“The Commission for Countering Extremism supports society to fight all forms of extremism”, declares the Government website for the Commission for Countering Extremism. “It advises the government on new policies to deal with extremism, including the need for any new powers.” Curiously, nowhere is ‘extremism’ defined on this website, and the “all forms of extremism” which the Commission is pledged to fight specifically excludes those forms of extremism which might readily be recognised as extremist: “The Commission for Countering Extremism (CCE) will not look at terrorism, and has no remit on counter-terrorism policies, including Prevent.”
So the Commission for Countering Extremism is concerned solely with investigating forms of non-violent extremism. It highlights the importance of “the wider integration agenda”, and of “our fundamental, pluralistic values”. And we are told: “Sara Khan is the Lead Commissioner for Countering Extremism.”
Sara Khan is the co-founder and former CEO of Inspire, “with the aim of challenging gender inequality and Islamist extremism. She is also author of The Battle for British Islam: Reclaiming Muslim Identity from Extremism. She writes for the Guardian, Independent and the New Statesman magazine. She fearlessly exposes the link between Islam and Islamism, and contends against Islamic misogyny and the cultural oppression of women and girls. And she isn’t at all popular with some Muslim politicians and groups for doing so: Baroness Warsi said many British Muslims saw her as “a creation and mouthpiece of the Home Office”. The BBC’s Dominic Casciani writes: “Sara Khan is something of the Marmite candidate: people either love her for the manner in which she has spoken out – or they absolutely loathe her for allegedly ‘selling out’ Muslim identity and being prepared to debate with some provocative commentators who have been labelled Islamophobes.”
Love her or loathe her, she has promised “zero tolerance to those who promote hate”.
Curiously, nowhere on her website does she offer a definition of ‘hate’. She lauds social diversity, challenges inequality and exhorts tolerance – ‘British values’ – and that, for Downing Street, makes her “expertly qualified” for chairing the Commission for Countering Extremism – all forms of extremism.
Voice for Justice UK – a Christian group defending “the rights to freedom of speech, and to practise freely and without restraint the Christian faith, as enshrined in the Bible” – has joined with the voices of Baroness Warsi and the Muslim Council of Britain (and, indeed, 99 other Muslim organisations) for Sara Khan to be sacked. The reason, they say, is… well, they don’t actually say on their Citizen Go petition, which is rather a pity. There’s something vague and un-sourced suggesting that her “views demonstrate hostility to those holding and practising Christian belief”, but it isn’t at all clear where or when she has expressed such views. As Melanie Phillips points out, Sara Khan seems to be “an excellent choice to advise the government on countering extremism. Her views couldn’t possibly be considered controversial except by extremists and their apologists.”
Is Voice for Justice UK extremist?
This is moot because their petition also asks for two other Commissioners to be sacked: Peter Tatchell and Dame Louise Casey.
Peter Tatchell is well known for challenging millennia of Christian moral orthodoxy. Voice for Justice UK do not link to any specific grievance, but he has protested with placards outside churches, and even occupied the pulpit of Canterbury Cathedral to condemn the homophobia of the Archbishop of Canterbury who was reduced to bleating, “Peter.. Peter..”. Some might indeed consider such behaviour rather extremist, yet he is a fearless defender of the freedom of speech and expression: he was steadfast in his support for the McArthur family, for example, during the queer case case of the ‘Gay Cake’ (much to the irritation of the plaintiff and LGBT lobby groups). So in consideration of Voice for Justice UK’s mission statement (“the rights to freedom of speech, and to practise freely and without restraint the Christian faith, as enshrined in the Bible”), Peter Tatchell’s anti-Christian extremism embraces a robust defence of the freedom of religion.
The petition does helpfully link to what Voice for Justice UK believe to be evidence of Dame Louise’s anti-Christian extremism: The Casey Review (into opportunity and integration). We know that Dame Louise has a problem with religious conservatism:
..when does a teacher running a secular school say, “No, it’s fine for you not to do theatre,” or music or those sorts of things? When is that okay? I do not really have any view on which religion it is that it is promoting those sorts of views, but they are not okay, in the same way that it is not okay for Catholic schools to be homophobic and anti-gay marriage. That is not okay either—it is not how we bring children up in this country. It is often veiled as religious conservatism, and I have a problem with the expression “religious conservatism”, because often it can be anti-equalities.
Of course, ‘homophobia’ and ‘anti-gay marriage’ are in the eye of the beholder: for some, a rational argument for the maintenance of the Anglican marriage liturgy is ‘homophobic’; the exclusively male Roman Catholic priesthood is ‘sexist’; to question any aspect of Mohammed’s character or action is ‘Islamophobic’, and so on. But she singles out Roman Catholic education as being particularly extremist, which suggests a certain jaundiced view of religious orthodoxy and sexual morality.
Significantly, there are no orthodox Roman Catholics on the Commission for Countering Extremism; nor are there any Evangelical Christians, as Voice for Justice UK highlight:
By contrast, members of the group holding Christian views and supporting traditional belief as set down in the Bible are conspicuous by their absence. It is therefore clear not just that the composition of the Commission lacks balance, but that it shows evidence of anti-Christian bias that will predispose it to conclusions and advice hostile to the protection and defence of Christian belief. In light of this, the analysis, conclusions and recommendations of the Commission cannot be relied upon.
Are there really no orthodox Christians “expertly qualified” for the job? Does believing that abortion is a moral evil, or that same-sex marriage is a category error, or that female priests are an ontological impossibility, or that Jesus is the only path to salvation, disqualify one from the job? Are not all Christians called to be non-violent extremists? There are all manner of pushy interest groups and hyper-sensitive souls just waiting to get upset about something and report you to the police in a state of distress. For the secular state to seek to define “extremist views” reduces freedom of speech and freedom of religion to the lawful expression of culturally orthodox utterances. The gospel of Christ is manifestly counter-cultural, counter-intuitive and, in a pluralist age of religious relativity and all-embracing spirituality, decidedly unorthodox. In what sense is the Christian who proclaims it not ‘extremist’?
One man’s incisive reasoning is another woman’s hate. One man’s extremism is another man’s orthodox belief. Subjectivity reigns: perception is all. You cannot both stamp out extremist ideology in all its forms and sustain freedom of religion: one must give way to the other. The secularists, atheists and religious liberals who make up the Commission for Countering Extremism have already adjudicated upon this: what remains to be seen is how their judgment will be enforced.