This is an archive of the Inspire Women CIC website. The CIC no longer exists but the Inspire website as seen here, provides a historical account of the ground-breaking work delivered by Inspire from 2008 to 2018.  Sara was a co-founder of Inspire, and a co-director during that time.
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First published in the Herald Scotland on Sunday 28th of August 2016

Sara Khan by Joe McGorty

KADIZA Sultana, one of the three London schoolgirls who fled to Syria last year, was said to have been disillusioned with life in Isis territory when she was reportedly killed by a Russian airstrike. Kadiza, who was just 16 when she and her friends Shamima Begum and Amira Abase left their Bethnal Green homes, had been radicalised and groomed online into believing that life under Isis would be some kind of religious utopia. Instead it led to an early death.

One 13-year-old girl from Birmingham, who was identified under the UK Government’s counter-terrorism programme, Prevent, told an intervention worker she thought life under Isis would be an “Islamic Disneyland”. Luckily for her, she never got out of the UK. The authorities prevented her from travelling to Syria and she is now back at school, grateful to have seen the error of her ways.

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by Sara Khan, first published in "The Telegraph" on Wednesday 24th August 2016

Police patrolling the promenade des anglais beach in Nice fine a woman for wearing a burkini CREDIT: VANTAGENEWS.COM

Who would have thought a woman, lying on a beach and minding her own business, could present such a threat to the French state?

Bu today, pictures have emerged of four armed police officers – armed with pepper spray; batons in hand – confronting a woman doing just that and ordering her to remove some of her clothing. Namely, her burkini.

Violating both her dignity, and freedom in deciding what adorns on her body, the woman is seen dutifully and humiliatingly removing the blue tunic in front of countless other sunbathers – some of whom reportedly shouted ‘go home’ and applauded, as her daughter wept – in the name of “women’s rights” and “protection of the public.” The ban on the garment was announced by the Mayor of Cannes, David Lisnard, earlier this month in the wake of the Nice lorry attack, which killed 85 people on July 14. A number of women have already been fined and arrested for breaching it.

As France finds itself in the grip of emergency law brought about by the numerous Islamist-inspired terror attacks that have plagued the country in recent times, you would think the authorities would have more pressing concerns on their mind than the burkini, which as many have pointed out is really not dissimilar to a wetsuit.

France’s intelligence and police agencies have found themselves severely criticised having missed vital clues that could have thwarted terrorist acts. From the Charlie Hebdo incident to the Paris attacks in November 2015, the authorities knew some of the attackers – but had failed to intervene effectively.

The threat to France and its population by extremists requires a sophisticated, multi-pronged counter-terrorism approach, which must include building trust and co-operation with the country’s Muslim communities – especially if they are to deal with homegrown jihadists.

Yet it appears France believes the way to “protect the population” as Nice’s local Mayor Ange-Pierre Vivoni argued is by banning a swimsuit. Going further, highlighting the join-the-disjointed-dots approach France has in countering terror, a Nice tribunal ruled on Monday that the ban was “necessary, appropriate and proportionate” to prevent public disorder.

Rather than making war against the jihadists as France keeps telling us, they appear to have made war against Muslim women’s bodies and agency. This, after all, is a country that already has a ban on women wearing full-face veils in public. And, ironically, just like the jihadists who seek to control, deny and prevent women from making their own choices, France too has now made women’s bodies a key battleground instead of standing up for the values of ‘liberte, egalite, fraternite’ it claims to hold.

France has fallen right into the Islamists’ trap: abandon your values that we despise.

Sadly the French authorities fail to see this; and how these pictures will be used as propaganda by terrorists. Banning the burkini doesn’t really achieve much apart from protecting a few illiberal people’s sensibilities; what it does do however is undermine France’s counter-terror efforts at a time when it matters most.

I would be very interested to know the statistics of how many burkini-clad women the French police have arrested for plotting a terror attack while lying on a beach, gazing at the clouds as their children splash about in the sea.  I doubt such information will be forthcoming.

But we know this is not about the burkini. It’s not even about women’s rights. It’s about the religious identity of those women who wear them. It’s about the very presence of Muslim women and Islam in France, and the unease some have towards that religion.

France, while a secular country, appears to struggle with Article Nine of the European Convention on Human Rights: the freedom to hold and manifest religious belief. The manifestation of religious belief can be curtailed under strict conditions – where the freedoms of others could be compromised or in the interests of public order.

Promoting hatred, violence and discrimination in the name of religion, as many Islamist preachers do, would be legitimate grounds for curbing the so-called religious rights of such individuals. Banning a swimsuit, is not a reasonable or proportionate response.

I hope France’s feminists stand on the side of these Muslim women, and not with the authorities or Islamists – both ironically two sides of the same coin in seeking to enforce their clothing choices on women. And I hope French government officials recognise how they are undermining not only their own values but also their counter-terror efforts at this critical time.

Sara Khan is the author of The Battle for British Islam: Reclaiming Muslim Identity from Extremism (now available with Saqi Books), co-authored with Tony McMahon. She is also the co-director and founder of Inspire, a counter-extremism and women’s rights organisation.

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Inspire statement on the HASC's report "Radicalisation: the counter-narrative and identifying the tipping point" released on Thursday 25th of August 2016.

Inspire welcome the HASC’s report “Radicalisation: the counter-narrative and identifying  the tipping point” released on Thursday 25th of August 2016.

The report rightly highlights that there is no single path to radicalisation and that therefore government response needs be sophisticated and multi faceted in it’s approach, both in identifying the factors and tackling them.

Some excellent recommendations are made, in particular about the role of technology and social media companies. The internet is a key tool for radicalisers and more needs to be done to win the cyber war with terrorists and extremists organisation. This also includes a more “high-tech, state-of-the-art, round-the-clock” Counter Terrorism Internet Referral Unit (CTIRU).

Effective counter narratives need to be community led and the government has worked effectively in partnership with civil society groups to make these messages impactful and strong. We agree that Muslim organisations that claim to have wide-scale influence and engagement with communities need to see it as ‘one of their primary duties’ to tackle extremism, and ‘do so much more to expose, remove and isolate those who preach or advocate race hate and intolerance’, which to date has not been the case.

The suggested rebranding of Prevent alone will not fully address those that have made it their cause to undermine its work by spreading lies and myths. We are disappointed that some within the anti-Prevent lobby are deliberately peddling untruths within Muslim communities and wider society, while offering no effective alternative to safeguard those most vulnerable to radicalisation.

Prevent is a strategy to support British citizens from being drawn into terrorism and an essential as well as valuable safeguarding measure to protect our communities and loved ones. Whilst it is not perfect, there have been no other strategies put forward to deal with the very real threat of radicalisation. We acknowledge there needs to be improvements in delivery and training and Inspire would welcome these.

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Image Source: http://www.bristol.ac.uk/news/2015/april/muslim-women-and-employment.html

The Women and Equalities Committee’s report entitled “Employment opportunities for Muslims in the UK”, released on Thursday 11th August 2016, makes a great number of recommendations to the Government on improving the accessibility to employment for British Muslims. According to the report, unemployment rates for Muslims are more than twice of that of the general population at 12.8%. A further breakdown shows 41% of Muslims are economically inactive, 65% of which are women.

Addressing and removing barriers to employment for Muslims, and Muslim women should be an absolute priority for the Government. The recommendations made in the report about the need for better, comprehensive data, will go a long way in helping us understand better where the issues are within our systems and institutions. Once we have these, other suggestions, such as “equipping Job Centre staff with the tools and training to improve their understanding of employment issues”, and asking universities to publish “strategies to improve the under-representation of Muslim students” can be enacted effectively, based on evidence. The move towards “name blind recruitment” is also a welcome step towards ensuring equality and reducing discrimination at application stage.

Whilst addressing unemployment in Muslim communities must be a priority for Government, it must be a priority for Muslim communities too. And this is where I fear, we fall down. No matter how excellent the recommendations and proposals set out by the report are or how effectively they are implemented, they will only lead to minimal improvement for the biggest proportion of Muslims that are economically inactive: Muslim women. The report does well to highlight the additional barriers faced by Muslim women, borne out of cultural, parental and religious expectations and limitations, especially regarding matters such as going to university, childcare and traditional family roles.

For example, following on from the point made about the under representation of Muslims at Russell Group universities, the report rightly points out that for Muslim girls, parents will push for the nearest university rather than the best one- due to expectations that girls must stay at home, driven by religious beliefs or cultural norms that discourage Muslim girls and women from living alone or exercising their agency.  Another example is the statistic that 44% of economically inactive Muslim women are inactive because they are looking after the home, compared to the 16% of the national average. The report notes that there may be lack of awareness of free childcare available to individuals, however there is also still the reality of the stigma about “leaving your kids and going to work” when it is oft-repeated that a woman’s primary (and often her sole role) is motherhood.

Initiatives cited by the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) such as their work with Reed employment agency to “access Muslim women” are welcome, as are requests by the group to the Government to “provide Muslim women with more focussed support”. However, what we also need to see is groups like the MCB engaging with their own hundreds of affiliates, mosques and Islamic community organisations to start changing attitudes towards women and pursue a more active gender egalitarian approach.  The Committee’s report states “mosques can also play an important role in promoting opportunities for women”- but who will make them? Apart from a few exceptions, to date, they have shown little appetite for such positive action.   The vast majority of mosques, affiliates of the MCB, are still hostile places for women, failing to offer adequate provisions and facilities for women, still running male only boards, making women sit in separate rooms and talking to them through doorways and publishing guidance that women must not travel alone more than 48 miles, wear trousers or have Facebook accounts.

Instead, efforts from some Muslim organisations and our so called community leaders are concentrated on much less significant matters. There is a recommendation for the Government to publish their timetable to introduce Shariah compliant student finance- groups, something the MCB lobbied hard to bring about. However, the lack of “halal” students finance is only a barrier for the tiniest of Muslim minorities. HSBC, who with much fanfare announced so called “halal mortgages” in 2008 after being led to believe there was an overwhelming demand discontinued the product in the UK in 2012 due to the lack of uptake. This should highlight how small an issue this is.  If only a similar amount of energy and efforts went in to our communities when it came to changing attitudes and working towards gender equality and economic freedom for Muslim women.  Instead, Muslim organisations such as Inspire and others that endeavour to undertake this work are attacked, rubbished and subjugated to misogynist abuse, highlighting how difficult the struggle for gender equality within Muslim communities is.

It is not only the intra-community gender discrimination that disadvantage Muslim women. The report correctly draws attention to the increase in anti-Muslim prejudice in our society and the disproportionate way it impacts women who are “visibly Muslim”.  There has been quite substantial evidence indicating that Muslim women are being discriminated against in the workplace, in job applications and during interviews; in fact in every stage of the recruitment process.  Muslim women experience what is often referred to as the triple penalty: discrimination on the basis of their gender, ethnicity and religion.  This is a clear violation of the equality act 2010 and the report is right to address this.

Yet whilst we ask the Government to ensure that employers are sensitive to the needs of Muslim employees, colleagues and team members with appropriate diversity and equality policies to ensure no one is excluded, it is also important for some Muslims to develop what the report calls ‘soft skills.’ Socialising at work is cited as a barrier, alongside the lack of these soft skills, which are developed through engaging and socialising with wide and varied circles. While employers can do more to ensure all staff socially feel part of the workforce, offering diverse out of office venues for example, it is also important to recognise the limitations and even harm of those who hold puritanical interpretations of Islam which often actively discourage socialising or striking up friendships with non-Muslims. I have seen how this can become an inhibiting factor when searching for work or considering an employment opportunity.

In conclusion, yes the Government needs to separate their attempts to tackle inequalities within Muslim communities from their counter-extremism policy, provide more support through their systems and job centres. Yes, employers need to look at how they can be more inclusive and ensure universities are more accessible. And yes, we need to deal with the barriers brought about by anti-Muslim prejudice and preconceptions.  But there is also a huge amount of work that needs to be done from within, that can only be done by Muslim communities.  These include challenging patriarchal attitudes and beliefs put upon women either culturally or religiously, which limit their potential in life and have a negative impact on our society and our very own communities who, as we have seen, continue to remain economically the most disadvantaged in the UK.  We need to and can do better.

Yasmin Weaver

Inspire Project Manager

 

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Extremists of all factions detest our society, where different views and faiths can co-exist peacefully

United: at his official signing-in at Southwark Cathedral, Mayor Sadiq Khan brought faiths and races together Reuters

First published in the Evening Standard on Monday 1st August 2016

“We have imported a monster, and this monster is called Islam,” Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch far-Right Freedom Party, said this week. His anti-immigrant party currently has a strong lead in the opinion polls. 

Following the slaughter of European citizens in recent weeks by Muslims who have pledged allegiance to IS or who have taken inspiration from jihadist propaganda, there exists almost a sense of inevitability in the rise of far-Right populist parties exploiting the prevailing sense of fear and insecurity. Far-Right sentiment can also lead to its own deadly end, as we have seen:  18-year-old Ali David Sonboly, who lured teenagers into a McDonald’s in Munich and then gunned them down, was a far-Right extremist who believed it was a “special honour” to share a birthday with Adolf Hitler.

Extremists of both the Islamist and far-Right variety have more in common than divides them. They both yearn for a final “clash of civilisations”. They hate our democracy and liberal values. They detest a society where different views and faiths can co-exist peacefully.

IS’s call on Muslims to commit acts of terror have an underlying motive to polarise and divide our societies and wipe out what IS calls the “grey zone” of co-existence. Establishing its so-called caliphate, IS seeks to divide the world into two. The “land of Islam”  includes those Muslims who have pledged allegiance to IS’s caliphate; this is ranged against the “land of disbelief”, made up of non-Muslims and those Muslims who reject the Islamist worldview and as a result are declared apostates.

There is no doubt that these acts of terror have changed the political discourse in Europe and the United States. Far-Right narratives are seeping into the mainstream and hate crime across Europe is on the rise. Yet when Wilders calls for a ban on Muslim immigration that would “de-Islamise Europe”, rhetoric that would have been unthinkable in the decades after the Nazi Holocaust, he and others on the far-Right spectrum help form the binary world IS seeks to create. Donald Trump’s xenophobic language about Muslims, which no respectable politician would have used up till now, is another prime example. The common inference by such divisive language is that every individual who adheres to Islam is a terrorist in the making.

If we are going to prevent a dangerous drift into the politics of hate dominating across the West, then Western societies have to re-think the national discourse about their Muslim citizens, who can be the most powerful ally in defeating the threat from global Islamism. The greatest threat to IS are Western Muslims who reject its call for jihad and strive to build peace, security and co-existence in their respective countries.

As IS targets Jews, Christians and others, it can be easy to forget how IS hates Muslims who don’t subscribe to their worldview. IS killed hundreds of Muslims in the holy month of Ramadan this year. It has slaughtered anti-Islamist Muslim clerics. Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, the truck-driving killer in Nice, was no doubt indifferent when he claimed his first victim, 62-year-old Fatima Charrihi, who was walking with her family on the promenade. Hers is one of many such stories —Muslims being the main victims globally of Islamist-inspired terror.

We have a vested interest in ensuring that our society does not become more polarised. The political class must work alongside those British Muslims who are actively countering the Islamist worldview and who are striving for a future based on compassionate co-existence to ensure this appalling and deliberate strategy is not realised. This means rejecting outright the arguments of populist rhetoric from Wilders, Marine Le Pen and Trump, and also taking on the insidious ideology of Islamists, both violent and non-violent, without the fear of political correctness or worrying about causing “offence”.

We must also reach out to young people and confidently counter the arguments and worldview that have prepared the ground for terrorist radicalisers to operate. This is of paramount importance; there are third-generation European and British Muslims — some as young as 13 — who desire to live in IS territory and who believe the measure of a good Muslim is one’s hatred for the West. British Muslim youth must be shown in clear terms that it is not the West that is the enemy; it is Islamist extremism which forces them to reject their multiple identities, their future careers, their own families and universal human rights.

Politicians and wider society must recognise these nuances as opposed to the distorted image offered by Islamist propagandists. That particularly applies to the Left, where some have got into bed with Islamist-sympathising groups that have no interest in Western Muslim integration. These groups push a constant victimhood narrative where Britain is portrayed as an inherently “Islamophobic” society that seeks to destroy Islam and deny Muslims the freedom to practise their faith. This conspiratorial view is being pushed aggressively, and it is vital that public institutions work with Muslim groups trying to counter this toxic narrative. Whether in communities, in universities or on social media, it is vital we counter the arguments of Islamists, otherwise an uncontested space is left open and their message will be taken as truth not just by Muslims but well-intentioned young activists who oppose racism and prejudice.

Countering the appeal of Islamist extremism is not an impossible task. There are Muslim civil society groups doing vital work in cities and towns across the UK challenging Islamist extremism and preventing radicalisation. These Muslim voices present a thorn to IS but equally an uncomfortable truth to those such as Wilders and Trump. And in the fight against Islamist-inspired terrorism those British Muslims who are countering Islamism and championing human rights are our natural allies. At this juncture when global Islamist extremism seeks to destabilise societies, we should strive harder to become even more united in our shared values to defeat the extremists who want to divide us.

Sara Khan is co-director of Inspire and author of The Battle for British Islam: Reclaiming Muslim Identity from Extremism, co-authored with Tony McMahon. It will be published by Saqi Books on September 5.

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The Jewish Community Secondary School (JCoss) in New Barnet invited Sara Khan to be the Guest of Honour at their Celebration Awards Evening on Thursday 21st July.  Sara was honoured to take part and was impressed with the standards and pluralistic and inclusive ethos at JCoss.

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She spoke about excellence, inspiration, resilience and determination to the pupils, parents and teachers alike, and handed out certificates and awards to pupils.  JCoss honoured Sara by presenting her with a “peace plant.”

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Sara would like to thank JCoss for inviting her to take part, for giving her a tour of this high achieving school and for giving her the opportunity to celebrate in the success made by pupils throughout the academic year.

www.jcoss.org

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Following the worrying increase in race and hate incidents following the EU referendum results on Friday 24th June 2016, Inspire Co-director Kalsoom Bashir writes about the importance of rallying together to ensure hatred does not win. Orginally published by the Bristol Post on July 3rd 2016:

Hope can overcome hatred in post-Brexit Britain 

Trepidation is in the air following the Brexit vote. Over the past few days, social media has become awash with sickening stories of incidents that show how some have taken the result as a license to unleash pent up frustrations, prejudice and hatred towards those that they see as the ‘other’.

We have seen incidents of women abused in the street simply because they speak a language other than English or are easily identifiable as Muslim or Asian. Businesses have also been targeted by vandals, and incidents of physical assault by youths have been published online.

It is not surprising then that after a few days I ventured out around my neighbourhood expecting to evoke the same feelings of fear and uncertainty that I felt in the 1970s growing up as a British Pakistani while members of the right-wing National Front were marching in cities across the country. I expected to see that the world had changed – I was uplifted to see that it had not.

Not far from where I live, I encountered a neighbour who gave me a hug and some cake to share with my family. Another offered me home grown vegetables from her garden, while another waved to me as he left for work. This is the city of Bristol where I have lived and worked for over 30 years, and it fills me with great hope to see the strong sense of community spirit remains alive and well.

Hope comes from seeing the pupils of local primary schools going out onto the streets to share random acts of kindness in the hope of bringing happiness to those they meet. It comes from young people giving out flowers, wishing passers by a good day and putting inspirational notes inside library books for readers to find.

It comes in the form of a local shop displaying a bucket of roses and inviting immigrants to take one. It comes in the form of a Bristol mosque, so humbled by the support they received from the local community after being the target of a hate crime that they hosted an afternoon tea party to show gratitude to those who helped them in their hour of need – needless to say, the event was packed out.

These are just some of the many examples of people in our communities coming together and standing united against those that are attempting to sow the seeds of division. By rallying together, we weaken hatred.

We are often confronted with things we cannot control. However, it is our reaction to these events that will define us. We can choose the positive option, reach out to those around us, and by doing so deter hate; like the good deeds done by the children, like the flowers offered by the shopkeeper, and the cake offered to me by my neighbours. Ultimately, it starts with us.

 

 

 

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Inspire logo counter extremism

On Wednesday 27 April a group of Year 10 and Year 12 students took part in a workshop that was designed to tackle issues relating to self-confidence and healthy relationships for Muslim girls. Poet and activist Shagufta Iqbal, and author and co-director of the women’s NGO ‘Inspire’ Kalsoom Bashir were invited to lead the afternoon’s activities.

The students were given a safe and honest space to raise questions and tackle misconceptions about their roles and expectations as women in society. The Year 12 students acted in the capacity of mentors and the afternoon culminated in the writing and performing of poetry to express the dialogue of the day.

Shortly after the event, Shagufta tweeted “Had an incredible afternoon with the lively and awesomely talented young women…(at Cotham learning community)…can’t wait to read their poems!”

The students’ poems will be published in the next full newsletter available here: http://www.nbp16c.org.uk/

 

Source: http://www.nbp16c.org.uk/News/We-Will-Inspire/

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kalsoom Bashir

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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:

  • Undertook over 200 local, national and international media interviews including for Sky News, Good Morning Britain, CNN Amanpour, ITV’s Loose Women, BBC News, Radio 4’s Today Programme, Radio 4 Woman’s Hour, Channel 4 News and many others.
  • Delivered our anti-ISIS Making A Stand campaign and visited 9 cities across England and Wales reaching hundreds of Muslim women where we:
  1. Taught women theological counter-narratives to extremist ideology
  2. Helped them to recognise early signs of radicalisation and the role they can play
  3. Signposted them to external agencies who could provide help to vulnerable individuals in their family or community
  4. Encouraged them to take the lead in challenging extremism in their communities and to exert influence in their mosques and communities.
  • Overwhelmed by the number of requests we have had from schools, we have delivered training to thousands of teachers and senior leaders across the country about how to safeguard children from extremism whether far right or Islamist extremism. We have also worked in partnership with the Association of Schools and College Leaders. Part of our training has included explaining the difference between Islamist extremism and Islam, encouraging staff to challenge extreme and intolerant views whether anti-Muslim prejudice or anti-Semitism., clarifying Islamic concepts that staff find confusing e.g jihad, as well as helping staff to understand vulnerabilities to radicalisation. Our contribution in schools has also helped create a comfortable environment for teachers to ask us questions on culturally sensitive issues which is of direct concern and relevance to them.
  • We have been working with many parents and pupils at school. The feedback we have received has been overwhelmingly positive. But struggling to meet the demands that have come from every corner of British society from many parts of the country has not always been possible due to the small size of our organisation. In 2016 we are working to expand our organisation.
  • We have also spoken internationally in Washington, at the European Parliament, in Virginia and San Francisco to name just a few and here in the UK at many conferences.
  • Sara was honoured to be named in BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour Top 10 Power List of influencers.

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

SOCIAL MEDIA

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