Artists withdraw from Bradford Literature Festival after Counter Extremism funding revealed

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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”.

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Those who have withdrawn have pointed out that much of their work explicitly criticises the impact of counter-extremism policies.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:

 

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Sources

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/jun/20/six-pull-out-bradford-literature-festival-counter-extremism-funding

https://twitter.com/thebrownhijabi/status/1141329406260068353/photo/1

https://twitter.com/MaliaBouattia/status/1141414757079158785