Muslim activists and writers pull out of Bradford Lit Festival over counter-extremism funding

Clockwise: Dilly Hussain, Sahar al-Faifi, Malia Bouattia, Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan and Hussein Kesvani.

At least seven Muslim activists and writers have pulled out of the Bradford Literature Festival after it was revealed that the initiative had received funding from a Home Office counter-extremism programme.

The contributors withdrew from their planned appearances in protest after finding out the 10-day festival had accepted money as part of the government’s counter-extremism strategy.

The Home Office’s Building a Stronger Britain Together (BSBT) programme says it provides “funding and support for groups involved in counter-extremism projects in their communities”.

BSBT is part of the 2015 counter-extremism strategy and currently funds more than 230 groups, which is separate to the Prevent strategy.

Those who have boycotted the BLF, which starts next weekend, includes spoken word artist Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan, broadcaster Lauren Booth, journalist Hussein Kesvani, activist Sahar al-Faifi, the former president of the National Union of Students (NUS) Malia Bouattia and lawyer Tasnime Akunjee.

Author Waithera Sebatindira and activist Lola Olufemi are also among those who withdrew from the festival for the same reasons.

Deputy editor of 5Pillars, Dilly Hussain, who was officially invited to the BLF in March was later not confirmed to participate in the festival.

Nevertheless, he informed the organisers of his concerns and disapproval of the event receiving BSBT funding on Friday 7 June.

Mr Hussain posted on Facebook: “I was invited to speak at the Bradford Literature Festival to discuss the impact of Dirilis Ertugrul and Ottoman history on Muslim youth.

“Initially I had accepted the invitation, but later declined after I found out that the initiative had received money from the Home Office’s ‘Building a Stronger Britain Together’ fund, a counter-extremism program.

“I would encourage others who have been invited to decline the invitation in making a principled stand against government funded initiatives that are driven towards framing problematic narratives for our community under the guise of “celebrating literature and culture”.

BLF’s organisers said in a statement: “BLF’s work in Bradford spans all communities particularly those which are the most disadvantaged.

“The BSBT programme is a broad initiative, working with communities across the board. For us, in the context of this festival, the focus of the BSBT work has been on promoting the value of education and the importance of literacy, which is central to the ethos of this festival.”

A Home Office spokesperson told The Guardian said: “It is disappointing that some individuals are seeking to undermine and misrepresent the incredibly valuable work done in communities by our Building a Stronger Britain Together partners.

“BSBT is an open and transparent programme, which supports local people in their vital work to bring communities together, promote fundamental values and tackle the spread of all extremist ideologies.

“We are proud of the work that our BSBT community groups do to tackle extremism in all its forms.”

The Muslim Council of Britain’s Miqdaad Versi, rapper Lowkey, Labour MP Naz Shah and Baroness Sayeeda Warsi are scheduled to feature in the festival.

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