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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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First Published: Tuesday 6 June 2017

Our tolerance to intolerance is a familiar story. The book-burning rallies during the 1989 Rushdie affair should have been a wake-up call to religious fundamentalism. Instead we became paranoid about causing offence and tried to appease regressive community leaders who dishonestly claimed to be speaking on behalf of the “Muslim community”. We lacked the confidence to challenge them or extremists, and as a result they have thrived.

It is clear we have learned little about the diversity of Muslims. We have not only been prepared to legitimise Islamist preachers and groups, we continue to hold the misguided belief that we are serving the interests of the so-called “Muslim community”. We unhelpfully lump Muslims under the banner of a singular “community”.

This myopic perception of Muslims is part of the problem. How many times do we hear politicians and others tell us Muslim terrorists are not “true Muslims”, that they “don’t represent the Muslim community”?

Yet this outdated language conceals the problem. We fail to understand the battle taking place among Britain’s Muslims between those who advocate for a pluralistic humanistic interpretation of Islam against those who subscribe to a supremacist, intolerant and anti-Western Islam.

There are Muslims in our country who support this hostile Islam; they represent the far-Right of British Muslims, and the unfortunate truth is that they are pretty popular.

They preach on campuses, at community events, and have a large online following, some in their hundreds of thousands. Promoting conspiracy theories, calling for the establishment of a caliphate, pouring suspicion on any engagement with state agencies, endorsing anti-Semitism, and intolerance to other Muslims who don’t share their Islamist world view… they then employ the language of multiculturalism and human rights to win supporters while duplicitously playing the victimhood card.

I have seen this for a long time, yet naïve politicians with their singular myopic lens about the “Muslim community” are so eager to stand up against anti-Muslim hatred they end up legitimising the very people who provide the climate for extremism, and attack progressive Muslims who seek to counter Islamist extremism.

This tolerance to extremism was demonstrated by Citizens UK when it invited chief imam of Lewisham Islamic Centre Shakeel Begg to speak at a demonstration on child refugees outside Parliament last year. Only six weeks earlier a High Court judge had ruled that Begg was an “extremist Islamic speaker” who had “promoted and encouraged religious violence” and had glorified key 20th-century jihadist ideologues.

Citizens UK’s defence was that the event it asked Begg to speak at was about the issue of child refugees. One wonders if the charity would extend such a warm invitation to far-Right extremists who have advocated violence to come along and speak about child refugees. I doubt it.

Our tolerance to extremism is also demonstrated by anti-racist groups unwilling to challenge Islamists. Hope Not Hate is one of the very few; it has dipped its toe in the water to find itself — rather typically— of being accused of racism and Islamophobia. Yet so-called anti-racist groups like Stand up to Racism and the NUS invite groups like Cage and Mend to speak at their events, while last year the NUS “no-platformed” Hope Not Hate’s Nick Lowles for “being Islamophobic”. In other words, challenging Islamist extremism is seen as bigotry.

As a Muslim, I find this to be nothing but outright hypocrisy by anti-racist groups who, consumed by identity politics, are unable to see the wood for the trees. Although they are prepared to challenge traditional far Right extremists, they are not prepared to call out far-Right Islamist extremists in the erroneous belief that to do so is Islamophobic. This is the dismal out of touch state of our anti-racist movement today.

Which is why two days before the election, it is imperative that we ask our prospective candidates what their position on how they would challenge Islamic extremism. Find if they even have any understanding of the issue.

A few days ago I received an email from a councillor. For two years, he told me he had been pressing his council to deal with the alarming rising risks from Islamism, which he saw taking root among Muslims in his and neighbouring towns. With increasing segregation, it was clear policies were needed to reverse segregation. He came across resistance from others councillors “who rely heavily on the Muslim vote” but also “officers who seem to live in a parallel multicultural universe”. His story is unbearably familiar to me.

Almost 30 years on from the Rushdie affair, we remain stuck in a vortex of outdated multicultural, multi-faith policies and our ignorance about Islamist extremism remains unchallenged. Muslims need to acknowledge this without getting defensive and redouble their efforts in countering Islamist ideology. We are not doing enough. However, what is also needed is a broad coalition that seeks to defend our shared values and counters all divisive hate beliefs based on our common humanity. No such movement, fit for purpose in the 21st century, exists. It’s high time it did.

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

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Public debate has become toxic and polarised: on one side are the people who call all Muslims terrorists and extremists, and on the other are the people who cry 'Islamophobia' the moment anyone opens a discussion about Islamist extremism in Britain First published: Wednesday 5 April 2017

Islamist extremism in Britain isn’t new. Back in the 1980s and 90s, the proselytisation for violent jihad by prominent ideologues at Muslim events was an open secret. Non-violent Islamist extreme groups like Hizb Ut Tahrir attracted thousands of young Muslims to their conferences, decrying western democracy, secularism and human rights, and calling instead for the establishment of a caliphate.

As a child of the Eighties, I remember this period well and ever since I was a teenager I have witnessed how such extremism first and foremost destroyed the lives of Muslims – their sense of identity and belonging, their prospects and even their families.  It undoubtedly helped feed anti-Muslim prejudice and encouraged sectarianism amongst Muslims.

Unfortunately, since that time, the struggle against Islamist extremism has become even more potent. In 2000, MI5 discovered Britain’s first Islamist bomb factory; in the last three years they have managed to foil no less than 13 terror plots.

The rise and appeal of global terror groups are acutely felt here; approximately 1,000 people have travelled to Syria and Iraq, many seeking to join violent jihadist groups.  Between 1998 and 2015 there have been 269 convictions for Islamist-related offences. Intolerance and extremism has erupted in violence as we saw last year with the brutal killing of Ahmadiyyah Muslim Asad Shah by Tanveer Ahmed. And Muhammad Syeedy, a 21-year-old Isis supporter from Rochdale, murdered 71-year-old imam Jalal Uddin.

 These facts depressingly represent the tip of the iceberg. Online, the spread of Islamist beliefs is unprecedented. There are 54,000 searches each month in the UK alone for extremist material.  Teenagers and children as young as 10 have been declaring their support for Isis. In some cases the authorities have had to deal with parents who have been found guilty of radicalising their own children. The challenge of Islamist extremism is anything but insignificant, and the damage done is immeasurable.Yet despite this clear threat, public debate about Islamist extremism has become toxic and polarised. Entrenched black and white parochial positions, a common feature of our divided post-EU referendum society, predictably emerge.

On the one hand there are those who try to imply that all Muslims are de facto Islamists. Others go into denial mode, play down this reality and erroneously criticise those who dare raise the existence of Islamist extremism as “Islamophobia”.

Part of the reason for this is because both sides are guilty of homogenising British Muslims; terms like the “Muslim community” are woefully unhelpful, outdated and do a great disservice to the highly diverse and complex picture that exists among Britain’s three million Muslims. There quite simply is no single community. Yet when language is so important, this term is repeatedly used by politicians, the media and sometimes by Muslims themselves.

These entrenched positions cloud our inability to recognise the reality about British Muslims.  We fail to recognise the emerging positive trend: how young Muslims are excelling and contributing in many fields, whether in the arts, music, politics, fashion, the arts and drama.  They serve in the Armed Forces and the police, work in the NHS and, much to the displeasure of Islamists, are patriotic, rejecting wholesale the idea of an Islamic caliphate.

But there also exists a negative trend among some British Muslims, albeit smaller yet highly significant.  When third generation British Muslims inspired by Islamist belief want to join Isis or seek to carry out attacks in London because of their hatred for Britain, hard questions about identity, integration and belonging need to be asked.

Too often, depending on one’s political agenda, there is an acknowledgement of one of those trends but not of the other when both clearly exist; this demonstrates the battle that is taking place among Muslims in defining a “British Islam”.  Sadiq Khan’s embrace of democracy, human rights and love for Britain contrasts almost unrecognisably with that of fellow Londoner Abu Haleema who in typical Islamist fashion, while quoting verses from the Qur’an, decries Khan as a “kaffir”, precisely for holding such values. Despite being worlds apart in their viewpoints, both men claim legitimacy from Islam. In this fraught battle, I know whose version of a British Islam I would like to see dominate.

If we are to win this battle, we need to actively counter the propagation of extremist beliefs on satellite channels, on campus, online and in communities.  We must find solutions to the many challenges that exist within and among Britain’s Muslims including strengthening and reforming of faith institutions and leadership.

Muslims must define what British Islam stands for: an ethical and moral religious framework which advocates for human rights and equality while weeding out hate, violence and discrimination.  Likewise, confronting the wider obstacles facing Muslims in our country – socioeconomic and political issues, as well as widespread anti-Muslim discrimination – is vital. It’s important to remember that no one, apart from extremists, benefits from the presence of Islamist extremism in Britain.

Sara Khan is director of Inspire and author of ‘The Battle for British Islam: Reclaiming Muslim Identity from Extremism’ (Saqi Books.)  Sara is speaking on the panel ‘The Battle For British Islam’ at Southbank Centre’s Belief and Beyond Belief festival on Saturday 8 April

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First published May 26, 2017

Sara Khan by Joe McGorty

Following the horrendous terror attacks at Manchester Arena, Sara was invited to take part in a BBC Question Time special in Salford.  You can watch the entire programme here. If you are outside of the UK click here.

Here is a short clip of what Sara said.

Sara also shared her view on a video for the Sunday Daily Politics that following the attack, it cannot be business as usual.  She also took part in a discussion with Douglas Murray agreeing on the threat of Islamist extremism but disagreeing on how we respond to this threat.  You can watch the video and whole discussion here.

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As someone who studies female supporters of Isis, it's clear the writers have done their homework - By Sara Khan

Like a fish takes to water, satire was inevitably going to take on Isis. Having scratched our heads to think what could possibly possess British Muslims to travel to live in Isis’ caliphate (as Syrians ironically travelled in the opposite direction to escape the group), mocking and ridiculing those British Muslims was always going to be on the cards.

Especially as bemusing stories emerged of those British Muslims, who, having burnt their passports and pledged allegiance to Isis, would declare that their caliphate was the “perfect society”, where women were “looked after”.

After declaring their lifetime enmity to Britain, other British jihadists were found later complaining online that Isis members lack the “etiquette of queuing”. Never mind the stoning to death of Syrian women, the grisly deaths of homosexuals, or the beheading of aid workers, one British jihadist’s grumblings of Isis included the dismal fact that “you could be waiting in line for half an hour and then another Arab would come and push in the queue and go straight in”.

After declaring their lifetime enmity to Britain, other British jihadists were found later complaining online that Isis members lack the “etiquette of queuing”. Never mind the stoning to death of Syrian women, the grisly deaths of homosexuals, or the beheading of aid workers, one British jihadist’s grumblings of Isis included the dismal fact that “you could be waiting in line for half an hour and then another Arab would come and push in the queue and go straight in”.

Perhaps it is this truth instead which uncomfortably offends some. The existence of female jihadists and terrorists continues to shock and unnerve us, as if by merely possessing two x chromosomes, women are unable to commit or support such heinous violence.

What should offend us more: the reality that there are women who endorse Isis’ patriarchy and its oppression of women – or a show mocking these women? A satirical sketch does not offend me, but real women like Sally Jones do. Jones was once a one time lead singer of an all girl rock band from Kent who in 2013 converted to Islam and travelled to Syria to join her jihadist Birmingham-born husband Junaid Hussain who she had met online.

It is alleged that Jones plays a key role in training female recruits to attack the West. With her appalling spelling, punctuation and grammar, she openly gloats for the killing of Christians and has issued a number of terror threats against UK cities via her Twitter account. The Real Housewives of Isis pales in comparison to the likes of Jones.

Satire through the use of humour and ridicule is a unique tool which exposes and criticises the stupidity of people’s vices and depravities in a way that only this device can. Satire’s job is to expose problems, ugliness and contradictions, it’s not obligated to solve them, so taking offence to satire misses its raison d’être.

Satire would have to be declared dead if mocking Isis supporters and terrorists is “offensive.” Nor should we so easily dismiss its effectiveness as a counter-narrative to impressionable teenagers.

Terrorists ultimately seek to change the way we live our lives by creating a climate of fear. Satire is a long standing British trait, which helps to neutralise fear through such ridicule. Which is why, despite continuing to work daily to counter violent extremism and Isis propaganda, I will be watching the Real Housewives of Isis next week and laughing along.


Sara Khan is director of the counter-extremism and women’s rights organisation Inspire. She is also co-author of the book The Battle for British Islam: Reclaiming Muslim Identity from Extremism (Sept 2016, Saqi Books)

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Sara was honoured to be asked by the organisers to speak to 600 people at this year’s Virgin Disruptors event in London.  She spoke about how the politics of fear is contributing to closed societies, the rise of extremism and the responsibility on all of us to defend the political middle ground whether as individuals, businesses, civil society and within our schools.

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

To watch Sara’s speech click here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the first chapter on the Sunday Times website

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

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By Dominic Casciani, citing Kalsoom Bashir, Inspire Co-Director. First published Tuesday 6th September 2016

Radical preacher Anjem Choudary has been jailed for five-and-a-half years for inviting support for the so-called Islamic State group.

The 49-year-old was convicted at the Old Bailey after backing the group in an oath of allegiance published online.

Police say Choudary’s followers carried out attacks in the UK and abroad.

The judge, who described Choudary as calculating and dangerous, passed the same sentence on his confidant Mohammed Mizanur Rahman, 33.

Both men were also sentenced to a notification order lasting 15 years, which requires them to tell police if details such as their address change.

Choudary, of Ilford, east London, and Rahman, from Palmers Green, north London, were convicted last month of inviting support for IS – an offence contrary to section 12 of the Terrorism Act 2000 – between 29 June 2014 and 6 March 2015.

The trial heard the pair also used speeches to urge support for IS, which is also known as Daesh, after it declared a caliphate in the summer of 2014.

Counter-terrorism chiefs blame the preacher and the proscribed organisations which he helped to run, such as al-Muhajiroun, for radicalising young men and women including the killers of soldier Lee Rigby in 2013.

But they said they had been unable to act for many years as Choudary – a former solicitor – had stayed “just within the law”.

As he was sentenced, Choudary’s supporters stood up in the public gallery and shouted: “Allahu Akbar” – Arabic for God is Great. He smiled and disappeared down to the cells.

For 20 years Choudary has been the police’s headache – now he is the prison service’s. He will start time in the high security unit – a prison within a prison – at HMP Belmarsh in south-east London. Only a few of the most dangerous individuals in the country are ever held there at one time – and the priority will be keeping him apart from the impressionable minds whom Mr Justice Holroyde said he did so much to influence.

Whether the prison service will succeed is unclear. Only last month it published a report that raised serious questions about how well the UK manages violent extremists behind bars. So what happens to Choudary from now on may demonstrate whether jails can securely hold people like him and prevent them from doing further harm.

Sue Hemming, CPS head of counter terrorism said: “Both men were fully aware that Daesh is a proscribed terrorist group responsible for brutal activities and that what they themselves were doing was illegal.

“Those who invite others to support such organisations will be prosecuted and jailed for their crimes.

Kalsoom Bashir from counter-extremism organisation Inspire, said she was relieved the law had caught up with Choudary, saying he has been described as “the gateway to terror”.

“He has enticed those individuals who were on the fringes of society towards supporting violent extremism and giving them, behind closed doors, justification for committing acts of violence in the name of terror – those who heard him then went on to commit those acts of terror.”

The pair caused “frustration for both law enforcement agencies and communities as they spread hate”, said the head of the Metropolitan Police’s counter terrorism command, Commander Dean Haydon.

“We have watched Choudary developing a media career as spokesman for the extremists, saying the most distasteful of comments, but without crossing the criminal threshold,” he said.

“This has been a significant prosecution in our fight against terrorism, and we will now be working with communities to ensure that they are not replaced by others spreading hate.”

In court, Choudary refused to stand up in the dock as his sentencing hearing began.

Passing sentence, the judge, Mr Justice Holroyde, said the pair had “crossed the line between the legitimate expression of your own views and a criminal act”.

“A significant proportion of those listening to your words would be impressionable persons looking to you for guidance on how to act,” he said.

He told Choudary he had failed to condemn “any aspect” of what IS was doing, adding: “In that way you indirectly encouraged violent terrorist activity.”

The judge said that in one of Choudary’s speeches he referred “happily to the prospect of the flag of Islam flying over 10 Downing Street and the White House”, and in another set out his ambitions for Islam to “dominate the whole world”.

Choudary’s supporters included the men who murdered Fusilier Lee Rigby – Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale.

Mr Justice Holroyde went on to describe Rahman as a “hothead” while Choudary was more “calculating” and more experienced, adding that both men were dangerous and had shown no remorse.

“You are both mature men and intelligent men who knew throughout exactly what you were doing. You are both fluent and persuasive speakers.”

Choudary’s lawyer, Mark Summers QC, asked the judge to take into account the impact of solitary confinement on his client’s mental welfare when deciding how long he must serve in jail.

However, the judge refused to shorten the sentence and said it was a matter for the Prison Service.

He added that he could not decide sentences based on “speculation” over whether Choudary would be held in solitary confinement “to minimise the risk that persons such as you two will radicalise other prisoners whilst serving your sentences”.

“I do not think it would be right to reduce your sentence because of the possibility that your own behaviour may cause the prison service to deal with you in a particular way,” he said.

Both Choudary and Rahman were previously convicted over a protest march held in London in 2006 over Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.

Choudary was fined £500 for failing to give notice of a public procession while Rahman was convicted of soliciting murder and jailed for six years.

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BBC News Channel

Sara Khan by Joe McGorty

Sarah Montague speaks to Sara Khan, director and co-founder of Inspire. Kadiza Sultana was 16 when she ran away from her home in London to join the so-called Islamic State group in Syria. Her family have heard reports that she is dead, killed in a Russian airstrike. It’s hard enough to understand why young men join IS, it’s harder still to see what attracts women. Sara Khan is at the forefront of efforts in the UK to prevent young women being radicalised. What does she say to them? And is it making any difference?

To watch the video, click here

First aired Wednesday 31st of August 2016

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Sunday Times interview with Sara Khan by Rose Kinchin- first published Sunday 4th September 2016

Like all the most effective activists, Sara Khan has perfected the art of being cheerfully cross. She hobbles into the central London hotel on crutches and, for the next hour, is both engaging and enthusiastic despite being barely able to contain her rage. Khan is the head of Inspire, an anti-extremist charity, and a leading voice in Britain’s efforts to stem the flow of more than 800 young people thought to have gone to Syria since 2007.  She and her staff go into schools around the country, training teachers and warning students about the dangers of the radical preachers lurking online.
When three schoolgirls, Shamima Begum, Kadiza Sultana and Amira Abase, ran away from Bethnal Green Academy, east London, last year, Khan’s open letter, sent to hundreds of schools, was reprinted by newspapers around the country. “You won’t know me but like you I too am British and Muslim,” it began. “Some of your friends may have gone out to join Isis and you are also considering going out too . . . I have no other intention in writing this letter but to tell you that you are being lied to in the wickedest of ways.”
It is vital work that requires conviction, authenticity and patience, all of which Khan, 36, has in abundance. Lately though, that patience has started to run out. It is not the Isis radicalisers who are getting to her but a new battle much closer to home. “The Salafi Islamists absolutely hate me,” she laughs. “I think the fact that I’m a woman, that I’m opinionated, that I don’t wear a headscarf, gets to them,” she says, tucking her bobbed hair behind one ear. Internet forums are brimming with loathing for Khan, the “traitor”, while hardline commentators dismiss her as a government “stooge”.
What annoys her even more is that people who ought to know better are falling into their trap. “Sections of the British left have aligned themselves with the Islamist far right who think that people like me are Islamophobic,” she says. “When that happens something has gone horribly wrong with discourse in British society.”
She says many Muslims are grateful for what she is doing: “The number of emails I get — these are your silent majority who will say to me we love what you are doing but we don’t want to speak out because we are scared.”
Her new book, The Battle for British Islam, is an attempt to understand the chaos engulfing her religion but also to make people realise that “we are maligning the very voices we need to support on the front line of the battle against Islamism”.
It does not take too much inquisition to figure out whom she is talking about. In 2014, about the time that Isis declared its caliphate, Khan says “something shifted”. Inspire launched a campaign encouraging Muslim women in Britain to speak out against radical preachers, providing them with counterarguments to give to their children.
She won the backing of the Theresa May, then home secretary, and wrote an opinion piece in The Sun. The response was vitriolic. “I’ve lost count of the number of articles written about me by Salafi Muslims, smearing me and calling me an Islamophobe and an informant because the campaign was supported by government.”
She was bombarded with abusive messages on social media. Some threatened to kill her, others said she would be gang-raped. She installed a fireproof letterbox. Her husband, a lawyer also of Pakistani descent, supports her. “He tells me to ignore it and do what I want,” she says.
I ask whether she was scared. She nods. “When the police said maybe you should consider changing your route to drop the kids off at school.” The abuse has continued, more or less, to this day. Her greatest fear is “that I will have some nutty 18-year-old standing outside my door with knife who just might do something stupid”.
Khan comes from a middle-class family in Bradford. Her father, a businessman who worked in insurance, arrived here from Pakistan and “loved it” she says. “He very much embraced British life. He always said, ‘This is your home. Yes, your roots are in Pakistan but you have to contribute to the wellbeing of British society’.”
As a teenager she dabbled briefly with the more fundamentalist interpretations of Islam. She started wearing the veil at 13 (and continued to wear it until her early thirties). She had qualified as a pharmacist and completed an MA in human rights when, in 2008, she co-founded Inspire. It was born from a feeling that groups such as the Muslim Council of Britain were failing in two key areas: gender inequality in the Muslim community, and extremism. “I’ve seen more and more young British Muslims expressing extreme Islamist views and thinking that’s acceptable,” she says.
For the first few years they focused on Muslim women, “some of the most marginalised people in this country”, she says, campaigning against forced marriage and educating them about their legal rights. But it was the rise of Isis and the willingness of third-generation Muslims to travel to Syria that propelled Khan into the public eye.
She believes there has been an “explosion” of puritanical ideologies, not just in Britain but globally. Where once the Salafists and the Islamists were staunch enemies, they have now united and created an incredibly powerful lobby, pushing “a very hardline interpretation” online, on campuses and on social media.  The “9/11 generation”, as she calls them, find their identity in this global Islamism from preachers who argue that their faith must take precedence over their British identity.
One of the reasons Khan is a target for the Islamists, aside from her bright red nails and refusal to keep schtum, is her association with Prevent, part of the anti-terrorism strategy launched by the last Labour government. It puts the onus on teachers and community groups to identify and “divert” potential extremists.
Before she left her post as director of Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti called it “the biggest spying programme in Britain in modern times and an affront to civil liberties”. It has generated a number of ludicrous stories including one child hauled out of class for drawing a bomb — which turned out to be a cucumber.
Khan admits that Prevent “is not perfect” but argues that it is still doing a lot of good. In her book she tells the story of a 13-year-old girl from Birmingham, radicalised online, who believed that Syria would be an “Islamic Disneyland”. Her behaviour was flagged up early enough and she is now back at school.
I ask whether the strategy alienates people who already feel marginalised. She denies it. The problem is the “Islamic lobby” spreads lies, “telling children that if they grow a beard they’ll be questioned under Prevent”.
The government often fails to allay those fears: “If young people think ‘I’m going to be referred to Prevent for growing a beard,’ then there has clearly been a breakdown in communication.”
She is happy to criticise the Tory government and believes that May’s anti-extremism bill, announced in the Queen’s speech, goes too far. “I don’t believe that we are going to solve this battle by banning organisations, gagging orders or closing venues. These are not going to help. Rather than driving discussion underground, we need to be openly challenging it.”
Khan, I sense, could happily joust with a bearded fundamentalist for all eternity (she believes it is important that her two young daughters learn to “stand up to bullies”) but what bothers her is when the rest of us fail to back her up. She was recently invited to speak at a school but when an Islamist group told them she was “Islamophobic”, they cancelled. “This from a group who are openly anti-semitic,” she says.
She is constantly meeting “well-meaning, liberal teachers” who will meekly agree to the demands of strict Muslim parents on the modesty of a school uniform or skipping religious education classes.
“I tell them, ‘You have to stand your ground. This isn’t a faith school’.” She gives me a warm, tolerant smile: “I wish our society had a bit more backbone. I think most Muslims would be grateful.”

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