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July 2017

Inspire logo counter extremism

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

WATCH THIS SPACE!!

 

 

 

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30th June 2017

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

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

‘Separate but equal’

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

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

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

The case for intervention

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

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

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

A violation of human rights

UN human rights experts have noted that ‘fundamentalists everywhere target education in different ways: In some places, they kill teachers or carry out acid attacks on students. Elsewhere they attempt to impose gender segregation in schools or to exclude women and girls altogether. In other places, they seek to change the content of education, removing sex education from the curriculum or censoring scientific theories with which they do not agree’

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

Gender segregation is gender apartheid

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

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

What you can do

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

We urge you to join us by:

· protesting outside the court on both days;

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

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

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

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

 

To contact Southall Black Sisters please contact:

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

 

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19th June 2017

Inspire is shocked to learn about the terrorist attack on Muslim worshippers in Finsbury Park early this morning in the month of Ramadan. This attack is not only an attack on Muslims; it is an attack on us all and our British values of tolerance, pluralism and diversity that make our country great.

Sara Khan, director of Inspire states, “we must recognise that we are living in an era of growing extremism in particular from both far right and Islamist. Symbiotic in nature, they share common characteristics, both dehumanise, both promote a supremacist ideology and both seek to obliterate our shared middle ground of a common humanity. Extremists by their very nature are fundamentally opposed to human rights which is why as a counter-extremism organisation, we believe defending and promoting human rights is essential in the battle against extremism.

We must continue to challenge all forms of hatred, discrimination and extremism. We cannot allow fear to deter us from living our lives or from practicing our faith. Terrorists seek to change our way of life. Inspire will continue it’s work in countering extremism and promoting human rights. We regularly go into schools teaching this message to thousands of young pupils. Tomorrow will be no different, and we will be pressing home this message of human rights, tolerance and respect to pupils at a school in London. Only by standing together, will we be able to defeat the scourge of extremism.”

 

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20th June 2017

On 20th of June 2017, Sara was invited to Colfe’s School to deliver a lecture titled “Our battle against extremism: Defending our Shared values”.

In attendance were 150 fully engaged students- feedback following the event was excellent with the school saying that they had never asked so many questions from a visiting speaker.  The school’s Headmaster Richard Russell said:

“This was amongst the most engaging talks that we have had in recent years. Islamist inspired extremism is a difficult and emotive topic but Sara spoke confidently about its origins and the key contemporary issues in a clear and effective manner, engaging successfully with a large audience which included pupils from both independent and state schools. She dealt openly and honestly with subsequent questions and retained the interest of her audience throughout.”

Feedback from students included:

“It made me think of things I’d never considered before, such as how the use of the term “Muslim community” pigeonholes people. It also inspired me to fight for human rights and confront all kinds of terrorism.” Michael Y10

 

“The talk was on an extremely hot and relevant topic.  I learnt a lot of valuable things, most importantly I found out the religion (Islam) is generally very peaceful, and that words like sharia and jihad have been hijacked by extremists.” Tom Y10

 

“You gave me an insight into how serious islamophobia is, and how innocent Muslims often feel the repercussions of terrorist actions. It is important not to generalise when talking about Muslims because all Muslims are different, there are some who use Islam negatively and others who peacefully follow the religion.” RJ Y10

 

“It gave me an insight into the actions taken to prevent radicalisation in prisons, schools and online.” Teddy Y10

 

“It gave me the chance to hear another perspective and understand that the religion isn’t about hare, but in fact about peace and love.  It’s just how people choose to interpret it to get their own views across.” Antonia Y10

 

“The talk made me realise how badly the fight against extremism is expressed by politicians and the government, as well as in the news and media.” Emerson Y10

 

“I thought Sara Khan was most insightful, particularly when she said that even if you’re saying something to protect Muslims, grouping people together based solely on their faith is discrimination even if no harm was meant.  She gave unbiased facts to share information, rather than attempting to influence people.” Lettie Y10

 

 

 

 

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May 2017

Sara spoke at the UK’s leading national security eventCounter-Terror Expo at Kensington Olympia in May 2017 on: Countering Radicalisation: Strategies and Challenges – A Holistic Approach.  She argued that while countering radicalisation was necessary from a counter-terrorism perspective, it is essential that we adopt a more wider holistic, multi-pronged strategy that looks at the role of families, schools and education, civil society, the role of businesses and corporates, faith leaders and institutions and the role of government.

She also gave examples of how society and public institutions can make fundamental mistakes which have often emboldened extremists as opposed to challenging them.

https://www.counterterrorexpo.com/speakers/sara-khan

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April 2017

In April 2017 Sara was invited to speak at the Conatus “Defending Progressivism” Conference.

Below is an article in which Sara is cited on why we must defend progressivism.

“Conatus” is defined as the inherent drive in something to exist and continually improve itself. Sartre conveyed the concept as the ‘coefficient of adversity’ and Schopenhauer described it as the ‘Will to Live.’ In our modern worldview inevitably coloured by the theory of the evolution, it is struggle that allows us to change for the better, or adapt to our environment, at the biological level. Without the impetus of hardship steering us toward dynamic responses, we are liable to remain static. These dynamic responses are, in essence, progress.

You might have come across #defendprogress on social media. In a day long event entitled “Defending Progressivism,” organised by Conatus News and Culture Project, a series of panellists dissected the theme from a number of angles. Renowned activists and academics, including A.C. Grayling, Peter Tatchell, Claire Fox, Phil Pearl, Sara Khan, and Gita Sahgal- to name but a few- brought to the table their perspectives on an array of hot topics, including Brexit, mental health, feminism today, the refugee crisis, and the future of activism.

The word ‘progress’ is traditionally associated with left-leaning politics- the politics of change, of revolution, of resistance to the prevailing order. The liberal-minded have historically questioned authority, religious and political, and have advocated for freedom of thought and expression at great personal risk. In recent years, however, identity and deconstructionist politics have caused the left to spiral out into a sort of nihilism – is it a coincidence they are frequently associated with anarchists? – advocating for the abolition of any moral consensus in the name of relativity, subjectivity, and a perversion of the ideal of equality. They took noble ideas, transformed them into monsters of hyperbole, and exploited them to lash out with violence against anyone who would suggest the validity of a different perspective; a singularly non-liberal act of silencing and shaming.

Determining what made the regressive left abandon the working class, for example, as ‘reactionary’ and ‘conservative’ in favour of Muslim communities, and conveniently turn a blind eye to their anti-progressive views, was no simple task. But it was generally accepted that the knee-jerk anti-US-imperialism sentiment made for an easy alliance between otherwise opposing groups with the help of a common enemy. The amalgamation of a thousand different causes into one awkward, lumbering, and often self-devouring beast is further proof that this theory holds up. Otherwise, what would a radical, lesbian feminist have in common with a devout, homophobic Muslim preacher other than the butt of a bad joke?

Sara Khan, author of The Battle for British Islam, blamed identity politics, in part, for her precarious position as a Muslim woman taking a stand against Islamic extremism. It is identity politics, she said, that make people dub her a sell out, a traitor, for defending secular values. She criticised British politicians for appeasing the regressive left and silencing progressive Muslim women who speak out against fundamentalism. ‘I do not wish to be seen through the singular prism of my religion,’ she declared. The panel went on to discuss the relationship between corruption and the lack of implementation of women’s rights in countries where extremism thrives. Khan said women are the first to pay the price of both fundamentalism and extremism. The first thing religious extremists do is curtail women’s rights and countries that deny women participation in political life and in the social sphere through segregation are more prone to extremism. It was a relief to note that the focus was on these situations of international importance and immediate concern, and not the petty bickering over privilege.

“Defending Progressivism” was, in my opinion, a call to take back the words ‘progress’ and ‘liberal.’ Healthy, lively debate and constructive exchange were the salient features of Saturday’s conference. What struck me as I listened was the sense of disillusionment with the state of the left today. The panellists hardly agreed with each other over every matter – that was the beauty of the debate that, while animated at times, never descended into disrespect – but there was a general consensus that the left was abandoning its ideals. Terry Sanders referenced the rise of emotional and personality politics. Heather Brunskell-Evans said she had ‘abandoned the left’ and that what was currently happening with it was representative of a deep ‘malaise’ in society. Claire Fox, author of I Find That Offensive!, lamented the state of free speech on campuses and berated those students who, under the protection of safe spaces, hide from ideas and arguments.

Millennial fragility and the frequent abuse of terminology associated with mental health – the ubiquitous ‘trigger’ comes to mind – led nicely into Phil Pearl’s humorous yet incisive delivery on the topic. In no uncertain terms, he made clear his disdain for the ‘label’ culture that reduces people into conditions through self-diagnosis and an exaggeration of the ills of mental distress. Anxiety, he said, is our friend. It is a sign that we need to address something. Without anxiety, no one would get out of bed. Naturally, he distinguished between this healthy form of anxiety that serves as motivation and chronic anxiety. Pearl warned the audience that, as a society, we are over-medicating and silencing healthy cues that should otherwise be the stimulus for improvement. ‘Labels exclude the possibility of change’ is a phrase that will stay with me. Contrary to the current trend in penning endless neologisms to suit every last variation of the dynamic human personality, we can exist and improve without becoming the sum of our conditions. And we certainly do not need protection from healthy levels of distress. Relevant in an era where Post-Election Stress Disorder is a thing. Peter Tatchell, thankfully, assured us that Trump is no fascist. There are, as of yet, no concentration camps and we still don’t have a one-party system.

I would have liked to ask a few questions of the panellists, meet more people, and take more pictures. But I’m grateful I was able to attend. I wholeheartedly put my name in with the appeal to take back the word ‘progressivism.’ Human rights should certainly not be a partisan bone of contention in our increasingly divided politics.

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Tuesday 9th February 2017

The Counter-Extremism and Safeguarding Bill announced in the Queens Speech is set to usher in new counter-extremism legislation. In light of this Tackling Radicalisation in the UK 2017 will explore the next chapter of harnessing public sector resources to reduce the threat of radical behaviours across the country.

In line with updated PREVENT duty guidance, this conference will expand on how to apply best practice across all specified authorities bound by the duty. Effective rehabilitative methods will also be explored, as well as the emerging threat of radicalisation online.

Moreover, this conference seeks to distil the ideological context in which radicalised behaviours in the UK sit, in order to not only improve prevention techniques, but to accommodate the plurality of beliefs for a more cohesive society.

With representation across the full spectrum of agencies dealing with tackling radicalised individuals and groups, Tackling Radicalisation in the UK 2017 promises to cultivate progressive, rational, and effective solutions to the ongoing debate to create a safer, more secure society for all.

Sara’s address will be on:
“Effectively Engaging at Community Level to Counter Extremist Dialogues”
  • Addressing the root causes of support for extremism: Tackling social exclusion and anger stemming from home and foreign policies
  • Empowering Muslim women to become more actively involved in public life through training programmes
  • Combatting the negative stereotypes of Islam that can be propagated in the media
  • Working in close partnership with schools to create resources designed to inform children about the realities of terrorism versus false propaganda available online

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JANUARY 27, 2017

Since 9/11 National Education Conference Sara Khan-Co-Director of Inspire 27.1.17 ©Richard Eaton 07778 395888

In an era of extremism, Sara was pleased to speak at the conference about standing together for our shared values.  The title of her presentation was “Under Threat: Standing together for our Shared Values.”  Her speech resulted in an exclusive article for TES and for the Telegraph.

The outline of her speech focussed on the following:

We are facing critical times.  With the rise of both Islamist and far Right extremism, our society is increasingly becoming polarised.  The middle ground of shared values and compassionate co-existence is under threat.  Fear of the “other” is causing us to burn bridges rather than build bridges.  Now more than ever, we need to be actively vocal in defending our common humanity in this climate of fear and hostility.  Sara will explain how.

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Since 9/11 National Education Conference Sara Khan-Co-Director of Inspire 27.1.17 ©Richard Eaton 07778 395888
Since 9/11 National Education Conference
Sara Khan-Co-Director of Inspire
27.1.17
©Richard Eaton 07778 395888

since911_27.1.17_019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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