THE Bradford Literature Festival, which begins on Friday, has suffered 15 withdrawals over the past week, with a range of speakers pulling out due to the event benefitting from a controversial funding source.

The fund, Building a Stronger Britain Together (BSBT) comes from the government’s Counter-Extremism Strategy.

The government states that the funding supports groups involved in counter-extremism projects in their communities.

The issue the 15 speakers have is that it suggests that the people the projects engage with are at risk of becoming extremists due solely to their identity as Muslims.

Those that have pulled out of attending so far are: Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan, Lola Olufemi, Waithera Sebatindira, Malia Bouattia, Sahar Al-Faifi, Hussein Kesvani, Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff, Paula Akpan, Lauren Booth, Madiha Raza, Kai-Isaiah Jamal, Chelsea Kwakye, Ore Ogunbiyi, Kareem Dennis and Tasnime Akunjee.

The events cancelled as a result are: Taking Up Space; Stonewall at 50; FLY Girls panel discussion; Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan's performance piece ‘Whose Eyes Are These’ and Lauren Booth’s – ‘Finding Peace in the Holy Land’.

Giving her views, Sahar Al-Faifi said: "I was invited to join a debate at Bradford Literature Festival titled: Is the Niqab a feminist issue?

"I initially accepted the invitation and was honoured to join such inspiring, creative and celebratory initiative in Bradford.

"However, it was brought to my attention that BLF has received funding from the Home Office's 'Building A Stronger Britain Together' which is part of the counter-extremism strategy for projects leading to the festival.

"I verified the information and based on this, I have made the decision to withdraw from the festival.

"I am genuinely sad about this as I was looking forward to attending and speaking at the panel but I have to adhere to my principals and not promote, endorse or support a strategy that has demonised, criminalised the Muslim communities and treated them as suspects instead of equal citizens and partners.

"I really hope that BLF will not receive this funding in the future as we need such cultural festivals that celebrate art, creativity, diversity and inclusivity

Fellow withdrawer Lauren Booth added: "This is not an easy decision to take and I genuinely feel for those who have put so much hard work into giving Bradford this festival. They wish to convey that funds received were not used for the actual festival.

"However, this makes no difference to the ethical objection.

"Seeking and accepting any such funding, condones damaging and discriminatory behaviour and endorses a stance painting Muslims as a ‘problematic’ community.

"Through my writing, speeches and my new play ‘Accidentally Muslim’, I am committed to creating new narratives, more representative of the lives and experiences of Muslims.

"I hope this action supports a pathway for the festival and others to engage in ways to support community growth free from the yoke of counter extremist ideology.

"I urge the UK government to support social and cultural projects in and by the Muslim community through the same channels accessible to other sections of society and to increase funding to all sectors by ending austerity policies."

A Bradford Literature Festival spokesperson said: "Bradford Literature Festival (BLF) is committed to using the power of literature to strengthen communities and bring people from all walks of life together.

"Over the past five years, the festival has grown from a TWO-day event, attracting just 968 visitors, to a 10-day festival boasting over 500 events across multiple venues in Bradford, attracting over 70,000 visitors.

"51 per cent of the festival’s audience are from BAME backgrounds, a reflection of the inclusive nature of the programme.

"As part of the programme, BLF runs projects focusing on raising aspirations and literacy levels in disadvantaged communities.

"Some of this year’s projects are supported by the Home Office’s ‘Building A Stronger Britain Together’ fund (BSBT).

"The funding has allowed us to do important work with women’s community groups.

"This has been hugely valued by the groups themselves, and has received appreciative feedback from participants and community leaders.

"As a South Asian, Muslim-led organisation, BLF is entirely conscious of the opinion some parts of the Muslim community hold about the BSBT programme – and while we acknowledge and value the perspective and opinion, it isn’t one, on this matter, that we share.

"We regret that the support offered by BSBT to these specific projects has led to a number of speakers withdrawing from the festival programme.

"BLF offers a platform for a broad spectrum of opinions, and encourages healthy debate on issues of our time.

"Our door is always open to working with these speakers in the future and we wish them well."

The Home Office released a statement in response to those withdrawing from the festival, saying: "It is disappointing that some individuals are seeking to undermine and misrepresent the incredibly valuable work done in communities by our Building a Stronger Britain Together partners.

"BSBT is an open and transparent programme, which supports local people in their vital work to bring communities together, promote fundamental values and tackle the spread of all extremist ideologies.

"We are proud of the work that our BSBT community groups do to tackle extremism in all its forms.

"We will continue to support our members to enable them to make a positive impact in their local communities."