I have always found it fascinating to read the various pity pieces about Muslim women; how we need saving from hairy chest-and-women-beating Muslim men; how our hijabs should be ripped off by the illuminated hand of enlightenment rationalism; how we must be leveraged out of sadistic servitude-laden homes and thrust into the civilised world of (sexual-harassment-ridden) office spaces, servitude to capitalist men and expectations of success drawn mainly by men.
Such pieces are also usually supplemented by the usual coterie of “Muslim feminists” suffering from severe cognitive dissonance between their strange brew of feminism and their own exploitation as mouthpieces for Orientalised perspectives on Muslim women. The dissonance increases as they receive money from the government for exploiting women for the purposes of countering violent extremism (CVE), better known in the British context as Prevent.
What is going through their already confused, feminism-infused minds? Do they not feel exploited as marionettes for a state policy drafted by machoistic neocons? Is there any pondering and reflection over the moral sterility of co-opting an agenda like Prevent?
Ulama and CVE/Prevent
Such questions are many, however, a recent revelation in the context of women and Prevent epitomises the hypocrisy of such groups.
Historically, the focus of such strategies has been to make use of Ulama to grant legitimacy to policies which have always had the aim of “reforming” Islām. Indeed, the CVE agenda in the US has come out with startling clarity following the rise of Trump and his cohort of neocons, dedicating all efforts to reforming Islām and controlling Muslims. The involvement of Ulama in such enterprises is at the very least questionable.
Little attention, though, has been given to female Islamic scholars (Alimas).
Recently, a detailed article described the implications of the leaked, Home Office-produced, “Prevent Strategy – Local Delivery Best Practice Catalogue”. The Home Office document reveals a particularly Machiavellian example of how Muslim female scholars are being exploited to front the Prevent policy which predetermines the stifling, “reformist” parameters of discussion set by neo-conservatives and elements usually hostile towards Islamic orthodoxy and its adherents.
The “Prevent Alimas”
The Home Office catalogue shows that one Leicester-based women’s organisation has “trained” 135 Alimas under the Prevent project, effectively to become the eyes and ears of the state. The aim of the project has been to abuse the trusted position of Alimas so that they promote Prevent “within their study circles that they educate in their homes”. Furthermore, a “web presence” has been developed for women to approach these indoctrinated Alimas with any questions they may have.
Many are unaware of the political landscape enveloping a sister’s every move, choice of dress and lifestyle. Subjecting unsuspecting Alimas to indoctrination of Prevent ideas without providing a reasonable level of critical analysis of the policy, its aims and the organisation delivering the policy is grossly unethical and tantamount to exploitation of Muslim women.
It is important to understand that these organisations’ involvement with Prevent is not only limited to its abuse of Alimas, but rather, they systematically promote Prevent thinking throughout their websites.
The organisation in question has pushed the Prevent agenda since 2010 using the cover of encouraging “women to speak up about issues affecting them”. The blurb candidly states that when the government identified Muslim women who could be used as tools for Prevent as part of the Communities and Local government report “Preventing Violent Extremism-Winning Hearts and Minds”, they moved in to fill this lucrative opportunity.
The new website’s blog section reads in a robotic, Prevent-scripted manner, as if the messaging in the articles has come directly from the Home Office. Even the timing of the articles revolves around key concerns of the government. Most of the early articles, for example, deal with the threat of ISIS and traveling to Syria, a concern which was largely projected by the Cameron government since the onset of 2014. With the government’s discussions shifting towards integration towards the end of last year, the organisation dutifully issued a blog on how Muslims could “integrate” into “every aspect of uni life”.
There are many examples of Prevent narratives on the website. The following few are particularly instructive.
“Alt-Facts” on Student Surveillance
The organisation says that the idea of “unfair surveillance of Muslims” and covert spying targeting the Muslim minority are part of the many “myths” flying around about governmental and university treatment of Muslims. It claims that “some” believe there is “unfair surveillance of Muslims” and that Muslims are covertly spied on but that spotting signs of radicalisation is “not designed to target Muslim students”.
For an organisation urging people to think critically about the information they receive online, this amounts to a Trump-esque denial of reality. In 2008, a student was arrested for downloading an Al-Qaeda-manual as part of his research. Last year, another student was interrogated by Prevent representatives about his personal beliefs for reading an academic textbook on terrorism in the university library. There is an entire student movement called “Students not Suspects” which aims to challenge Prevent “for seeking to turn teachers and other public sector workers into spies and for normalising Islamophobia”. It is also worth noting that Prevent has always focussed on Muslims.
“Reformist” Violence and British Identity
Some organisations, following Prevent, have been known to promote the “right” kind of violence thanks to a cherry-picked, whitewashed version of history, where the good Muslims compatible with their British identity are those who gave their lives for the British colonialist empire. Interestingly, in this case, the website promotes one individual as a person who wants this partial, subservient story to be “more widely known”. This individual is the founder of a think-tank which works to reform “Muslim thought and practice” in order to develop a Christianised “British Islam”. They have also stated that controversial and draconian counter-extremism measures like closing down mosques on the basis of undefinable “extremism” contain “positive messages” and “important sentiments”.
Linked to selective British history is the forming of British identity. It is often implied that the British identity should be the ultimate one:
“This is the cornerstone of understanding identity. It’s key to educate our children that it’s not only possible to be a Muslim and British, but also that they are exactly that… It’s not a case of multiple identities, but of one. Having said that, it’s important for them to understand what makes them a Muslim, and what makes other people identify with different faiths or religions.”
Alimas as a Stepping Stone for “Reform”?
Alongside workshops for Alimas on how to spy, there are also projects which “deliver insights into the theology of Islam”, alongside the “specific challenges Muslim women face in society”, effectively interfering with religion for the government. This interference is all the more concerning given the individuals some of these organisations promote.
While the presumably orthodox Alimas provide legitimacy to the organisation among Muslims, the question is, what type of Islām are these organisations comfortable with? And what is the “ideal” Muslim advocated according to them?
A clue is found in one organisation’s curious promotion of a new class of Muslim leadership.
Grooming Next Gen “Counter Extremist” Leaders
Touted as London’s “young leader” who is “proud to be a British Muslim woman” is an individual recently promoted amongst a Leicester audience. There is a clear effort to push her as an authoritative voice for Muslims for whom “British Muslims are proud of”.
Raised in Tower Hamlets, she is part of an initiative run by another organisation which has facilitated the grooming of ten young people to be “the next generation of counter-extremists” and Muslim leaders kindly given to us by those outside of our community.
The programme has been supported by a self-professed “reformist”, who is funded by far-right groups and enjoys healthy associations with controversial, anti-Islam neocons. In a particularly crass, poorly cued and scripted video, the “reformist” pledges his support to young activists while she pledges to “to hold the leaders of today to account” – a questionable claim as we shall see.
Having been sold as an “#ExtremelyTogether leader”, she spoke at the One Young World Summit 2016 held between September and October. In the introduction to her speech two responses to two separate incidents involving the shooting of black people were highlighted. Using the distraction of riots by a small minority, the response which leads to protest is painted as a “mired” one, in contrast with the community which turned to “prayer and hope” (1:22) through effective leadership. She is then introduced as someone who “epitomises such leadership” which is needed in the Muslim community.
She, in other words, is being groomed for the future of Muslim leadership which ensures responses to injustices against the community remain passive and inert.
Associating violence and “extremism” with Islam
It is interesting to note that she paints a picture of Islām and Muslims that mirrors unhinged neocon hawks currently influencing for Trump. They believe that Islām is inherently violent and therefore requires a “complete reformation”. In her 2016 speech, she told global leaders that,
“…since 2005, nearly 94% of terrorist attacks are associated with Islam and Muslims. I personally find it perplexing that my identity, my religion, and my faith is such a devastating force” (5:50).
Aside from the bogus, reference-less and geographically obscure statistic, and the logical flaw (an “association” with Islām does not make it the cause), there is dutiful adherence to the destructive, clash of civilisations narrative of the neocons which describes Islām as a “devastating force” for terrorism.
She further writes,
“Be-they young, old, male or female, modern day extremism has undoubtedly focused on Islām, with Muslims at its core.”
The white supremacists who voted for Trump, crusader neocons who make up his advisory, the violent neo-conservative thinking which is responsible for planning and prosecuting devastating wars across the Middle East for the past decade, and the Trump-empowered far-right in Europe are enough to cast doubt on such claims.
In line with Prevent, she also explicitly removes problematic foreign policy as a root cause of terrorism.
Exclusion of Muslims and Oppression of Children
There is a reason for this zealous promotion of CVE/Prevent thinking.
According to the “reformist”, our lady of the hour has “rolled out counter-extremism policies and counter-terrorism policies” (3:30). She elaborates her function as an effective cog of the UK security machinery, having “helped set up a government website” called “educate against hate” and developed toolkits which include “ways to detect and prevent extremism (9:00).” Considering the fact that she is being sold as a “successful British Muslim woman” and the future of Muslim leadership, she failed to consult a single Muslim community organisation during the development of the government website.
The website she helped produce disturbingly suggests that argumentativeness, changes in appearance and excessive time spent online or on mobile phones might be signs of possible radicalisation in teenagers. With such vague information, it is unsurprising that young Muslim children are experiencing the second-class citizenship standard applied to Muslims: violation of their rights while being demonised as potential terrorists.
This certainly raises questions about her “leadership” role which involves politically demonising the Muslim community, and her idea of “holding leaders to account” that seems to mean protecting the state from dissent.
Alimas and Prevent
While seemingly manipulating traditional Alimas into becoming Prevent puppets, the model, ideal successful British Muslim woman is one who is groomed by the worst of the deformists, associates violence with Islām and Muslims on global platforms, formulates and propagates policies which harm the Muslim community and disregards said community while doing so.
If this is the future of the Muslim woman and Muslim leadership in Britain, it is a dystopian future indeed!
The “save the Muslim woman” phenomenon is becoming more embarrassing by the day. While looking to emancipate us Muslim women, these women’s organisations work to subjugate us to a masculine, security-fanatic state, all the while advocating an agenda which ultimately seeks to brainwash us by “reforming” our Islamic beliefs.
Alimas, as well as members of the Ulama in general, must question whether they should allow themselves to be abused by policies and organisations that are detrimental to Islām and Muslims. Do they really wish to act as stepping-stones to a “reformation of Islām”? Do they, as mothers, sisters and daughters, wish to propagate Prevent which is now resulting in Muslim children being taken away from their parents?
As for these organisations bearing what seem to be sinister aims, they should ponder over their affiliations, and perhaps revisit their own content for reflection. In one blog covering conspiracy theories, we are told that people online “might even say that this blog is being written by sinister forces out to brainwash you”.
The irony could not more acute.
A niqāb-wearing British Muslim woman, Quratulayn is a student of knowledge in the Hanafi school of law. She has studied law, works professionally and takes a keen interest in Muslim public affairs.