Sara Khan’s appointment as chief of Commission for Countering Extremism stands to alienate British Muslim community

Sara Khan’s appointment as the chief of the government’s Commission for Countering Extremism (CCE), which was set up after the Manchester bombing in 2017[1], has been described as “alarming” by Baroness Warsi[2]. Khan has previously been described as a “mouthpiece” for the Home Office “who does not share the concerns of the [British Muslim] community” and has even endorsed their marginalisation[3].

Her appointment thus has been seen by some as the government’s wish to move forward with their counter-terrorism policy without engaging with Muslim groups critical of it[4], despite the fact that the role of the commission and its chief should be “to productively engage with a wide spectrum of Muslim viewpoints”[5].

The Muslim Women’s Collective have raised concerns that the commission’s failure to engage with diverse voices on the subject will mean that the commission’s definition of who can be considered an extremist will be so large that it will be counter-productive[6].

Ali comments that Khan’s appointment is the latest in the Conservative government’s “recent track record on making brutishly ideological appointments to politically controversial public offices”, which included the appointment of Toby Young to the Office for Students earlier this year[7]. She states these appointments are “related by the government’s ideological commitment to crushing political dissent on key issues such as … the Prevent strategy”[8].

The Muslim Council of Britain echoes these concerns, stating that the government’s appointment of Khan, “will be seen as a move to placate those small sections of society who see Muslims as foreign, alien, rather than as equal citizens in this country”[9], suggesting that it is pandering to the wishes of their right-wing supporters.

A petition set up by MEND, an anti-Islamophobia campaign, has been set up in response, calling for her to be removed as her appointment “will further damage relations between the government and Muslim communities”[10].

In addition, it has also been suggested that Khan’s position as the head of Inspire, a ‘women’s rights organisation’ which claims to represent ‘the’ voice of Muslim women in counter-radicalisation debates, has meant that the space for Muslim women critical of Prevent to participate in these discussions has been narrowed. Criticising Prevent also becomes associated with being anti-women as a result[11]. Inspire has also been criticised for bullying those who criticise it, which could be considered ironic when it is seen to support the government’s initiative of so-called ‘British values’[12].

Others have defended Khan’s appointment, saying that it is a step in the right direction as more Muslim women are needed in positions of leadership[13].

The Sun expresses its support for Khan by accusing those that have criticised her of being “Islamist extremists” and “their enablers”[14]. It states she has done “more to engage women, Muslim or otherwise, in issues of radicalisation and extremism than her (mostly) male critics could ever aspire to achieve”[15].

The first role of the commission will be to “produce an assessment of the threat from extremism and the current response to it”[16].

[1] Grierson, 2018.

[2] Ali, 2018; Grierson, 2018.

[3] Ali, 2018; Grierson, 2018.

[4] Ali, 2018.

[5] Wasty and Hassan, 2018.

[6] Wasty and Hassan, 2018.

[7] Ali, 2018.

[8] Ali, 2018.

[9] Grierson, 2018.

[10] Grierson, 2018.

[11] Ali, 2018.

[12] Ali, 2018.

[13] Grierson, 2018.

[14] Malik, 2018.

[15] Malik, 2018.

[16] Grierson, 2018.

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Ali, N. (2018) ‘A Tale of Two Appointments – Toby Young and Sara Khan’. [online] [Accessed 20 February 2018].

Grierson, J. (2018) ‘Choice of new UK anti-extremism chief criticised as ‘alarming’’. [online] 25 January. [Accessed 21 February 2018].

Malik, N. (2018) ‘Nikita Malik: Why Counter-Extremism Commissioner Sara Khan is perfect to fight hatred … wherever it comes from’. 25 January. [Accessed 21 February 2018].

Wasty, B. and Hassan, S. (2018) ‘Why we’re concerned about Sara Khan, the new anti-extremism chief’. [online] 25 January. [Accessed 20 February 2018].