The announcement of Sara Khan as the Head of the Commission for Countering Extremism, has already created a public debate on how extremism should be countered. Sadly, it has also led to the usual ‘trial’ by Twitter, with little regard to the fact that the Commissioner’s role was contested between applicants and a rigorous process of selection undertaken. It is as though, today, if groups do not like someone who ‘fits’ their world view, it is open season to malign, abuse and demean them with little regard to the damage it does to the agenda itself, in this case – countering extremism.
Furthermore, the British public need to know that they are safe in a world where far right and Islamist extremists and terrorists have murdered young children, men and women. Let us not forget the hundreds of British lives, (and the hundreds of thousands overseas), who have been lost because of terrorism.
People do not become terrorists overnight in a vacuum. Multiple factors influence them, including extremist rhetoric which is based on a ‘them and us’ set of beliefs. It is these set of beliefs which the Commission will seek to challenge, as well as other elements. Let us also be clear that there are groups operating here in the UK who foment group-think around ‘them and us’. They need to be challenged and challenged hard, if we are to develop inter-connected communities that see value in each other.
In light of this, countering extremism, its rhetoric and its violent manifestations are not just a ‘Muslim issue’. They are an issue for us all, at a time when there are multiple threats against communities and against our nation. We therefore welcome the start of this process and whether people agree or not with the appointment of Sara Khan, her track record on defending core social values of women’s rights, challenging extremism and pluralism speaks for itself. Let us also not forget the fact that it is not just a handful of groups who shout the loudest who speak for Muslims. Muslims can speak for themselves and we hope that they engage with Khan on her work going forward. The world of ‘community leaders’ is over and that is why this role is even more essential in reaching out beyond those who shout the loudest.
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