LONDON – The appointment of Sara Khan to lead the new Commission for Countering Extremism has triggered sharp criticism for the government as a “deeply disturbing appointment.”
“The fight against terrorism requires equal partnership between all parties, including Muslim communities,” Harun Khan, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, told The Guardian.
“This appointment risks sending a clear and alarming message that the government has no intention of doing so. Sadly it will be seen as a move to placate those small sections of society who see Muslims as foreign, alien, rather than as equal citizens in this country.”
Describing herself as a counter-extremism and women’s rights activist, Khan was picked to lead the Commission for Countering Extremism, which Theresa May promised after the Manchester Arena attack.
Khan said the body, which will advise ministers, must be staunch in defending freedoms and shared values.
“I recognize the scale of the challenge we face in confronting extremism and I am deeply committed to this role,” she said, adding that she was “honored and humbled.”
“I will create a commission that is forthright in challenging extremism in the name of our shared values, fundamental freedoms, and human rights. To those in our country who recognize the harm and threat extremism continues to pose in our society, I am eager to collaborate and engage.”
Khan, whose official title will be lead commissioner, is a co-founder of the counter-extremism organization Inspire. Her website describes her as “one of the UK’s leading Muslim female voices on countering Islamist extremism and promoting human rights.”
Known as a supporter of the government’s controversial Prevent program, Khan’s appointment was immediately met with some criticism, including from within the Conservative party.
The former Tory chairwoman Sayeeda Warsi described it as “a deeply disturbing appointment.”
She said on Twitter: “Sara has unfortunately been a strong advocate of the government’s policy of disengagement, a policy which many, including members of the police and intelligence services, consider has damaged the important battle to engage Britain’s Muslim communities.
“For the commissioner to be effective the person had to be an independent thinker, both connected to and respected by a cross-section of British Muslims. Sara is sadly seen by many as simply a creation of and mouthpiece for the Home Office.”
Labour MP Naz Shah, the vice-chair of the British Muslims all-party group, expressed similar criticism.
“Here we have somebody who does not accept the concerns in the community,” Shah told BBC Radio 4’s Today program.
Shah said Khan appeared before the home affairs elect committee, of which Khan is a member, and failed to allay concerns about her independence.
“She continues to profess she’s independent,” she said.
“Even her book she wrote was in partnership with the Home Office. She has taken Prevent funding. She came out of nowhere after the coalition government without any experience.”
Khan is expected to take up her post in the next month. The appointment is for a period of three years.