Luqman Ali of Khayaal Theatre published a “rebuttal” to “allegations” that have been made in my article on NZF. It can be found in the comment section of the first piece and as a published note on Facebook. This piece examines his statement.
Investigative journalist Nafeez Ahmed shared Ali’s statement exclaiming it was a “thorough rebuttal” of “absurd claims” before proceeding to attack this blog and 5PillarsUK in a Trump-like fashion saying they were “promoting fake news”. This came as a surprise, given in 2016, Ahmed said that the “state of the science” when it comes to understanding “radicalisation” is “truly crap”. It seems his normally astute investigative qualities had taken leave, offering blind support to a man who blatantly operates by his own words within the same “crap” precrime, counter-extremism sphere.
Luqman Ali’s Statement
Luqman’s statement is loaded with his own interpretations and deflections of what is presented in the article. Thus, Ali’s statement asserts that the facts pointed out the in article are allegations which are “unfounded”, “false, inaccurate and defamatory, based on guilt by association”. Of course, once again, nothing is really put forward to actually prove this lack of substantiation and inaccuracy. What the first NZF article presented were factual, referenced, publicly available statements which can be confirmed again by any objective reader.
Below is a summary of what is covered about Khayaal and Ali from the original article:
- How Khayaal operates, among other things, to “challenge extremism” – this is from their website.
- How Luqman’s bio states he is a fellow of Ariane de Rothschild Fellowship (ARF). I highlight how its president is pro-Israel, praises the Herzliya neocon conference and positively cites Ariel Sharon. I question why he would have this fellowship proudly outlined in his bio.
- How Luqman in the earliest phases of PREVENT was involved in implementing its objectives. I quote a BBC article which states that Khayaal plays helped “prevent young Muslims who may be susceptible to extremism”.
- I highlight his PREVENT funding, documented in Hansard.
- I highlight his attendance at ISD. I show ISD promoting Ali’s presence, with Khayaal Tweeting about how Ali was advocating the use of “story and dream within Islam to challenge extremist narratives and nurture inclusion”.
- How his “unintegrated/conflicted identity” theory in his article on ISIS mimicked PREVENT, and how he proposed Muslims should assert “story and dream” to combat radicalisation.
- How Ali is involved in Amal which has trustees that are arms dealers, with one being a signatory to the Statement of Principles of the Henry Jackson Society.
Khayaal’s own website, Luqman’s own bio, and his own words and articles demonstrate that he operates within the pre-crime, counter-extremism epistemology. He counters all this with three basic points:
- His work predates PREVENT.
- His “real” work is not taken account of.
- He has been critical of PREVENT.
The first point, and the fact that he has been doing other charitable, community-oriented work, is immaterial to the issues raised in the first NZF article.
So, what is the real nature of his work? And what does his criticism of PREVENT amount to? Let’s take a look.
According to Ali’s statement, there is a conflation between his work and “constructive engagement”:
“Ali and Khayaal’s work over decades including in relation to these allegations has consistently provided a critical approach to Prevent… This has led to a conflation of Ali and Khayaal’s efforts to transform mainstream/establishment narratives around Muslims through creative, critical and constructive engagement with the insinuation that they are operating as tools of state repression of Muslim communities”
There is no conflation here. This is incorrect. His work by his own words fulfils counter-extremism objectives. This is blatantly apparent from the above summary and the original article. It will also become clearer as we proceed further.
In explaining away PREVENT funding, Ali states that he could criticise PREVENT and present his own approach to addressing “the issue of extremism” and “he did” (note that this is an admission that he operated within the counter-extremism epistemology). He highlights how his plays critiqued PREVENT and foreign policy and proceeds to present some quotes from the plays. He repeats his claim that his PREVENT funding was pulled because he was critical of PREVENT.
I believe Luqman had criticisms of PREVENT. Many had criticisms. This does not mean that he was not delivering PREVENT objectives albeit using his own methods whilst in receipt of PREVENT-funding. Moreover, any “critical approach” taken to PREVENT is useless because it is operational through the PREVENT framework and the predetermined counter-extremism epistemology. According to the government, Khayaal received its funding,
“…to build its capacity for growth and sustainability in order to deliver between 200-250 performances of their two plays “Hearts and Minds” and “Sun and Wind” in schools across the country over the next three years. Both of these plays address the issues of radicalisation and extremism as they manifest themselves in families and communities.”
Why hasn’t Ali claimed the government is making false claims and insinuations too?
This is why the BBC saw it fit to report Luqman’s plays as helping “prevent young Muslims who may be susceptible to extremism”. It also possibly explains why in 2007, Khayaal associate director Eleanor Martin posed with a Union Jack Hijab modelling for “British Islam”, which featured on the cover of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s (FCO) “Muslims in Britain” brochure at time when the FCO was “engineering” a “moderate” British Islam. By doing so, Martin predated the imagery in Sara Khan’s vapid government-backed “Making a Stand” campaign by some twelve years.
All this makes one wonder why Ali takes issue in his statement with his plays being described as “counter-extremism plays”. That’s precisely what they were!
And what is Ali’s “critical approach” which constitutes his “autonomous agenda”?
He says he attended the 2015 CVE conference to “defend Muslims” by “advocating that Muslims themselves be allowed to draw on resources within Islam to address extremism on their own terms”. This is defending Muslims by promoting self-harm: don’t demonise us through structures of pre-crime, let us erect these structures ourselves for some self-flagellation and demonisation. What kind of “critical approach” is this?
This point applies to his justification for attending ISD too, who were happily liking his Tweets. Whilst Luqman was hypothesising how he would like pre-crime policies to be, ISD was promoted Luqman’s presence, which is imperative for pre-crime CVE organisations and policies to survive and perpetuate – Muslims engaging such conferences increases the credibility of the institutes involved and the CVE agenda itself.
Luqman clearly shows off his counter-extremism credentials in his 2016 article which I have referenced in the original piece:
“as the co-founder of an organisation that has striven to develop resilience to extremist narratives in young people for almost two decades, I do identify underlying soft psycho-cultural factors that generate vulnerability to extremism and are common to all recruits.”
His core theory is to use Islam to challenge extremism. His addition is to use stories to do this. As I wrote in my original piece, his work “operates in the pre-criminal counter-terrorism intervention sphere under the guise of drama and play”. This is an accurate representation of what Luqman in his own words says he is doing. Pre-criminal intervention instrinsically shifts the focus from conduct to demonised enemy identities which remain “ever-potentially problematic” and form the basis for various bogus theoretical frameworks which inherently produce and reproduce injustice. By contributing to it, by engaging with it, by asserting the development of “resilience to extremist narratives in young people” Ali is perpetuating the crystallization of the Muslim enemy identity construction albeit in manner which Ali considers “holistic and humanitarian”.
Regarding PREVENT funding, receipt of PREVENT money through basically favouritism (incidentally, who were the Muslim contacts in DCLG?) and a lack of funds are poor excuses (point 6) to justify precrime policy implementation.
Ali repeats his claim that his funding was cut because of his “critical engagement with Prevent”. I requested evidence for this in the comments section of my first NZF article. Nothing was forthcoming then, and neither is it still in his statement. It is important to note that the PREVENT Strategy was being criticised in 2010 for funding projects which were seen as irrelevant and unfocussed, with neocons highlighting the need to focus on “British values”. The 2011 Strategy reflected this, reorienting its abusive mechanic from employing “moderate” Sufis to promoting “British values”. Many organisations at that time saw their PREVENT funding cut. So, was Ali’s funding cut because of this policy change and cascading change in delivery approach, or his unsubstantiated claims of criticism?
Interestingly, Ali omits any “rebuttals” about his involvement with Amal and its arms-dealing trustees, one of whom is a signatory to the Statement of Principles of the hate-financed Henry Jackson Society. Amal issues grants for work done that “fosters a stronger sense of belonging among British Muslims”. Again, this is precrime, counter-extremism rhetoric.
Nowhere in the section about Ali is it claimed, or a notion put forward that Ali “subscribes to a pro-Israeli agenda”. This is a false statement as it implies deliberate support, something I do not ascribe to Ali. What is highlighted is what has been outlined in the summary above. It is questioned as to why Ali would promote his fellowship with the Arianne de Rothschild Fellowship (ARF).
Ali sweeps away his ARF fellowship using similar logics to PREVENT: he portrayed Islam positively; defended Palestinian rights and refuted Zionist narratives in an ARF conference and conveyed a “better understanding of Islam”. They also provide some good training.
How does this blinkered view excuse the fact Ali has engaged with an institution whose eponymous president praises conferences where anti-Muslim policies are formed and positively quotes the mass-murderer Ariel Sharon? The “autonomous agenda” means nothing when the ARF website does not have these supposed critiques of Zionist narratives anywhere. What it does have is Ali’s face plastered as a “fellow” with positive comments providing credibility to an institute that in the end serves Israeli interests:
“I am absolutely delighted to have been awarded a place on this year’s fellowship and have already made very valuable connections.”
Perhaps this association does not make Ali feel uncomfortable. For many other Muslims and Palestinians suffering under occupation, such an association is morally untenable.
The issue at stake here is not Ali’s sincerity, or how amazing much of Ali’s community work is (or isn’t). It is the fact that the Ummah’s wealth has been used to fund Ali as a “leader” and his work, aspects of which are clearly problematic for many Muslims both theologically and from a policy perspective.
Would zakat payers fund Ali and his work? Respectfully, I for one would not. I suspect many others wouldn’t either. And it is this absence of choice and transparent decision-making which NZF has assumed unto itself that has been at issue.
In its finality, the statement remains far from a “comprehensive rebuttal” it was sold to be. It is more of a mishmash of excuses and detail that is either irrelevant or ends up proving my points.
[We wish Khayaal good luck in its legal endeavours on this matter.]
Postscript – NZF
NZF have taken steps to allow zakat-payers the option to fund the poor only, and have paused their leadership funding process. This is positive. Skirting the response to the question as to whether Luqman Ali and Julie Siddiqi have been funded, by time-limiting the response to the “last 12 months”, less so. Logical shenanigans aside, the last piece demonstrated the disconcerting amounts of zakat money used to fund individuals categorised as “leaders”. I remain sceptical as to whether NZF will scrap their “leadership” initiative, given how their “vision and mission” remain the same.
NZF have also refused to release the list of individuals funded as “leaders”. This is highly problematic. It remains to be seen whether Muslims will trust the organisation in the face of such opacity.
Measures can be taken to restore this trust, however. An independent, non-deformist, scholarly panel set up to review the funding decisions in the last two years with a report published at the end is a must. If there is no review of this dubious past, the future for NZF looks dim.