How Sarah Khan’s critics prove she’s the best choice.

The opposition to Sara Khan as the Counter-Extremism commissioner from many special interest groups shows she is the right person for the role.

By Terry Murray, Beatrice Louis, and Khadija Khan Lodhi

British authorities have appointed Sara Khan as the new Commissioner for Counter Extremism in a renewed drive to clamp down on terrorist activities after 2017 saw several terrorist incidents, including the Manchester arena suicide bombing which left 22 people dead, as well as an attack on Finsbury Park mosque which sent chills through the country.

However, Khan’s appointment was greeted in some sections of Britain with unprecedented fury. Attempts to hinder the new commissioner have come from Islamist sympathizers and prominent Muslim politicians in the UK, two noteworthy names being Baroness Sayida Warsi and Labour MP Naz Shah. Both women have gone to great lengths to block Khan’s appointment or make it controversial.

Baroness Warsi and MP Shah are joining a barrage of trolling with the help of sympathetic media outlets as if the appointment of a Counter Extremism Commissioner was aimed at them. Interestingly, their attacks contain language that is itself very controversial and which has become very difficult to separate from dawa, the ideological infrastructure (organisation, rhetoric and non-violent methods) of the ultra-conservative Islamist religious movement. Words like ‘Islamophobia’ are deployed endlessly to invert the direction of threat and victimisation, and to insinuate that any attempt to monitor or prevent extremist activity is itself a form of intolerant ideology.

But more so, the content of Baroness Warsi’s and MP Shah’s attacks prove why Ms Khan is the best person for the job. MP Shah was quick to write an open letter to The Home Office stating, “Ms Khan is not connected to, respected or trusted by the mainstream Muslim community.” Shah emphasises that the Commission’s mandate, as recognised by the Prime Minister herself, includes fighting extremism against the Muslim community. Interestingly, she then jumps to underlining that this is why the appointment must have been non-political, presumably because Shah believes that no one capable of working with the government can have the interests of Muslims at heart. This begs the question: Who does Shah trust to protect British Muslims, especially if in every sentence of her writing she pits the community against the British government? Who, in the view of these self-appointed representatives, will counter what Shah labels as short-term strategies?

MP Shah seems to then rely on Khan’s support for the Prevent strategy as her winning argument to dismiss her appointment, and argues that the program focused on ‘disengagement with communities’ and got Britain ‘no closer to building communities . . . that respect each other’. Certainly, the Prevent strategy has been denounced and criticised, and according to some, perhaps unfairly. While criticism and accusations of profiling and further alienation have been loud, evaluation of the programme after a few years indicates that the Prevent Strategy did work, and what’s more, did not exclusively profile Muslims as had been feared. In fact, quite a number of the referrals under the programme have been of far-right extremists. The obstacles it has faced has primarily been that of public relations – a fact fuelled and sustained by a constant critique of the programme.

So should Sara Khan then be lampooned for her support of a programme that has, in fact, been credited with stopping 150 people from going to join Daesh? Or is MP Shah, whose strident criticism has been enduring, more to blame for the shortcomings of a counter-radicalisation programme that was hardly given a chance? Would Shah’s definition of an appropriate appointment be anyone who militated against government efforts to counter radicalisation definitively?

Far from being a complete failure, the Prevent programme appears to have had positive externalities as well.

MP Shah goes on to assail Ms Khan for her lack of ‘demonstrable leadership, public confidence and independence’. It should be highlighted here that MP Shah, true to previous attempts to caricature progressive Muslims, provides no basis for these allegations. Is it because, in 2015, Ms Khan founded and continues to direct the organisation ‘We Will Inspire’ – that works to counter extremism by empowering British Muslim women? Or is it because she has painstakingly spent a decade campaigning for tolerance and equal rights within Muslim communities?  Is her lack of leadership demonstrated by her firm conviction, illustrated in her thoroughly researched book on British Islam that the Muslim identity is not, and should not be synonymous with extremism and that the core religious identity can be reclaimed from extremist influences?

MP Shah and other communications denouncing the appointment talk a great deal about trust, and definitively dismisses Ms Khan as being capable of having or earning the trust of the communities she is anticipated to work with. In their frenzied need to demonise her, Ms Khan’s critics do not recognise their inconsistency. The Commission for Countering Extremism is not set up or structured to only deal with Islamist extremism.

MP Shah herself notes triumphantly that far-right extremism, fuelled by anti-muslim bigotry is part of its mandate. Is her concern that Ms Khan cannot engage with far-right white Britons? Is it a requirement that the Commissioner has an existing relationship of trust and friendship with the demographic that leans towards the far right? It is highly doubtful that MP Shah or Ms Khan’s other detractors envision that. In fact, in their own sharp and desperate attacks on Ms Khan, they betray their real concern – that the Commission should be one prepared to deal strictly with any demographic other than the ones they represent.

It is not as though Muslims have no representation in the government or that their grievances go unnoticed and unaddressed. Many organisations like the Muslim Council of Britain, MEND, CAGE, Baroness Syeeda Warsi, and Labour MP Naz Shah and others were entrusted to oppose extremism. The question is, do these self-appointed representatives of British Muslims provide an alternative to tackling Islamism-inspired extremism without marginalising communities, while still making progress with unearthing extremist influences? It seems unlikely.

Such claimants to representative status for ‘mainstream’ or ‘real’ British Muslims including Baroness Warsi and Naz Shah have never made statements denouncing the scandal of British Sharia Councils’ complicity in the ritual of halala [1]. Unlike Khan, neither of her high-profile female critics have been outspoken about discrimination against Muslim women by religious authorities.

Likewise, MP Shah continued to defend sharia councils while offering virtually no condemnation of the damage these councils do to British Muslims. Sharia councils are still actively deciding Muslim relationship issues in Britain, putting many innocent lives at risk of sexual and financial abuse. This is despite testimony submitted to a Commons Committee in 2016 that a leading British Sharia Council had intervened to prevent men accused of domestic violence from facing criminal charges. In 2008 the Sunday Times reported that the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal (MAT) had intervened in six cases of domestic violence, in which no punishment was eventually brought.

This from a woman who retweeted and liked a social media post from an account parodying left-wing writer Owen Jones which stated: ‘Those abused girls in Rotherham and elsewhere just need to shut their mouths. For the good of diversity.’ Despite later deleting her retweet and unliking the post after the firestorm it spawned, Shah has been involved heavily in trying to stifle reporting about the grooming gang sex scandal.[2]

“[C]laims that Prevent is about persecuting Muslims are simply untrue: the programme tackles all forms of extremism and a quarter of those referred are far-right extremists.” Image: Birmingham Mail
The Muslim Council of Britain does not have the kind of track record that suggests neutrality. In claiming to ‘reflect the wishes of a cross-section of British Muslim society’, the MCB assumes what it needs to prove, and has not proven, especially as the MCB does not even accept that Ahmadi Muslims are Muslims. The MCB was affiliated with the Aalami Majlise Tahaffuze Khatme Nubuwwat (Stockwell Green Mosque) in which ‘kill Ahmadis’ pamphlets were found. It was only after the media blew the cover off the persecution of Ahmadi Muslims in Britain that the MCB issued a statement claiming it would temporarily suspend its affiliation.

It also said it would launch its own ‘independent’ investigation into whether Aalami Majlise Tahaffuze Khatme Nubuwwat is a hate organisation despite the fact that it had already been implicated in distributing hate literature. Conatus News has also reported a first-hand account of the persecution of Ahmadi Muslims by the Khatm-e-Nubuwwat Academy, an organisation that has offices located in Pakistan as well as in East London. They have been known to distribute anti-Ahmadi leaflets in Muslim majority areas around London.

This is not the first time self-proclaimed “Muslim community” representatives have ganged up against someone working to stamp out extremism. Former Chief Crown Inspector Nazir Afzal, who fearlessly prosecuted people involved in grooming gangs, has been alienated by members of his local community for exposing a growing terror trend, as well as intolerance and misogynistic practices among British Muslims who wield authority in local communities. He bluntly stated, “worryingly, though, there are those in the Muslim community’s leadership who are undermining Prevent, the Government’s anti-radicalization programme, which seeks to counter extremists.” He further said, “Their claims that Prevent is about persecuting Muslims are simply untrue: the programme tackles all forms of extremism and a quarter of those referred are far-right extremists.” Sadly, extremists and their acolytes later demonized his efforts for the betterment of his community.

“[W]orryingly . . . there are those in the Muslim community’s leadership who are undermining Prevent, the Government’s anti-radicalization programme, which seeks to counter extremists.”

Conspicuously, this glaring intolerance among extremist British Muslims has already gone to the level of issuing open threats to activists who dare to challenge their social hegemony. British authorities have so far failed to curb extremist tendencies enforced among Muslims in their communities. One of the biggest factors in this tragedy has been the silence of influential British Muslims. A fresh face is desperately required that neither shares Islamists’ agenda nor their fundamentalist bias to score more votes in elections.

Given the failure in preventing extremism within the Muslim community, a person who talks about integration runs an organization for the rights of Muslim women and confronts extremism without being politically correct was much-needed . Ms. Khan’s denouncers, having provided a discursive shield for extremists, only prove why her appointment is sorely needed. This change in direction for tackling extremism within Britain’s Muslim communities has been long awaited. Ms Khan’s appointment is a clear threat to those who were able to sustain the status quo for years by denouncing cooperation with authorities under the Prevent Strategy. It is precisely because Sara Khan’s appointment has provoked such an extreme reaction from those who have done their best to scupper meaningful ways to counter extremism, that her appointment should be lauded.

Media organisations that have joined the bandwagon of extremists against Sara Khan should be ashamed. On the pretext of cultural and religious freedom, myopic journalists are unable to understand that they are hindering efforts to curb fanaticism. Khan’s appointment gives hope to many Muslims and non-Muslims that a significant counter-extremism breakthrough is possible. Sara Khan has no habit of appeasing Islamists and is capable of doing independent work to curb the extremist tactics that besiege an otherwise open, safe, genuinely diverse and tolerant British society. British authorities have finally appointed someone who not only presents a modern, civilised image for the Muslim community but who is also likely to dent the sham politics that have given cover to abuses in the name of religion.

[1] A controversial practice, which is accepted by a minority of Muslims who subscribe to the concept of triple talaq. They believe halala is the only way a couple who have been divorced, and wish to reconcile, can remarry. Halala involves the woman marrying someone else, consummating the marriage and then getting a divorce – after which she is able to remarry her first husband. See also:

[2] Christine Douglas-Williams, UK: Muslim MP tells victims of Muslim rape gangs to shut up for the “good of diversity”, JIHAD WATCH, Aug. 23, 2017.

1 Comment

  1. MP Shah and Baroness Warzi represent those so-called “community leaders” who insist that activities will only be successful if channeled through them. This means, of course, that they should also receive significant resources for their own activities….
    What Shah and Warzi are copying are the antics and tactics deployed by the zionist lobby.
    They too make false and fake accusations of antisemitism and, in the process, make it much harder to identify real actual antisemitic acts.
    If it works for extremist zionists, then why not also for extremist ismalists?

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