Sara Khan’s controversial Commission for Countering Extremism has said “Islamists” have exploited the COVID-19 pandemic to sow division in British society.
In a new report published today the government-funded CCE said that Islamists propagating anti-democratic and anti-Western narratives have claimed that COVID-19 is divine punishment from Allah on the West for “degeneracy.”
Islamists have also claimed that COVID-19 is punishment on China for their treatment of Uyghur Muslims, the report says.
And Islamic group Hizb ut- Tahrir has used the COVID-19 pandemic to further its “anti-democratic narratives” by calling for the establishment of the Khalifa as “both a political and theological necessity for which no sacrifice is too small.”
The report also claims that some Islamist activists may be exploiting legitimate concerns regarding securitisation to further drive a wedge between communities and the government. This has taken the form of conspiracy theories on social media accusing the government of attempting to use future vaccines to deliberately harm minority communities and that COVID-19 is a conspiracy used to control the population.
On the other hand, the report also took aim at far-right groups, accusing them of attempting to whip up anti-Muslim hatred and false narratives showing British Muslims flouting social distancing rules.
In one particular case a picture taken outside of a Leeds mosque appeared to show Muslims breaking the rules. Although quickly refuted by West Yorkshire police and shown to be false, it had already gained huge traction on social media.
Whilst there is no evidence that Muslims have been less assiduous about social distancing than other communities, research also showed that 20% of respondents had read or seen articles relating to “British Muslims keeping mosques open in contravention of the Government’s lockdown rules.”
An account purporting to be far-right activist Tommy Robinson shared posts that branded infected Muslims as “corona bombs” to his followers on Telegram, using #GermJihad.
And the British National Socialist Movement encouraged other Telegram users who had COVID-19 to deliberately infect Jews and Muslims.
The CEE said the government should increase its support of counter-extremism work and also publish a new counter-extremism strategy urgently to ensure that it can strategically respond to the activities of extremists.
Lead Commissioner Sara Khan said: “The pandemic has not discouraged extremists from propagating their hateful ideologies. On the contrary they have, as is always the case in a crisis, fully exploited the lockdown to promote dangerous conspiracy theories and disinformation, most notably online.
“They seek to mainstream extremist narratives in society, for the sole purpose of inciting hatred, violence, public disorder and a breakdown in community cohesion. We have already seen how extremists discussed the 5G conspiracy theory on fringe social media platforms such as Telegram. In April 50 5G masts were targeted for arson and vandalism in the UK.
“In this report we’ve drawn attention to a variety of conspiracy theories that have been spread by groups from the Far Right to the Far Left and Islamists. The impact of extremist propaganda and disinformation to our democracy cannot be overstated. These conspiracy theories are harmful, dangerous and are used by extremists to cause division and breed hate…
“We need to be on the front foot to counter the activity of hateful extremists who seek to divide and undermine everything our country stands for; and we must begin work on it now.”
Khan, who heads up the Commission for Countering Extremism on a salary of £140K a year for three days a week work, has in the past targeted many Muslim organisations including 5Pillars, CAGE, Hizb ut-Tahrir and MEND.
Many Muslim organisations have accused Khan of trying to demonise them because of their opposition to her views on counter-extremism.
Responding to the report, Yahya Nisbet, Media Representative of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Britain, said: “Whilst the whole world is on fire, the Commission for Countering Extremism exploits the chaos to divert attention from the misery that secular capitalist governments are creating, so that they can peddle their own peculiar brand of hatred aimed at Islam and Muslims.
“If such apologists for the warped secular ideology would only take an honest and objective view of themselves, they will find that they not only grossly misrepresent the message of Islam carried by Hizb ut-Tahrir, but that they are also completely out of sync with ordinary people that elite governments today leave to become victims of their rampant exploitation and greed.
“What matters right now is that the lives of ordinary people are being destroyed across the globe. Unemployment, economic uncertainty, poverty and erosion of basic rights, and ill-health are just a few of the factors making life miserable for most people today. These are the real issues that need to be spoken about.
“Sara Khan and her commission need to understand that continually beating her drum to attack the party is not doing herself any favours in terms of credibility. Those who know Hizb ut-Tahrir, know that it is a credible intellectual party who welcomes open and honest debate, unlike the Commission for Countering Extremism, who have been challenged many times to defend their secular capitalist bent, but are only ever looking for a sensational headline to further its economic interest.”
And a CAGE spokesperson said: “The current focus on COVID-19 conspiracy theories by the CCE is just a continuation of their attempts to recast any social ill as ‘extremism’ and ‘radicalisation’ to further their programme of censorship.
“The CCE is deliberately conflating the real issues of complicity in torture, the targeting of minorities, and Islamophobic state policies with ‘conspiracies’ in order to protect the state from any scrutiny.
“It’s ironic that the government which spent years denouncing its complicity in rendition and torture as conspiracies, is today using the same label to silence those who seek to hold them to account.”