Choice to head Commission for Countering Extremism 'deeply disturbing'

The Government appointment of a prominent campaigner to lead a fresh drive to tackle extremism has been branded "deeply disturbing" by a former Conservative minister.

Sara Khan will head up the newly created Commission for Countering Extremism, the Home Office announced.

Ms Khan, a counter-extremism and women's rights activist, said she was "honoured and humbled".

Former Tory chairwoman Baroness Warsi described it as "a deeply disturbing appointment".

She wrote 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."

Ms Khan, whose official title will be lead commissioner, is co-founder of campaign organisation Inspire.

Her website describes her as "one of the UK's leading Muslim female voices on countering Islamist extremism and promoting human rights".

Ms Khan, author of The Battle For British Islam, said: "I recognise the scale of the challenge we face in confronting extremism and I am deeply committed to this role.

"I will create a commission that is forthright in challenging extremism in the name of our shared values, fundamental freedoms and human rights."

The Muslim Council of Britain expressed "grave concerns" about the appointment.

Harun Khan, secretary general, said: "The fight against terrorism requires equal partnership between all parties, including Muslim communities.

"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."

Plans to set up the commission were announced by Prime Minister Theresa May after the Manchester bombing in May last year - one of five terror attacks to hit Britain in 2017.

The body will be tasked with identifying and challenging all forms of extremism, advising ministers on new policies and promoting "pluralistic British values".

Its remit is also expected to include helping train schools and colleges to spot warning signs and ensuring women's rights are upheld.

Announcing the appointment, Home Secretary Amber Rudd said: "The Commission for Countering Extremism will form a crucial part of this Government's work to stop the scourge of extremism in all its forms and Sara Khan is expertly qualified to lead its important work.

"She will bring a wealth of experience and knowledge to the commission which will prove vital as it works to identify and challenge extremism and provide independent advice to the Government."

Ms Khan is expected to take her post in the next month. The appointment is for a period of three years.

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