Guardian Profiles “Cheerleaders”

The Guardian reports:

Tehmina Kazi wears modest western dress and believes in plurality and diversity within her faith, Islam. For her pains, she has been labelled a whore, admonished for not wearing the hijab and accused, inaccurately, of wearing short skirts by people she has never met, writing online.

When she defended Usama Hasan, the London imam who faced death threats and was suspended from Leyton mosque last month after he said evolution was compatible with Islam, she had to go to police after receiving threats of her own.

Despite this, Kazi, the director of British Muslims for Secular Democracy, remains defiant in her role as one of the small but growing number of British Muslim women challenging and combating Islamic extremism.

…Rabia Mirza, who is involved with Cheerleaders Against Everything speaks about how involvement in fighting extremism has strengthened her faith. A disparate group with an anarchic sense of humour, reflected in its title, it has managed to get under the skin of both Islamic extremists and leftwingers. As well as mounting counter-demonstrations against extremists groups, its members go on extremist forums to argue their case.

Cheerleaders has informal links with Kazia’s BMSD as well as, controversially, the English Defence League. Ex-EDL members, who remain committed to challenging extremism but quit the far-right group because of a belief it was indiscriminate in its attacks on Islam, have joined with the Cheerleaders to form an organisation called the Nice Ones. Mirza says the idea is to link with those – “very few” – within the EDL whose goal is to combat Islamic extremism, rather than just oppose Islam.

This tells part of the story. I’ve encountered Mirza myself on a Facebook discussion forum, and in my experience she’s intelligent, moderate, and working in good faith to oppose Islamic extremism. It’s also true that the ex-EDL members associated with the “Nices Ones” group (or “NicesOnesUK”) are opposed to the EDL’s anti-Muslim extremism; the EDL is regularly criticised on the “Nice Ones” Facebook page, and claims published elsewhere that it is an EDL “front group” are, based on what I’ve seen, inaccurate (and accusations of “racism” are certainly off-base).

However, the report fails to give the full flavour of all that goes on in the name of the “Cheerleaders”: its prime mover, a man named Charlie Flowers, uses it as a vehicle to harass people he dislikes. This does not just mean Islamic extremists: Flowers used to be involved with Dominic Wightman’s “VIGIL Network“, and he used the “Cheerleaders” to intimidate a university lecturer who had discovered that Wightman was dishonest. When the blogger Tim Ireland and I discovered the same thing about Wightman, the “Cheerleaders” released Tim’s home address in an attempt to intimidate, and sent a stream of crudely abusive and threatening messages. Away from politics, Flowers has also used the “Cheerleaders” to harass individuals who had been victimised by Farah Damji (although Flowers appears since to fallen out with both Wightman and Damji).

There are also irresponsible attempts to manipulate extremists, as I noted here and here.

Naturally, for daring to point this out I’ve also become a target: Flowers uses the “Nice Ones” Facebook page to denounce me as a “Communist” and as a “Nazi” in league with Islamic extremists (alongside childish jibes such as “fat cunt”). He also recently created 10 or so anonymous blogs attacking me along the same lines.

Efforts by the likes of Mirza and Kazi to oppose Islamic extremism deserve support. What they don’t need, though, is a thrill-seeking vigilante muddying the waters. The problem for Mirza in particular is that Flowers has one or more accomplices in the “Cheerleaders”, and that he and they sometimes use sockpuppet accounts. I don’t think that Mirza has anything to do with this, but the way Flowers behaves means she’s likely to be tarred by association.

9 Responses

  1. BMSD. Yes, well. I’ve heard some of its members are goodly folk, but there is another associate that concerns me – Taj “Don’t mention my time in the USA” Hargey. Considering this guy is a professional academic at one of Britain’s most prestigious institutions, he is prone to spouting vituperative nonsense about Islam/Muslims, even describing Tablighi as an “ultra-conservative and extremist” sect in The Times.

  2. […] claims to be an activist against Islamic extremism, and he’s managed to persuade a few people who should know better that he’s on the level. However, he’s really a vigilante rather than an activist, using […]

  3. […] group I haven’t been particularly impressed by this; according to a report in the Guardian in April, NiceOnes was formed by the “Cheerleaders” working with Kazi’s British Muslims […]

  4. […] advertising “Cheerleaders Against Islamic Extremism” – a group which I have had to write about a number of times, and which boasts of working with groups such as the Quilliam Foundation. An […]

  5. […] Flowers goes on to boast of his links to the Guardian: that would be reference to a profile of his “Cheerleaders” group by Haroon Siddique which appeared in April. […]

  6. […] friendship with Lake back in December 2010. The article also discusses Flowers’ “Cheerleaders” group and the “Anti-Extremism Alliance” […]

  7. […] to my post on the Facebook page of Flowers’ “Cheerleaders Against Everything” group, and she has expressed her approval (via the “Like” button) of comments following from […]

  8. […] with the jurisdiction of where the murder takes place. Muslims who spoke in support of Hasan were also targeted with […]

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