Amina Muslim Women's Resource Centre (Amina MWRC) was given a £15000 grant for "tackling radicalism" in the year ending 31 March 2015, according to accounts filed at Company House. Amina have been asked to explain their use of this funding but have not yet responded.
It seems likely that the grant was used to fund Amina's Take Ownership workshops, targeting young Muslims aged between 14 and 25 years. This assumption is supported by information leaked to SACC in December 2015.
Amina has previously been unforthcoming when asked whether it had received funds connected to Prevent, the UK government programme for tackling radicalism. In a statement issued in March, Amina said that the Take Ownership project "is not funded through UK Prevent."
But delivery of the UK's Prevent strategy in Scotland is coordinated by the Scottish Preventing Violent Extremism Unit (SPVEU). The SPVEU is run jointly by the Scottish Government and Police Scotland. As far as I am aware, it is the only official channel used to provide Prevent funding to organisations headquartered in Scotland. No meaningful distinction can be made between UK Prevent and Prevent delivery in Scotland.
The Scottish Government says: "Prevent is part of the UK Government's CONTEST strategy, however the way in which we deliver it in Scotland is through devolved functions, reflects Scottish differences and is specific to the needs of Scottish communities."
The Scottish Government has so far refused to name the organisations that it funds in connection with Prevent. It says: "We do not disclose details of funding where to do so would prejudice our ability to reach those who are vulnerable."
This policy of secrecy means that the public has no idea how the Scottish Government is disbursing its Prevent funds.
Even more disturbingly, it means that people participating in activities arranged by third sector organisations have no idea whether they are receiving genuinely independent opinion and guidance, or whether they are just being targeted by government propaganda. Amina says the "Take Ownership workshop materials are completely constructed by and are the property of Amina". Perhaps so. But if the material was in fact constructed with government funds provided for the purpose of tackling radicalism, it would be very naive to think that it could be independent of government policy on radicalism.
The workshops were advertised as covering Scottish and Muslim identity, social media and ISIS, refuting ISIS, islamophobia and internet safety. Despite the references to ISIS, the parents of children attending the workshops would probably be surprised to learn that the workshops were intended to tackle radicalism. Comments circulated by Amina in support of the workshops certainly suggest that attendees had different priorities. One comment was:
"very helpful for me, I feel confident in reporting racism and islamophobia in the future. It was very interesting with thought provoking discussions".
Islamophobia is a major problem. It is very disappointing that Amina appears to have instrumentalised islamophobia in pursuit of the government's counter-radicalism strategy.
None of comments circulated by Amina mentioned radicalism.
Safa Yousaf, who coordinates the Take Ownership workshops for Amina, told the Sunday Herald in December:
"Young Muslims feel that if they speak out about what they believe they might be accused of something. There is the fear of constantly having to justify yourself so they are not able to speak freely in classes because they might be labelled. Teachers are telling me that they can tell the kids are being more restricted."
Amina's lack of transparency over its workshops can only exacerbate the climate of suspicion, profiling and self-censorship.
This is part of a wider problem. A report published by Cage this week reveals that the Home Office and a secretive government department called RICU (the Research, Information and Communications Unit) has been cultivating a network of 'grass roots' Muslim voices to promote 'counter-narratives' to combat the appeal of 'extremist narratives' among Britain's young people. The authors, Ben Hayes and Asim Qureshi, say: "Without transparency and accountability, communities will not trust government, and people will not trust anyone."
Amina's conduct is particularly troubling because in September 2015 Amina gave its support to a statement pledging to take no funds from Prevent and to "support non-cooperation, wherever possible, with local Prevent programmes." The £15000 known to have been given to Amina by the Scottish Goverment for "tackling radicalism" predates this statement. Amina's failure to disclose its earlier funding makes its support for the statement very misleading. Worse still, Amina continued to run the "Take Ownership" workshops after giving its support to the "Together Against Prevent" statement. If trust is to be restored, Amina must explain how the "tackling radicalism" grant was used and set out its current position on Prevent.
I contacted Amina in December 2015 regarding their suspected use of Prevent funds. Responses in December 2015 and January 2016, followed by a statement in March 2016, have failed to shed any light on the matter
On 2 May I emailed Samina Ansari, Chief Executive of Amina, as follows:
"I notice that the financial statement filed at Company House for Amina MWRC for the year ending 31 March 2015 lists a grant of £15000 described as 'Scottish Government - Tackling Radicalism'.
The description clearly falls within the remit of the Prevent strategy. Please let me know whether this funding was provided through the Scottish Preventing Violent Extremism Unit (SPVEU), or otherwise in connection with Prevent. Please also let me know whether funds from this grant were used to develop and/or deliver the "Take Ownership" workshops.
I appreciate that this grant was received prior to Amina making a commitment, in the "Together Against Prevent" statement, to refuse Prevent funding. If it is the case that Amina has received Prevent funds in the recent past, but is now committed to taking no further Prevent funding and to avoiding cooperation with Prevent, it would be very helpful if you could clarify that."
I am awaiting a response.
The financial report for Amina for the year ending 31 March 2015 (filed in August 2015) can be freely downloaded from Company House. The report for the year ending 31 March 2016 is not yet available.
SACC supports the Together Against Prevent statement and we urge other groups who are serious about refusing Prevent funds to do the same. You can sign up here.
SACC's policy on Prevent and discussions about ISIS is as follows:
"SACC shares the concerns felt by many people over recruitment to the Islamic State, especially of young people. We believe that this issue is best dealt with through free, open and informed discussion of all the issues surrounding the Islamic State and British policy in the Middle East and North Africa, conducted in an environment that is as safe as possible for all the participants. This cannot be done except in spaces from which Prevent has been excluded." (SACC statement).