Kalsoom Bashir

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I believe that education is the cornerstone of our society. It is crucial to building the knowledge and skills of our young people, and also in nurturing their values and beliefs.

In my work as a Muslim Chaplain at the University of Bristol, I promote what I believe to be the fundamental rights of students; equality, freedom of speech and expression, the right to study and live in a safe and nurturing environment, the right to question and the right to be protected from prejudice and extremism.

It is vital that students are taught and encouraged to practice critical thinking. Teaching students to constantly question what they are told or shown is so important in developing the skills needed to resist those who aim to force ideas and values upon them.

Over the last 18 years I have worked in the education sector, I have had the opportunity to observe and share in the challenges faced by students who are away from home for the first time. While many embrace their newfound freedom, for others this situation can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness. Our duty should be to help and support these students. However, as I have witnessed first hand, there are those that seek to manipulate and exploit these insecurities.

I recall an upsetting case of a talented and bright young man who following a personal trauma whilst at university began to attend presentations at a mosque at which he was exposed to the ideologies of particularly extremist thinkers. He then went on to listen to extremist speakers online.

His behaviour changed for the worse and his mother shared her concerns with me. Previously a very promising student keen to learn, he dropped out of his course as he no longer considered it compatible with his beliefs. He also began circulating hate-filled messages on campus and around the local community including statements such as the local Mosques were not true followers of Islam and should be shut down.

This is only one of many similar instances I have encountered where, had his lecturers been aware and equipped to deal with the situation, he could have received support. This could have come in many forms, such as theological mentoring. Sadly, he was never given this opportunity and instead decided, with little or no guidance, to throw away his future.

For that reason, I find it deeply troubling when those who are supposed to represent and stand up for the welfare of students appear unwilling to accept the responsibility to challenge extremism. This fills me with sadness and frustration, because in doing so, they are actively failing to support vulnerable students, and allowing hateful ideologies to spread on campuses. As a parent of children at university I have spoken to many parents who share my concerns.

We all agree that education is a universal right. So too is the right to learn in a space that is safe and secure, and one which is not coloured by the ideologies of hatred, bigotry and extremism.

My concern is that in our misguided anxiety not to offend, we actually risk failing those who we should be helping to protect. Extremist ideologies, unless challenged, can find fertile breeding grounds among vulnerable members of society.

It’s imperative that as a society we must all work together to combat extremism. As part of that effort, student groups and their leaders play a critical role in standing up to extremists on university campuses.

Let’s be clear. Freedom of speech is the bedrock of academia, just as it is a principle that we hold dear as a nation. Equally, students have the right to learn in an environment where they are not regularly exposed to extremist ideas, which among other things advocate the demeaning of women, express hatred towards gay people and attack democracy.

We should not underestimate the damage that the unchallenged propagation of extremist ideas can cause on university campuses. Sadly young people continue to make up a disproportionately high number of those arrested in this country for terrorist-related offences.

In recent years, there have been a number of instances in which university students have attempted to commit acts of terrorism. In November 2014, Erol Incedal, a law student at London South Bank University, was found guilty of possession of a bomb-making manual. Others believed to have been radicalised whilst at university include Glasgow Airport attacker Kafeel Ahmed, who was a student at Anglia Ruskin University.

That these individuals could have fallen under the influence of poisonous and violent ideologies whilst attending British universities prompts uncomfortable questions – which we need to address with candour and courage.

If we regard extremism as anathema to the values of tolerance, pluralism and free speech that we value in our universities, then it is right that we work in partnership to challenge it and create an environment where freedom of speech and freedom from harm co-exist.

The student movement has in the past shown determination in tackling hateful ideas, for example in campaigning against racism. But in turning a blind eye to vile extremist ideas, and in refusing to acknowledge the threat they pose to students, they do a disservice to themselves and the wider community. If they had seen the way that extremism can wreck young lives, as I have, they would surely not be so complacent.

Kalsoom Bashir

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It is with great sadness that we announce the loss of a dear friend and supporter of our work. Bushra Farooqui, died while on a trek in Oman. Her death is testimony to her selfless nature-she died whilst trying to get help for other members of her party that had got lost.

Bushra combined her passion of mountains with her commitment and passion for improving educational provision for underprivileged children, particularly girls in Pakistan.

I met Bushra when we trekked to Base camp Everest to raise money for a charity improving educational access for girls in Pakistan. Our love of trekking and passion for womens rights brought us close. I went on to join Inspire as Co-director and Bushra set up ‘inspire for the love of mountains’ a charitable organisation supporting primary education for children in the Gilgit-Baltistan province of Pakistan. After a trek to the region she understood that there were no places for girls in the schools because families prioritized the education of sons. Raising money with friends from the UK, she helped to fund teaching for 60 girls at the boys’ primary school in Sidri village in Baltistan, 100 kilometres from the nearest town, Skardu The money she raised supports 360 girls in different villages. Bushra opened primary schools in Sadpara and Malpan.Today, there are 360 children, both girls and boys, between the ages of four and 14 years enrolled in these two schools.

Bushra was a role model for all of us. She was a special constable for the metropolitan police in her spare time and was also manager of the Aquatics centre at the 2012 Olympics. All this was alongside her job as international consultant banker.

Her death has been a tragedy that has been felt by her friends and colleagues across the world. As her brother Sohaib said

“She was energetic, enthusiastic. She lived for others, not just for herself.

“Mountaineering was the love of her life and it was her first love that drew her to the children of Baltistan. It was not just girls’ education but children’s education she wanted to take forward.”

Friends and family have committed to continuing Bushra’s legacy by setting up a page to raise funds for Sadpara school. Please visit the link below. The initial plan is to build 2 more rooms and keep supporting the 140 students.

http://www.gofundme.com/bushra-slegacy

For any queries about Inspire for the love of mountains, please contact her sister and member of the board of directors of Inspire, Aisha Farooqui ataishafarooqui96@gmail.com. The official website address is www.inspire-initiative.org

Kalsoom Bashir

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The NUT two weeks ago expressed concerns regarding new legislation designed to support and protect vulnerable students from the growing threat of radicalisation. Working to prevent extremism across the country I’ve come across phrases such as ‘spying’, ‘Muslim scapegoating’ and ‘criminalising pupils’. These are some of the fear mongering tactics often used quite deliberately by those who have no interest in challenging extremism. The NUT however needs to be objective and take note of the hundreds of teachers to whom I have delivered preventing extremism training. The response has been overwhelmingly positive and once the myths and misconceptions have been put to one side, schools have recognised this is another strand of the work they already do – safeguarding our most vulnerable children.

Inspire has tirelessly been working with Muslim parents about the threat from extremists who prey on their children. Women that we have spoken to across the country through our ‘Making a Stand’ campaign are looking to work together with schools to help protect their children. Mothers have told us they expect teachers to share concerns with them, yet it would appear the NUT are nervous of what they inaccurately refer to as scapegoating Muslim children, rather than actually address the very real concerns that women are telling us they are worried about.

Such misconceptions, inaccuracies and falsehoods about what Prevent is about will only result in failing to protect the very children who need the most protection. The idea that schools are expected to contact the police over the discussion of ideas is based on falsehood. The steps needed to be taken are far more simple. Take the real life case of Laila; a high achieving 6th form student. Laila had always wished to be an engineer. Within a short space of time she began to disengage from her lessons. She also started to distance herself from her friends. Upon noticing this change in behaviour, her tutor spoke to her friends who informed him that Laila felt that a “western secular education would not guarantee her a place in heaven” and that an Islamic education was all she was obliged to achieve.

The school shared the concern with her parents who were relieved to be able to share their worries, and with their support a local female Islamic theologian was approached to mentor Laila and gently push back against the extremist interpretations of faith she had been exposed to on the internet.

The school did not call, or feel the need to even think about calling the police. Why should they? No crime had been committed but someone like Laila would have been more vulnerable to the ideology of extremists. The school however recognised this and Laila was given the support she needed. Once concerns are shared with teachers and parents are informed, a support scheme is often put in place including one to one counselling with an Imam and a mentor from the community. The multi-agency safeguarding panel ‘Channel’ chaired by the local authority can also intervene to provide support should the school’s own referral pathways be ineffective. Early intervention has shown how students did not go on to the path of criminality. Had schools not intervened with the support of the parents, it may have been a different story – including that of Laila.

The NUT has expressed the concern that young people will not openly express their views in the classroom. Open debate must be encouraged in class. The reality is that there are bigots – whether Islamist or far right – that are openly sowing the seeds of hatred and disunity within communities. Schools are the ideal place to provide platforms for debate and discussion and I would expect schools to openly challenge hatred spewed by anyone espousing supremacy. Indeed, in some areas there are referral of young people vulnerable to far right extremism.

Preventing extremism is about safeguarding; it is a safety net and that safety net is stronger if we all play our part. Schools engaging with young people would not hesitate to share a concern if they felt there was the potential risk of a child being sexually exploited, groomed online, bullied, at risk of FGM or was at risk of falling into gun or knife crime. We would share the concern and share the risk following the referrals pathways that already exist and are established in every school with designated child protection or safeguarding leads. Current legislation regarding radicalisation dictates that schools follow exactly the same procedure with a proportionate response. Whilst the risk is rare, it is not one we can ignore. Just last week we have heard of two more young men over the Easter holidays who have left the UK to join ISIS, leaving behind devastated parents, family and communities. This is no longer something that can be left at the door of the police and security services. Teachers have the skills to recognise vulnerable individuals and, working with parents, are integral to the success of protecting them from extremism. They can help a young person make a decision to not carry on down a path from which there may be no return. In order to recognise the threat though, they need to separate myths from hysteria and fear mongering.

Kalsoom Bashir

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Kalsoom Bashir will be joining Counter Terrorism Senior National Coordinator (SNC) Helen Ball, in hosting a UK-wide webchat at 12:00hrs on Sunday 08 March as part of International Woman’s Day, to discuss and take questions about the worrying trend of young women putting themselves and children in grave danger by travelling to Syria, leaving their families devastated.  You can take part in the webchat here: http://www.met.police.uk/Syria/

Kalsoom explains further why such initiatives are important:

As a parent of both daughters and sons I have witnessed this last few weeks with an aching heart  the anguish of parents who have lost children to the barbaric state ISIS.

I have seen the parents of the three young girls from London who have been reported to have left for Syria appealing for their return and this week heard the voices of the  mother and father of the convicted science  teacher from Manchester in a recording. They make heartfelt appeals to him to turn his back on those extremists that are not only persuading young people to turn their back on their families but murdering with brutality anybody that gets in their way be they men women or children.

In Bristol, my home city we have seen another 15 year old who has left, leaving behind as in all the other cases a devastated family and community.

This is something that can no longer be ignored and it is clear that safeguarding our children from extremists is not something that can be managed by police and security services alone.

Resilience to extremist ideologies must be started at home and we must begin to have conversations with our children  to protect them from the lure and pull of ideological and sexual grooming that  ISIS is using to attract victims to its cause. These victims are getting younger and will now be in a situation where they may not be able to return. This is the harsh reality.

I can only imagine the pain that parents that have lost children are going through but I can resolve to make a stand against extremism and protect my children and communities.

I will be joining  Counter Terrorism Senior National Coordinator (SNC) Helen Ball,who is hosting a UK-wide webchat at 12:00pm on Sunday 08 March as part of International Woman’s Day. Alongside other colleagues from policing I will be part of an all female panel, to discuss and take questions about the worrying trend of young women putting themselves and children in grave danger by travelling to Syria, leaving their families devastated.

We have made the following resolution:

“We care deeply about the well-being of women and girls throughout the world. We reject the degrading treatment of women by terrorist organisations. We seek to prevent the tragedies caused by it.

“We declare that women and girls should not be subject to forced or bogus marriage, raped, held in slavery, denied education or encouraged to put themselves and their children in danger.

“Men and women who do these things to others are to be condemned.

“We resolve to work together and would like to invite others who want to work with us to join us to end the malign influence and abuse that diminishes the potential and lives of women.”

Police and partners want to ensure that people, particularly women, who are concerned about their loved ones are given enough information about where they can get support. You can reach specially trained people for help and advice by calling 101. 101 call handlers throughout the UK have been briefed

You can also pledge your support on the MPS Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/metpoliceuk

We are increasingly concerned about the numbers of young women who have or are intending to travel to Syria. It is an extremely dangerous place and the reality of the lifestyle they are greeted with when they arrive is far from that promoted online by foreign terrorist groups. The option of returning home is often taken away from them, leaving families at home devastated and with very few options to secure a safe return for their loved one.

We want to increase their confidence in the police and partners to encourage them to come forward at the earliest opportunity so that we can intervene and help.

This is not about criminalising people it is about preventing tragedies…

Find out more and join us on Sunday;

www.preventtragedies.org

http://www.met.police.uk/Syria/

http://www.met.police.uk/Syria/cil-2014.htm

#Preventtragedies 2015 webchat

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Noor Inayat Khan, a proud Muslim woman whose faith guided her in her journey, is the type of role model that young women across the world, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, have long sought out. A woman whose heroism was not defined by any other person but herself. Noor displayed courage and loyalty throughout her life and in death.

Noor, a decendant of Indian princes, became a British secret agent during World War II. She led an extraordinary life until she was betrayed to the Nazis, suffered torture and interrogation, and was killed on 13th September 1944. At this time, she was only 30 years old.

Today at Inspire, we will be remembering the heroic contribution of so many like her, who have given their lives for their country.

Read her story here.

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Yusra Hussien is the latest of up to sixty young Muslim girls who may have been radicalised here in the UK and then travelled  abroad perhaps to join the so-called Islamic State. We have utmost sympathy for Safiya Hussien, the mother of Yusra, who has appealed for her to return home.There are now a growing number of bewildered parents across the country facing the same anguish. Victims of terrorists and extremists peddling a distorted version of our faith. We are sadly aware of the devious ways in which these radicalisers operate trying to give young women a sense of purpose. But these are falsehoods that end in a nightmare.This is why we have launched #makingastand – to make our communities more resilient to terrorists, to give mothers the confidence to oppose their arguments and to stop young girls like Yusra even considering joining the barbaric IS.There is now a real urgency to our campaign. To avoid more families being affected by this heartbreaking situation. Women understand that only by actively countering extremism can we protect, support and divert vulnerable teenagers from those who would destroy their future.Radicalisation and recruitment comes from many sources and individuals. We must be vigilant in challenging the ideology of violence and rhetoric of extremism that our children are exposed to. In this way, we will push back against the supporters of the so-called Islamic State.

I urge all women to join us in declaring our abhorrence of the message peddled by these preachers of hate who are destroying our communities, and are now preying on our daughters as well as our sons. Show your support by tweeting using the #MakingAStand hashtag.

KALSOOM BASHIR
CO-DIRECTOR, INSPIRE

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Speaking to BBC Radio 4, founder of Inspire Sara Khan explains why as many as 60 young British Muslim girls to date have left the UK in support of ISIS as either a “jihadi bride” or even to take up arms.

Inspire’s #MakingAStand campaign, launched last week, is a direct response to the radicalisers who are poisoning the minds of these young girls, further evidenced by the recent disappearance of 15 year old Yusra Hussien from Brighton, suspected to be travelling to Syria. For more information on the campaign, see www.wewillinspire.com/making-a-stand/ and tweet your support using the hashtag #makingastand.

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I, like many other Muslim women in Great Britain have had to struggle with limitations placed upon me by less enlightened members of society. My parents were brave enough to stand up against cultural restrictions to enable their daughter to have the opportunities they were denied, but I find even now, as I am reaching my half century, young men and women are increasingly adopting far more restrictive and intolerant interpretations of scripture.

My father has always maintained that the best protection for daughters is an education; empowering daughters with the knowledge to improve their understanding of faith and the world so that they are able to analyse, think critically and apply logical reasoning to the choices they make. It’s only when they have this knowledge that they will be able to stand alongside men as equals and have confidence in their individual strengths, support others in their weaknesses and challenge negative practices and regressive interpretations of faith. Until we learn to respect the breadth of opinion within Islam, and not just adopt one inflexible interpretation, we will be constantly judged and misjudged from those within our communities.

As a mother who is trying to do the best for her children and their future, I have to speak out and say that sadly, Muslim faith leadership in this country is not equipped nor understands my children and the support they need in applying the principles of Islam to their everyday lives. Those that run our mosques have not provided an environment in our places of worship where young people can explore being ‘themselves’ or to discuss the challenges that they are faced with in everyday life. Recently, in my city when an Imam was asked to give a sermon on women’s rights the reply was ‘brother, if women are told their rights, who will cook and clean for us?’ Is this a place I should send my children to for guidance in creating a just society? The sad thing is, for many years I did just that!

I sent my children to an environment where they were taught that mixing with ‘non Muslims’ was forbidden other than when was absolutely necessary, as was chess, the arts, and speaking to any member of the opposite sex that they weren’t related to. Men and women could only be in a room together if there was a screen separating them. In fact other than on a Sunday morning, when they were in an ‘Islamic environment’ they were walking bags of sin. We complain about over-sexualisation of children in the media and within fashion but surely we are doing the same? I am not a psychologist, but I shudder to think of the effects on the minds of my growing children. Sadly in my day to day work I see the consequences of such unrealistic demands on our young people. Faith leaders however, when confronted with these issues seem only too keen to brush these sensitive topics under the prayer mat. ‘Sister make dua (supplication)!’ I am told.

I took my children out of this environment when I reflected upon what it was that had brought me closer to Allah. It was not actually any Islamic school or mosque (far from it), but the stories of Jesus that I had heard in my formative years in school and the Christian family friends that I had been exposed to as a child. I envied my friends going to Christian Sunday school and the activities that they did. Faith was taught in a beautiful and meaningful way-it was a verb that had to be actioned everyday in real life. There is so much that we can learn from our Christian friends and together help address common problems. They too struggle with the same challenges that I face as a parent; a society that places increasingly little emphasis on the worship of God, spiralling use of drugs, alcohol and underage sex.

My son I am pleased to say, come to a closer understanding of what Islam is recently, with the help ironically of a Catholic school friend and a reading of Karen Armstrong’s biography of the Prophet Muhammed. He was visibly taken aback at how her objective portrayal of a beautiful man that slaved to bring about peace in a corrupt society was so different to what he had been taught and what he sees portrayed as Islamic by local Muslim leaders who preach downright intolerance and suspicion of other faiths and cultures. He is only twenty, but he is searching for spirituality in his life. He should be encouraged to question and challenge rather than follow blindly and be taught that emulating the Prophet is far more important than following blindly.

My daughters too have few role models that they can aspire to. Muslim women are painfully underrepresented at all levels, and coupled with this are the misogynist interpretations of faith that they have to contend with. We come across regular postings on Facebook by young men in our community; ‘pious’ young men who in the Name of Islam, condone acts of violence against young women for what they choose to wear or not wear. These are the same young men that have been denied by families the right to have a say in their own marriage. The consequences are that my community is in a state of crisis.

Inspire is about commitment to bringing about a deep and profound change, a change that will help women and men make informed decisions and to challenge the narrow minded self proclaimed religious leaders that undermine human rights in the name of Islam. This is not my Islam. I will follow my heart and I am determined not to dig a trench, refusing to engage with those around me. My faith instructs me to have a sense of social responsibility. The Prophet of Islam said ‘God is beautiful and loves beauty’ therefore in my mind anything that is not beautiful is not from God.

I do not wish my children to live in isolation but amongst all people and our worship amounts to nothing if the people around us and our environment are not touched by our good conduct. I want to be part of that change and Inspire is ready to meet the opposition that we will undoubtedly face.

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