“In my opinion, the cure is not to restrict speech but to have more.”
– Dr Salman Butt
“Did I say those things? Yes but even when I said those things, I didn’t say them in the way that they assume... but because they have the megaphone, that’s my public mask now.”
– Anon, Unspeakable
Building upon a series of workshops and talks that constitute an integral part of There Is No Alternative at The Showroom, each aimed at creating new platforms for public debate around the UK government’s contested counter-terrorism strategy Prevent, Kate Stonehill’s documentary Unspeakable (2017, 22 min) activates Navine G. Khan-Dossos’ wall paintings, contributing further to the collective production of the space.
On 17 September 2015, the British government issued a press release stating, ‘For the first time, universities and colleges in the UK will be legally required to put in place specific policies to stop extremists radicalising students on campuses.’ The document provided a rationale for the introduction of the Prevent duty in colleges and universities nationwide, and by 21 September 2015 adherence to the policy and its implementation became a legal requirement. Following the definition of non-violent extremism as ‘vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values’, four London universities are cited in the text as examples of institutions responsible for hosting six Muslim men, individually named, on record for expressing views contrary to ‘British values’, whose ideas ‘should not be given the oxygen they need to flourish’.
Unspeakable is a short documentary that hybridly combines verbatim performance techniques and intersecting interviews to tell the stories of three of these men publically labelled as non-violent extremists. The film explores the legality of the processes by which they were named, the responsibility of the media in their representation, and questions the infringement of free speech in relation to identity and extremism in Britain today. Since 2015 Dr Salman Butt has fought a legal case against the Home Office in response to his naming in the press release. As the first legal challenge to the government’s overarching counter-extremism strategies, his case sets a crucial precedent. Dr Butt will join Kate Stonehill for a discussion after the screening.
In addition to the screening, the research archive gathered by Navine G. Khan-Dossos around Prevent will expand with a selection of new documents contributed by Stonehill. These texts generate new voices in a growing chorus of informed, increasingly critical responses to Prevent. The screening creates an opportunity to open up and further explore Stonehill’s research archive, where her references and conversations with interviewees – having once informed the production of Unspeakable – now enter into new dialogues with those present in the exhibition space.
Unspeakable has been screened at film festivals internationally and was premiered at Sheffield Doc/Fest, 2017 before going on to screenings at the London Short Film Festival, 2018; ZagrebDox, 2018; and the International Human Rights Film Festival Albania, 2018. Unspeakable was shortlisted for the Grierson Award, 2017.
Kate Stonehill is a filmmaker based in London whose work explores the nexus of power and citizenship. As a director, she approaches filmmaking in formally experimental ways, playing with genre conventions to investigate truth. Her work has screened internationally at film festivals and galleries including the BFI London Film Festival, Sheffield Doc/Fest, the Institute for Contemporary Art, London, and DOC NYC. Her film FAKE NEWS FAIRYTALE, a real-life fairytale about a teenager who writes fake news about American politics, won a Grierson Award and was nominated for three RTS awards, and was included in the BFI’s season Born Digital: Raised by the Internet and exhibited in a group show Digital Citizenship: The Precarious Subject at BALTIC. Kate is also a documentary cinematographer who frequently shoots films for Channel 4 News and has taught a course on cinematography for women filmmakers at the National Film and Television School. She is a participant in BFI Network x BAFTA crew in 2019 and is currently working on a non-fiction feature film.
Salman Butt studied Biochemistry at Imperial College London followed by a PhD in Chemical Biology, carrying out research into photosynthesis. During his years at university he became involved in student activism, being the President of his Islamic society, and then London regional chair for the Federation of Islamic Societies (FOSIS). He is currently the Chief Editor and a regular contributor at Islam21c, the UK’s largest Islamic affairs website, and also has a blog on the Huffington Post.
Image: Kate Stonehill, Unspeakable, 2017, film still. Courtesy of Kate Stonehill.