Reuters International

By Elisabeth O'Leary

EDINBURGH (Reuters) - Islamic State (IS) violence can only be tackled if Muslims stand up for their views of what real Islam is, according to a rare female voice within the British Muslim community.

Human rights campaigner Sara Khan argues in a new book that combatting IS needs the development of religious counter-arguments to violent extremism, and she calls for an "amplification" of faith teaching which deconstructs Islamist ideology to help stop Islamists recruiting young Britons.

"Confronting any type of extremism lies in championing genuine human rights and embracing democracy, none of which are antithetical to Islam’s teachings," Khan argues in "The Battle for British Islam", presented at the Edinburgh book festival.

"If we are to have any hope of defeating Islamist extremism, we must all protect the middle ground."

Khan has raised awareness of the complex issues for Muslims regarding violent extremism and hopes her work will encourage women to take a more prominent role.

She has faced harassment and threats for working with a government-funded programme which seeks to eradicate radicalisation of young Muslims.

"The seemingly unstoppable growth of puritanical and Islamist ideology in Muslim communities troubles me deeply," she says. "I still meet many young Muslims who believe that Islamism (which rejects gender equality and democracy) is authentic Islam."

Her book, to be published in September, describes how young people are radicalised via social media, providing case studies.

Thousands of Muslims, including more than 800 Britons, have left Europe for Iraq and Syria, many to join IS, according to the interior ministry.

Khan told Reuters she herself had had to challenge her own beliefs.

"For years I thought that wearing a headscarf was mandatory (...) but I found myself not identifying with it. I decided that I wanted someone to come to me without having assumptions."

In France, a ban in some coastal towns on burkinis has been held up by the government as a "battle of cultures", but has caused fury among many women.

"Can't we talk about high unemployment rates (among Muslim women)? We're still talking about women's clothing!" Khan said.

Khan cites a YouGov poll from March 2015 which found that 55 percent of British voters believe there is a fundamental clash between Islam and the values of British society, compared with 22 percent who said they were "generally compatible."

Issues of race came to the fore in the campaign for Britain's European Union referendum, with concerns about immigration prompting some people to vote to leave the bloc.

It was too early to say if the June vote, which ignited pockets of racial violence, had had any sustained effect, she said. She noted, however, that Britain's new prime minister Theresa May in her former role as interior minister took part in a campaign to stamp out radicalisation which sought to support Muslim women in the fight against extremism.

A sign of "genuine hope" in Britain, Khan said, was the election this year of London's first Muslim mayor, Sadiq Khan.

"There are a lot of Muslims who have progressive views but they just get on with it, and don't spend time shouting about it. But (shouting about it) is perhaps what they need to do."

(Editing by Stephen Addison)

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