A prominent Muslim campaigner has vowed to investigate the hidden threats from extremism in modern Britain following her controversial appointment to a key government post established after a series of deadly terrorist attacks during 2017.
Sara Khan was named by the UK government to lead a new Commission for Countering Extremism, first proposed after a British-born and raised suicide bomber killed 22 people in Manchester in May last year. An inquiry has revealed missed opportunities to identify and potentially nullify the threat posed by the bomber, Salman Abedi, 22.
Response to her appointment has been divided, with dozens of Muslim groups and scholars opposing the move because of her backing for key sections of the government’s controversial counter-terrorism agenda.
Ms Khan’s three-year contract will include examining the scale and threat of extremism before laying out her plan to government to tackle it over the next two years. Her remit will include all forms of extremism including from far-right political groups as well as from Islamist extremists behind four of the five attacks in 2017 that killed 36 people.
“I want to hear from victims, whose voices are often missing from the debate,” she said in a statement. “We know about the hateful marches and poisonous online videos. But what about the harm we can’t see?”
Analysts said such “hidden harms” would include within the family unit from parents whose extreme views could lead their children into active support for ISIL.
Ms Khan was also likely to investigate concerns about home-schooling, a lightly regulated system outside of mainstream education that has been open to abuse, said Nikita Malik who heads the counter-radicalisation unit at the Henry Jackson Society thinktank.
Ms Khan was chosen for the job based on her work over the last decade as a founder and leader of Inspire, an organisation designed to tackle Islamist extremism and promote women’s rights. She has been at the forefront of efforts to deflect girls and women from travelling to Syria to join ISIL and become a face of moderate Islam in Britain.
But her outspoken criticism of the “gate keepers” who have spoken on behalf of British Muslims for years has made her a target, according to Ms Malik.
The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) and the Muslim Engagement and Development (MEND) were among 100 groups and scholars who signed a letter to the Home Secretary Amber Rudd objecting to her appointment. The signatories said they had “no confidence” in the appointment and were “concerned that Muslim communities will refuse to liaise with Ms Khan, thereby defeating the purpose of her appointment to the role,” according to Sky News.
Both MCB and MEND had been criticised by Ms Khan during her work as an outspoken rights campaigner for the alleged toleration of extremism among their affiliates and personnel, according to the Policy Exchange thinktank in a blog.
The opposition to Ms Khan’s appointment has focused on her support for part of the UK’s counter-terrorism programme, known as Prevent, designed to stop the vulnerable being drawn into extremism but has been criticised by some groups as unjustified snooping and scapegoating of Muslim communities.
The former government minister, Sayeeda Warsi, who has led the opposition, has also said she would not be able to challenge those in power since some of her previous work had been government-funded.
But the idea that she is a “government stooge” was hard to reconcile with her opposition to earlier plans for counter-extremism legislation, said David Anderson QC, a former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation who backed her on Twitter.