Sara Khan, the director of the “counter-extremism” and “women’s rights” organisation Inspire, has accused CAGE, MEND and 5Pillars of trying to make the government’s counter-extremism strategy a “toxic brand.”
Delivering evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee in Parliament, Khan said that certain organisations were attempting to mislead Muslims about what the PREVENT counter-terrorism strategy is by suggesting that it was about spying on the community.
She said PREVENT has become such a “toxic brand” because of a disinformation campaign.
“There are many examples of Muslim groups who have made it their mission to make PREVENT toxic,” she said in her testimony on Monday. “The people who we’ve seen attack it are Islamists, hate preachers, people who fundamentally believe that Islamist extremist ideology is a form of Islam, but we feel that it violates the teachings of our faith.”
She added that she had been subject to intimidation and abuse for the counter-extremism work that she has done.
Khan, who has developed a high media profile in the last few years, said that CAGE was misleading Muslims by suggesting that the state would try to to take their children away if they didn’t cooperate with de-radicalisation programmes. She called this fear-mongering of the worst kind.
She said that MEND – which aims to enhance the engagement of British Muslims in politics and media – had tried to sabotage her delivering counter-extremism training at a school. And she said that the Muslim news website 5Pillars had accused her of being an “Islamophobe” and a “native informant.”
Khan also took aim at the preacher Murtaza Khan. She claimed that he had said to young people: “We have become Jews in our clothing, Jews in our eating, Jews in everything we do and the other half is Christian in everything that we do. Muslims are following these accursed nations and Muslims are still not waking up to understand that these people are enemies towards us.”
During the testimony, which lasted around one hour, Khan reserved her most trenchant criticism for advocacy group CAGE.
She said: “We know CAGE have been going around the country delivering information to Muslim communities about the CTS Bill and it was widely reported in the media for example that Asim Qureshi from CAGE claimed the government would consider taking Muslim children away as young as seven if their children attended demonstrations by the Stop the War group.
“They also argued, for example, that if you don’t consent as parents to de-radicalisation programmes the state would take your children away. Nazir Afzal, the former Chief Crown Prosecutor of the North West, even argued that this was fear-mongering of the very worst kind.”
Responding to a question by Chuka Umunna MP, Khan said that MEND and 5Pillars were some of the organisations which were trying to smear her.
“We believe one organisation is MEND… they actively tried to contact a school and say that we are Islamophobes and that we should not be delivering training. The school had actually contacted us because they wanted us to deliver training.
“They wrote an article with 5Pillars. 5Pillars have often accused us of being Islamophobes and native informants and so forth.”
However, Khan said that she disagreed with some government policies, such as banning orders which she called “illiberal.” She also said that Hizb ut-Tahrir should not be banned and that “Islamists” and “non-violent extremists” should be instead challenged by civil society.
During the testimony Naz Shah, the Labour MP for Bradford West – who has claimed that Inspire and the Quilliam Foundation are “the most loathed organisations amongst Muslim communities – queried Inspire’s independence from government.
She noted that Inspire had been given “PREVENT preferred status” by the government when it came to delivering counter-extremism training in schools. She said that both David Cameron and Home Secretary Theresa May had praised Inspire’s work. And she added that Khan’s sister held a senior position in the Home Office, implying that it was a conflict of interest.
In a recent Guardian article Khan confirmed that she had not received direct government funding but had accessed PREVENT money through the counter-extremism training she had done with public institutions.
In response to Naz Shah, Khan said that her organisation was only trying to counter extremism and keep the country safe and should not be blamed because high-profile people appreciate its work.
She added that Inspire is a voluntary organisation dependent on the “goodwill of donors” but had no regular funding streams and “may not exist this time next year.”
In a report last year CAGE called the PREVENT strategy “a cradle to grave police-state. The report found that:
- “PREVENT is no longer about terrorism and violence,” but is instead “about ideology, beliefs and values.”
- PREVENT has now intruded so far into the affairs of the Muslim community that members of that community are virtually living under a police-state. From one’s early years GP, to the school one attends, to the mosque where one lies before burial, PREVENT is now with a Muslim from beginning to end.
The report’s co-author Jahangir Mohammed, said: “This report marks a significant step, as for first time we are being given a total picture of how the rights and freedoms of the Muslim community are being covertly eroded under the guise of security threats and terrorism.
“This comprehensive policy has far outstripped its stated remit and is specifically targeting the beliefs, values and ideas of the Muslim community.”
Meanwhile, MEND said it was surprised at Sara Khan’s comments and challenged her to “prove MEND was instrumental in the campaign against her.”