Resistance to Extremism Starts at Home

In October 2013, five young men fled  the UK to go to Syria to fight for the Islamic State.  The boys were recruited online through manipulative use of social media and well-produced recruitment videos. They were caught on CCTV whilst boarding a flight to Turkey on the onward route into Syria, where they planned to fight for ISIS.

Not one returned, as they were killed in fighting and captivity. Each of the boys was a son, a grandson, a brother, a member of their community.

JAN Trust understands that this is a real issue that affects real communities. It affects real families. That is why we work with Muslim mothers, holding regular workshops to prevent radicalisation through our Web Guardians© programme. We are half way through our programme with this group of women, where we have worked to equip them with the skills to detect the early signs of radicalisation in their families and communities and to empower them to act for change.

The critical nature of this work was drawn sharply to our attention by one of the women in the room, who bravely told us her story. In her native Bengali, she recounted her own proximity to extremism and to the group of boys who fled for Syria.

“My grandson, he was one. He was 24.”

Through tears, she told us how her young grandson had left the UK to join ISIS. He had told the family that he was going for a job interview in order to obtain a passport. She told us how they had felt pleased, happy that their son would finally break free from the unemployment trap so widespread today.

They assumed his rapid behavioural changes were good things. He started attending religious meetings, showing more interest in Islam, dressing piously, staying up late at night and spending hours online. Much of this new devotion was hidden from his family, and he changed his group of friends. In actuality he was being brainwashed indoctrinated into an extremist mind-set. The family only discovered what this meant when one day, he left for Syria. Five families were destroyed. This grandmother spoke of the shame faced by her family in the aftermath, and the fear instilled in the community.

In a steadier voice, the grandmother then spoke up about how important it was to not shy away from this sad reality; “I don’t want to hide from it. You can prevent it from happening; we need to talk about it.” JAN Trust’s Web Guardians© programme is an innovative way of working in communities like this, where families are being directly affected by extremism, and areas are losing their young people to ISIS. As one of the mothers told us, Web Guardians© is needed “to protect our children”.

To support our work, please visit http://jantrust.org/about-us/support-us, and follow us on Twitter or Facebook

Posted in Daesh, Education, Extremism, ISIS, Jan Trust, Radicalisaton, Web Guardians | Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

The women of ISIS: Radicalisation and manipulation

Even though the volume of people leaving Europe to join Daesh in Syria and Iraq has fallen, the proportion of these who are women is rising – very dramatically in France. Their online recruitment activity still presents a very real danger here in the UK and reinforces the need for preventative work.

This is why Jan Trust holds regular workshops to enable women to detect the early signs of radicalisation in their families and communities. Our Web Guardians© programme has helped women to push back against extremist messaging and confound Daesh recruiting efforts.

It’s difficult to imagine why any women would be convinced to join the terrorists. They have enslaved, raped and murdered women in the territory they seized from Iraq and Syria. The role they designate for women who travel to join them is as domestic slaves “secluded” from view. Worse, women and girls who have ended up in Daesh territory now find themselves being forced to fight to the death as the territory under Daesh control crumbles away.

Yet, there are women who are prepared to either leave for Syria or contemplate attacks in the west. Why is this? One reason is that the terrorists have sold a lie of empowerment. They present being a terrorist as some kind of liberation. The reality couldn’t be more different. This is a terror gang that treats women in a barbaric way. Beaten for infringing Daesh dress codes, stoned on charges of adultery or murdered for raising their voice.

Another reason women might consider joining Daesh is the myth of a tightly knit sisterhood. Glasgow born Aqsa Mahmood left for Syria and used Tumblr to present life with Daesh as something resembling a summer camp. The reality of what was going on was betrayed in letter posts where she gloried in the murder of Britons and fellow Muslims. As her own parents noted, Aqsa Mahmood had been thoroughly brainwashed.

Daesh preys upon vulnerable people through deceptive and manipulative language. It’s important to take measures to prevent this, reaching out to marginalised groups and spreading awareness of the reality behind the rhetoric of extremism and supporting people in identifying the process of radicalisation.

We owe it to every women and girl at risk of succumbing to Daesh to give them all the protection we can. By being super-informed about the threat from the terrorists, we can tackle them effectively. Knowledge if power. The more you know, the better able you are to answer questions from somebody who is in the process of being manipulated by Daesh.

Posted in Daesh | Tagged , , , , ,

Let’s talk about the far-right.

“Britain first, Britain will always be first” and “I am a political activist,” are the words which burst forth from Thomas Mair’s mouth as he stabbed Labour MP Jo Cox; a humanitarian, campaigner and mother of two children, to death in the street in Birstall, West Yorkshire.

These words make unequivocally clear what was initially under debate when the story first emerged in the midst of a referendum campaign fraught with emotive political mud-slinging, fallacious information and rampant racism: that Thomas Mair was a political actor, and his act of murder was underpinned by far-right ideology. It is this week, as the case comes to trial, that the significance of these words has finally been registered.

The fact that the political impetus which prompted this attack was initially under question is an indicator of both the mainstream media’s determination to adhere to a narrative that political terrorism can only be committed by minority groups, particularly Muslims, and its utter failure to register the political forces at play beyond the elite metropolitan epicentre.

I’ll start with the first point – the perpetuation of the narrative that terrorism is a ‘Muslim’ problem. The initial discourse surrounding Jo Cox’s murder, that Thomas Mair was a ‘loner,’ with a ‘history of mental illness,’ utterly erases the existence of far-right nationalist ideology which, like any form of extremism, can be utilised to justify acts of murder as serving a ‘higher’ social purpose.

Of course, it is likely that Thomas Mair did suffer from significant mental health problems, and in many ways he is a pitiable figure who was radicalised by ideologies of hate and fear of the other. This is no different from many perpetrators of Islamic terrorism, many of whom have had a history of mental illness (Mohamed Lahouaiyej Bouhlel, the man behind last year’s Nice attacks, and Michael Adebowale, one of the murderers of soldier Lee Rigby are two such examples). Yet in the reportage of the latter two events, the role of Islamic extremism was foregrounded from the beginning. By contrast, in the crucial first stories which covered Jo Cox’s murder, Thomas Mair was described as “quiet, polite and reserved” and “not a violent man.” Through this display of compassion and understanding towards white violent extremists, whilst their Muslim counterparts are portrayed as monsters, the media further entrenches cultural stereotypes in the Western world that terrorism is a uniquely ‘Islamic’ problem, othering Islamic culture as inherently dangerous. By offloading the very real issue at play – that extremist narratives are increasingly gaining traction – as a ‘foreign’ culture’s problem, the media fails to recognise the grave threat which is posed by far-right and white nationalist movements, which in turn prevents serious, concerted efforts to challenge and prevent their rise in power.

The second issue, that the media’s temperature check on what’s going on in British society is skewed due to its proverbial eyes being turned inwards towards social life in the capital, is one which I registered immediately, reading the breaking news story in an office in central London as a northerner in exile. The fact that Jo Cox hailed from a socially deprived, post-industrial town in West Yorkshire meant that she was undoubtedly aware of the profound impact that the xenophobic, anti-immigrant messages have had amongst communities which have been economically starved by neoliberalism and the decline of manufacturing. Groups such as the EDL, the BNP and Britain First, far too often dismissed scathingly as objects of ridicule by commentators based in the capital, have made huge gains in these areas. Educated, economically privileged and London-centric groups which dominate the media and politics fail to recognise the terrible ramifications of their casual scapegoating of immigrants to explain the punishing effects of an austerity programme which has ripped apart communities in the regional north. It happened with Brexit, and the horrifying wave of hate crimes which followed, and it happened here – with Jo Cox’s tragic murder. This rhetoric is not simply political theatre; it panders to and strengthens the far right.

Aside from the terrible fact that Jo Cox’s family and friends have been deprived forever of someone they love, there is profound tragedy to be found in the fact that Jo Cox probably understood more than many of her fellow MPs in Westminster the social forces at play in post-industrial towns like Birstall which have bestowed ideologies of hate and extremism with the power they seek. If we want to remember Jo, and the messages of hope and love she articulated throughout her life, then we must take the threat of the far right seriously. This begins by taking preventative steps.

At JAN Trust, we work with mothers and in schools to educate, inform and prevent extremism – whether this is from far-right movements or from Islamic extremism. We acknowledge and understand the danger of extremist language wherever it appears, and in whatever shape it assumes, and we work hard to prevent it from taking hold – so that we might prevent future tragedies.

Posted in Far right, Politics | Tagged , , , , , ,

November 2016: Web Guardians© goes from strength to strength

It’s Autumn 2016 and here at the JAN Trust we’re excited to say that, 6 years on from its inception, our Web Guardians© programme is stronger than ever. 2016 has been a challenging year for those working to fight hatred, division and extremist beliefs and it’s easy to feel disheartened in the face of the threat of online radicalisation and terror. Yet it’s this very work, promoting cohesion and strengthening communities, which spurs our staff team on and fosters our optimism in the belief that, slowly, things can change.

This week we’ve been in one part of the UK training mothers and grandmothers who’ve never even turned an internet device on. Once the first few teething problems were out of the way, the women were well on their way in using the computers and learning strategies to safeguard their children online!

Here’s what a couple of them said…

  • “My son is 11 but he is more of a computer expert than me or my husband”
  • This is why we’re here – to keep up to date!”
  • I’m here because I need to learn how to keep my kids safe online!”

We’re excited at the prospect of the next few weeks, where we’ll be supporting and assisting the women to gain new skills and the confidence to protect their children when they are online. Watch out Mark Zuckerberg, the Web Guardians mums are out to steal your thunder!

Posted in Web Guardians | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Mosul Families’ Resistance

Daesh’s heartless rule over the city of Mosul is a powerful, although horrific, story for today. But the other story – the story of the people’s resistance – is more powerful. This resistance is occurring beyond the military battle getting started to expel Daesh from the city; it is a quieter tale of extraordinary determination and courage.

Daesh like to run things.  They fancy themselves as administrators, not just as men with guns. So the largely empty classrooms, since the new school term began in September and until now, must have been a blow to their pride. Most families have resisted sending their children to school because of the Daesh “education” on offer: devoid of physics, maths, singing or sport, for example. Instead, “it’s just verses from the Koran, readings and chanting,” in the words of one mother. Her 8 year old son knows that Daesh killed his father. She is worried he will say something about that in the classroom and endanger his life – another reason she keeps him away from school.   

One school classroom in the liberated village of Tubzaw, just east of Mosul, is revealing. The writings on the board there were about different kinds of explosives, a ‘subject’ which had replaced maths and science classes. The necessity of resistance is powerfully urgent for one young boy who had once been taught by Daesh at this school. “They taught us about bullets”, he recalls, “they would say…these are infidels… my father told me to go to school and I said even if you kill me I won’t go to school”.  

Families, refusing to submit to the rule of Daesh, have sought every means to contact the outside world. Banned from using telephones, internet or satellite TV their determination to make their voices heard on occasion overcomes all odds. Via crackling phone lines they relate their horrific experiences to radio talk shows and TV stations in Erbil. They are trapped but they refuse to be silenced.  

Perhaps the most positive, profound consequence to emerge from the families’ nightmare under Daesh can be found in the words of one resident: “It has unified us”, she says, “there’s no difference between us now: not Sunnis, Shia or Kurds.  All of these people coming from all the different provinces to Mosul want to help Mosul.” Resistance doesn’t get stronger than this.

Posted in International Affairs, Kurds, Middle East | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Liberation of Mosul: Iraqis Send a Message to the World

The liberation of Mosul has started.  The loosening of Daesh’s grip on Iraq’s second largest city represents for them an especially devastating blow.  The day their flag is torn down will effectively spell the end of their ambitions in Iraq.

But what does the removal of Daesh mean for the people no longer living under their control?  It is vital to listen to those with direct experience of suffering under these terrorists.  They speak of unrelenting savagery, murder and a culture of fear.

One Iraqi woman described a memory of her uncovering her face just once in a restaurant at the request of her husband.  The restaurant owner begged her husband to ask her to cover it again, knowing that if Daesh inspectors caught her, she would have been flogged.

A shop owner in the village of Arkaba, south of Mosul, speaks of being freed from Daesh’s “strategy of oppression”.  He praises the Iraqi forces who have achieved this.  “Thank God life has returned to normal” he says, “Schools are opening and we hope they will welcome new students”.  The resilience of families and communities in these conditions (and their clear rejection of the alien values to which they were subjected) is an inspiration to us all, as is the compassion they feel for those still under Daesh domination.  “We know how they are suffering because we suffered like them too” says one inhabitant of freed Arkarba.

But the retreat of Daesh and the magnificent recovery of the people they leave behind is not the whole story.  The future and safety of Muslim families, everywhere not just in Iraq, will depend on such groups losing not just territory but the battle of ideas that’s fought out over the internet and in private conversations.  No army can achieve this.  Only we can.

We need to be strong together and vigilant too.  We must stop them reaching into our communities, our homes, our bedrooms – to exert their influence. The people who have suffered directly under Daesh in Syria and Iraq are forcefully rejecting them. We must all do the same.

Please do contact us. We are here to help:

http://webguardians.org/contact/

Posted in Daesh, Uncategorized, Web Guardians | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Daesh Propaganda Fizzles but Threats Remain

There is no doubt that Daesh is crumbling in the Middle East. It’s lost vast swathes of territory along with many of its leaders and fighters. Clearly, great news for families in the Middle East, but there’s also a welcome knock-on effect for families protecting their loved ones here in the UK.

Research shows that in the space of a year, the terrorist group’s media output has dropped from 700 to 200 media items.

Daesh propaganda is vital to its mission of promoting its so-called Caliphate and attracting new recruits.

The terrorist organisation’s online material has been graphic and sophisticated, driven by high quality videos and a stream of social media posts.

But now, their resources are disappearing. Their senior strategist and chief spokesperson Abu Muhammad al-Adnani was killed in a US air strike last month.

Adnani was a key propagandist behind the stylised brutality in Daesh’s beheading and massacre videos, and he made explicit calls to Muslims in the West to coordinate attacks wherever and however they can.

The loss of territory is a real problem for Daesh propagandists because many of the geographical reference points in their communications have lost their relevance. Their special appeal was predicated on having a “successful” state, with particular towns and areas given great symbolism. Increasingly, their state is just virtual. A mirage.

What’s more, many social media platforms, including Twitter, have got tougher and smarter – acting quickly to take down and report Daesh-related posts and accounts. Even Google has launched an online project tackling terrorist propaganda by redirecting users to alternative resources.

But it’s important to note that the online battle is not over. Daesh are cunning – they often adapt well to new circumstances. And while there’s less material coming from Daesh itself, this may not diminish communications between radicalisers and their potential recruits.

In other words, we must remain vigilant. As families, we must support one another and understand how radicalisation works in the domestic space.

Our Web Guardians© programme is designed to equip Muslim mothers with the essential skills to tackle dangerous influencers online. To find out more about Web Guardians©, visit our website (http://webguardians.org/). If you’re an organisation that is interested in partnering with us, please fill in our partnership form.

Posted in Daesh, Uncategorized, Web Guardians | Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

How Daesh Are Targeting Vulnerable Women – How Women Who Experience Trauma are on the Frontline

As we read, watch or hear stories about women who have been affected by the horrific actions of Daesh, one is thing is clear: it’s not only men who are on the front line.

Unlike Al-Qaeda, which lured men to fight without their wives, girlfriends or children, Daesh is directly targeted women in a way never seen before.

Phrases such as ‘jihadi brides’ are now familiar. We hear the testimonies of women who have escaped the living hell of life under Daesh. The achievements of women like Nadia Murad, who was recently honoured for her work to give a voice to her Yazidi people, are recognised.

French journalist Matthieu Suc recently said: “ISIS [Daesh] has changed the nature of terrorism … the role women play is as strong as that of men.”

Of course, this doesn’t mean ‘equality’. Women are abused and sometimes murdered. Often used as human shields or simply as tools to cook, clean or mount attacks.

The American media organisation NPR this week ran an article with the headline, ‘Europe Wakes Up To Prospect Of Female Terrorists’.

French counter-terrorism experts recently suggested that the majority of women who are radicalised have one thing in common: they have all experienced trauma in their lives.

The recent story of 34-year-old Belgian women Laura Passoni is a clear example of how women are targeted. Her husband had recently left her. She was now a single parent, looking after a young son. In her own words, she had gone into “deep depression”.

Searching for meaning, for purpose, for support, she went online. There, she met a man who promised her a career as a nurse, caring for people in Syria. It must have been music to her ears.

But the man was a Daesh fighter, luring her to travel to Syria and into a living hell. She says she was isolated, frightened, abused. She witnessed horrific violence and murder that will stay with her for the rest of her life. Thankfully, she escaped and now lives back in Belgium.

But her story provides a warning that Daesh are constantly lurking on the internet looking for vulnerable individuals and women like Laura. Their troubled mental state can make it harder to see Daesh for what they really are. They are comforted by talking to strangers and are susceptible to being sucked in by false promises.

We must continue to look out for a friends and family members who have recently experienced trauma. If we provide a support network, it reduces the need for them to speak with people unknown to them online.

Women are on the front line. You are one of them. We can prevent radicalisation by recognising trauma and responding to it within our community.

To find out more about our work, please visit: www.webguardians.org

Posted in Daesh, Extremism, ISIS, Muslim women, Radicalisaton, Uncategorized, Web Guardians | Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

More Than 30,000 People Radlicalised Online: How to Prevent It Happening to Your Children

According to Spain’s Secretary of State for Security, Daesh has now radicalised more than 30,000 people online to join its ranks.

The announcement came as Francisco Martinez was addressing an international security forum in Leon, France.

That figure is truly shocking. It shows just how dangerous the threat of cyber-terrorist grooming is and will continue to be. Daesh’s twisted, pseudo-religious ideology and the call to violence that accompanies it is invading tens of thousands of people’s homes, hearts and minds.

It brings what we might think of as a faraway threat right into the laptops and smartphones we keep with us. The device you place on your bedside table is a potential channel for Daesh to conduct its sinister recruitment.

We do not know how many of those who have been radicalised online are still alive. Many of those who travelled to Syria will have soon realised the true horrors of life within Daesh. That they’ve been lied to. That they were brainwashed into a violent, gruesome ideology.

The majority of Daesh’s activity has been via social networks, preying on the vulnerable with empty promises of purpose and a brighter future.

Our children are facing a threat that is spreading far wider and far more quickly than we feared.

Irfan Chishti, an imam from the Rochdale Council of Mosques, recently warned us that: “No one is immune to it [online grooming]. The tentacles of Isis [Daesh] really are spreading so quickly, not just into homes but into palms, via the internet on phones. We have got smartphones that are making us dumb. Isis is not in any way Islamic and we need to push back harder to say it’s not. We have to be pushing this message shrewdly to counter Daesh’s narrative.”

We recently reported how Daesh is adapting its tactics to reach young people using slang and code words. It knows how to masquerade as a friend, an ally, speaking the same language that your children do.

There are fears that as Daesh loses fighters and land in Iraq and Syria, its focus might be to now recruit even more foreign fighters online. It has already shown that it can brainwash people via the internet to carry out attacks in their homelands. We must prevent this happening to our children.

The JAN Trust’s Web Guardians© programme is designed to equip Muslim mothers with the essential skills to tackle dangerous influencers online. We make sure mothers have the necessary knowledge to enter the online world with confidence, so they support their children at home and, ultimately, protect them. Our training is not simply focused upon technology, but extends to the social and cultural ploys used to radicalise and recruit.
To find out more about Web Guardians©, visit our website or send us an email to info@jantrust.org. If you’re an organisation that is interested in partnering with us, please fill in our partnership form.

Posted in Daesh, Extremism, ISIS, radicalisation, Radicalisaton, Uncategorized, Web Guardians | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Muslim women we need to know

 

Noor Inayat Khan

In July, the JAN Trust team came across an article about the oldest library in the world recently restored by the Canadian-Moroccan architect, Aziza Chaouni. What amazed us about the library (apart from its incredible beauty and architecture), was that it was founded by a Muslim woman. The library, located in the University of Al Qarawiyyin in Fez, Morocco, was established in 859 by Fatima al-Fihri, the daughter of a Tunisian merchant. Reading about Fatima prompted us to consider other Muslim women and how they’ve made a change to the world.

As of 2015, there have been eight countries that have had a Muslim woman as their head of state. One of the most prominent of these women is Benazir Bhutto – the first female Prime Minister of Pakistan and the first female leader of a Muslim majority country. Though her premiership was fraught with controversy, she served as a role model for women, demonstrating that it was possible to overcome the difficulties of being a woman in a male-dominated world. Most importantly, she was a role model for Muslim women in particular. A more current Muslim female politician is Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, the President of the Republic of Mauritius and the first female to be appointed this role.

In comparison, two of the most influential countries in the West (the UK and USA) have had only one elected female leader combined – Margaret Thatcher. Hillary Clinton is currently in the run to become the first female President of the USA; if she wins, this will be a landmark victory in the US.

The next influential Muslim woman under the spotlight is Noor Inayat Khan, a Special Agent during World War 2 who supported the French Resistance against the Nazis. Noor was the first female radio operator sent into Nazi-occupied France by the Special Operations Executive (SOE). Despite her subsequent capture and murder by the Nazis, her legacy lives on. She was awarded the George Cross from the UK and the Croix De Guerre by France and a statue of her can be found in Gordon Square, London.

Lastly, we must acknowledge the work of our Director, Sajda Mughal OBE, who is a multi-award winning activist for women from BAMER and Muslim communities. She has worked tirelessly to help minority women overcome barriers to integration and inclusion in order for them to improve their prospects. Women can visit the JAN Trust centre in North London where they can learn new skills and meet other women who face the same difficulties as them. Sajda was the architect of a number of our programmes including JAN Trust’s Web Guardians© programme which aims to empower these women to tackle online extremism and other dangers on the net helping them to protect their children and become active members of society.

Although Muslim women are gaining increasing visibility in the media, much of this attention perpetuates stereotypes of subjugation or threat. Far more work is needed in order to positively present these women to the world. More attention needs to be given to athletes like Ibtihaj Muhammad and Hedaya Wahba who defied the odds and competed in the Rio Olympics, or Eqbal Asa’d, the youngest doctor in the world. The more attention given to these women, the more they can show other young Muslim women that they can make a difference in the world!

We at JAN trust believe in empowering women and understand that Muslim women have a vital role in today’s society. Visit our website www.jantrust.org to learn more about the work we do.

Posted in Islam, Muslim, Muslim women, Uncategorized, women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,