CAGE: Sara Khan’s extremism commission is deeply motivated by Islamophobia

Sara Khan

Advocacy group CAGE has released a report which says it reveals the controversial networks that have embedded themselves within the government’s Commission for Countering Extremism (CCE) and that are closely tied to the “global Islamophobia industry.” 

The report says the CCE’s purpose is to build support for repressive counter-extremism measures that seek to control belief, and which enjoy little grassroots support.

It also reveals links between many of the “experts” in the group, which is headed by the controversial Sara Khan, and the Islamophobic Henry Jackson Society, the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change and the Quilliam Foundation.

CAGE says this raises questions about the harmful long-term impact the CCE will have on free speech, academic freedom and the right to privacy through supporting state manipulation of beliefs.

Asim Qureshi, CAGE Research Director, said: “We are proud to have produced this report which unravels the CCE from the roots up in detail. It is a crucial resource for all civil society groups, and a cause to support our calls to boycott the CCE.

“What is particularly striking about the members of the so-called Expert Group is their disturbing links to the security industry, their neo-conservative funding sources as well as their clear anti-Muslim bias.”

“The fact that many of these ‘experts’ have much to gain politically by being there is decisive evidence that the CCE is utterly disingenuous and only seeks to bolster state rhetoric around the War on Terror and Prevent.”

The CCE was set up in 2018 by the government and is headed “extremism tsar” Sara Khan who 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.

Khan appeared before the Home Affairs Committee last year 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.

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.

CAGE has compiled a profile of the 15 people on the CCE’s Expert Group. Here is a profile of five of them. All the information in the following profiles was taken from CAGE’s report:

FIYAZ MUGHAL

Fiyaz Mughal is a former politician and has been involved in counter-extremism initiatives for many years. Following the 7/7 bombings in 2005 he worked as part of the Extremism Task Force Working Group set up by Tony Blair.

He went on to pursue counter-extremism through his organisation Faith Matters and its project Tell Mama.

Early on in its life, Faith Matters received extensive funding from the Department for Community and Local Government (DCLG). Whilst claiming that neither Faith Matters nor its project Tell MAMA receive PREVENT funding, Faith Matters has recently received funding under the Building a Stronger Britain Together programme under the Counter Extremism Strategy 2015.

Tell MAMA was founded by Mughal as a project under Faith Matters in 2012, with the Liberal Democrats in government. It received a start-up fund of £395,500 under the DCLG and a further £214,000 announced by Nick Clegg.

Building Our Futures Together was a project launched by Faith Matters after Lee Rigby’s killing and funded by Armed Forces Community Covenant Grant Scheme, to bridge communities with the British Army.

Faith Matters has since more actively promoted itself as an “anti-extremist” organisation, with Mughal enthusiastically promoting the early versions of PREVENT. On social media they have professed making referrals to PREVENT and reaffirmed the value of PREVENT in their eyes.

As of 2017, Tell MAMA counted among its advisors numerous police figures and many PREVENT and counter extremism-associated individuals.

SIR MARK ROWLEY

Sir Mark Rowley was formerly Assistant Commissioner at the Metropolitan Police, alongside being its National Lead for Counter Terrorism Policing, and Chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council Counter-Terrorism Coordination Committee. He retired from policing in early 2018.

During his time as Counter Terror Head between 2014-18, he oversaw policing operations around the Manchester Arena and London attacks of 2017.

CAGE says Rowley represents the establishment face of the Experts Group, bringing seniority and heavy political weight to the CCE but further eroding any pretensions of its “independence” or distance from the state.

Rowley has robustly defended the PREVENT programme. He has continuously promoted the need for public support and referrals to ensure PREVENT’s success, and in August 2016 he was quoted as announcing that the programme was turning “two people a day” away from extremism.

DAME LOUISE CASEY

Dame Louise Casey is a former government official with an 18-year career in various roles in the Civil Service, at the service of several governments.

Most recently, Casey led a review into integration and opportunity released in late 2016, commonly known as the “Casey Review.”

Framed by Casey as a blunt and hard- hitting investigation bringing up difficult- but-necessary questions about integration, the Casey Review was criticised for its focus on Muslims and migrants. It was also lambasted for effectively taking a deficit model approach to Muslims, migrant communities and integration, and articulating integration concerns around the issue of extremism and British Values.

In explaining the disadvantage and lack of opportunity afforded to Muslim and migrant communities, the report placed disproportionate blame on the affected communities, and the apparent pathologies within the culture of those communities – including “regressive religious ideologies” – as opposed to considering or exploring structural causes of deprivation, such as state racism.

The Review warned of the risks presented by home-schooling, unregulated faith schooling and Sharia marriage arbitration, among others, to deepening inequality and/ or fostering ‘extremism’.

PETER TATCHELL

Peter Tatchell is a human rights activist, particularly known for his LGBT advocacy through groups like the Gay Liberation Front and OutRage!.

The linchpins of Tatchell’s politics are a commitment to liberalism and secularism, and as part of his LGBT activism he has railed against what he terms religious homophobia. In recent years he has particularly strongly criticised “Islamists,” whilst promoting so-called “liberal Muslims” – which for him includes individuals like the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, LGBT Muslims and figures like Sara Khan.

CAGE says this approach dovetails with that of the Good Muslim/Bad Muslim dichotomy pushed by government, in playing sections of the Muslim community off against others, and pushing for a “reformist” Islam that lays the groundwork for invasive counter-extremist measures in Muslim communities.

AZEEM IBRAHIM

Azeem Ibrahim is a Research Professor at the Strategic Studies Institute, the U.S. Army’s institute for research and analysis, a board member of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence, Chair of philanthropic project The Ibrahim Foundation, Executive Chairman of The Scotland Institute and a co-founder of the Scotland-based Islamic organisation The Solas Foundation.

With his connections to the neoconservative establishment, his focus on the supposed ideological underpinnings of political violence, and his engagement with Islamic theology, Ibrahim represented the more “traditional” wing of British counter- extremism post-9/11. CAGE says this wing is concerned with engineering a state-compliant strand of Islam and manufacturing support for it among Muslim communities.

Ibrahim has an extensive background advising and working with key establishment figures and organisations across the UK, US and Israel, on issues of security and counter-terrorism. According to his biography these have included the Pentagon and US National Security Council and architects of the ‘War on Terror’ like George Bush, Dick Cheney and former-PMs Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

SIR DAVID ANDERSON

As the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation between 2011 and 2017, David Anderson’s position on the Experts Group constitutes a further link between the CCE and the mainstream counter-terror apparatus.

Despite being “Independent Reviewer,” Anderson’s time was characterised, at best, as a critical friend of government. Even after his term as Reviewer was over, he has enjoyed access to and a relationship with state departments calling upon his services, whilst also being knighted and given peerage in the House of Lords.

Whilst PREVENT itself was not in his remit, he issued endorsements of the programme remarking that it is “a well-intentioned, voluntary strategy that has achieved striking success, without a doubt” – and suggesting only that it be reformed lightly to “better engage” surveilled communities, and be more transparent.

And, like the majority of his colleagues on the CCE, Anderson has lent open support and promotion to Sara Khan.

CAGE says Anderson’s role appears to be one of legitimising counter-terrorism policy through providing the appearance of opposition and independence.

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