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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kalsoom Bashir

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kalsoom Bashir

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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.

Fighting the ‘classic Islamist narrative’

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.”

You can’t ignore the benefit of living in a Western nation

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.

I am ready for a long battle

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kalsoom Bashir

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Inspire logo counter extremism

Since the story of the three teenage schoolgirls leaving the UK to join ISIS broke, my organisation Inspire has been contacted by worried parents fearing their children could also be taken in by extremist ideology and leave the UK for ISIS territory.

This is a new challenge for many parents. Having visited mothers from across Britain as part of the ‘Making A Stand campaign’, many parents understand the fundamental role they play in protecting their children from extremists, who prey on young people through a twin process of radicalisation and grooming.

Following extensive media reporting, it is understandable that some parents fear their children may use the school break as an opportunity to leave their families and join ISIS. You, as parents, play an important role in educating children and you can make a real difference.  Often what young people need to hear is a different argument, countering the extremists’ perverse political and religious worldview.

This kind of travel remains proportionally small – and for most very unlikely – but if you are at all concerned then our advice to parents is:

  • Don’t be afraid to talk to your children about ISIS.  Ask open ended questions to gauge what their views are.  Do not shy away from raising this issue; children will certainly have views as it is being reported on the news everyday.
  • Understand the key arguments so you can recognise any extreme interpretations of Islam and counter them. ISIS use Qur’anic verses out of context to justify their brutal actions to try and appeal to youngsters, so educate your children about the Qur’an and what Islam ultimately stands for. We at Inspire believe families are the first line of defence against radicalisation and our website has many links that can help as well as a selection of key links below.
  • Consider contacting a trusted Imam, family member, teacher, or friend you know your child trusts that would be willing and able to talk to them in more detail about any concerns or questions they may have.
  • You may want to signpost your child to the recently published online magazine Haqiqah that goes into some of the key arguments against ISIS in more detail and is written by scholars and Imams from around the UK.
  • If you have concerns that your child is seriously considering travelling to Syria or Iraq, we would recommend that you check your child’s passport is in your possession. We would also advise you to contact the police if you believe travel is imminent.

We understand these are worrying times for parents, but you should remember that for the majority of families there is nothing to worry about, and that if we talk openly with our children then we can protect them and keep them safe.

Inspire

www.wewillinspire.com

02/04/2015

Please see these useful articles below:

http://binbayyah.net/english/2014/09/24/fatwa-response-to-isis/

http://www.scholarofthehouse.org/pjifrbotabai.html

http://www.lettertobaghdadi.com/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hJo4B-yaxfk

http://www.wewillinspire.com/a-letter-to-young-muslim-girls-if-you-are-considering-leaving-the-uk-to-join-isis/

http://www.wewillinspire.com/sisters-thoughts-on-joining-isis/

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As news emerges that 8 teenagers all from Bethnal Green Academy either joined or want to join ISIS, I have spent the last four weeks visiting eight cities across the UK as part of Inspire’s “Making A Stand” roadshow.   I engaged with hundreds of British Muslim women from Sunni, Shia, and Ahmadiyya denominations.  Women from Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Somali, Arab, English, Welsh and Kurdish backgrounds.  Young women, mothers and grandmothers.  From Leeds to London, from Bristol to Birmingham, from Cardiff to Luton, women told me how extremism was a concern to them and what they felt were the driving factors.

“I will be #makingastand by challenging extremist ideology within the college.”

“I will be #makingastand by confronting the men who are promoting extreme views at the Islam stall in the town centre.”

After attending Inspire’s ‘Making A Stand’ workshops, these are some of the ways Muslim women told me how they will personally endeavour to make a stand against extremism.

Part of our campaign set out to equip mothers with theological counter-narratives to extremist ideology so they could feel confident in challenging their children’s views at home.

We also sought to help women recognise possible early signs of radicalisation using real life case scenarios and signposting them to agencies if they require support.  Our aspiration was also to mobilise women to challenge extremism and champion this work in their local areas.

We deliberated whether local Muslim communities were doing enough to challenge extremism.  Examples of good projects were identified but women acknowledged not enough was being done and that families needed to take greater responsibility.  Some genuinely didn’t realise how serious the problem of extremism was, others had a lack of awareness of the risk of radicalisation whether online or in communities.

Women discussed the barriers they believed prevented them from challenging extremism.  Three common themes emerged from all eight cities; barriers within families, barriers within Muslim communities, and a lack of engagement with agencies who could help them.

The barriers within families included language barriers, where for some mothers their first language was not the same as their children’s.  This was evident when group facilitators were translating some workshops from English to  Arabic, Urdu and Punjabi.   Raising teenage children is hard enough; different first languages widened this intergenerational divide.  Cultural, religious and gender expectations of parents often differed to their children’s.

The lack of religious knowledge among families was recognised as a weakness; when children asked searching questions about extremism and religion, parents often closed down the debate due to an inability on their part to answer questions.

Inevitably some of these children would go online to find answers where extremist websites await questioning children.  Many teenagers felt their parents were not credible authorities on religion and they did not want to speak to them on such issues.   Women told us there were unaware of what educational resources existed for parents to challenge extremist ideology.  There was a wider concern around parenting and how parents from deeply cultural communities on the one hand struggled to bridge the intergenerational and cultural gap that often exists with their children.  And on the other hand, grapple with the identity crisis of the 9/11 generation, children who have grown up under a spotlight of suspicion, impacting on their sense of belonging.

The barriers identified with Muslim communities included weak leadership.

While the work of some mosques were seen as good practice and a realisation that radicalisation was not necessarily taking place in mosques, many women felt was that some mosques were ill-equipped to confidently teach counter narratives.  One mother relayed to me how at a meeting between members of a local Muslim community and her mosque, when parents asked the mosque what they were doing to counter the ISIS narrative, the mosque said this was the responsibility of parents.

One woman described how when she attended a madrassa in the 1980s, she was raised on what she described as a peaceful and tolerant interpretation of Islam; an understanding of Islam which fully embraced British society rather than rejecting it.  It was this theological understanding which she believed made her resilient to the Islamist narrative of organisations like Hizb ul-Tahrir during her time at university during the 1990s.  While many women highlighted good examples of madrassas in their areas, they were equally aware of other madrassas which promoted a narrow and intolerant understanding of Islam.  Some wished for self-regulation but were pessimistic this would happen and some believed state regulation may be necessary.

Part of the reason for this, is a void in strong credible Muslim leadership, both civil leaders and theologians.  In recent years we have seen preachers who promote extremist views whilst pretending to be speaking on behalf of “normative” Islam.  Thirty something Youtube sensations adorn religious clothing and have little qualifications or authority to speak about Islamic law.  With their pop star status, they dispense advice to thousands of followers on social media.  There has been some pushback however.  This week a group of Imams and scholars met in London to announce the publication of an online magazine, Haqiqah which would counter ISIS’ online magazine and the narrative it emits.

Another key barrier identified for women in particular, and not often appreciated is fear.  Fear of challenging extremists and the repercussion this would have on them.  Having witnessed the insults other Muslim women have been subjected to in challenging extremism, many feared the mudslinging, intimidation and abuse they too would experience.   Often instigated by men in an attempt to silence women’s voices, I saw this first hand when attempts were made to scupper the workshops we were organising by publicly smearing me and other women who simply wanted to safeguard their children.  These women know that challenging extremism also means standing up against patriarchy and traditional gender roles which for too long have stifled the contribution of women in both home and public life.

Not all women felt confident to engage with police and agencies that are there to help them partly because of lack of trust, engagement and dialogue.  It is imperative that all partners work closely so that mothers feel confident to speak to their local authority and police if they have concerns.

Speaking to numerous Muslim women in recent weeks has reaffirmed that the factors that lead to extremism are numerous, complex and multi-layered.  Focussing on the academic achievements of A grade schoolgirls who join ISIS fails to look at the wider picture.   Religious illiteracy, exposure to extremist influences and the lack of strong credible religious leadership all play a part.   But so does a limited life experience, a sense of belonging and weak parental relationships, where the emotional, language and cultural gap between parent and child presents a vulnerability which is often exploited by extremists.

Our campaign inspired women to take the lead in challenging extremism.  One woman in Urdu passionately told me about wanting to do more to counter extremism.   Others enthusiastically agreed to set up a monthly group as next steps.

“I will be #makingastand because I want to make this world a safer place for my children to grow up in,” one woman said.  “I will be making a stand to unite against extremism, to ignore our differences and come together as one.  Love for all, hatred for none will eliminate extremism and radicalisation” another wrote.  Empower women to counter extremism and it is they who will be willing to take on this battle.  As a country, let us support them in this difficult challenge.

This is amended version of an op-ed for the Observer published on the 29th March 2015.  The original version can be read here.

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Around 60 women and girls are estimated to have left the UK to join Isis so far. The latest female recruits are three girls from Bethnal Green: Kadiza Sultana, Amira Abase and Shamima Begum. Responding to their departure, some voices in the media have argued that we should show no sympathy to them, and instead to just “let them go”, despite their age and naivety.

Such an argument ignores two points. First, it ignores the fact that we are not talking about adults – Shamima Begum is just 15-years-old, the same age as Yusra Hussein, who fled in October. But it also shows a complete lack of understanding of the actual process employed by Isis in targeting girls.

Isis’ success at recruiting females to their cause cannot be downplayed. Their propaganda is powerful. Using extremist theology and social media, they target young girls with the hope of persuading them to help build their so-called “state.” Its media outlet Al-Zawra, for example, is aimed specifically at women and girls. It romanticises the notion of the jihadi fighter seeking the ultimate goal of martyrdom, and sells the role of a wife to a martyr as the next best thing.

As we all know, these girls have been radicalised. But what many don’t seem to appreciate is that they have also been groomed. And understanding how this works is essential to understanding why we shouldn’t give up on these teenagers. As director of Inspire, my work includes looking at the nexus between extremism and women’s rights. Seeing young girls groomed in this way is not all too surprising.

Isis grooms these girls for sex, “legitimising” it as “marriage”. Take the case of 15-year-old Yusra Hussein. It is alleged that she was groomed through a Twitter account called Jihad Matchmaker, which promises to “link up those seeking marriage in Syria”.  Using religious language as a smokescreen, and with promises of strict religious ceremonies, it claims it will “keep it halal”. Yusra is now in Syria, and two weeks ago it was reported she had “married” a jihadi.

Isis deliberately targets these girls as a recruitment tool for jihadis,using them as a reward to entice and recruit foreign fighters. The promise of girls has been shown to be an additional motivating factor for some jihadis, who pose an immense threat to many of the women they encounter.  Amnesty International and the UN have highlighted how thousands of Yazidi women and girls have been brutally raped by them.

Just like child abusers groom their victims online and persuade them to leave their homes and meet them, male jihadists contact women through social media and online chatrooms, and build trust with them over time. And like child abusers, they deploy flattery and false notions of love and desire. Their targets often believe their jihadi fighter “loves” them, and considers their relationship to be genuine. They don’t see themselves as victims.

In some cases, the normality of teenage crushes is also thrown into this mix. Instead of lusting after One Direction’s Zayn Malik, the pin-up is an Isis fighter. One example you might not have heard of is the Dutch jihadi fighter Omar Yilmaz, who is seen by many girls as an Isis heartthrob worth fleeing for. And there are many more men just like him.

And it’s not just Twitter that is helping Isis groom young women. As Melanie Smith at the King’s College Centre for Radicalisation has pointed out, social media sites like Ask FM are used by jihadis to collect information about young Muslim women. They ask them about their relationship history, how pretty they are, and their height and build. As well as providing them with all their details, the female targets are also encouraged to upload pictures of themselves, to be passed round handfuls of other jihadi fighters.

By the time they are at this stage, girls are already radicalised by the Isis propaganda, and the grooming can begin.

Women also often take part in grooming children. Women like Aqsa Mahmood – who Shamima Begum tweeted two days before she left – and other Isis female recruiters often build trust and relationships with these girls. Advising on everything on how to get into Isis territory to what to bring with them, these women are also often busy arranging “marriages” for their new recruits.

We must develop new safeguarding policies to help protect teenagers from this new twin phenomenon of grooming and radicalisation. Because as much as we despise their desire to leave for Isis, this does not take away the reality that they are being exploited and targeted.

This article has been taken from the Independent on 25th February, you can read it here.

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In our #MakingAStand roadshow earlier this month, we’ve come across hundreds of women, who want to make a stand and take the lead. Their passion has shone through and should be an inspiration to us all.

As we travel throughout the country, we’ll publish videos of these truly inspirational women. Please watch, enjoy and if you want to join these women at an upcoming #MakingAStand Event, please fill in our online registration form.

Click here to see testimonials from our past events.

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Have you or any of your friends thought about joining ISIS? Here, young Muslim students discuss the effects of leaving for the so-called caliphate – how the trauma will upset your family and what the realities of life on the ground are really like. “Stop and think. Don’t throw away your life sister.”

SOCIAL MEDIA

EVENTS