When three young female students at the Bethnal Green Academy in east London fled the UK to join ISIS in Syria in early 2015 – Londoners were stunned. How could Shamima Begum, Kadiza Sultana and Amira Abase have made such a terrible decision that would destroy their lives?
These were educated girls with bright prospects. So shocked was Sara Khan, a human rights activist, that she wrote an open letter to girls – especially Muslim girls – at schools across the British capital. The simple message was: don’t believe the ISIS ideology that promises freedom and liberation for you. What really lies ahead is slavery, degradation and violence on a scale that is scarcely believable. And worse – death would be the inevitable result.
The letter began “Dear Sister” and continued:
Some of your friends may have gone out to join Isis and you are also considering going out too … I have no other intention in writing this letter but to tell you that you are being lied to in the wickedest of ways
The tone of voice was deliberately simple, intended to land the critically important message with teenagers, exposed to ISIS videos on their mobiles and laptops.
In the first chapter of her book, The Battle for British Islam, Sara details how two other teenage girls were nearly radicalised into joining ISIS by a fourteen year old boy in Blackburn. He had been indoctrinated by an Australian already fighting with ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
Most disturbingly, the fourteen year old was brainwashed to such an extent that he was able to direct another youth in Australia to carry out a massacre at an ANZAC day parade. This was all being organised on an encrypted social media channel called Telegram.
The two girls were intercepted before leaving the UK and put on the government’s Prevent programme. This stopped them falling in to the criminal justice system. The point about Prevent being that it’s intended to keep an individual from their day in court and hopefully reintegrate them back into society without ever seeing the inside of a prison. Luckily, that’s what happened to these two girls. The fourteen year old boy, in contrast, is now serving a life sentence.
Sara Khan was so angered by this flight of young people, women and even entire families to join ISIS that she organised a movement of women activists in late 2014 under the banner Making A Stand.
A big event in London was followed by a series of regional meetings that sought to inspire women to stand up to terrorist radicalisation in their communities. The media gave the campaign a blast of publicity including The Sun, which gave its first seven pages – including the front page – to Making A Stand.
At the London event, local councillors rubbed shoulders with young Somali women and seasoned community activists. All political parties were represented. And yet, it’s been a subject for constant sniping ever since.
Right at the point at which young girls from the UK were off to join a murderous dystopia in Syria and Iraq that had raped and sold Yazidi women into slavery and executed female professionals because they rejected domestic slavery to an ISIS fighter, some groups chose to carp at Sara over her activism.
Questions need to be asked why some in the UK think the government shouldn’t have intervened to stop ISIS recruiting in the UK? What is wrong with condemning the violent Islamist ideology that created ISIS and has butchered more Muslims than any other religion? Why are groups that oppose equal rights for women and LGBT people lauded by some on the left who should know better?
These are the questions that need to be asked of those hurling abuse at Sara Khan in the wake of her appointment to head the commission on counter-extremism.