A high profile campaign encouraging Muslim women in the UK to “make a stand against terrorism” was covertly produced by the Home Office’s communications unit in order “to transmit counter-extremism messages into communities and hard to reach audiences”, Middle East Eye can exclusively reveal.
The #MakingAStand campaign was launched by Inspire, a women’s counter-extremism organisation, in September 2014, and described by Inspire founder Sara Khan as a “jihad against violence”.
On its website page dedicated to #MakingAStand, Inspire said that "women now felt empowered to stand up and say: 'No more. Enough is enough.'"
"Women are the first defence against radicalisers in our communities. So as women in our communities we will declare our abhorrence of extremism and take the lead in stopping radicalisers preying on our children and grooming them for violence," it said.
Home Secretary Theresa May attended a launch event in support of the campaign, but Inspire has always maintained that it is independent of government.
Earlier this year, Khan and Inspire co-director Kalsoom Bashir said in evidence submitted to a parliamentary inquiry into the government’s counter-extremism policy: “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.”
But an internal government document seen by MEE lists #MakingAStand as a “RICU Product”, referring to the Research, Information and Communications Unit (RICU), the Home Office’s strategic communications unit responsible since 2011 for disseminating counter-extremism narratives as part of the government’s Prevent strategy.
The March 2015 document, produced by the Home Office-based Office for Security and Counter Extremism, is titled “Prevent Strategy: Local delivery best practice catalogue” and marked “Not for public discourse”.
It described the aim of the #MakingAStand campaign as being “to encourage British Muslim women to make a stand and take the lead to reject ISIL [the Islamic State group] propaganda and discourage travel to Syria/Iraq”.
It said the campaign was being led by "the civil society group Inspire" and was creating “a national network of British Muslim women across Prevent priority areas who will be able to transmit HMG [Her Majesty’s Government] counter-extremism messages into communities and hard-to-reach audiences including workplaces, community institutions, schools, higher education and mosques”.
The “target audience” of the project was “250,000 female Muslims aged 15-39 in 30 Prevent priority areas from Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Arab, and Somali backgrounds," while it lists resources required for the campaign as “access to women’s civil society groups”.
A page in a Home Office Prevent catalogue describing details of the #MakingAStand campaign
The document was included in evidence submitted last week to the Home Affairs Select Committee by David Miller, a professor of sociology at the University of Bath, and Narzanin Massoumi, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Liverpool, who describe themselves as researchers “working on the issues of terrorism expertise, Islamophobia, Muslim civil society groups and government communications”.
They say that the document raises fresh questions about the independence of Inspire and Sara Khan, one of the UK’s most influential counter-extremism voices, following reports last month that RICU was running a “covert propaganda campaign” to project counter-extremism messages to British Muslims through ostensibly “grassroots” organisations.
Many of the campaigns were orchestrated via a media company, Breakthrough Media, with close links to the Home Office. A forthcoming book by Khan is also co-authored by Tony McMahon, a consultant working with Breakthrough Media, suggesting links also between Inspire and Breakthrough.
“The document shows how several 'independent' organisations working in the area of counter-narratives have a close relationship with the Research Information and Communication Unit (RICU),” Miller and Massoumi write.
“The closeness of the relationship seems to undermine numerous public claims that these are independent, grassroots or voluntary organisations.”
Miller and Massoumi also reiterate concerns about a possible conflict of interest raised by Inspire's work with the Home Office where Sara Khan's sister, Sabin Khan, is the deputy head of RICU.