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Close encounters of the hive mind
Shafiuddean Choudry

Shafiuddean Choudry presents his boarding pass at Heathrow for his flight to San Francisco. A red light flickers on the screen with the words ‘Enhanced checks’. It’s one thing being judged by a human, but a whole other being chewed through an algorithm, stripped of agency and categorised as a potential threat. From the intrusive Snooper’s Charter collecting data on an unprecedented scale to proprietary ‘black-box’ algorithms from Big Tech, our digital footprint when interacting with technology shapes how we are defined. Through each ‘Alexa, can you …’ or aimless scroll through Instagram, we’re algorithmic kindling. Algorithms aren’t interested in who we are as individuals. Nuance is stripped away; the fat is cut and we’re reduced to ones and zeroes. A machine-readable record; parsed and filed. A lifetime of studying and working in technology has taught Choudry that algorithms aggregate; they simplify and reduce. If you’re not an if or a then, then you’re an else. The edge case defined within a defined set of parameters. In a world where intelligence is artificial and machines learn, it’s of vital importance to understand what these parameters are and how their architects think. Moreover, is it possible to resist? How do we Ctrl+Alt+Del this Orwellian reality? This chapter is an exploration of how our personal data is exploited under the glare of algorithms and systems, and equips us with the knowledge of how to mitigate from becoming a search result from the future.

in I Refuse to Condemn
Remi Joseph-Salisbury

Remi Joseph-Salisbury reflects on his experiences as an anti-racist activist in the UK. As a Black mixed-race man involved in a number of community groups, he considers what it means to be asked to condemn racially minoritised communities generally, and Black communities particularly. Whilst recalling specific incidents to illustrate his arguments, he suggests that ‘calls to condemn’ are not always explicitly spoken but are constantly felt. These calls, he contends, are an attempt to shift the focus away from anti-racist critiques of structures and institutions and back towards always-already-pathologised communities of colour. Focusing on his work with the Northern Police Monitoring Project, the chapter evidences how despite the organisation’s understanding of the complex ways in which communities are placed under suspicion, the organisation was forced to condemn acts of interpersonal violence outside of its remit, in order to ensure their wider messaging would not be misunderstood. As cultural deficit arguments abound in the vacuum left by ‘post-racial’ mythology, the work of anti-racist scholars and activists becomes all the more difficult. Calls to condemn, therefore, act to maintain White supremacy. However, in societies that have already pushed people of colour to the margins, anti-racist actors must work against rather than with White supremacist power structures. We must, therefore, refuse to condemn.

in I Refuse to Condemn
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‘I utterly refuse to condemn …’
Shenaz Bunglawala

This chapter revisits insight research conducted to support the development of a communications strategy for Muslim organisations to create a greater disconnect between Muslims and terrorism. The research was completed by insight professionals at a leading market research institute and involved focus groups in five locations in the UK, a quantitative survey of a representative sample of the UK population and narrative testing of a script formulated from the results of the qualitative and quantitative analysis. The research centred on the ‘anxious middle’, those whose views on Islam and Muslims were deemed malleable, not impermeable, and open the possibility of a ‘shift in the dial’ of pre-existing negative attitudes and opinions towards Muslims. The research uncovered a range of spontaneous negative associations made with Muslims with terrorism appearing as the most common among the ‘anxious middle’ and the ‘sceptics’ sample populations with strident negative associations appearing in the latter group. The research notes that there appears to be ‘no awareness of any response to [terrorist] attacks from Muslim leaders or the wider community’ and that the survey and focus group data points to a ‘demand for a response to terrorist attacks by the Muslim “community”’. This chapter takes a fresh look at the data to examine why the demand for a Muslim response arises and what the narrative testing tells us about approaches to communicating on terrorism that engage a framework of how Muslims ‘should’ respond without tackling the axiomatic principles which render Muslim voices subordinate to external power dynamics.

in I Refuse to Condemn
Fahad Ansari

A Muslim and a lawyer specialising in national security cases, Fahad Ansari is often filled with anxiety that the actions of one of his clients who happens to share the same faith will result in him becoming the story: the centre of wall-to-wall coverage with insinuations of entryism, accusations of extremism and calls for condemnation. Whether that day comes or not, the reality is that his behaviour remains under scrutiny from the authorities, the judiciary and other lawyers because of his open Muslimness. He is regularly required to persuade an often sceptical court that many of the religious beliefs of his clients, such as the supremacy of shariah law, the establishment of a caliphate and jihad, do not fall exclusively within the realm of ‘extremist Muslims’ but are normative mainstream Islamic beliefs shared by over a billion Muslims. The fact that he does not attempt to conceal that he also shares some of those beliefs regularly results in him being regarded as suspect. Refusing to condemn, when society demands it, is enough to become suspect. Glorifying your belief system cements that suspicion. But Ansari takes it a step further which, for many in the profession, places him outside the fold of acceptability – as he condemns the oppressive nature of the legal system his clients are subjected to.

in I Refuse to Condemn
Hoda Katebi

In a world in which the Muslim identity has been essentialised into a hijab, donning the hijab instantaneously transforms the wearer from an unbiased third party to a biased apologist of any and all oppressive regimes and parties that call themselves Muslim. In a panel ‘dialogue’ between Hoda Katebi and Asra Nomani – a self-proclaimed ‘Muslim feminist reformer’ – a conversation about hijab and representation politics in the United States spiralled quickly into a hostile debate about global international politics, and a game of ‘how many things should Hoda condemn before she is allowed to speak’. This chapter describes how Katebi is interrogated by the media and audience members, about why she wears the hijab, despite the fact that more often than not, the questioning has no relevance to the subject of the panel/talk at hand. Islam is seen through a lens of being inherently foreign and a threat; everything private needs to be dissected and discussed for a public forum. Katebi charts how these conversations, in which she has to debate her humanity and justify her belief systems, result in her dehumanisation. They are only ever about a performance in a way that is consumable/acceptable within the parameters set within Western society – in a way that no one else is pressed to do.

in I Refuse to Condemn
Fatima Rajina

During the 1970s and 1980s, post-colonial migrants of Asian, African and Caribbean descent collaborated to confront the discrimination and exclusion they were facing in Britain. This chapter intends to explore the dynamic and complex relationship between the Bangladeshi community in the East End of London and the structural violence they endured. This community dealt with the National Front on the streets of East London and collaborated with other communities to lead the anti-racist movement of the 1980s. By drawing on the pivotal moment when Altab Ali was killed in 1978, this chapter will attempt to weave in and link the role of colonialism, the East End and the consequent galvanisation by the Bengali community. The colonial relationship is necessary to emphasise because the East India Company had its HQ in East London while in India its base was in Kolkata, West Bengal. The entanglements of geography and the Bengali community are crucial here and how the imperial metropole managed Bengalis ‘over there’ and how those from ‘over there’ then became a significant demographic in that metropole hundreds of years later.

in I Refuse to Condemn
Nadya Ali

‘It’s not the Negro problem, it’s the white problem. I’m only black because you think you’re white.’ – James Baldwin It is the age of the ‘Muslim problem’ which connotes the multitudinous ways the dress, eating habits and sexual preferences of Muslims have come to represent an immediate and present threat to Western civilisation. Pre-emptive counter-terrorism policies invite Muslims to take responsibility for acts of violence committed by others and to reform their communities under the mighty weight of state security apparatus and the judgement of wider society. However, it is James Baldwin’s insistence on the disease of Whiteness that mutilates and stunts the lives of African Americans – and what his words can teach us today – which is the point of departure for this chapter. In 1963, Baldwin wrote a letter to his nephew on the one hundredth anniversary of emancipation imploring him to recognise the reality of being rejected by the society into which he was born and to resist internalising the reasons for the vicious degradations White America visits upon its Black populations. This chapter continues in this vein. It was written following an attack by a White supremacist on two mosques in New Zealand, who ended fifty Muslim lives. It is written for the people who Nadya Ali thinks of first when violence is unleased against Muslims: her nieces and nephews. The chapter is a howl against this inheritance bestowed upon them and from which we, their elders, cannot seem to protect them. It is also a manifesto of resistance of how to live and thrive in a world which despises, shuns, incarcerates and kills Muslim life. It is about the centrality of love for survival and possibilities for political transformation.

in I Refuse to Condemn
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Dean Blackburn

The conclusion draws out some of the historiographical implications of the book’s narrative. It devotes particular attention to the way in which this narrative decentres the categories that have conventionally been employed to understand post-war political history. And it suggests ways in which the study of political thought can be enhanced by adopting a more conceptual approach to the history of ideas. An epilogue brings the book’s arguments into a dialogue with contemporary debates about distributive justice.

in Penguin Books and political change
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Dean Blackburn

The final chapter of the book discusses the social and political changes of the 1980s. By locating Penguin’s books in a broader context, it challenges the notion that Thatcherism reshaped Britain’s political landscape. Although some Thatcherite themes acquired a hegemonic status in this period, others often encountered considerable resistance. Indeed Penguin’s books reveal that the 1979 and 1983 elections did little to resolve the social antagonisms that had been exposed in the 1970s. Not only did many of its publications expose the contradictions of Thatcherite policies and beliefs, but they also popularised ideas that were incompatible with Thatcherism’s legitimising ideology. Some of these ideas would inform the New Labour project of the 1990s, and it is possible to argue that the origins of Thatcherism’s demise can be traced to the early 1980s.

in Penguin Books and political change
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Dean Blackburn

The introduction outlines the book’s narrative and situates it within relevant scholarly debates. The historical significance of Penguin Books’ ‘paperback revolution’ is established, and the reader is introduced to some of the ways in which the publisher’s history can be used to better understand the intellectual and cultural politics of post-war Britain. Particular attention is devoted to the way in which its non-fiction books can be employed to trace semantic and ideological change.

in Penguin Books and political change