Upstanding Neighbourhoods: Official Statement in response to CAGE’s Report (May 2016)

Recently there have been articles and reports published bringing our network, Upstanding Neighbourhoods (UN) into disrepute with false claims and misinformation so we wanted to share our thoughts and reassure our community, members and supporters that none of this will distract us from the good and honourable work we all carry out everyday.

We are disappointed that CAGE-who claim to be a human rights organisation protecting communities from misguided, divisive and ill-informed government policies – should themselves carry out a piece of 'research’ that is itself misguided, divisive and ill-informed.

It is an important point to note that the Guardian in researching their report on this issue, approached UN and in the interest of transparency we answered all questions providing all information requested. Without having been approached by CAGE for any comment it seems a profound coincidence that some of this information appeared in the “exclusive” CAGE research report and comes on the back of a public fundraising appeal by the activist group only a few weeks ago.

The sum total of this ‘expose’ is that poorly researched information and the deliberate misrepresentation of the actual context by a so-called Human Rights Advocacy organisation has put our members directly in harms way and damaged the confidence of the very people we rely on to give the network credibility and reach.

The local community and UN

Since 2010 ordinary Birmingham residents have taken to the streets to challenge extremist narratives that only served to divide communities and bring negative media attention to majority Muslim areas.

The members of UN have worked directly with faith institutions, faith leaders, community activists, local business people and other members of the public, to prepare statements and offer general support, as they are concerned with the impact of extremists on the local area. The network was truly borne out of direct action undertaken at street level. Through local people taking local action it coordinated campaigns and counter narrative activity long before the Government had a counter extremism strategy.

The Government and UN

It seems that by simply browsing our website and not having the decency to contact us directly, CAGE has made wide-ranging and somewhat conspiratorial assumptions that our members are government representatives and/or disseminate government messaging and propaganda.

UN has a diverse and open membership base that reflects all aspects of British society in terms of ethnicity, nationality and faith etc and also in terms of socio-economic status.

Our current members include local Imams, youth workers, community activists, parents and families, educators, counsellors, and public sector workers.

UN is a volunteer network. It is not an organisation full of government employees as CAGE surmises. Whilst members can have personal links to the public sector, or indeed any other sector, they do not join UN as a part of their official employment - they join as a collective of individuals passionate about safeguarding their communities.

Our current membership consists of individuals who are active in challenging extremism on issues relating to both religious ideology as well as extremism inspired by nationalism or hate, such as the Far Right in the UK.

Moreover, it is wrong and factually incorrect to suggest that our members work within the security establishment. We are a volunteer community network in the conventional sense of the term and no member has ever been coerced, influenced, remunerated or rewarded to say or act in a particular manner by any statutory or governmental agency.

Members of Upstanding Neighbourhoods

Sulaimaan Samuel is a Channel mentor and an asset to the network by virtue of the depth of the understanding and knowledge he has around mentoring vulnerable young people who have consented to the Channel process. Sulaimaan is not employed by the Home Office or Prevent – his work as a Channel mentor is in an individual capacity and he is called upon when required. Channel is an entirely consensual process and to our knowledge no individual is ever forced to comply with the programme against their wishes.

For clarity, UN is a counter narrative network and NOT a referral mechanism for Prevent or any other Governmental agency or program. However should there be a need to refer someone who is in need of support and help, UN is able to facilitate appropriate support with a range of practitioners and community organisations that form the wider network.

Mohammed Ashfaq and the KIKIT Pathways to Recovery programme is one such service that adds much needed value and expertise to the network. We are pleased to partner with groups such as KIKIT and are proud to promote the good work of our partners on our website and social media channels. Such partnerships give confidence to the public that a wide range of community based support is available to vulnerable individuals.

Kashan Amar and Radical Thinker CIC became involved with UN formally since 2013 in order to provide coordination and increase the impact and efficacy of the activist network. This was at a time when network activity was going through a period of intensity in response to an increased negative portrayal of Birmingham communities due to high profile arrests and investigations.

As an experienced practitioner with many years service across the public, private and voluntary sectors, Kashan brings invaluable frontline experience on issues such as equalities, human rights and community cohesion to the network. These experiences add value to the network and help increase the range and scope of our campaigns. Associating social network references on the business website ‘LinkedIn’ by individuals with similar interests is by no means a way of endorsing a relationship that is anything other than professional and proper.

Mick Gillick MBE has never been involved with Radical Thinker CIC and has no connection whatsoever with the delivery of UN. This is a complete fabrication and a somewhat disingenuous attempt at randomly aligning Kashan's professional and social contacts online together, to create nefarious connections that simply do not exist. (Former Superintendent Gillick will of course be aware of Upstanding Neighbourhoods given his former role as a senior police officer in the city of Birmingham).

There are multiple layers to central and local government and to suggest that such cross sector partnerships are a cause for concern is naive and demonstrates political immaturity on the part of CAGE’s researchers. The supposedly suspicious professional relationships highlighted in the CAGE report do not represent anything untoward or unusual given the context. Kashan Amar is NOT a government employee and has no links with the “Security Establishment”.

Upstanding members and Birmingham communities have been working hard for many years to challenge extremism in all its forms in order to build safe and prosperous communities and the majority of this work has been undertaken independent of the Prevent agenda and we will continue to maintain that independence. However where Prevent can add value, the network will continue to work with the agenda openly and transparently whilst maintaining the necessary discretion.

RICU and Breakthrough Media

The CAGE report mentions our Open Your Eyes (OYE) campaign and suggests this is a governmentorchestrated campaign, which is far from the truth. The concept behind our OYE campaign has been the cornerstone of our work to challenge extremist narratives ever since the networks inception around 2010. In common with other civil society groups across the country, also referenced in the CAGE report, we have taken advantage of an offer to work with RICU to utilise its professional communications services to help us widen and increase the impact of our message, predominantly online. These services have included technical support for film production; helping us to increase our online footprint; and public relations advice.

The CAGE report references the Breakthrough Media support provided to our OYE campaign. Breakthrough Media have helped film some of our responses directly from other areas of the country and we have maintained editorial control throughout.

Our campaign encourages ordinary members of the public who may not be directly involved with UN to contribute their perspectives and opinions on video direct to the website. It is not unusual for content for our campaigns to be developed by a wide range of contributors, producers, supporters, networks and agencies. OYE provides a platform for user-generated content and we are ably supported by Breakthrough Media in increasing the reach, amplification and scope of our content.

We grew up in the communities in which we work, we continue to live in these communities, and we know the people and understand the issues the way others do not. As activists and volunteers we are passionate about our work, and will continue to remain resolute, dedicated and open to helping bring about positive change within our communities.