By Sara Khan
26 Jan 2018
I am proud of Britain’s incredibly diverse democracy. We are a nation of different races, religions, sexualities and beliefs. Tolerance and pluralism are signs of our strength. Over the years, however, it has become clear that extremism in all its forms – including far-right and Islamist extremism – is threatening not only our shared values but the very fabric of our society itself. Extremism feeds division, hatred and polarisation and has a devastating impact on young people, families, communities and on civil society.
Working on this issue for more than a decade, I have heard first-hand testimony from young people, who shared with me how extremism drew them into a life of violence and hate, robbing them of a promising career and future. Mothers have told me heartbreaking stories of how extremism ripped their families apart.
When extremism thrives, fear and suspicion breeds between and within communities, undermining cohesion and prosperity. The harmful consequences do not end there. The rights of women are undermined, as are the rights of minority groups in our society. We have seen a rise in anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim bigotry but also hatred and threats towards members of the LGBTQ community. And of course, terrorism is often carried out by those driven by an extremist ideology.
The newly created and independent Commission for Countering Extremism, which I am honoured to have been asked to lead, will challenge extremism, defend our values and help empower society to counter extremism. It is in all our interests for the commission to succeed. Doing nothing is no longer an option.
It is no surprise that not everyone agrees on the right approach and there are many passionate voices in the debate. My message is that I will ensure the commission is impartial, transparent and open.
Up and down the country there are courageous individuals and groups fighting back against extremism. I want to listen to them. There are the many victims of extremism too, however, whose voices often go unheard. I will engage widely and openly with the public sector, government, communities, civil society, legal and academic experts.
I will carry out a comprehensive study of the scale, influence and reach of extremism within Britain, to ensure that we have a clear understanding of the national and regional picture. The commission will also look at the effectiveness of existing counter-extremism measures and policies, identify best practice, determine which approaches are counter-productive and initiate new areas of work. We will also publish an in-depth work programme and policy recommendations to government and public bodies.
I know from my own direct experience that there are significant obstacles facing civil society and counter-extremism voices; we need to remove those obstacles and support those organisations and communities who are doing vital work. It is of course early days but
I am determined to create a commission that engages widely and is forthright in challenging extremism in the name of our shared values, fundamental freedoms and human rights. To those who recognise the harm and threat that extremism continues to pose in our society, I am eager to collaborate and engage; I extend my hand to ask you to work with me in helping to build a Britain that defends our diverse country while demonstrating zero tolerance to those who promote hate and who seek to divide us.
• Sara Khan is the Counter-Extremism Commissioner