Six writers and activists pulled out of the Bradford literature festival[BLF], which took place 28th June – 7th July 2019, after it was revealed that it was funded in part by the UK Home Office Programme, “Building a Stronger Britain Together [BSBT]”, part of the 2015 counter-extremism strategy that funds and supports groups “involved in counter-extremism projects in their communities”.
I was invited to speak at the Bradford Literature Festival to discuss the impact of Dirilis Ertugrul on Muslim youth.
— Dilly Hussain (@DillyHussain88) June 19, 2019
Poet Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan was the first to withdraw. In a statement, Manzoor-Khan suggested that accepted this funding “implied that the festival has a Counter Extremism angle to it which…would be legitimising the government’s approach to Muslims”. She considers the UK’s CVE strategy is based on the premise “that Muslims are predisposed to violence and therefore require monitoring and surveillance. She argues that the implication that a literature festival can reduce the risk of radicalisation “reinforces the logic that the onus for ending disenfranchisement and political violence lies with the individual, not with the state or institutions that create the conditions that create the conditions and context of that violence”, examples of which she gives include foreign policy, structural racism, surveillance.
Those who have withdrawn have pointed out that much of their work explicitly criticises the impact of counter-extremism policies. For example, another withdrawer Malia Bouattia, former president of the National Union of Students in the UK notes “Not only have I been invited to discuss my chapter in a recent book, which discusses the destructive effect of such funding on Muslim—and particularly Muslim women’s –political spaces, but I am also a committed campaigner against the normalisation of so-called counter extremism programs used to undermine civil liberties as well as stigmatise and discriminate against an entire community.”
While not accepted as a legitimate reason to accept the funding, the good faith of the organisers has been acknowledged, especially in the light of austerity, where funding is scarce elsewhere. Manzoor-Khan told the Guardian that the government cuts funding to community spaces only to then award money to Muslim or BAME communities under a counter-extremism lens.
Criticism of the event, and the funding of projects by the “Building a Stronger Britain Together” programme has been linked to criticism of ‘Prevent’, another of the UK government’s counter-extremism strategy that imposes a duty on specified authorities, including universities, to have “due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”, and which has been heavily critiqued for stopping free speech on campus, demonising Muslims, and has been described as “a McCarthyistic system, drawing university staff into the task of security surveillance”.
The decision by the writers and activists has been praised on twitter:
Your withdrawal is nothing but honourable. I wish you nothing but strength and love. People do not realise how much the integrity of the artist can be compromised across all mediums. "Diversity" on stage means nothing if "progress" backstage is stagnant.
— Birdspeed (@BirdspeedHero) June 20, 2019
It says a lot about certain figures/panels who are still participating in the Bradford Literature Festival after it was exposed as a CVE project. We cant claim to want to resist islamophobic structures if we continue to participate & legitimise them
— Aisha (@shariahaisha) July 6, 2019