Little to Inspire the Muslim community in Khan’s appointment

Last month, the government announced that Sara Khan of Inspire would be appointed as the first head of a new taskforce called the Commission for Countering Extremism. 

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To all intents and purposes, the announcement made by Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative government went down like a lead balloon as far as a cross-section of grassroots Muslim opinion was concerned. A cacophony of objections were lodged by prominent Muslims ranging from politicians such as Baroness Warsi, Naz Shah MP to Muslim organisations such as the MCB against the appointment seen at best a highly divisive move that would do little to repair the fractured relationship between the government and the Muslim community since 9/1 and 7/7.

The title of the new organisation namely Commission for Countering Extremism that is going to be tasked with combating the scourge of extremism, terrorism and radicalisation raises more questions than it provides the answers stakeholders seek. One makes this point on the basis that the government has failed for numerous years to provide a legal definition of the term ‘extremism’. 

The very failure to agree on a common definition of ‘extremism’ has created a dangerous vacuum that has allowed individuals and organisations associated with the neo-con lobby to set the agenda and disseminate a rather warped and crude view of what extremism actually entails. In fact, the very term ‘extremism’ has been used selectively by elements of the neo-con lobby in the UK to smear many Muslim organisations and individuals as dangerous extremists and even in some cases agents of terror. These smear campaigns have done very little to endear the Muslim community into supporting the government’s efforts on combating the scourge of terrorism.

Efforts that have been made to address this issue have run in to major difficulties due to objections being lodged by various groups and activists who are involved in lawful campaigns could find themselves being labelled as ‘extremists’. It is essential that if and when future legislation is drawn up that it has fundamental safeguards in place protecting people involved in genuine grassroots activism ranging from human rights to environmental issues so that they are not adversely affected in due course. This now gives rise to calls centring upon the premise that it would have been more productive to have an agreed consensus on the very definition of ‘extremism’ prior to announcing the formation of the Commission for Countering Extremism’.

If we analyse the decision to appoint Sara Khan as the first lead of the CCE, it raises more questions than provides definitive answers about how the new organisation will work with Muslim community in the days, weeks, months and years to come. It is said that Sara Khan has herself asked stakeholders in the Muslim community to give her a chance and has appealed to them to work with her in attempting to deal with the biggest challenges of our time. 

Only time will tell whether individuals and organisations in the Muslim community will be inclined to take that offer.  In our view, Khan will only succeed in her work going forward in addressing the root problems of terrorism and extremism by first of all gaining the very trust and confidence of Muslims who have been alienated largely due to her unconditional support for the much maligned PREVENT strategy in recent years. 

Khan certainly has her work cut out especially as her past track record of sharing platforms with neo-conservative organisations and views expressed in relation to how Muslims conduct themselves has certainly not endeared her to the rank and file of the Muslim community. Furthermore, the wider Muslim community will require reassurances that Khan genuinely seeks to foster a harmonious relationship with the Muslim community free from confrontation and antagonism. 

The Muslim community will undoubtedly scrutinise every move Khan makes and quite rightly hold her to account if matters of contention arise connected to issues affecting the future of the Muslim community in the United Kingdom in the years to come. If Khan fails to gain the support, trust and confidence of the Muslim community then her tenure of being the lead for the CCE will be very short-lived indeed.

By Dr Abdul B Shaikh
Political Analyst