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ACTIVIST

current status quo is just not acceptable to us.’ “We had no money, no offices—all we had was passion.” Still reliant on external funding, Inspire leads awareness campaigns, offers consultancy and training to public bodies and hosts workshops for marginalised young women. But the public profile comes from the distinct voice Khan offers to the ongoing media narrative, writing for leading UK publications including the Guardian and the New Statesman. When, in February 2015, three schoolgirls left London to join Isis in Syria—just the latest in a string of hundreds of teenagers to fall under the group's indoctrinating rhetoric—London schools were sent a letter to read out to pupils. Addressed ‘dear sister’, that letter was penned by Khan. It was viewed 40,000 times within a day of going online and reprinted in newspapers across the world. The key to Khan's approach was talking in a language young women could understand and in the words of a relatable British Muslim who shared similar experiences growing up. Born in the northern English city of Bradford to what she describes as an “ordinary Pakistani British family”, Khan's religion had always been an “important part of my identity”. After school she studied pharmacy, something she admits was “more what my parents wanted me to do – quite an Asian thing”. After qualifying with a masters degree, Khan practiced as a pharmacist for several years before returning to university to study a masters in understanding and securing human rights. At the age of 29 she stopped wearing a hijab because she “didn't feel it theologically resonated” anymore. “As long as I can remember, I have always had a strong affiliation with God and that is what motivates me to do what I do,” says Khan. “Seeing Muslim extremists justify violence, hatred, murder and dehumanising other faiths in the name of the religion I prescribe to, I find absolutely horrifying. It is a mission to claim back my understanding of my faith.” The mission has not always been plain sailing. Inspire's profile was perhaps at its highest following its #MakingAStand campaign, which was launched across cities in the UK in 2014 with government funding. Such close cooperation with the UK prime minister David Cameron's Conservative government brought widespread criticism, derision and even threats from the heart of many of the communities Khan was seeking to reach. “The times where we have thought, 'shall we do this anymore?' are when we have been met with so much abuse and threats,” says Khan. “The level of backlash is just so severe. It has been very difficult.” Khan, whose book The Battle for British Islam is set to be published later this year, is speaking on a visit to Dubai, where

Sara Khan

she is appearing on stage at the Young Presidents’ Organisation's annual Edge conference. “Islamic extremism currently poses a threat everywhere,” she says when asked about the region. “Nobody is immune and the threat is to all of us. It is absolutely vital that we discuss this.” The proliferation of social media means the threat has never been greater. Moreover, adds Khan, the increasing spike in Isis attacks globally shows a worrying trend away from enticing radicalised youths to defect and instead encouraging them to commit acts of terrorism on their home soil. Since June 2014 the terrorist group has "conducted or inspired" more than 70 terrorist attacks in 20 countries outside Syria and Iraq. “Isis has without doubt managed to put the issue of radicalisation at a scale we have never seen before because of social media and because they have been able to produce high definition films and glossy magazines. Al Qaeda could never compete with Isis in terms of the propaganda being put out there. Isis has really set the standard in that regard.”

2016 MAY / JUNE

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Global Citizen 32  

Barack Obama graces the cover of the May/June issue of Global Citizen magazine. A niche business and luxury lifestyle title for high net wor...

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