25 Days of CoDI: Day 22

On the twenty-second day of CoDI Khadijah spoke up to ‘Let Extremists Speak’

Khadijah Elshayyal: Let Extremists Speak?


Tell us a little bit about yourself and the show Khadija Extremists

My name is Khadijah Elshayyal. I am a research fellow at the Alwaleed Centre for the Study of Islam in the Contemporary World, at the University of Edinburgh. Here I conduct research and teach on the subject of Muslims in Britain. I am particularly interested in Muslim identity politics in Britain, and how this has evolved over time. Historically, freedom of expression has featured regularly in causes championed by British Muslim representative and advocacy groups. I argue that over the past few decades, there has been an interesting interplay between the development of British Muslim identity politics on one hand, and British Muslim perspectives on freedom of expression on the other.

How does your CoDI talk fit with your research?

One of the most pressing and controversial topics affecting British Muslims in recent times have been the impacts of counter-terrorism measures and securitization – many of which are acutely felt. Since 2000, successive counter-terrorism legislation has ventured further and further into the area of restricting expression. For example, the Terrorism Act 2006 introduced what are often referred to as ‘encouragement offences’ . These make ‘the glorification of terrorism’ a criminal offence. The government of the day, and successive governments, have justified this on the grounds that it is meant to address the threats posed by ‘non-violent extremists’ – those who may not commit acts of violence, but who’s rhetoric is considered to encourage or legitimize it.

Other aspects of government counter-extremism policy, for instance the controversial Prevent strategy, have also been criticized for arguably monitoring expression within communities or creating a chilling effect. People are inhibited from freely expressing themselves , for fear that they may be reported or prosecuted. Religion and politics, for example, are two particular areas where people restrict their speech . Worse still, extremist individuals and groups that have been banned have continued to operate ‘underground’ or regularly re-emerged using new names.

But freedom of expression is often portrayed as one of our most cherished values?

Indeed, David Cameron, and current PM Theresa May, have both championed ‘individual liberty’ as part of the ‘British values’ that we should all be signing up to. So how comfortably do these increasing restrictions on expression sit with our liberal, ‘British’ values?

Is the restriction of expression in the name of security a necessary trade-off? Or are we contradicting the very values that we hold dear?

Do aspects of government securitization policy affect Muslims and other minorities disproportionately? Are we creating ‘suspect communities’ as a result? What are the impacts of this on integration and social cohesion?

All of these and more are questions that I hope to discuss and unpack at my show.

Why did you choose to take part in CODI 2016?

I feel passionately that many of these issues have become victims of oversimplified and sensationalized media coverage. It often suits politicians and journalists to promote a black and white narrative around issues to do with national security. Often this can have serious real world consequences – such as surges in Islamophobia and hate crimes. Such consequences could be seen after the EU referendum.

The public deserve a more nuanced, in depth discussion around what the issues at stake are. A discussion away from irresponsible rhetoric, peppered with inflated, broad-brush statistics, that have been so generalized as to be bereft of any real meaning.

I hope that at CODI we can look beyond the tabloid headlines and the political soundbites to better understand the issues around extremism, security, integration and Islamophobia as they affect British Muslims and us all.

What are you looking forward to most from CoDI?

CODI is a great opportunity to engage directly with the public – to take academic debates outside of the lecture theatre and into the open where they can be interrogated, defended, critiqued, as well as mocked and ridiculed.

Khadijah’s show takes place on Monday 22nd August, Stand in the Square (Venue 372), 3-4pm, £8 (£6)

Purchase tickets at:  http://www.outstandingtickets.com/show/119/performance/1556/book-tickets

Extremists poster