Our Work: Reflecting on 2015
At the start of 2016 we would like to take the opportunity to thank all our supporters, friends and donors who have helped us in our work in countering extremism and supporting human rights. The work we do is difficult, challenging and sometimes downright depressing. We all witnessed families taking unsuspecting children, or young bright A-grade teenage girls who had all the opportunities to fulfil their potential in Britain instead choose to live under ISIS’ rule.
The killing of innocent people whether in Paris, Baghdad, Beirut, the US, Nigeria, Somalia and other countries did (or should have done) trigger off alarm bells that the threat of Islamist extremism is not only real but it is thriving. The tragic consequences impact ordinary people on a local and global scale.
From Syrian children (fleeing both ISIS and Assad) drowning in the Mediterranean to Shia Muslims and Christians being killed for simply being Shia and Christian. From cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo being gunned down for expressing their views, to Muslims being attacked on the streets of our country because of anti-Muslim bigotry. Yet the circle of hatred and violence continues. Post Paris, ISIS further encouraged Muslims to commit lone wolf attacks. Post San Bernardino Donald Trump called for a ban on all Muslims entering the United States.
It is hard to feel optimistic about the future but giving up is no answer. Instead we must carry on with heavy but determined hearts. And we do so because after every incident, we have witnessed the greatness of the human spirit exemplifying hope and compassion: communities becoming more united, with support and protection offered to those most vulnerable. We have also met many inspirational young British Muslims over the year who have aspirations to contribute positively to society, who are comfortable with their identity and who recognise that diverse Muslim voices, who promote human rights and a British Islam, is desperately needed now more than any other time.
As a small civil society organisation this year we:
Since the first day Inspire was founded, the work we do engaging directly with Muslim women in communities is the dearest to us. We have done so as individuals for over 20 years now and we never tire of it. Women have told us how important and in some cases, life changing our programmes have been for them. Their voices are too often ignored by the media and even by traditional Muslim structures. They share with us their untold stories of battling misogyny daily in Muslim communities or the reality of hate preachers targeting their children.
We do not doubt that it is women who are key to preventing extremism but too frequently the powerful role they play is discouraged and played down often by those same communities. While challenges such as anti-Muslim prejudice are real, we cannot turn a blind eye to the huge challenges that exist within British Muslim communities too. We have seen too regularly how when some Muslims dare point out the injustices, sexism and regressive and hate filled attitudes that exist within some British Muslim communities, they have experienced abuse in an attempt to silence their voices. This does not serve the interests of British Muslims or wider society. The vast overwhelming majority of British Muslims contribute positively to our country; this is our home but we need to challenge those who promote extreme and intolerant views and who seek to divide our society.
We would like to thank the great, considerate and generous British public –whose emails, donations, standing orders and kind words of support spurred us on and allowed our organisation to keep ticking. There are so many individuals and organisations – far too many to name – whether imams, theologians, to headteachers, activists and people from all backgrounds – who have sought to help us, for no other reason but for believing in what we do. We cannot even begin to express our heartfelt gratitude to all of you.
We would like to wish everyone peace and blessings and a fruitful 2016.
Sara Khan and Kalsoom Bashir
30th Dec 2015
Below is a letter Inspire sent to the editors of the Sun on 24th November 2015 in response to their leading story on 23rd November.
We are writing to express our disappointment with the Sun’s leading story on Mon 23rd November 2015 “1 in 5 Brit Muslims sympathy for Jihadis.”
As you are aware, Inspire have worked with the Sun on two occasions; firstly in supporting the Sun’s United Against IS campaign back in October 2014 and again after the Tunisian Massacre in July 2015 where we helped write the Sun’s Manifesto Against Hate (http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/6527089/The-Sun-launches-manifesto-against-hate.html). By speaking out against ISIS, we have put ourselves at great personal risk.
We believe yesterday’s story based on a poll was inaccurate and the poll’s methodology and interpretation of results were misleading, resulting in the unfair stigmatision of Britain’s Muslims, particularly at a time as was reported yesterday when there has been a 300% increase in anti-Muslim attacks in the UK because of the Paris attacks on 13th November 2015.
There is no doubt that the threat of Islamist extremism is real; and that a minority condone and support ISIS. We have all witnessed women, children and families leaving the UK to support ISIS. Our organisation works daily to counter the extremism and toxic ideology peddled by Islamist extremists. However, inaccuate characterisation of the overwhelming majority of British Muslims who are loyal to this country and who abhor ISIS is not the way forward in stamping out extremism. In contrast the editorial of the Sun’s United Against IS campaign (http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/sun_says/5978998/The-Sun-Says-Together-we-can-defeat-Islamic-State.html) made clear that “most British Muslims are proud to belong to both a nationality and a religion which value peace, tolerance and the sanctity of life. They consider IS a disgusting perversion of their faith, not its lionhearted champions.”
Unlike yesterday’s headline, the Sun’s excellent Manifesto Against Hate which listed ten pro-active ways to extinguish extremism, was endorsed by many British Muslims across the country, who were proud to support and to be pictured holding up the Manifesto as was reported in the Sun on Saturday 4th July 2015. They recognise that schools, families, faith institutions all have a role to play in the fight against extremism and many are playing their part.
ISIS seek to divide us as a nation, the Sun’s United Against IS campaign aimed to counter that. But yesterday’s headline undermined the Sun’s own attempts of working together as one as Britons, to oppose all those who promote hatred and extremism.
We hope the Sun will recognise that the overwhelming majority of Muslims reject and oppose ISIS and its values, and that rather than working against them, the Sun works with Briton’s Muslims to overcome the threat that faces us all.
Sara Khan, Kalsoom Bashir
Written by Alex Preston, the Guardian Long Read reflects on the challenges of countering extremism and preventing radicalisation but highlights that despite the difficulties, advocacy work of this nature is desperately needed yet so few are willing to do it.
Please read here.
Kalsoom Bashir has spoken at safeguarding conferences and inset training days in Manchester, Birmingham, London, Dewsbury, Bodmin, Bath, Bristol and a number of locations in London. . As well as speaking to practitioners in the field of education we are also delivering lessons to pupils to equip them to challenge all forms of extremism.
Feedback has been consistently positive;
‘Mrs Bashir was very organised and concise. The information and materials were very thought provoking’
‘The trainer was very friendly, open to questions and was very professional and informed about the topic’
‘Really good insight and extended by knowledge’
‘A really informative session-what a great speaker-thank you’
For more information on Inspire’s “Working With Schools” project, please click here.
Inspire and Sara Khan recently spoke in Birmingham at the “Our Families, Our Future” conference.
Acting as keynote speakers, Inspire spoke on how parents can help safeguard children from extremism and were well received by an audience of over 170 women.
Sara Khan and Inspire recently took part in the “Women Fighting Terror” panel at the global Women in the World Summit 2015 in London on 9th October.
Panellists also included Sasha Havlick of the Institute for Strategic Dialogue and Baroness Shields and was chaired by Lindsey Hilsum of Channel 4 News.
You can watch the video clip here which begins at 15:30.
You can also read more here.
Sara Khan was asked by the European Parliament’s Committee of Culture and Education to give evidence on the prevention of radicalisation on the 15th October 2015. The only Muslim and the only female on the panel,the purpose of the hearing was to debate issues relating to the prevention of radicalisation and the possible approaches to prevent the various forms of radicalisation in the European society.
You can read more what Sara and the other panellists debated here:
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. The official website address is www.inspire-initiative.org