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Six speakers boycott Bradford Literature Festival in anti-extremism funding row
From The Yorkshire Post
Speakers scheduled to appear at a literary festival have pulled out after learning the event is part-funded by a Government counter-extremism strategy. Six figures - including writers, journalists and activists - have backtracked after learning the annual event was receiving funding from Building a Stronger Britain Together (BSBT), a Home Office programme which funds various community groups.
The programme has been criticised for unfairly targeting members of the Muslim community, leading to the decision to withdraw from six writers and speakers at the Festival.
Bradford-born writer Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan was first to announce she was pulling out, saying in a statement: "The government's counter-extremism strategy relies on the premise that Muslims are pre-disposed to violence and therefore require monitoring and surveillance, rather than that the material and systematic conditions of economic, racial and Islamophobic violence need addressing as causes of individual perpetration of violence."
Also to boycott are former National Union of Students president Malia Bouattia, activist Sahar Al-Faifi, feminist scholar Lola Olufemi, Waithera Sebatindira and journalist Hussein Kesvani.
Not mentioned by the Yorkshire Post, but given some prominence by the Islamic website 5Pillars is Dilly Hussain, deputy editor of 5Pillars.
Dilly Hussain posted on Facebook: “I was invited to speak at the Bradford Literature Festival to discuss the impact of Dirilis Ertugrul and Ottoman history on Muslim youth. Initially I had accepted the invitation, but later declined after I found out that the initiative had received money from the Home Office’s ‘Building a Stronger Britain Together’ fund, a counter-extremism program. I would encourage others who have been invited to decline the invitation in making a principled stand against government funded initiatives that are driven towards framing problematic narratives for our community under the guise of “celebrating literature and culture”.
Malia Bouattia - racist, anti-semitic, even the other students had enough of her. Not that her replacement was much of an improvement in real terms, but she wasn't invited to the festival, so that is off topic.
Lola Olufemi - keen to remove Englishmen and women (and Scots, Irish and Welsh) from the university English Literature curriculum. "a ‘traditional’ and ‘canonical’ approach that elevates white male authors at the expense of all others . . curriculum, taken as a whole, risks perpetuating institutional racism.”
Waithera Sebatindira - Cambridge crony of Olufemi.
Sahar Al-Faifi - Molecular geneticist and professional niqabi
Mr Kesvani was due to give a talk on Friday, June 28, with MP Imran Hussain, titled 'Conflicted Identity: South Asian British Youth', about his recent book Follow Me Akhi: The Online World of British Muslims.
He said speaking at the festival would be a conflict of interests after interviewing young Muslim Brits for the book, some of whom "expressed how the expansive counter-extremism programme had affected their ability to express their religious identity".
Speaking to the Yorkshire Post, Mr Kesvani said: "I decided to pull out out of respect to my sources in the book. . . I felt they wouldn't have been okay with me telling their stories being told in a setting where [counter-extremism] had a key role.
A statement on Bradford Literature Festival's website said: "Some of this year’s projects are supported by the Home Office’s ‘Building A Stronger Britain Together’ fund (BSBT). The funding has allowed us to do important work with women’s community groups. This has been hugely valued by the groups themselves, and has received appreciative feedback from participants and community leaders.
...for us, in the context of this festival, the focus of the BSBT work has been on promoting the value of education and the importance of literacy, which is central to the ethos of this festival.
As a South Asian, Muslim-led organisation, BLF is entirely conscious of the opinion some parts of the Muslim community hold about the BSBT programme – and whilst we acknowledge and value the perspective and opinion, it isn’t one, on this matter, that we share.
"We regret that the support offered by BSBT to these specific projects has led to a number of speakers withdrawing from the festival programme. Our door is always open to working with these speakers in the future and we wish them well."
So a festival set up to promote non-white/nonEnglish literature, which by definition would not include local writers like Keith Waterhouse (from Leeds, best known work Billy Liar) Barry Hines from Barnsley (he wrote A Kestrel for a Knave, later filmed as Kes), Poet Laureate Ted Hughes from Mytholmroyd, the Bronte sisters of Haworth, Margaret Drabble, Susan Hill and Winifred Holtby ( close friend of Vera Brittain) is boycotted by women who want those writers off the education curriculum in favour of BAME writers like those championed by this festival.
Never mind. Wuthering Heights will still be read when you all are a hissing in the dark.