At 18:30 GMT (19:30 CET/20:300 EET) on Wednesday the 10th February 2016, Free Word hosted a screening of Deeyah Khan’s acclaimed film Jihad: a story of the others, followed by a discussion on the origins of home grown Islamic extremism.
This discussion took place at 60 Farringdon Road, Clerkenwell, London and a recording of the evening is now available on this page for all readers who were unable to be in London on the 10th February.
Both the Paris attacks of November 2015 and the recent influx of refugees to Europe have increased awareness of events in the Middle East and ensured that the theme of jihad is once more omnipresent in public discourse. Similarly, the role of European jihadists has started to acquire more attention, with the emergence of high profile figures, such as the so-called Jihadi John [Mohammed Emwazi], and the intensive post-attack reporting on Abdelhamid Abaaoud and the Kouachi brothers.
While the majority of the 20,000 + foreign fighters in Syria/Iraq continue to come from North Africa, the Arabian Penisula and the Middle East, reports show that nearly a fifth of recruits travel from Europe. And, although these numbers only constitute a very small minority of the Muslim populations on the continent, many are now asking what it is that makes men and women of Western backgrounds leave their homes to fight in the Middle East.
One of these individuals is Deeyah Khan, whose powerful new film, Jihad, explores the roots of Islamic radicalisation in the UK. As Deeyah herself says: “I wanted to make a film that goes beyond the usual conversations around radicalisation…I wanted to look at the human face of this topic and the personal stories behind the stereotypes. No one is born a terrorist, but the route to become one is surprisingly easy. We need to listen to those who have been there and those who have made their way back”.
And, having spent two years with some of the leading figures from previous generations of the British jihadi movement, Deeyah Khan’s film succeeds in telling this story, presenting the emotional and raw testimony of former extremists, who learnt first hand what it can be like to be drawn into radicalisation. In Jihad, she speaks to figures who have been at the very heart of the British jihadi movement, including one of its repentant former founding fathers, Abu Muntasir, who himself spent many years fighting abroad and preaching extremism to thousands of young Muslims across the UK and the wider western world.
Aside from interviews with some of the better known figures from the movement’s past, Deeyah’s search for answers also took her to the streets of modern-day Britain, where she met young Muslims, several of whom, caught between extremism and the so-called War on Terror, feel angry and alienated.
In giving voice to frustrated young Muslims who struggle with discrimination, identity crises and rejection – both at the hands of mainstream society and their own communities and families – Jihad highlights the difficulties faced by these youngsters caught between societies, while also managing to find hope and offer up some potential solutions to the complex situation within which we find ourselves.
With this screening and debate, Free Word therefore sought to look behind the scenes of home grown jihadism and into the human face of extremism, talking to experts from Britain’s Muslim communities and asking why it is that so many people throughout the continent continue to be drawn towards a conflict whose list of atrocities increases by the day.
Deeyah Khan is an award-winning Norwegian film director, music producer, composer and human rights defender of Punjabi and Pashtun descent. Originally known for her youthful music career, she is the founder and CEO of the production company Fuuse and a recipient of several awards for her work supporting free expression. Her most recent award came in 2012, when she was awarded the Ossietzky prize by the Norwegian PEN for outstanding achievements for the freedom of expression.
Alyas Karmani is an Imam and Khateeb at a number of Mosques in the north of England and across the UK. He previously ran the Welsh Assembly Government‘s race equality programme and is currently a consultant for West Yorkshire and London probation services, advising in particular on the resettlement and reintegration of Muslim offenders. Alyas has a background in psychology, including 20 years of experience in counselling and therapy work focusing on Muslim-centred mental health and emotional well-being.
Abu Muntasir is a repentant former extremist recruiter and the founder and CEO of JIMAS, a Muslim educational charity that works to create a greater understanding about Islam amongst both Muslims and people of other faith and no faith backgrounds. Abu Muntasir is the serving academic director for the Sacred Sciences Curriculum, delivering courses in his specialisations of Seerah, Hadith, Ihsan studies and Muslim family life.
Sayeeda Warsi is a lawyer, businesswoman, campaigner and former cabinet minister. She is best known for being the first Muslim to serve in a British cabinet. In 2010, she was appointed Chairwoman of the Conservative party and Minister without Portfolio in the British Cabinet. In 2012, she became Senior Minister of State at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Minister for Faith and Communities. She resigned in 2014, citing the government’s morally indefensible policy on Gaza. In 2015/16, the Royal Strategic Studies Centre named her one of the 500 most influential Muslims in the world.
Munir Zamir works within the NGO sector as a trainer, facilitator and creator of counter-extremism expertise and knowledge. He has worked internationally and specialises in the creation and dissemination of online counter-extremism. Munir also conducts analysis and research into trends within extremism and terrorism related issues. A teacher by profession, Munir has a Master‘s degree in Terrorism Studies and has worked extensively in the public sector within education, youth work and inclusion.
This event takes place with the support of:
This event is part of Free Word‘s new series, Unravelling Europe. Against a backdrop of increasing fragmentation fuelled by anxiety and fear, the conditions and values that underpin our open, democratic societies are under threat. Putting artists at the heart of the discussion, Unravelling Europe sets out to ask: why is this so, what are the consequences and how might we act to counter them?
To find out more about Unravelling Europe and the series of events which it comprises, visit Free Word at: https://www.freewordcentre.com/projects/unravelling-europe
– ‘Jihad’: my journey into the roots of Islamic radicalism in Britain by Deeyah Khan
– Jihad: a story of the others (information about the film on Fuuse.net)
– Fuuse‘s Jihad trailer [Video]
– ‘Recruiter’ of UK jihadis: I regret opening the way to Isis by Tracy McVeigh
– ICSR Insight – The roots of radicalisation? It’s identity, stupid by Shiraz Maher
– It ain’t half hot here, mum. Why and how Westerners go to fight in Syria and Iraq (A report from The Economist)
– République et pseudojihad by Mohamed Amer Meziane [in French]