Five withdrawals from the Bradford Literature Festival over counter-extremism funding

Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan, famously known as “The Brown Hijabi”, is known for her viral spoken-word poetry and describes herself as “writing, speaking, poeming, and educating on race, gender, Islamophobia, and (de)coloniality to disrupt narratives and destabilise binaries”.

Just yesterday, however, Suhaiymah made the now highly controversial decision to withdraw from the well-known Bradford Literature Festival, after finding out the event was in part funded by the British government’s counter-extremism program.

The Home Office’s “Building a Stronger Britain Together” program is highly controversial not only because it has been accused of specifically targeting both ethnic minorities and Muslim citizens, but because of the way in which it frames the priorities of counter-extremism as needing to infiltrate communities in order to prevent future instances of terrorism. Many have pointed to the fact that this only marginalizes and divides communities that are already sidelined by the government.

Uploading a full statement on her Twitter account, Suhaiymah expressed understanding at the lack of funding opportunities for events like the Bradford Literature Festival, but remained highly critical of its decision to accept funds from programs like “Building a Stronger Britain Together”.

I was alarmed to see BLF on the list of BSBT recipients as it implied that the festival had a counter-extremism angle to it…the government’s counter-extremism strategy relies on the premise that Muslims are predisposed to violence and therefore require monitoring and surveillance. If BLF were connected to BSBT then there was a suggestion that access to literature can ‘reduce the ris of radicalisation’, which in turn reinforces the logic that the onus for ending disenfranchisement and political violence lies with individuals, not the state”.

After her tweet went viral, many showed enthusiastic support, with other presenters who were scheduled to participate in the Bradford Literature Festival also withdrawing as well. Influential creatives, including Malia Bouattia, Ola Olufemi, and Sahar Al-Faifi all issued statements on their Twitter accounts in regards to their withdrawals.

Receiving both praise and criticism, Suhaiymah has stood by her decision and believes that as someone who works relentlessly towards combating Islamophobia and colonialist culture in our society today, she could not show any affiliation towards an event that was connected in any way to the Home Office’s counter-extremism policies.

On a personal note my withdrawal is also necessary because the work I was going to present at BLF directly criticises the government’s CE agenda for the way it criminalises Muslims. I cannot both critique and endorse such CE narratives”.

The Bradford Literature Festival has issued a statement in response to Suhaiymah’s withdrawal from the event, claiming that “the BSBT programme is a broad initiative, working with communities across the board. For us, the focus of the BSBT work has been on promoting the value of education and the importance of literacy. We sincerely hope that Suhaiymah will work with us again in the future”.


Edit: Since publishing this article, Hussein Kesvani has also issued a statement on his withdrawal: