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Lifestyle platform ‘SuperSisters’ exposed after receiving counter-terrorism funding

SuperSisters, an online Muslim lifestyle platform aimed at British Muslim teenagers, is covertly funded by the counter-terrorism programme Building a Stronger Britain Together (BSBT), according to articles written by the Observer and The Guardian.

BSTB is a government programme that provides “funding and support for groups involved in counter-extremism projects in their communities.” [1] As part of the 2015 Counter-Extremism Strategy, it operates alongside the toxic Prevent strategy and funds over 230 groups, as specified on the Government’s website. [2] [3] One of these groups, SuperSisters, was set up in 2015 by ‘not-for-profit community group’ J-Go Media in response to Shamima Begum and two other British schoolgirls running away to Syria.

In response to why SuperSisters accepts funding from the government, the website states:

“Countering extremism for us is about sharing an alternative narrative to highlight positive stories coming from a diverse contributor network.” [4]

However, the revelation of counter-terrorism funding has led to anger from Muslim readers who see the funding as a means of betrayal. One Instagram user described it as “truly shocking and disturbing and feels entirely like a violation,” after whistle-blower Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan shared the information of the funding back in August. [5] Two employees have also resigned from the platform.

One former employee, Sabah Ismail, who worked as the platform’s social media manager from February to August of this year, said that she had originally believed that she could “make real change” at SuperSisters, but then realised that there was “no way” for that to happen with counter-terrorism funding at the root of the platform. [6]

In response to the revelation, J-Go Media have stated on the SuperSisters website that they have always been “transparent” about where they have received their funding from, having mentioned on their website them receiving Prevent funding early into their project. J-Go Media have also confirmed that BSBT has “no creative control” over their content. [4]

Former contributors have claimed that SuperSisters misled their readers in the past. At one point, there had been no Muslim women on the SuperSisters’s editorial team, despite giving the impression that their content was “made for and by” Muslim women. This is a claim that J-Go have denied, saying:

“There were Muslim women on the team the entire duration of the project … We have never claimed to be a platform made by Muslim women … our ‘SuperSisters’ are the women and girls we’ve featured on our page.” [4]

However, Ismail confirmed the claim, saying that “despite [J-Go] running a project for Muslim women, most of the team were far removed from the principles of Islam, some even disagreeing out-rightly with our beliefs.” [6]

This is not the first time that counter-terrorism funding has come under scrutiny. Last month, the Middle East Eye exposed media platform This is Woke as targeting Muslim youth on behalf of the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism. The staff of This is Woke had been working under the rebranded Zinc Network, a company that has been key in delivering multiple Research, Information, and Communications Unit (RICU) projects. [7]

In addition, writers and activists withdrew from the Bradford Literature Festival back in June after finding out that it was also being funding by BSBT. [8] Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan was the first to drop out, saying that the funding “decimated trust.” [6]

“At every level of every institution, the idea that Muslims are all at risk of perpetrating violence has been enshrined in the name of security and is causing the mass surveillance and targeting of us across the board. This is Orwellian.”

A history of controversy

Prevent is one of the four strands of the government’s counter-terrorism strategy which is known as ‘Contest’. Unlike the other strands—which exist to deal with things related to actual terrorism—Prevent was created to combat “extremism”, which was defined as the opposition to “British values”. This was due to the misguided, ideologically-based belief—now rejected by the government—that something called “extremism” causes terrorism. [9] This underlying “radicalisation” theory still remains in Prevent vocabulary despite the government distancing itself from the refuted conveyor belt theory and the ERG22+ “extremism” risk factors that were once offered as justifications for the policy, before their “scientific” basis was condemned by 140 experts across the world off the back of a CAGE report exposing it as “pseudoscience”. [10] [11] [12]

The very essence of Prevent is based on ancient myths and stereotypes about the causes of non-White violence. As such, for many years, Prevent has been criticised as being Islamophobic and racist. It is said to have targeted the Muslim community and, over the years, its implementation has deteriorated civil liberties, thus restricting political opposition and constraining any possible room for essential dialogue within schools, colleges, and universities.

According to a report published by the racial equality organisation JUST Yorkshire, the Prevent strategy is having disturbing consequences on society. The report stated that the strategy is “built on a foundation of Islamophobia and racism”. The report also states that the strategy is “ineffective and counterproductive” and should be repealed. [13]

Independent organisation PREVENT digest calls for Prevent to be suspended and reviewed, describing the “evidence” underlying it “…as flawed and racist as early attempts to classify criminals by head shape”. [14] It adds that Prevent stifles debate, as attested by the Home Affairs Select Committee. [15]

The United Nation special rapporteur on racism stated that “the Prevent duty is inherently flawed, and expansion of a flawed program to cover more groups is by no means curative”. [16] This expresses that the targeting of Far-Right groups does not obfuscate the harm carried out by the Prevent strategy.

Figures published by the Home Office display an increase in Prevent referrals across the country, overwhelmingly targeting Muslims. 65% of the 7,631 referrals noted in the released figures refer to Muslims, despite being approximately 5% of the population. 56% of the total referrals were aged 20 or under, whilst a quarter of the referrals were of under-15s. Most of the referrals came from the Education sector, followed by the police. [17] [18]

Muslims comprise approximately 5% of the United Kingdom,[19] and less than 5% of the perpetrators of “successful and foiled” terror plots, [18] yet they are vastly overrepresented in the counter-terrorism matrix—from Prevent referrals to Schedule 7 stops and searches to “terrorism” convictions. Not only does this lead to unjustified fear and panic from the broader population but contributes to the alienation and disenfranchisement of many young or mentally vulnerable Muslims. [18]

This is one of the reasons that an increasing number of researchers and activists have been warning that Prevent is not just ineffective but actually counterproductive. A sense of alienation, disenfranchisement, experience of racist double standards, and so on, have long been significant empirically-determined causal factors involved in the likelihood of some people to be drawn into political violence and terrorism, emphatically not the non-violent beliefs and opinions—be they “radical” or not—that the Prevent programme has been focusing its attention on. [18]

Source: www.islam21c.com

Notes:

[1] https://www.gov.uk/guidance/building-a-stronger-britain-together

[2] https://www.cage.ngo/bradford-literature-festival-withdrawals-prioritising-principles-over-promotion

[3] https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/809584/BSBT-list-of-groups-jun-19-v2.pdf

[4] https://www.supersisters.co.uk/about/

[5] https://www.instagram.com/p/B1Qqcy5AH1L/

[6] https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/sep/15/lifestyle-website-for-muslim-teens-is-covertly-funded-by-the-home-office?CMP=Share_AndroidApp_WhatsApp

[7] https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/revealed-woke-media-outfit-thats-actually-uk-counterterror-programme

[8] https://www.islam21c.com/news-views/bradford-festival-boycott-over-counter-extremism-funding/

[9] https://www.islam21c.com/politics/new-study-extremism-does-not-cause-terrorism-2/

[10] https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/sep/29/academics-criticise-prevent-anti-radicalisation-strategy-open-letter

[11] https://www.islam21c.com/special/web-posts/moazzam-begg-how-to-really-defeat-violent-extremism/

[12] https://www.islam21c.com/politics/how-do-you-make-a-terrorist/

[13] https://justyorkshire.org.uk/2017/08/22/rethinking-prevent-a-case-for-an-alternative-approach/

[14] Sian, Katy. 2017. “Born radicals? Prevent, positivism, and ‘race-thinking’.” Palgrave Communications 3 (1):6. doi: doi:10.1057/s41599-017-0009-0.

[15] House of Commons. 2018a. Home Affairs Committee: Hate crime and its violent consequences.

[16] OCHCHR. 2018. End of Mission Statement of the Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance at the Conclusion of Her Mission to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. ONLINE: United Nations.

[17] https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/658004/individuals-referred-supported-prevent-programme-apr2015-mar2016.pdf

[18] https://www.islam21c.com/news-views/new-home-office-stats-highlight-failure-prevent/

[19] According to the 2011 Census, Office for National Statistics.

About Samera

2 comments

  1. Julie Amal Rashid

    I find these “lifestyle” blogs etc really quite bizarre, is following trends even healthy?

    Is that not why we are told to refer back to the Qur’an and Sunnah, to have a solid foundation on which to mould our lifestyle and principles?

    There are loads of Muslims nowadays calling themselves “lifestyle coaches” what does that even mean? Did we not have the ultimate lifestyle coach in the Prophet صَلَّى اللّٰهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ And in addition to that there are all these “positivity” workshops being run. But how many people actually refer back to the Sunnah?

    Personally I find these so called lifestyle trends cheesy nonsense!!

    • I agree but I would add that it is really expensive cheesy nonsense. I can’t understand how people can pay over £90 to listen to someone give advice on how to be a good spouse especially when the internet is full of free videos from people with Islamic knowledge as well as people who speak from experience. I would also question how much knowledge of Qur’an and Sunnah these people have, and some only use the terms to promote their business or to justify it. I would think that the time and money spent on these coaching sessions would be a reason in and of its self to sew marital discord!

      Also, I think that partly it’s us Muslims buying into the whole lifestyle that goes with lifestyle blogs and positivity/empowerment workshops. We don’t see ourselves as working class families anymore (even if the job description and bank balance say otherwise) as culturally and socially we think that we’ve moved up in the world and our participation in these sessions seems to be a way of showing that to others.

      I would also say the same about ‘consultants’ in various professions. Sometimes people over complicate things to justify the really high fees that they charge. A Muslim school that I know about were told that they needed a tracker system to track pupils’ progress but the prices given by consultants (Muslim) who had ready made ones were too high for the school, and the trackers couldn’t easily be superimposed onto the school’s assessment systems that they already had in place. It all sounded so complicated but all that was needed was a simple table that was fit for purpose, made in Excel. There is no limit on profit in Islam but the advice of scholars is that we should be easygoing and pay attention to the rights of Islamic brotherhood.

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