Terrorism

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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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All too often, and particularly in the highly debated sphere of counter-radicalisation, there can be a tendency to focus on negatives, rather than working together on providing solutions. Since the Prevent strategy was introduced some quarters have sought only to criticise it as a policy to challenge radicalisation. At the same time, there has also been equal criticism that the authorities and civil society have not done enough to tackle the reality that some young people are being radicalised and groomed, resulting in some travelling to join Daesh and other terrorist groups, and others planning to commit acts of terror in this country.

This week the Guardian reported that Muslim groups and the government have been actively working to prevent young people from joining Daesh. The report claimed that because some groups had not publicised full details of that relationship or that the government had not named all the parties it was working with, somehow implied that the British public had been duped. Following on the tails of this report, almost simultaneously in fact, was an ‘expose’ by self-proclaimed advocacy group CAGE naming organisations that have worked tirelessy to stand up to extremists and challenge the violent ideologies propagated by groups like Daesh.

These organisations named by CAGE work to empower young people and women to be active within their neighbourhoods, aim to bring together communities for the common good, encourage young people to become involved in politics at a local and national level, and endeavour to empower the marginalised and disadvantaged. Some of these organisations have been doing this work for years and have made it their mission to care for the ‘hearts and minds’ of the communitites they serve. Having worked at the beating heart of their communities, these organisations know first hand how young individuals are vulnerable to the message of the extremists and work constructively to offer alternative views and support.

These are individuals like the 15 year old from my city of Bristol who is now believed to have become a ‘jihadi bride’; another girl from the same city who was stopped at the airport travelling to join Daesh in Syria; the young woman serving a sentence for terrorism related charges and has thrown away a promising career because she turned down help when it was offered from Prevent when those around her became concerned. She believed the lies spread by the ‘anti-Prevent’ lobby and refused to engage with the very people who could have helped her. All she was offered was help and support, and instead spent a year in prison.

‘Going to join ISIS is a fast track ticket to Heaven’ one mother of a 12 year old boy told me – after having lost a cousin in Syria he believed he needs to reserve his place in heaven, and this was the only route. His mother admitted she was at a loss as to what to say to him. Then there was the 13 year old girl that made plans to leave her family: online extremists told her she would have a jihadi hero for a husband and would live like a queen in a mansion with a swimming pool. She could not however object to being the second, third or fourth wife because God and the angels would curse her. She was made to believe this – she did not after all want to be a so-called ‘bad’ Muslim.

These are all real cases that I am personally aware of. They are not made up to peddle some kind of government narrative. My organisation, Inspire, and many others across the country are aware of the very real threat and we have been working tirelessly to safeguard not only these children but also protecting our coummunitites and country from terror attacks.

It is precisely because of Prevent that some of these young people have been supported at the time they most needed it. Of course neither CAGE nor the Guardian this week reported on the stories of young Muslims and their families grateful for the support that Prevent has provided them. Those that oppose Prevent have every right to do so, but they offer no alternative strategy to help those vulnerable people that need it the most. It is, afterall, easier to criticise than come up with solutions and work together to provide them.

It is public knowledge of Inspire’s involvement with Prevent since its inception. It is precisely because of this we have endured incredible levels of hostility and abuse by trolls who care little about countering extremism or society as a whole. In this context, it is clear why some Muslim groups might be reluctant to shout about their working with Prevent. This was demonstrated further when, after the ‘expose’ published by CAGE, many of these Muslim civil society groups were the targets of abuse and hostility specifically because of their important work preventing radicalisation. There is little appreciation of this toxic climate by the Guardian, which appears to have consciously ignored the context as well as the fallout.

A subsequent Guardian editorial on so-called counter-terrorist propaganda stated “The answer to the jihadis, and anyone else who seeks to divide society, is to uphold the values that liberal democracy relies on.” I echo this sentiment and expand on it to propose that the answer to the extremists, and anyone else who seeks to divide society, is to uphold the values that liberal democracy relies on. The Muslim groups ‘exposed’ by CAGE have willingly worked with the Home Office in a partnership, recognising the need for collaboration in countering extremist messaging that seeks to spread hate and discord.

Crucially, it is these Muslim organisations who are in reality working to uphold the very values that the Guardian itself writes about. We need to support these Muslim civil society groups and not allow their vital work to be undermined by critical voices that seek to disparage their positive efforts and tarnish their reputations. Through real world on-the-ground experience, these civil society groups know the true extent of the issues we face from extremism and are working to resolve them. These groups go beyond just highlighting problems, they are part of the solution.

Kalsoom Bashir

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Inspire logo counter extremism

Below is a letter Inspire sent to the editors of the Sun on 24th November 2015 in response to their leading story on 23rd November.

Dear Editors,

We are writing to express our disappointment with the Sun’s leading story on Mon 23rd November 2015 “1 in 5 Brit Muslims sympathy for Jihadis.”

As you are aware, Inspire have worked with the Sun on two occasions; firstly in supporting the Sun’s United Against IS campaign back in October 2014 and again after the Tunisian Massacre in July 2015 where we helped write the Sun’s Manifesto Against Hate (http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/6527089/The-Sun-launches-manifesto-against-hate.html).  By speaking out against ISIS, we have put ourselves at great personal risk.

We believe yesterday’s story based on a poll was inaccurate and the poll’s methodology and interpretation of results were misleading, resulting in the unfair stigmatision of Britain’s Muslims, particularly at a time as was reported yesterday when there has been a 300% increase in anti-Muslim attacks in the UK because of the Paris attacks on 13th November 2015.

There is no doubt that the threat of Islamist extremism is real; and that a minority condone and support ISIS.  We have all witnessed women, children and families leaving the UK to support ISIS.  Our organisation works daily to counter the extremism and toxic ideology peddled by Islamist extremists. However, inaccuate characterisation of the overwhelming majority of British Muslims who are loyal to this country and who abhor ISIS is not the way forward in stamping out extremism.  In contrast the editorial of the Sun’s United Against IS campaign (http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/sun_says/5978998/The-Sun-Says-Together-we-can-defeat-Islamic-State.html) made clear that  “most British Muslims are proud to belong to both a nationality and a religion which value peace, tolerance and the sanctity of life.  They consider IS a disgusting perversion of their faith, not its lionhearted champions.”

Unlike yesterday’s headline, the Sun’s excellent Manifesto Against Hate which listed ten pro-active ways to extinguish extremism, was endorsed by many British Muslims across the country, who were proud to support and to be pictured holding up the Manifesto as was reported in the Sun on Saturday 4th July 2015.  They recognise that schools, families, faith institutions all have a role to play in the fight against extremism and many are playing their part.

ISIS seek to divide us as a nation, the Sun’s United Against IS campaign aimed to counter that.  But yesterday’s headline undermined the Sun’s own attempts of working together as one as Britons, to oppose all those who promote hatred and extremism.

We hope the Sun will recognise that the overwhelming majority of Muslims reject and oppose ISIS and its values, and that rather than working against them, the Sun works with Briton’s Muslims to overcome the threat that faces us all.

Yours sincerely

Sara Khan, Kalsoom Bashir

Inspire

www.wewillinspire.com

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Writing in The Telegraph on July 9 2015, Sara Khan explains how and why Inspire’s fight against extremism has become more important than ever. 

On Saturday the Mannan family from Luton confirmed what many had suspected. They had willingly left what they described as “totalitarian” Britain, where “so called freedom and democracy was forced down our throat in an attempt to brainwash Muslims” and instead chose to live in Isil territory where “a Muslim doesn’t feel oppression when practising their religion.”

Last week another smaller but significant story was being reported on BBC South Today where an investigation revealed how a Muslim woman, Ibtihal Bsis had toured at least nine cities across the UK ‘educating’ Muslim women on what the Counter Terrorism Security Act means for them. Bsis, a barrister, is most well known for being a Deputy Media Representative for the Islamist organisation Hizb-ut Tahrir (HT) and more recently for speaking at nationwide CAGE events.

Bsis spent some three hours delivering a diatribe against “the West” and advocated that Muslims living in the UK are suppressed. Islam she suggested is being criminalised in the UK. People are scared of you because you’re Muslim. UK authorities, she went on, had deliberately ensured the EDL becomes stronger to intimidate Muslims. And to cement her audience’s paranoia she also stated that their phones, Facebook accounts and texts are being monitored. This toxic atmosphere would have left some with feelings of fear and resentment against the UK.

In what can only be described as Isil apologia, she continued to tell Muslim women that the authorities are lying about Isil. Isil is not a large brutal group but a small battalion and “the West” has fabricated the image of this murderous cult.

Fighting the ‘classic Islamist narrative’

Why I am highlighting what Bsis spoke of? Because the arguments put forward in the Mannan family statement has roots in what Bsis and other Islamists and non-violent extremists say. The picture painted is that the West is at war with Islam but equally Islam is at war with the West and Muslims have no choice but to pick a side. Powerful religious arguments of the obligation to establish a caliphate and to implement a totalitarian interpretation of Sharia will remedy the oppression of Muslims. It is the classic Islamist narrative.

This ideology existed long before Isil were on the scene and has been proselytised for decades in British Muslim communities. Masquerading as representing “traditional” Islam rather than the modern 19th/20th century Islamist and puritanical ideologies which they in fact represent, they have helped normalise some of these very concepts among some British Muslims as evidenced in the Mannan family statement.

These fundamentalist views were obvious to Nabeelah Jaffer when she spoke to women who had joined Isil or who planned to join it. She discovered how each and every one of the women she interviewed held narrow, insular and rigid interpretations of Islam and that Islam “lay in whatever appeared to be as anti-Western as possible.”

You can’t ignore the benefit of living in a Western nation

Undoubtedly part of the push factors leading people to join Isil include strong anti-Western sentiment. But they also do so because of a lack of belonging, feelings of marginalisation and isolation from British society. There is little doubt the impact 9/11 had on Muslim youth but these Islamist grievance based narratives are dangerous because they exploit marginalisation and anti-Western rhetoric by legitimising such feelings.

Ignoring the benefits of living in a Western nation, including the freedom, opportunity and legal protections available to Muslim women in the UK, Bsis and Islamists instead promote anti-Western narratives – which are similar to the violent extremists. This pusheswomen and girls on a path towards radicalisation, making them more likely to be susceptible to Isil propaganda. The reality is that many people who join Isil, like the Mannan family, quote the same religious-political arguments as non-violent extremists do; ideology is the common thread between both.

Bsis’ fiery passionate speeches, imbibed with victimhood status and proclamation of God’s name, would impress any vulnerable 14 year old girl. A Muslim woman who used to be part of HT in her teenage years contacted me after watching the BBC South Today programme and recalled how this was the same poisonous narrative that was being preached 15 years ago when she was in HT. She went on to tell me how it took her a long time to stop feeling paranoid and to break her indoctrinated thinking that the West was out to destroy Muslims. “It’s severe brainwashing” she told me. Another told me that when she was heavily involved with such groups, if Isil back then had declared such a caliphate, she too would have gone without a second hesitation thanks to the ideology of these organisations based here.

I am ready for a long battle

The likes of Bsis’ engage in a politics of fear to drum up support for their Islamist agenda. In contrast my organisation’s #makingastandcampaign centres around the politics of hope, empowering British Muslims to challenge extremism in their homes and communities. Highlighting how they belong to Britain and Britain belongs to them. We visited eight cities across England and Wales engaging with hundreds of Muslim women, providing them with a safe space to talk about extremism. The campaign was well received because the importance of women’s voices and activism is acknowledged when it came to challenging extremism. And through my experience, when you empower women, it is women who are far more likely to speak out against extremism. Like the mothers who came together to confront the imam who was preaching derogatory comments about non-Muslim women to their children. Or the women who said they’d publicly rebut Muslim preachers who often spoke to large audiences promoting hatred of others. They were tired of such figures being given free reign to promote what they perceived to be bigotry, misogyny and extremism. They want to make a stand because they feel their children deserve better. But they like I, know that this is a long battle and despite the backlash they inevitably will receive, especially as they are women, these women believe it is a price worth paying.

Over 700 British Muslims have left to join Isil, and some of these include families like the Mannan’s who incidentally didn’t mention one word about foreign policy in their statement. And while we all have a responsibility in defeating extremism, it is for Muslims to challenge extremist views that are cloaked in theology and which claim to be the only true interpretation of Islam. We have seen in recent weeks British families suffer in different ways because of terrorism and radicalisation. The narrative of Bsis and organisations like CAGE are seeking to prevent our crucial counter radicalisation work. However, their message will not stop the Muslim women, families, Imams, local authorities and teachers I know who are all hell-bent on working together to protect young people and their loved ones from radicalisation. We won’t be silenced or stopped.

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What a week.  The start of our nationwide roadshow of our campaign #MakingAStand began with the news that three teenage girls from East London had left the UK to join ISIS.  The words of grief shared by the girls’ families were painful for anyone to watch.  But the case of Shamima, Amira and Kadiza only strengthened our resolve at Inspire, to do what we can in preventing people from being drawn into extremism.  It is why #MakingAStand, especially in these times, is so important.  Our message to women resonated.  If we will not challenge extremism in these times, then when?  If we will not speak out against those who prey on our children, who deliberately target them with an extreme religious and political ideology then who will?

This week we were in Birmingham and Luton and the discussions with the participants were honest, critical, introspective, refreshing and uplifting.  In the safe spaces we had created, women shared with us their direct experiences of extremism.  Cases of extended family members who had become radicalised, concerns over messages of hate coming from mosques and the lack of counter-messages being taught to kids in these places of worship.  Some women had very strong views; including a firm belief that madrassas should be regulated.  Many mothers argued that parents needed to take greater responsibility in deciding where they send their kids for an Islamic education.  Parents should demand to see the curriculums, find out if they have child protection policies and other normal policies one would expect from institutions that are teaching children.  Concerns were raised over the internet about the dominance of extremist websites and about groups operating in their own local communities who peddle a narrative of hate and an “us V them” worldview to young impressionable Muslims.  The issue of gender inequality within sections of British Muslim communities, was unsurprisingly raised.

But women also told us how they are making a stand and next steps they plan to take.  Examples of how they have been challenging hatred, bigotry and extremism were offered.  Some of the practical ideas we heard were great and we hope to share the activism of these principled women with you in the future.  So watch this space.  Next stop will be Leeds on the 10th March.  If you’re interested in attending, please register on our website.  The #makingastand movement is growing!

This week Inspire also did many local, national and international media interviews, about the three schoolgirls.  I wrote an article for the Independent you may wish to read, arguing why these girls were not only radicalised but were also groomed by ISIS.

Seeing the pain of the parents of the three schoolgirls, I also wrote an open letter to any young girl who maybe considering joining ISIS.  Within 72 hours the letter was viewed over 20’000 times in countries across the world from Canada to India and has been translated into different languages.  It was also reported in the Independent, Huffington Post and the Metro.  Teachers told us they would read it in their morning assembly.  Young Muslims contacted us saying what an important message it contained.  Some people contacted us saying they now understood the difference between ISIS and Islam.  My motivation for writing the letter was to sow the seed of doubt in the minds of any young girl (or boy for that matter) who maybe considering to leave the UK to join ISIS.  If the letter convinces even one person, then it has fulfilled its purpose.

You can read the letter here.

May we all continue to make a stand against all forms of extremism, violence and hatred.   #MakingAStand

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Last week’s attacks on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo’s offices in Paris have left Britain in shock about their sheer brutality and in deep solidarity with the victims. In the immediate aftermath, Muslims all over Europe, and especially in Britain, issued messages of condemnation and commiseration.

The Sun dedicated an entire page to the last week’s events, letting us hear the voices of British Muslims as they comment on the horrific events. In a strong statement, Sara Khan condemns the attack, saying “There is nothing that can be used or argued to justify what happened. (…) We need to continue to challenge such horrendous attacks of brutality and the ideas that justify them. But like many, I fear that ordinary, law-abiding Muslims will unfairly and unjustly pay the price.”
The Sun 090115

As Charlie Hebdo’s new issue hit newsstands this week in unprecedented levels, the renewed depiction of Prophet Mohammed on the cover has sparked considerable controversy and heated debate.
In response to the cover, on Wednesday’s BBC Radio 4 Today show, Sara Khan spoke about questions of solidarity, traditions of satire and depictions of the Prophet in Islam and the messages behind the cover. (at 1:30)

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04xp63v

Sara also appeared on BBC London Radio at 8.45 Wednesday morning (14th January 2015), where she was interviewed on the same topic. Please find the links here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02fjd97

In last night’s Amanpour on CNN, Christiane Amanpour portrayed the broad spectrum of Muslim reactions to the Charlie Hebdo cover. Sara Khan joined her in the studio to discuss the cover, necessary debates within Islamic communities, and freedom of expression.

In a similar manner, this Guardian article describes the atmosphere following the publishing of this week’s Charlie Hebdo edition. It quotes Sara Khan as saying, “the image on the front cover is not an image of anger on behalf of Charlie Hebdo. I don’t see it as an image of provocation either.”

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jan/14/charlie-hebdo-muslim-leaders-appeal-calm

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No-one can be under any doubt about the incredibly difficult times we find ourselves living in particularly here in Europe.

With a sense of foreboding, I often wonder what I should be more worried about. On the one hand we have the rise of far right politics, neo-fascist extremism and violent anti-Muslim sentiment across the face of Europe, leaving many concerned about what kind of a Europe our children will live in. Just two days before the Paris attack, Germany witnessed the biggest ever anti-Islam march organised by Pegida with an estimated 18’000 people in attendance. As news emerged about the cold-blooded murder of staff and others at the Charlie Hebdo offices, #killamuslim initially began to trend on twitter provoking revenge attacks against mosques and French Muslims. But it’s not only Muslims who fear attacks; Jews often also fear and feel the impact of rising far right politics and anti-Semitism. Yesterday one of the gunmen attacked a Jewish supermarket in Paris, because he wanted to defend [1] Palestinians and target Jews.

On the other hand, as we have witnessed across the world, we have the rise of Islamist extremism, which at its core despises freedom and human rights. The threat to both Muslims and non-Muslims, posed by this ideology is real and underplaying it only creates a major obstacle in dealing with this challenge. But all too often that’s exactly what I see happening time and again. The constant denial of the role of extremist ideology serves no-one and in fact insults many victims. By denying the role of extremist ideology, you in fact insult the poor parents who have discovered their sons and daughters have left the UK to join the unIslamic State, you insult victims like Ahmed Merabet, the French Muslim policeman who was executed, you insult the 17 killed in Paris, you insult the 132 children killed in Peshawar gunned down in December, you insult the thousands of women in Syria and Iraq who have been raped en masse and sold in sexual slavery markets. And of course let’s not forget that the overwhelming majority of victims killed by Muslim extremist organisations are indeed Muslim.

While some Muslims are at pains to deny the role of extremist ideology, the extremists time and again tell us they are doing it in the name of Islam. One cannot deny, no matter how perverted, that the interpretation of Islam they have been taught has convinced them about the Islamic justification of what they do.

Twitter over the last few days has often seemed like a race to the bottom in moral terms. Tweets calling for all Muslims to be killed as the only viable response to this “war on western culture,” were many including “Islam is a vicious cult. Muslims have no place in any civilised country. Deport and kill them before they kill you!” But these tweets were among the many tweets glorifying the deaths of staff at Charlie Hebdo: “You (kuffar) have taken away the free speech of Muslims in the west with laws and jails. We will take away your ‘free speech’ with death.”

“Only coconuts would condemn the attack on #CharlieHebdo. I’m proud of those who did it!”

“May Allah swt reward our brothers in France who are real men, fear & love Allah swt, who have gheera and took revenge for the Ummah. #IS”

“Allahu akbar! This is the right response 2 those who mock with Islam! #Paris”

Two sides of the same extremist coin, both these hatreds and degenerative positions can all too easily transform into violence; but both are also rooted in fear of the other.

After the terrorist attacks in 2011 by far right extremist Anders Breivik who killed seventy seven people, Norwegian’s Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg stated, “We are still shocked by what has happened, but we will never give up our values…our response is more democracy, more openness, and more humanity.” In the challenging times we find ourselves in, with the rise of both far-right and Islamist extremism, I hope and pray that now more than ever, we hear that message echoed over and over; a message that is fundamental in combatting the narrative of hate and extremism. Stoltenberg is right; we need more openness, more democracy not the opposite if we want to overcome the extremism on both sides.

In countering both these extremist outlooks, Europe must cling to its hard won freedoms protecting speech, belief and minorities, while Muslims must reject and challenge the supremacist ideologies which are an affront to the victims of this ideology and indeed to Islam itself. I’ve repeatedly written[2] about moving on from mere condemnation (which by the way is not, nor has ever been, about “apologising”) in order to challenge the extremist narrative but as Fraser Nelson wrote[3], we also need better and stronger Muslim leaders to be able to deal with this challenge. And let us not be under any illusion about this challenge. Yesterday the MI5 head Andrew Parker stated[4] that Al-Qaida are planning to attack Britain; for those of us who work to counter extremism, this isn’t all too surprising, shocking maybe.

At Inspire we will continue to do what we can and are taking our Making A Stand[5] campaign out to Muslim women. We know the impact women have when they take the lead in countering extremism. And now more than any other time, we need to make a stand and take the lead. Join us.

 

[1] http://news.sky.com/story/1405224/charlie-hebdo-al-qaeda-threatens-more-attacks

[2] http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/sara-khan/lee-rigby-killing_b_4484732.html)

[3] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/11333721/British-Muslims-deserve-better-leaders-and-theyll-need-them.html

[4] http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/2015/01/six-key-points-from-mi5s-andrew-parker-speech-on-terrorism-in-britain/

[5] http://www.wewillinspire.com/making-a-stand/

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This blog can also be read here.

“I am a soldier of Islam” Michael Adebolajo calmly stated in the dock at the trial of Lee Rigby’s murder where both he and his accomplice Michael Adebowale were found guilty of Rigby’s murder. These very words have been reiterated by other extremists including by 7/7 ringleader Mohammad Sidique Khan who stated in his suicide video “we are at war and I am a solider.”

Challenging extremism and the causes of extremism is a collective responsibility and foreign policy as a radicalising factor cannot be dismissed. But equally we cannot continue to ignore the political ideology, clothed in extreme religious language which is spouted and justified by extremists themselves. Adebolajo for examplearticulated the standard extremist narrative, “we are forced by the Qur’an in verses like Surah Tawbah and many many other ayahs (verses) which state we must fight them as they fight us.”

When I was growing up I was exposed to a moderate British Islam which talked about integration, active citizenship, love for one’s neighbours and it was this theological grounding that played a significant role in making many young Muslims that I knew resilient to the extremist narrative. In the last few decades however that has been a substantial increase in intolerant and militant interpretations of Islam in Britain and globally. Yet has enough been done by religious and civic Muslim leaders in dismantling this political and extreme religious narrative?

Issuing statements condemning terrorism will not dismantle the extremist views held by individuals like Adebolajo and Adebowale.Press releases after Rigby’s murder by some British Muslim leaders stated that while challenging extremism is a responsibility on us all, “at the end of the day, it is the job of the police authorities to protect us, as the public has no power of enforcement.” Confusing the role of the Government’s Prevent and Pursue agendas, some Muslim leaders fail to understand the important role they can play in supporting vulnerable individuals in a pre-criminal space and in directly challenging their ideological worldview with Islamic theology.

It is exactly this lack of understanding which has frustrated many of the Muslims I have worked with over the years. Earlier this year, Inspire completed a 6 week challenging extremism programme in Leeds to help educate women about the extremist threat and taught them key theological counter-narratives to extremist ideology. Many of the participants lived doors away from the homes of the 7/7 bombers and participants time and again stated “if I knew this information ten years ago when my children were teenagers, I would have taught them about the issues raised in this course. This is the first time I’ve been educated on such a crucial and important topic.” These women expressed feelings of disappointment in religious and civic Muslim leaders in not providing their children with a contextualised understanding of Islam and their inability in directly challenging extremist ideas so easily available on the internet. In my experience of working with Muslim communities at the grassroots, it has shockingly been rare for participants to have been taught about theological counter-narratives to extremist ideology.

It is utterly ironic that these leaders do not feel it is appropriate for the police or the government to counter misinterpreted theology, and rightly so, yet they do not want to take up this challenge themselves which then begs the question who do they think should be countering extremist ideology when extremists justify their politically motivated actions with verses taken directly from the Qur’an?

Not all British Muslim leaders or communities however, show such apathy. After the failed (a Muslim reported him to the police) suicide bomber Andrew Ibrahim’s attempts of blowing up Bristol town centre in 2008, members of the local Bristol Muslim community were adamant that no other young vulnerable Muslim would be ignored. They set up Naseehah, a community led initiative which would help and guide individuals and to support the police in their work. 25 local members were trained to recognise, support and de-radicalise individuals using Islamic theology.

Having been de-radicalised whilst in prison, Andrew Ibrahim sent a message of endorsement to the members of Naseehah articulating how important it was for local faith leaders to be equipped in being able to challenge extremist ideologies. Not receiving this support and the failure of local imams to answer difficult questions posed by him before his attempted terror attack, he turned to the internet where he succumbed to answers provided by extremist websites. This is preventing extremism community work at its best: building resilience within communities, directly challenging extremist ideology, supporting vulnerable individuals and referring radicalised individuals, both far-right and Muslim extremists to Channel, an early intervention collaboration between local authorities, the police and other partners to protect those people at risk from entering the criminal space.

On Thursday it was widely reported that Adebolajo’s brother Jeremiah warned of more attacks to come. We can take measures like banning external preachers but this will do little to extinguish the ideas that drive such acts of violence and hate. While sitting in Lebanon Omar Bakri Muhammad is still teaching young Muslims in London every night via the internet for example. If we want to combat extremism, we and in particular Muslim leaders need to recognise that this is a battle of narratives centred around theology and by amplifying theological counter-narratives to extremist ideology we can help make their narrative redundant, make our country a more secure one and prevent them from dividing us as a nation.

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