The appointment of Sara Khan to the Commission for Countering Extremism described as ‘deeply disturbing’
The British government has appointed human rights activist Sara Khan to head up a new body aimed at fighting extremism in the country.
The Commission for Countering Extremism was created in the wake of the devastating Manchester Arena bombing last May, which killed 22 people and saw more than 500 injuries.
The body will be tasked with initially assessing how large the threat posed by various extremist groups of all political and religious persuasions is, and what should be the appropriate reaction to them. It will also go into schools and colleges to help identify early warning signals and will seek to ensure that women’s rights are being respected.
When launching the process for finding the commissioner, Home Secretary Amber Rudd said: “It will identify and challenge tolerance of extremism, tackle extremist ideology and promote British values, learning the lessons from the struggle against racism in the 20th century.”
Ms Khan has previously advised the Home Office, Department for Education and Department for International Development, and was welcomed by Ms Rudd as being expertly qualified to lead the body’s “vital work”.
“I am honoured and humbled to have been announced as the Lead Commissioner,” Ms Khan said. “I recognise the scale of the challenge we face in confronting extremism and I am deeply committed to this role. I will create a commission that is forthright in challenging extremism in the name of our shared values, fundamental freedoms and human rights.”
But there has been a backlash from members of the British Muslim community. Many view Ms Khan with some wariness due to her closeness to the government and her support for the controversial Prevent counter-terrorism programme, which tries to stop radicalisation of individuals but which has been described by a UN body as being “inherently flawed”.
Baroness Warsi, a Conservative peer who was the first Muslim to attend Cabinet, released a statement to the BBC describing the appointment to the “vital role” as being “deeply disturbing”.
“Sara has unfortunately been a strong advocate of the government’s policy of disengagement, a policy which many – including members of the police and intelligence services – consider has damaged the important battle to engage Britain’s Muslim communities,” she said.
“For the Commissioner to be effective the person had to be an independent thinker, both connected to and respected by a cross section of British Muslims. Sara is sadly seen by many as simply a creation of and mouthpiece for the Home Office.
“The opaqueness surrounding her relationship with the Home Office was the subject of questions at the Home Affairs Select Committee, questions which have still not been addressed,” she said.
“This misjudged appointment will regrettably hinder, not help, the fight against extremism.”