Extremism tsar Sara Khan defends her job in front of parliamentary committee

Sara Khan

The government’s controversial “extremism tsar” Sara Khan has defended her suitability for the job in front of a parliamentary committee.

Khan appeared before the Home Affairs Committee yesterday and was quizzed about the unpopularity of the government’s Prevent counter-terror strategy among Muslim communities, as well as her credentials for doing the job given her own unpopularity among Muslim stakeholders.

During her testimony Khan launched a defence of the Prevent strategy saying that if it were explained better to communities and if the government builds trust with Muslims it would have more support.

She said: “When I’ve been speaking to people the vast majority of people aren’t speaking to me about Prevent, they’re actually talking to me about extremism, the harms they’re experiencing and how they feel like it’s radicalising young people.”

When questioned about her independence from government she said that prior to becoming extremism tsar she had criticised the government’s Counter Terrorism Bill on freedom of speech grounds, but she added that if there were a government policy she agreed with she would support it. She also said there was a need to have a Prevent strategy “when the terror threat was unprecedented.”

“In terms of wider engagement with Muslims in this country as an activist I’ve spent the last 25 years engaging with Muslim voices and particularly with young people and Muslim women whose voices we often don’t hear,” she said.

“I wasn’t shocked by that response I got to my appointment, I was disappointed but I wasn’t shocked because when I was a director of Inspire I learned pretty quickly if you challenge extremism, if you defend human rights and if you advocate for gender equality you will experience backlash and abuse.”

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When questioned about her expertise and suitability for the role she said she had run a counter extremism organisation for 10 years, had written a book about extremism, and had delivered counter-extremism training to thousands of teachers.

Khan said that the main threat of extremism in the UK comes from “Islamists” and the far right, and that the authorities face a particular problem from online extremism, much of which is legal. She also said that those who support counter terrorism policy are being bullied and need to be supported.

In her concluding remarks, she said that Hizb ut-Tahrir was targeting young people in places like Bradford, Birmingham and Stoke-on-Trent.

“Islamophobic voices”

At the beginning of the year, Khan was appointed the new Extremism Commissioner on a three-day-a-week, £140K a year deal.

Her appointment to the government body was opposed by several Muslim organisations and 5Pillars understands that none of the major British Muslim institutions have met with her.

Over the years Khan’s support for the the government’s Prevent counter terrorism strategy, as well as her poor relationship with Muslim community stakeholders, has poisoned her relations with the Muslim grassroots.

Commenting on Khan’s appearance before the parliamentary committee, Massoud Shadjareh of the Islamic Human Rights Commission said the government is not interested in tackling extremism or Islamophobia but is interested in pandering to right-wing, Islamophobic voices.

He said: “Sara Khan has been appointed not to tackle these issues, she has been appointed to further government policies which seek to blame the victims, ie Muslims. Be it the issue of racism or be it the issue of Islamophobia, her policies and views are not that much different to the government or indeed the far-right. She sees a ‘possible terrorist’ behind practising Muslims and hides behind the terminology of ‘Islamist’ to cover all practising Muslims who are in fact the majority.”

Shadjareh added that “secular Muslims” have been given unprecedented financial and media opportunities that have never existed before, but this is all taking place within the context of the “climate of hate” which exists towards Muslims.

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