Why I went undercover to investigate female Islamic State supporters

When three Bethnal Green schoolgirls left the UK to join ISIS earlier this year, I was appalled. They had lived and gone to school just over a mile away from where I was brought up and, like so many others, I found it incomprehensible that modern British girls would be attracted to a belief system that states that women are completely inferior and subservient to men; existing only to serve Jihad fighters as wives.

My friend Aisha (cover name), was also deeply affected by what she was seeing.

Also a journalist, she too couldn’t comprehend how and why young people – many with the same backgrounds as ourselves – could not only reject their own families, but also the British values like secularism and democracy that they had grown up with and allowed them to practice their faith and exercise their right to free speech so freely and openly. To make sense of it, we began to research the Channel 4 documentary which caused shock-waves last week. Aisha went undercover to investigate.

Through patience, dedication and commitment, we slowly gained the trust of a key group of women. By hiding our identities in the ‘virtual’ world of twitter we would reach out to them, liking their statuses and tweets, sharing, re-tweeting and creating a sort of ‘girly’ friendship bond. Soon enough, we gained the respect of Umm L, Umm Usmaan and Umm Saalihah as well as others in the concentric circles of the fifth column female disseminators living right here. Aisha painstakingly bided her time over a number of months. It requires immense patience to create a relationship with the women who trust almost no-one and publicly call out those who they think are spies or journalists. Aisha was wary of asking too many questions; gaining their confidence by answering all the questions they had regarding her.

After helping them leaflet at an ‘Islamic roadshow’ in Lewisham, Aisha was invited to their study circles. Captured just weeks before the attacks in Paris, her undercover footage shows some of the leading female Islamic State sympathisers who, in weekly two-hour lectures, use racially abusive language to describe Jews and Israelis and urge young Muslim women to travel to Syria to join ISIS.

After 12 months infiltrating these groups, I have learnt that the threat from these women and their role in the jihadi war has been severely underestimated.

These seemingly well-integrated women – one was a careers advisor – are charming, persuasive and convincing. Groups like ISIS understand this and are capitalising on their pulling power. The ‘softening up’ effect of these messages on women is important to recognise. Women glorifying jihad to not just other young girls, but also to their very small children is particularly worrying.

I truly believe ISIS want to split the world into two camps; ‘us versus them’ and engender the kind of hatred that resulted in the vicious verbal attack on a young British Muslim woman, Ruhi Rehman last week on the Metro in Newcastle.

After Paris, Isis must have known hate crimes against Muslims were going to rise; it’s what they were counting on – the rejection and vilification of Muslims.

If people turn on each other now, that will be a victory for them. More than ever, we need to stick together which is why I was so heartened to hear how the passengers on that Newcastle train came to Ruhi’s rescue. That, for me, demonstrates British values of liberty and tolerance at their best. Surely that ideology is our best defence against terror.

David Cameron: Muslim silent majority must tackle Islamist extremism

David Cameron has said it is time for the Muslim “silent majority” to stand up and tackle Islamist extremism in their communities. The Prime Minister said those who have so far failed to confront the fanatics’ ideology can “make all the difference” and must speak up.

He said they were central to challenging their warped views and can show young people how to be proud to be both Muslim and British. Mr Cameron spoke out as he prepared to launch the Government’s extremism strategy designed to tackle fanatics and hate preachers and restrict their activities.

But writing on Facebook, he added: “As a government, I know we must own this problem. But our Muslim communities must own it, too. We have all got a critical part to play, but I strongly feel the currently silent majority can make all the difference.

“They’re central to standing up and challenging the warped interpretation of theology and scripture. They’re central to putting forward a liberal, tolerant and inclusive Islam, and demonstrating how it can work in harmony with democracy, freedom and equality. They can show the boy in East London or the girl in Birmingham how proud you can feel to be both British and Muslim, without conflict or contradiction. And in standing up, by speaking out, I am confident that we will defeat the extremists, and together build the Greater Britain that is within our grasp.”

Mr Cameron will later say that defeating Islamist extremists “will be the struggle of our generation” as he reveals a series of new laws to “disrupt” radicals operating in Britain. Mr Cameron will announce sweeping new powers for the Disclosure and Barring Service to ensure that anyone with a conviction for terrorist or extremist activity is automatically banned from working with children and vulnerable people – in the same way as those convicted of sexual offences against children.

He will also announce Asbo-style restriction orders, named “extremist disruption orders”, designed to restrict Islamist preachers from broadcasting, using social media or speaking at public events. The Government will also extend powers allowing parents to apply for their children’s passports to be removed if they fear they are at risk of travelling abroad to fight alongside terrorists. Under the current rules, parents could apply to have the passports of under 16s removed by the authorities. However, Mr Cameron will say this will now be extending to under 18s amid fears that terror groups such as Isil are using social media websites like Twitter to radicalise teens and convince them to travel to Syria.

Mr Cameron will say that the measures are to be included in a new extremism bill.

He will signal his intention to revive the so-called “snoopers’ charter”, which was blocked by the Liberal Democrats during the coalition and will give the security services tough new powers to monitor telephone and internet communications by suspected terrorists.

Muslim woman in a headscarf, Nadiya Hussain has won so much more than the Great British Bake Off

It’s official. Nadiya Hussain has been crowned as our Great British Bake Off queen. The grand finale delivered dramatic camera angles, priceless one-liners and a healthy dose of blubbering. One of the highlights was when Mary Berry gently wiped away Nadiya’s tears and described her as “sheer perfection”.

It’s difficult to escape the current national obsession with the Luton-born 30-year-old – it feels as if nearly everyone wants a slice of her. Nadiyamania includes a Tumblr site called The Many Faces of Nadiya Appreciation, an image mimicking the Barack Obama “Hope” poster from his 2008 presidential campaign, and 55,300 Twitter followers – which rises with every pinch of her baking powder.

While Nadiya admitted she was slightly nervous that “perhaps people would look at me, a Muslim in a headscarf, and wonder if I could bake”, she seems to have united, and charmed, public opinion. Well almost. Amid the waves of loyal fans, there were some less than savoury members of our society who wanted to turn up the temperature on prejudice and division. A Daily Mail columnist, Amanda Platell, accused the Bake Off team for being too politically correct, saying that one white contestant, Flora Shedden, didn’t have a hope with her chocolate carousel and that “if she’d made a chocolate mosque, she’d have stood a better chance”.

Nadiya’s popularity has demonstrated how the vast majority of people in Britain embrace diversity and inclusivity, and are certainly not going to dismiss her based on religion, race or attire. That an Asian Muslim woman in a headscarf can win a thoroughly British competition proves that “Britishness” is a broader and more open concept than some would like us to think. It proves that whether you choose to wear a headscarf, a turban or a bowler hat, Britain is not limited by homogeneity but strengthened by diversity.

Young British Muslims alienated by ‘us versus them’ rhetoric of counter-terrorism

The government’s “Prevent” counter-terrorism strategy is proving counter-productive, engulfing British Muslims further in the political rhetoric of the global “war on terror”. It has contributed to a growing moral panic between a British “us” and a Muslim “other”.

A hostile attitude towards Islam and Muslims and a tendency to associate Islam with intolerance and extremism, effectively asks British Muslims to decide whether they are Muslim or British by constructing these two facets of identity as incompatible.

Teenagers I’ve talked to for my research have told me they feel they’re not considered “British” because of cultural and religious differences and the colour of their skin. Yet they’re dismissed by Bangladeshis as “tourists”, “Londonis” and “British” and view their parents’ or grandparents’ country as a place of “holiday” and not “home”. They feel they don’t fit in to British society, yet experience cultural and language barriers with their closest relatives at home.

Their stories are stories of identity crisis, dislocation, alienation, exclusion and upheaval. There are struggles with poverty, deprivation, disengagement, disconnection from language and culture, racism, Islamophobia, the complexity of “home” and the question of “Britishness”.

At the same time, I’ve seen them create a new British-Islamic identity – a new Islam for a new generation. With its emphasis on banking, fashion, entertainment, travel, education – this new trendy and chic British-Islamic identity is highly modern, “western” and “British” in its outlook. The only difference is that many of these young people have a higher degree of spirituality and faith – and perhaps have more facial hair or wear the headscarf.

But they are living inside a moral panic that has been constructed by the government and the tabloid press that depicts British Muslims as the un-British, violent, irrational and terrorist “other”. I’d argue that instead, British Islam is actually a peaceful, spiritual and very “British” community.

Schools are one of the key sites of these tensions, particularly with the onus now on teachers to ensure they are teaching children “British values”. The coalition government introduced the Prevent strategy as part of counter-terrorism measures in 2011, but new legislation that came into force on July 1 formalised the strategy and gave the policy much greater prominence in English and Welsh schools.

Prevent remains problematic. Although the guidelines speak about tackling radicalisation and extremism in all communities, in practice there has been a disproportionately negative gaze and focus on the many Muslim communities across Britain – the vast majority of whom are hard-working, honest and law-abiding citizens.

This has been picked up by the National Union of Students whose “Students not Suspects” campaign is calling for a boycott of the government’s counter-radicalisation strategy. It argues that the policy will have a “chilling effect” on academic freedom, debate and free speech and also contribute further to a rise in Islamophobia and racial profiling of Muslim students.

The vast majority of people attracted to the ideology of terror, violence and murder suffer from deep social alienation and are psychologically disconnected from mainstream society. A study from the Hoover Institution at Stanford University suggests that among other complex motivations, righting perceived wrongs is a major terrorist motivation.

Woman planning to join Islamic State arrested at Madrid’s Barajas Airport

A 22-year-old woman was arrested at Madrid’s Adolfo Suárez-Barajas Airport on Monday night, on suspicion that she was planning to fly to Turkey to join the militant group Islamic State (ISIS), Interior Ministry sources have told EL PAÍS.

The woman is originally from a village in Huelva, in southern Spain, and had converted to Islam and become radicalized in a short period of time via internet messages.

The Civil Guard, which was in charge of the operation, became aware of the suspect thanks to its constant monitoring of jihadist forums on the internet, the sources added.

The Civil Guard became aware of the suspect thanks to its constant monitoring of jihadist forums on the internet

The young woman was arrested when she was about to take a flight to Turkey, which is a habitual entry point to Iraq and Syria for those wishing to join ISIS. Her residence will now be searched for evidence.

After Ruling, Two Muslim Comedians Closer to Having Ads Posted in Subways

Lighthearted ads that both aimed to promote the 2013 documentary “The Muslims Are Coming!” and tolerance toward American Muslims should start appearing in dozens of the city’s subway stations in the near future, following a district-court rulingon Wednesday that reversed a decision by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to reject the ads.
Dean Obeidallah, one of the film’s directors, said in emails that he won’t know for sure if and when the ads will run because the M.T.A. could appeal the decision, but that he and the film’s other director, Negin Farsad, were “ecstatic” about the judge’s decision.
The M.T.A. said it was reviewing the decision.
Last fall, Mr. Obeidallah and Ms. Farsad, two Muslim comedians based in New York City, purchased ad space from the M.T.A. The humorous posters, which were supposed to go up in April, featured tongue-in-cheek “warnings” — e.g., “The ugly truth about Muslims: Muslims have great frittata recipes.” — seeking to counter anti-Muslim propaganda by a pro-Israel group that had appeared on the subway and also to alert people to their film.

 

Malcolm X’s daughter Ilyasah Shabazz calls for Muslim parents to protect kids from radicalisation

Ilyasah Shabazz is in Australia on a speaking tour and has been visiting Islamic schools teaching young people about empowerment and being part of the global community.
But she also has a message for parents about the threats of radicalisation.
“If we don’t take full responsibility for our children’s development, we leave them open to prey — for other people to prey on them,” she said.

Review: Reviled French novel is no assault on Islam

The year is 2022 and France has elected a Muslim president.

This is the narrative shell of Submission, a controversial novel by Michel Houellebecq that arrives in Canada on Tuesday, about 10 months after it mangled sensibilities in France. Denounced as Islamophobic, lamented as a “gift” to the far right, the book earned an unsolicited testimonial from Prime Minster Manuel Valls, who declared: “France isn’t Michel Houellebecq. . . . It isn’t intolerance, hate, fear.”

In publishing, timing is crucial. But when Submission came out on Jan. 7, the scheduling proved more unfortunate than serendipitous. That morning, as Houellebecq did a radio interview to promote the book, two radical Islamist brothers stormed the offices of Charlie Hebdo and gunned down 12 people.

A caricature of Houellebecq was on the cover of the satirical magazine that day. The country’s most famous living author was depicted in a magician’s hat with stars and crescent moons. In two speech balloons, he predicted his own future like a half-soused Nostradamus: “In 2015, I’ll lose my teeth,” “In 2022, I’ll observe Ramadan.”

The image was a winking nod to Submission (Soumission, in French), to the polarizing author and his implausible notion the republic will be ruled by an Islamic political party seven years from now. In the haze of the massacre, amid roiling debates about assimilation and religious extremism, the cover also cemented Houellebecq’s reputation as a bête noir prone to that trinity of intolerance, hate, fear.

But as it turns out, Submission isn’t an assault on Islam at all.

It is an attack on liberal democracy. It is a search for meaning.

The book’s protagonist and narrator is François, a professor at the Sorbonne in his early 40s who specializes in the work of Joris-Karl Huysmans, the 19th-century novelist and catalyst in the Decadent movement.

François is emotionally stunted. He lives alone and has no friends. He beds nubile students, a different one each academic year, and has joyless sex with prostitutes. He is a misanthrope: “Humanity didn’t interest me — it disgusted me, actually.”

This other trinity — malaise, ennui, anomie — is not uncommon in French literature and cinema. François just wants to feel something, anything. The emptiness of his life is an albatross around his neck.

Then comes the election and François is yanked from his stupor.

There are allusions to violence in the streets, though Houellebecq never explains who is doing what and why. Maybe it’s the jihadists. Maybe it’s the nativists. Maybe it’s a collaboration. The menace is expressed in symbols: distant explosions, smoke rising in the sky, armed men roaming Paris at night.

The election has Marine Le Pen, of the right-wing National Front, ahead in the polls until the other parties form a coalition with the fictional Muslim Brotherhood and its charismatic leader, Mohammed Ben Abbes.

He wins and soon France is living under sharia law.

If Houellebecq had set out to ridicule and inflame, this would be the logical starting point. Instead, Ben Abbes is presented as a saviour of a country in terminal decline. The benefits of his policies are trumpeted and the costs are muted, as if in parentheses: unemployment plummets (because women leave the workforce); universities are flush with cash (because they are now funded by Saudi sheiks); teaching salaries triple (only for those who convert to Islam); marriage is on the rise (because polygamy is now legal); France is on track to become a superpower (because it is collaborating with Islamic groups in England, Holland and Germany, while expanding the European Union to include Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Lebanon and maybe even Egypt).

A geopolitical fever dream, to be sure. But within the borders of Houellebecq’s wild imagination, Islam is heralded as a kind of magical adhesive capable of regluing a society torn asunder by secular, post-Enlightenment values.

This is the opposite of Islamophobia. It is Islamanirvana.

Western civilization, with its material obsessions and smothering of religion, is in free fall. Say what you will about Islam, Houellebecq seems to be saying in his satire, but unlike François at least these people believe in something.

For an author who now requires round-the-clock police protection, for a man who was unsuccessfully sued after he called Islam “the dumbest religion,” Submission almost reads like a “well, you know, on second thought . . .”

Is Houellebecq having a Cat Stevens moment? Or underneath the mordant humour, behind the veil of this conversion parable, is his new target of scorn the craven mandarins in France and Europe who, from his jaundiced perspective, will gladly give up the controls of rudderless Western society if the price is right?

And if so, isn’t this what France deserves?

Houellebecq wrote Submission after the deaths of his parents, which caused him to question his own atheism. Just like his protagonist, it seems this lonely writer now wants to feel something, anything.

Salman Rushdie’s ‘Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights’

The central character of Rushdie’s new novel, “Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights” is also a man who has been cursed and then gets blamed for it. Geronimo Manezes, a Mumbai-born gardener now living in New York, has begun to levitate. This isn’t the wish fulfillment of a flying dream; it threatens his livelihood and brings the increasing hostility of strangers. “Why do you imagine I consider my condition an improvement? he wanted to cry out. Why, when it has ruined my life and I fear it may bring about my early death?”

Maître Gims: ‘It’s not easy to be a Muslim in France’ (video)

In an interview with Le Parisien, the famous rapper responded to questions posed by fans.

As a Muslim, Maître Gims, or Gandhi Djuna, responded to several questions about Islam in France. The former member of Sexion d’Assaut admitted that it was not east to be a Muslim in France while images are circulated about Islamist terrorists. He contended: “These are barbaric acts that terrorists claim in the name of Islam even though they have nothing to do with one another…”