The Commission for Countering Extremism’s Lead Commissioner, Sara Khan, has given evidence on extremism to the Home Affairs Committee.
You can watch the full evidence on the committee's website.
In a wide-ranging session that covered the launch, remit and objectives of the Commission, Sara updated the Committee on the Commission’s plans for a wide-ranging study on all forms of extremism and discussed fears of a growing threat from the Far Right.
She praised the work civil society groups do to challenge extremism, and also highlighted the abuse they face. Sara also raised the challenges – and potential consequences – of extremist, but legal, content online.
Sara, who set out the Commission's independent role, told the Committee that we needed a “whole society approach” to extremism.
On our wide-ranging study on all forms of extremism, Sara said: “We are asking the public to contribute to our Call for Evidence. I feel passionately that we should give the public the chance to tell us what they are seeing in their towns and cities."
She added: "We need to step back and look at the wider spectrum of extremism. We don’t understand the wider harms of extremism. As part of our study, we will be evaluating current responses, including current programmes and assessing the current legal toolbox.”
Sara explained: “We are on the steps towards building a better understanding of extremism for the long-term”.
Sara drew on her engagement with more than 400 experts and activists and visits to 13 towns and cities across the country.
“I fear we are at the beginning of a new wave of Far Right extremism,” Sara told the Committee. “I speak to experts who say that the decline of the Far Right has gone into reverse. There is a new breed of Far Right. They have professionalised and are adopting the language of human rights.”
She gave the example of a youth worker she had met who had told her of his fears that a “whole generation of vulnerable children” could be lost to the Far Right.
Sara told the Committee the scale of online extremist content was “mind boggling...One of the reasons for our study is to look at the evidence of extremism on social media. Some I have spoken to feel powerless faced with the internet. My concern is the extremist content that is legal.”
She said conspiracy theories and fake news were the “bread and butter tactics of extremists,” Sara said. “We want to engage with the tech companies to help them develop a better response to extremist content.”
Sara told the Committee: “We are witnessing growing distrust in state institutions and wider democracy. In this climate of growing abuse and incivility, extremists thrive and drive the environment.”
The response to extremism
Sara described those on the ground challenging extremism as "unsung heroes". Sara spoke about the hostility many of those countering extremism face. “If you challenge extremism and defend human rights and gender equality, you will face backlash and abuse,” she told MPs on the Committee.
In response to questions about the Government's strategy, Sara told MPs: “The threat from extremism has evolved from the 2015 Counter Extremism Strategy. It’s complex and challenging. We need to assess what’s working and what’s not.” She told the Committee that her conversations with local councils had shown the positive impact of Community Coordinators and the valuable work of the Building a Stronger Britain Together programme.
The Committee also heard from Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, National Lead for Counter Terrorism Policing.
The Commission has published a Terms of Reference for our study into extremism.