Naz Shah MP launches attack on Sara Khan’s Inspire

Sara Khan giving evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee

Naz Shah MP has launched a wide-ranging attack on the “anti-extremism” and “women’s rights” organisation Inspire, whose director is Sara Khan.

The MP for Bradford West questioned Inspire’s independence from government and impact on the ground; accused it of making misleading statements about its funding; called it unprofessional; and rejected accusations that she had launched a personal attack on Inspire as “sanctimonious nonsense.”

Shah was responding to written evidence submitted by the directors of Inspire, Sara Khan and Kalsoom Bashir, to the Home Affairs Select Committee on January 5th.

In November Khan accused CAGE, MEND and 5Pillars of trying to make the government’s counter-extremism strategy a “toxic brand.”

Delivering evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee in Parliament, Khan said that certain organisations were attempting to mislead Muslims about what the PREVENT counter-terrorism strategy is by suggesting that it was about spying on the community.

She said PREVENT has become such a “toxic brand” because of a disinformation campaign.

During the November testimony Naz Shah – who has claimed that Inspire and the Quilliam Foundation are “the most loathed organisations amongst Muslim communities – queried Inspire’s independence from government.

She noted that Inspire had been given “PREVENT preferred status” by the government when it came to delivering counter-extremism training in schools. She said that both David Cameron and Home Secretary Theresa May had praised Inspire’s work. And she added that Khan’s sister held a senior position in the Home Office, implying that it was a conflict of interest.

PREVENT funding?

In her response published yesterday to Khan and Bashir’s written submission, Naz Shah said Inspire had received £23,000 from two London boroughs to deliver Muslim women’s leadership training in 2008 before Inspire had even been established as an organisation.

She said this was important because “during this period (2008-09) Tahmina Saleem, a former employee of Inspire, was employed by Redbridge Council as its PREVENT programme co-ordinator and Sabin Malik (Sara Khan’s sister) was employed by Hounslow Council as Principal Community Cohesion Officer…

“The question is pertinent in light of a major conference hosted by Inspire in January 2009 at the London Muslim Centre and at which one of the keynote speakers was Sabin Malik, sister of Sara Khan. Malik at the time was employed by Hounslow Council in the post of Principal Community Cohesion Officer.

“So we have the problem of Inspire not legally existing in 2008 but providing training programmes in two London Boroughs where the sister of one (future) Director was employed and a (future) employee was employed, both on policy programmes related to PREVENT. By any admission, this raises serious questions about the organisation’s claims to independence.

Naz Shah MP
Naz Shah MP

“A related concern is that another Inspire Director, Kalsoom Bashir, at the time she joined the organisation (January 2011) was employed by Bristol City Council as the local authority’s ‘PREVENT Lead Officer’. Again, this raises serious questions about the organisation’s independence when its employees and directors are steeped in the institutional framework of PREVENT (local authorities) while soliciting funds for the “delivery” of PREVENT programmes in communities.”

“The second point relates more directly to conflict of interest and concerns Sara Khan’s sister who is employed in the Office for Security and Counter Terrorism. There are concerns that will inevitably rise about nepotism, transparency and independence when an organisation receiving financial support from the Home Office and championed by the Home Secretary has a close family member employed in that same Government department. Concerns about conflicts of interest are a legitimate area of inquiry for Members of the Committee and our Inquiry into Countering Extremism.”

Shah also said Inspire had made a misleading statement in its written submission to the parliamentary committee when it stated it had “not or ever received core funding directly from the Home Office,” which Shah said was intended to obscure Inspire’s actual receipt of PREVENT funding.

She said: “It is the case that PREVENT funding is disbursed by local councils and delivered through a number of funding streams including the Pathfinder Fund (2006-08), Area Based Grants (2008-2011) and the Community Leadership Fund administered by the Department of Communities and Local Government.

“Funding directly from the Home Office is not how the majority of funds dispensed under the Preventing Violent Extremism programme or the later revised PREVENT Strategy have been distributed. These monies were allocated to local authorities who in turn have funded a number of programmes and initiatives. By her own admission, Inspire’s Director, Sara Khan, said the organisation receives money from “councils and schools … with funds they obtain from PREVENT.” (The Guardian, 28 Oct 2015).”

Inspire’s impact

Shah also said that while there is considerable detail provided by Inspire about campaigns, media statements and various speaking engagements there is little evidence of “impact.”

She said: “Questions about the effectiveness of programmes funded as part of delivering the PREVENT strategy have been a constant concern with many MPs representing areas with large Muslim populations regularly hearing constituents’ complain about what they perceive to be a waste of public resources.

“My constituents are concerned about who gets PREVENT funding and the lack of credentials, as they see it, of those paid to deliver counter-extremism programmes. I am not sure the evidence provided by Inspire will allay any of those fears in the slightest.”

“Personal” attack on Inspire

Shah also rejected Inspire’s suggestion that her questions to them in the evidence session were a “personal attack” on Inspire.

She said: “My comment about Inspire being ‘amongst the most loathed organisations within Muslim communities’ derives from my many encounters with Muslims living in my constituency and those residing in near and farther constituencies. I have heard firsthand from many British Muslims disdainful views of Inspire. It is my responsibility as an elected Member of Parliament to relay the views of my constituents and others and I am proud to do so.”

Finally, Shah also accused Inspire of a lack of professionalism.

She said: “Let me reiterate that it is my responsibility as a Member of Parliament and as a Member of the Home Affairs Select Committee to engage in dutiful oversight of government policy. As part of our inquiry into Countering Extremism we have invited a number of individuals and organisations to give evidence to the committee.

Kalsoom Bashir of Inspire
Kalsoom Bashir of Inspire

“These individuals and organisations will have faced a range of questions by Members and have conducted themselves with composure and professionalism in responding to our questions. The one exception is Inspire which has resorted to ad hominem attacks in retaliation for my perfectly legitimate probing of their work. This is entirely unprofessional.”

She added: “I am deeply troubled by the claims about ‘Islamists’ and an ‘anti-PREVENT’ lobby… As a Member of Parliament I will offer only this observation: PREVENT is a strategy that has been condemned as ‘toxic’ and ineffective. It is of little surprise to me that organisations, whether faith based or otherwise, have challenged an approach that they perceive as stigmatising Muslim communities and alienating British Muslim youth.

“It is in the proud traditions of our democracy that a vibrant civil society is willing and able to challenge those Government policies they regard as counter-productive. It is the very essence of what we celebrate of our ‘British values’ and what these mean in practice.”

Inspire’s written submission

Shah was responding to Inspire’s written submission to parliament subsequent to the parliamentary hearing in November.

In the submission Sara Khan and Kalsoom Bashir, the directors of Inspire, said their organisation was “an independent non-governmental civil society organisation. All decisions in relation to Inspire’s remit and work are made solely by the directors; all projects and activities are led and carried out by the Inspire team. This has been the case since our inception. We therefore refute the suggestion that Inspire is not independent.

“The proposition that because government has recognised our work cannotmean we are independent is not a reasonable argument…

“Inspire have not or ever received core funding directly from the Home Office. Funding we have received has been for project funding for our Making A Stand campaign which was launched in 2014 and ended in 2015 as is stated on the Inspire website.

“Prior to our Making A Stand campaign in 2014 we have not received direct funding from the Home Office.”

Regarding their impact on the ground the pair said they had:

  • Delivered a number of conferences challenging extremism and promoting women’s rights.
  • Launched campaigns and commented in the media on the same.
  • Delivered countering extremism and gender empowerment programmes to Muslim women.

They also disagreed with Chairman Keith Vaz suggestion that Naz Shah’s line of questioning was not a personal attack on Inspire.

PREVENT is part of the government's counter terror strategy
PREVENT is part of the government’s counter terror strategy

“Naz Shah in an article for BuzzFeed published on Oct 26th 2015, three weeks before we gave evidence, claimed that Inspire was one of ‘the most loathed organisations amongst Muslim communities,'” they said. “She then went on to say ‘They can’t be working otherwise we wouldn’t have this problem [of people travelling to join ISIS]. They’re clearly not working so why are we re-funding them?…”

Inspire said they believe the comments made by Naz Shah to Buzzfeed were inappropriate, personal and factually incorrect.

“It is disappointing that before making such comments, Naz Shah in her respected position as a Member of Parliament did not approach us directly to learn more about our work.

“We would have been more than happy to inform her in depth about our work. Inspire since 2009 has been positively received by many Muslim women, youth and parents as well as schools and other public and voluntary bodies across the country.

“We continue to receive messages of support from across a wide section of the British public. By making such comments, Naz Shah does a great disservice to British Muslims and statutory agencies who have directly benefited from our advice and training.”

Finally, they said about PREVENT:

“There is a wider and regressive discourse about PREVENT and Muslim counter-extremism initiatives. Too often assumptions are made about how much government funding has been given to organisations like Inspire without evidence, but also that by accepting government funding, this results in Muslim organisations often experiencing disproportionate attacks and abuse including suggestions that they are ‘house Muslims’‘government stooges’ ‘native informants’ who ‘promote Islamophobia’ despite so much of our work challenging Islamophobia.

“Unlike others, we do not accept the poor argument rooted in anti-Western sentiment by some Muslims that government funding makes you a ‘sellout,’ or someone who has ‘sold their faith (deen).’ We are British citizens and we are concerned about the threat extremism poses not only to families and communities but also to our country.”

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