Welcome to our third newsletter, which provides you with the latest updates from the Commission.
What have we been working on?
In the summer, we announced the launch of our legal review which will examine the effectiveness of existing legislation in tackling hateful extremism. We appointed former Assistant Commissioner for Specialist Operations of the Metropolitan Police Service, Sir Mark Rowley, to lead the review. He has been tasked to:
- Identify whether there are gaps in existing legislation or inconsistencies in enforcing the law in relation to hateful extremism and
- Make practical recommendations that are compatible with existing legal and human rights obligations.
Since then, we have been gathering evidence and have engaged with a range of experts and public bodies. We hope to publish our findings and initial recommendations in the next few months.
In July, we published a report examining how hateful extremists are exploiting the pandemic. Through the use of conspiracy theories and fake news, the Commission found that hateful extremists have used divisive, xenophobic and racist narratives to sow division and undermine the social fabric of our country. We published a number of recommendations to the Government including the importance of investing in counter extremism work and to publish a new strategy as extremists will seek to capitalise on the long-term socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 to cause further instability, fear and division in Britain.
Our report was well received and was reported on in national press such as the Independent, Telegraph, and Evening Standard, internationally on CNN and others as well as on broadcast media.
Commission establish new academic-practitioner counter extremism network (APCEN)
We are pleased to announce we have launched a new pilot network, bringing together experts in the field of counter-extremism to help bring the latest academic research, policy and practice on extremism and counter-extremism. The Academic-Practitioner Counter Extremism Network (APCEN) is made up of members from the Commission, national, regional and local government practitioners working in counter extremism, and leading academics. A full list of members and further information can be found here.
The first meeting focused on the relationship between extremism and conspiracy theories, and included a presentation from Professor Paul Gill, who is an expert in Security and Crime Science at UCL. Professor Gill looked at the link between conspiracy beliefs and violent extremist intentions.
The new network will help to identify gaps in our understanding of extremism and counter-extremism and seek to support future research, by bringing together experts from their respective fields.
Government counter-extremism policy
As the Government’s independent advisor, Sara has also had a series of meetings with ministers and senior officials to advise on the tools, policies and approaches needed to counter both offline and online hateful extremism. The challenge of hateful extremism continues to be of vital importance and developing the right approach is critical.
Appearance before the Home Affairs Select Committee
Sara appeared before the Home Affairs Select Committee on 23rd September. The session gave Sara the opportunity to highlight the findings from our flagship report ‘Challenging Hateful Extremism’, as well as answering questions on a wide range of topics including the definition of hateful extremism, challenges brought by the pandemic, the role of social media, and the growing threat of the far-right extremism and conspiracy theories.
One of the key points Sara made was that, although our country has strong and robust counter-terrorism machinery in place, the counter-extremism infrastructure is “weak, disjointed, behind the curve, and it is not operational”. She warned that:
“ The face of modern-day extremism has changed substantially. The ecosystem of hateful extremism has changed beyond recognition, despite the fact that we have a Prevent strategy and despite the fact that we have a counter-extremism strategy. The current approach is not working or responding to this challenge, and part of the reason is that extremists have professionalised. They have really gone to town, and the way they are operating now is a way that I do not think we have seen before: they have intellectualised their hate, and they are now operating locally, nationally and transnationally..”
She said that the counter-extremism policy is simply not strong or coherent enough. It is this gap that is being exploited by extremist groups. This was vehemently supported by Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, who also gave evidence. He stated he “would adopt Sara’s recommendations tomorrow.” Talking about his fear of extremism affecting vulnerable groups he said:
“That is my biggest concern at the moment: where extremism affects malleable, vulnerable people of all kinds, age groups and societal backgrounds—there is no one route to a terrorist path. The amplification of extremism and its ability to incite a vulnerable section of the population towards terrorism, which is where myself and MI5 set in, is probably my greatest single fear”.
A full account of the HASC session can be seen here.
Who we have met
Engagement is an important part of work and we have continued to engage with a range of stakeholders and key figures.
Sara met the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, where they discussed counter-extremism policy. She also met Shadow Minister for Crime Reduction and Courts, Bambos Charalambous, to discuss the work of the Commission, and met with the Culture Secretary to discuss government proposals to tackle online extremism as part of the Online Harms Bill
Sara did an in-depth Q&A session with the Anti-Semitism Trust, where topics discussed included the scale of anti-Semitism, the role of fringe sites, and the Commission’s thoughts on the Online Harms Bill. We support the government’s attempts to drive forward this important Bill, but as expressed by Sara in the Q&A, we want to ensure that the Bill is effective in tackling extremism. Sara suggested that the CCE has expertise on extremist material and can play a useful role in helping Ofcom, as the proposed regulator in assessing extremist content. A write up of the session can be seen in the Jewish Chronicle and Daily Telegraph.
Sara took part in the launch of a report which looked at the persecution of Ahmadiyya Muslims and the rise of international extremism, presented by the All Party Parliamentary Group for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. She heard from members from the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, and the hate and discrimination they face on a daily basis. She also spoke on a panel for the government’s Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group, on extremists exploiting the pandemic and on dealing with anti-Muslim hatred.
In the media:
The Commission has had a lot of coverage in the media over the past few months.
Sara has written articles in the Independent, talking about the role of conspiracy theories. We announced that we were doing a Legal Review in July – both Sara and Sir Mark Rowley wrote a piece for the Telegraph on this.
Sara has also appeared in the Hope not Hate magazine, talking about her role as the Commissioner, and the challenges of tackling extremism. She has done interviews with a range of broadcasters including BBC Newsnight talking about the role of social media and how Facebook should respond to hate speech; Channel 4 News and BBC Asian Network talking about how extremists have exploited the pandemic. She also appeared on the Today programme talking about how the far-right have exploited the call for racial equality by anti-racist campaigners following the murder of George Floyd.
Staff changes within the Secretariat:
Former interim Chief of Staff, Kate Lakhani, has now left the Commission. She was an integral member of the team and played a pivotal role in building and steering the Commission. We wish Kate the best of luck in her new role, and welcome Jags Ali as the new Chief of Staff to the Commissioner, who got his feet under the table within minutes! We also welcome Emily Al-Hudairi, who has joined as Head of Policy and Strategy, and Noorie Toora, our new Senior Policy Advisor.
Contacting the Commission
Due to the current Government advice on working from home, we would politely request that any correspondence for Sara Khan and the Commission for Countering Extremism should be sent by email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Any correspondence sent by post will not receive a reply within normal timescales.