination and intervening to protect youths flirting with extremism has become considerably more difficult in recent years with the convergence of two traditionally antagonistic groups, the Salafists and Islamists, both equally undesirable. Much of the extremists’ work is promoting sharia, railing against democracy and spotting Islamophobia on every street corner. Say it often enough, and people start to believe it. Repeat it in the media, and the wider public starts to think Islam and democracy are irreconcilable.

This book reveals that just as the hard left has hijacked the Labour Party, so Islamists are seeking total control of their faith so that Islamism, with its fundamental tenets of prejudice, violence, intolerance, extremism and rejection of democracy, becomes Islam.

All ideological battles have their heroes and villains. Islamists need their useful idiots and none comes more obliging than the left and the sundry anti-racist and feminist movements that collectively refuse to address Islamist extremism “in the misguided belief that such action would be Islamophobic”. Khan names and shames them with gusto. Take a bow Shelly Asquith of the National Union of Students and Exeter University’s Feminist Society, happy to join forces with Cage, an organisation that considered Isis’s British executioner Jihadi John “a beautiful young man”.

No criticism from these quarters, Khan notes, about female genital mutilation, the widespread view of gays as a “scourge” or the appropriateness of stoning as a punishment for adultery. She diagnoses an “identity catastrophe among a small but significant section of British Muslims” who hold views entirely at odds with the British tradition of pluralism, democracy and human rights.

The section in Khan’s book on how militant Islamists have commandeered the heights of British student life makes worrying reading. Who knew, for instance, that the Federation of Student Islamic Societies constituted by far the largest voting bloc at the annual NUS conference? It helped elect the student body’s first Muslim president, Malia Bouattia. Admirable at one level, her election looks less encouraging when one realises that she has called for the dismantling of the government’s Prevent programme, considers Birmingham University a “Zionist outpost”, denounces “mainstream Zionist-led media outlets” and said that condemnation of Isis was “a justification for war and blatant Islamophobia”. Ah, that word again.

If this is dispiriting, relief comes with Khan’s pen portraits of Muslim counter-extremist activists whose bravery in fighting terrorist recruiters and their sympathisers generally goes unacknowledged. These are the people who collectively provide “antidotes to poison”. If the media wanted to hear from Muslim voices beyond the usual haranguing suspects (exhibit A, Anjem Choudary of al-Muhajiroun infamy), they could do a lot worse than speak to people such as Mina Topia, a campaigner for Muslim women’s rights, Mustafa Field, a proponent of inter-faith dialogue, and Usama Hasan, an astronomer and scholar at the Quilliam Foundation. Predictably, this trio has been vilified by the Islamists. Topia was trolled and called “drunken liberal garbage”; Field was told the Prophet would have put a spear through his head because he is a Shia; and Hasan received death threats. That is what happens when you stand up against Islamists.

It is a comforting irony that some Muslim commentators believe the West leads the way in Islamic values. Khan cites Professor Hossein Askari of George Washington University, who rated Ireland, Denmark and the UK as far more Islamic than Malaysia or Kuwait. Many purportedly Islamic countries, he wrote, are “unjust, corrupt and underdeveloped”. One thinks of Saudi Arabia, whose malign influence in propagating a rigid, intolerant and puritanical brand of Islam over many years is not dwelt on here but accounts for many of the problems we are encountering today.

Let us not despair. As an open, free and tolerant country, Britain is well placed to withstand the extremist assault. Government, activists and the media all have important roles to play. As Khan says, “our greatest defence lies in the defence of our shared values”. This is an important book full of compelling, disturbing and inspirational material, required reading to understand what is happening in our midst and what we can do about it.

Read the first chapter on the Sunday Times website

Saqi £14.99 pp256
Justin Marozzi’s books include Baghdad: City of Peace, City of Blood. Sara Khan is at the Times and Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival on Monday, October 10, at 1.45pm; cheltenhamfestivals.com

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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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Extremists of all factions detest our society, where different views and faiths can co-exist peacefully

United: at his official signing-in at Southwark Cathedral, Mayor Sadiq Khan brought faiths and races together Reuters

First published in the Evening Standard on Monday 1st August 2016

“We have imported a monster, and this monster is called Islam,” Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch far-Right Freedom Party, said this week. His anti-immigrant party currently has a strong lead in the opinion polls. 

Following the slaughter of European citizens in recent weeks by Muslims who have pledged allegiance to IS or who have taken inspiration from jihadist propaganda, there exists almost a sense of inevitability in the rise of far-Right populist parties exploiting the prevailing sense of fear and insecurity. Far-Right sentiment can also lead to its own deadly end, as we have seen:  18-year-old Ali David Sonboly, who lured teenagers into a McDonald’s in Munich and then gunned them down, was a far-Right extremist who believed it was a “special honour” to share a birthday with Adolf Hitler.

Extremists of both the Islamist and far-Right variety have more in common than divides them. They both yearn for a final “clash of civilisations”. They hate our democracy and liberal values. They detest a society where different views and faiths can co-exist peacefully.

IS’s call on Muslims to commit acts of terror have an underlying motive to polarise and divide our societies and wipe out what IS calls the “grey zone” of co-existence. Establishing its so-called caliphate, IS seeks to divide the world into two. The “land of Islam”  includes those Muslims who have pledged allegiance to IS’s caliphate; this is ranged against the “land of disbelief”, made up of non-Muslims and those Muslims who reject the Islamist worldview and as a result are declared apostates.

There is no doubt that these acts of terror have changed the political discourse in Europe and the United States. Far-Right narratives are seeping into the mainstream and hate crime across Europe is on the rise. Yet when Wilders calls for a ban on Muslim immigration that would “de-Islamise Europe”, rhetoric that would have been unthinkable in the decades after the Nazi Holocaust, he and others on the far-Right spectrum help form the binary world IS seeks to create. Donald Trump’s xenophobic language about Muslims, which no respectable politician would have used up till now, is another prime example. The common inference by such divisive language is that every individual who adheres to Islam is a terrorist in the making.

If we are going to prevent a dangerous drift into the politics of hate dominating across the West, then Western societies have to re-think the national discourse about their Muslim citizens, who can be the most powerful ally in defeating the threat from global Islamism. The greatest threat to IS are Western Muslims who reject its call for jihad and strive to build peace, security and co-existence in their respective countries.

As IS targets Jews, Christians and others, it can be easy to forget how IS hates Muslims who don’t subscribe to their worldview. IS killed hundreds of Muslims in the holy month of Ramadan this year. It has slaughtered anti-Islamist Muslim clerics. Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, the truck-driving killer in Nice, was no doubt indifferent when he claimed his first victim, 62-year-old Fatima Charrihi, who was walking with her family on the promenade. Hers is one of many such stories —Muslims being the main victims globally of Islamist-inspired terror.

We have a vested interest in ensuring that our society does not become more polarised. The political class must work alongside those British Muslims who are actively countering the Islamist worldview and who are striving for a future based on compassionate co-existence to ensure this appalling and deliberate strategy is not realised. This means rejecting outright the arguments of populist rhetoric from Wilders, Marine Le Pen and Trump, and also taking on the insidious ideology of Islamists, both violent and non-violent, without the fear of political correctness or worrying about causing “offence”.

We must also reach out to young people and confidently counter the arguments and worldview that have prepared the ground for terrorist radicalisers to operate. This is of paramount importance; there are third-generation European and British Muslims — some as young as 13 — who desire to live in IS territory and who believe the measure of a good Muslim is one’s hatred for the West. British Muslim youth must be shown in clear terms that it is not the West that is the enemy; it is Islamist extremism which forces them to reject their multiple identities, their future careers, their own families and universal human rights.

Politicians and wider society must recognise these nuances as opposed to the distorted image offered by Islamist propagandists. That particularly applies to the Left, where some have got into bed with Islamist-sympathising groups that have no interest in Western Muslim integration. These groups push a constant victimhood narrative where Britain is portrayed as an inherently “Islamophobic” society that seeks to destroy Islam and deny Muslims the freedom to practise their faith. This conspiratorial view is being pushed aggressively, and it is vital that public institutions work with Muslim groups trying to counter this toxic narrative. Whether in communities, in universities or on social media, it is vital we counter the arguments of Islamists, otherwise an uncontested space is left open and their message will be taken as truth not just by Muslims but well-intentioned young activists who oppose racism and prejudice.

Countering the appeal of Islamist extremism is not an impossible task. There are Muslim civil society groups doing vital work in cities and towns across the UK challenging Islamist extremism and preventing radicalisation. These Muslim voices present a thorn to IS but equally an uncomfortable truth to those such as Wilders and Trump. And in the fight against Islamist-inspired terrorism those British Muslims who are countering Islamism and championing human rights are our natural allies. At this juncture when global Islamist extremism seeks to destabilise societies, we should strive harder to become even more united in our shared values to defeat the extremists who want to divide us.

Sara Khan is co-director of Inspire and author of The Battle for British Islam: Reclaiming Muslim Identity from Extremism, co-authored with Tony McMahon. It will be published by Saqi Books on September 5.

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The Jewish Community Secondary School (JCoss) in New Barnet invited Sara Khan to be the Guest of Honour at their Celebration Awards Evening on Thursday 21st July.  Sara was honoured to take part and was impressed with the standards and pluralistic and inclusive ethos at JCoss.

Jcos3

She spoke about excellence, inspiration, resilience and determination to the pupils, parents and teachers alike, and handed out certificates and awards to pupils.  JCoss honoured Sara by presenting her with a “peace plant.”

Jcos4

Sara would like to thank JCoss for inviting her to take part, for giving her a tour of this high achieving school and for giving her the opportunity to celebrate in the success made by pupils throughout the academic year.

www.jcoss.org

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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.”

 

 

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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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Inspire logo counter extremism
Welcome to Inspire’s spring update. The aim of this post is to provide you with highlights of Inspire’s activity and ongoing projects, as well as inform you about our future plans and events. You can email us at info@wewillinspire.com if you would like more information on any of the events and activities you read below .
Sara Wins!

The last few months have been hectic with both directors travelling the breadth of the country delivering training and other requests for our services whilst also trying to get our funding applications out to ensure we can survive the year! So a little recognition was a welcome distraction when Sara Khan, Inspire’s Co-Director was awarded the Asian Women of Achievement award for the Social and Humanitarian category.

Safeguarding against extremism

April and May has been busy on the education front working with numerous schools on how they can safeguard pupils from extremism. Highlights include Kalsoom delivering a full day conference and training in Dewsbury to 40+ head teachers and senior leadership on safeguarding children and young people from extremism whilst Sara headed over to a conference in Coventry addressing school leaders there at the request of the local authority. Similar sessions were also held at Newham Collegiate Sixth Form.

Feedback from these sessions have been overwhelmingly positive and described as “invaluable”. For example in Dewsbury, 100% attendees scored us over 4 out of 5 , 86% giving us the maximum score of 5. We also received very positive feedback from both Bristol and Bath Spa Universities for a session delivered to PGCE students.

Kalsoom was invited to address a conference at the University of Salford on the subject of counter-terrorism. Following excellent feedback from the organisers and delegates, they have requested Kalsoom return to speak at another event in the future.

As well as working with teachers and school leaders, we were also given the opportunity to deliver a full day writing workshop to female Muslim students at a Bristol secondary school on faith, women and power. It was a real honour to be able to work with these bright young women adding self esteem and raising aspirations.

Policy

Inspire continues to inform policy in relation to counter extremism and radicalisation. Notable meetings in the last few months include the Government’s Prevent Oversight Board, as well as providing 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.

There has also been international interest in our work- with two meetings with representatives from the Swedish Civil Contingencies Group.

Partnership working

April and May saw a series of meetings with Bristol City Council and Avon & Somerset Constabulary. Although we are still in the planning stage, two new projects have resulted from these conversations. The first on the 13th of July 2016 will be a series of workshops aimed at Muslim women to raise awareness of the dangers of radicalisation and travelling to Syria. The second will be a conference in October 2016. If you are interested in attending either of these, please do not hesitate to email us at info@wewillinspire.com and let us know.

Media

Our work is being covered far and wide! We had a visit from the Italian new “Il Foglio”, you can read their coverage here .

Television de Catlunya ( Spain) also joined us at one our workshops for their documentary on “European approaches to prevent and battling jihadist radicalisation”.

Finally, you can watch Sara here during her hardhitting 5×15 speakers appearance on the challenges of our work countering extremism and fighting gender inequality.

 

SOCIAL MEDIA

EVENTS