Our Work: Reflecting on 2015
At the start of 2016 we would like to take the opportunity to thank all our supporters, friends and donors who have helped us in our work in countering extremism and supporting human rights. The work we do is difficult, challenging and sometimes downright depressing. We all witnessed families taking unsuspecting children, or young bright A-grade teenage girls who had all the opportunities to fulfil their potential in Britain instead choose to live under ISIS’ rule.
The killing of innocent people whether in Paris, Baghdad, Beirut, the US, Nigeria, Somalia and other countries did (or should have done) trigger off alarm bells that the threat of Islamist extremism is not only real but it is thriving. The tragic consequences impact ordinary people on a local and global scale.
From Syrian children (fleeing both ISIS and Assad) drowning in the Mediterranean to Shia Muslims and Christians being killed for simply being Shia and Christian. From cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo being gunned down for expressing their views, to Muslims being attacked on the streets of our country because of anti-Muslim bigotry. Yet the circle of hatred and violence continues. Post Paris, ISIS further encouraged Muslims to commit lone wolf attacks. Post San Bernardino Donald Trump called for a ban on all Muslims entering the United States.
It is hard to feel optimistic about the future but giving up is no answer. Instead we must carry on with heavy but determined hearts. And we do so because after every incident, we have witnessed the greatness of the human spirit exemplifying hope and compassion: communities becoming more united, with support and protection offered to those most vulnerable. We have also met many inspirational young British Muslims over the year who have aspirations to contribute positively to society, who are comfortable with their identity and who recognise that diverse Muslim voices, who promote human rights and a British Islam, is desperately needed now more than any other time.
As a small civil society organisation this year we:
Since the first day Inspire was founded, the work we do engaging directly with Muslim women in communities is the dearest to us. We have done so as individuals for over 20 years now and we never tire of it. Women have told us how important and in some cases, life changing our programmes have been for them. Their voices are too often ignored by the media and even by traditional Muslim structures. They share with us their untold stories of battling misogyny daily in Muslim communities or the reality of hate preachers targeting their children.
We do not doubt that it is women who are key to preventing extremism but too frequently the powerful role they play is discouraged and played down often by those same communities. While challenges such as anti-Muslim prejudice are real, we cannot turn a blind eye to the huge challenges that exist within British Muslim communities too. We have seen too regularly how when some Muslims dare point out the injustices, sexism and regressive and hate filled attitudes that exist within some British Muslim communities, they have experienced abuse in an attempt to silence their voices. This does not serve the interests of British Muslims or wider society. The vast overwhelming majority of British Muslims contribute positively to our country; this is our home but we need to challenge those who promote extreme and intolerant views and who seek to divide our society.
We would like to thank the great, considerate and generous British public –whose emails, donations, standing orders and kind words of support spurred us on and allowed our organisation to keep ticking. There are so many individuals and organisations – far too many to name – whether imams, theologians, to headteachers, activists and people from all backgrounds – who have sought to help us, for no other reason but for believing in what we do. We cannot even begin to express our heartfelt gratitude to all of you.
We would like to wish everyone peace and blessings and a fruitful 2016.
Sara Khan and Kalsoom Bashir
30th Dec 2015
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.
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.
Sara Khan, Kalsoom Bashir
Written by Alex Preston, the Guardian Long Read reflects on the challenges of countering extremism and preventing radicalisation but highlights that despite the difficulties, advocacy work of this nature is desperately needed yet so few are willing to do it.
Please read here.
Kalsoom Bashir has spoken at safeguarding conferences and inset training days in Manchester, Birmingham, London, Dewsbury, Bodmin, Bath, Bristol and a number of locations in London. . As well as speaking to practitioners in the field of education we are also delivering lessons to pupils to equip them to challenge all forms of extremism.
Feedback has been consistently positive;
‘Mrs Bashir was very organised and concise. The information and materials were very thought provoking’
‘The trainer was very friendly, open to questions and was very professional and informed about the topic’
‘Really good insight and extended by knowledge’
‘A really informative session-what a great speaker-thank you’
For more information on Inspire’s “Working With Schools” project, please click here.
Inspire and Sara Khan recently spoke in Birmingham at the “Our Families, Our Future” conference.
Acting as keynote speakers, Inspire spoke on how parents can help safeguard children from extremism and were well received by an audience of over 170 women.
Sara Khan and Inspire recently took part in the “Women Fighting Terror” panel at the global Women in the World Summit 2015 in London on 9th October.
Panellists also included Sasha Havlick of the Institute for Strategic Dialogue and Baroness Shields and was chaired by Lindsey Hilsum of Channel 4 News.
You can watch the video clip here which begins at 15:30.
You can also read more here.
Sara Khan was asked by the European Parliament’s Committee of Culture and Education to give evidence on the prevention of radicalisation on the 15th October 2015. The only Muslim and the only female on the panel,the purpose of the hearing was to debate issues relating to the prevention of radicalisation and the possible approaches to prevent the various forms of radicalisation in the European society.
You can read more what Sara and the other panellists debated here:
Inspire have been working with teachers and schools across the country to help equip them to challenge extremism. We provide training, support and consultancy and as experienced trainers offer a offer a wide range of training programmes for teachers, parents and pupils which can be adapted to meet specific needs of the target audience
Please contact us for further information or to discuss your needs.
For more information , please do click here: http://www.wewillinspire.com/working-with-schools/
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.
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.”
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.
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.