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UK counter-extremism chief Sara Khan calls for overhaul of strategy

Sara Khan

The UK government”s independent advisor on extremism on Monday (7) called for a complete overhaul of its extremism strategy by setting up a new taskforce to study the different forms it takes, including Sikh activism.

Sara Khan, the head of the Commission for Countering Extremism, released a major report and linked academic papers to highlight a new category of extremist behaviour outside of terrorism and violent extremism, which is termed as “hateful extremism”.

An academic paper on the nature of British Sikh activism concludes the need for the government to better understand divisive issues such as the demands for an autonomous Sikh state of Khalistan.

“The papers on Islamism and Sikh activism bring to life the many issues we have heard through our evidence gathering and engagement. They include clear examples of the democratic debate we must protect but also the hateful extremism we must recognise and challenge,” said Khan.

“We have identified the amplifying of hate, persistent hatred and the equivocation over violence as the most harmful issues, outside of terrorism. Today I argue, we can, and must, do more – starting with a new clarity and purpose to work to counter hateful extremism,” she said.

The paper on Sikh activism concluded in its research that there is a “knowledge and evidence gap” in the UK government pertaining to issues such as Khalistan due to its “one size fits all” approach.

“It is essential that government addresses this gap through consultation with a diverse pool of Sikhs and Sikh organisations rather than listening to the views of a few voices that claim to represent an entire community,” the study notes.

“Despite some evidence of bravado, violent imagery and strong criticism of the Indian state by British Sikh activists – we found little evidence to back claims for example of strong support for Referendum 2020, or terrorism funding made by the Indian government,” it added.

As part of the wider ”Challenging Hateful Extremism’ report, the Commission for Countering Extremism carried out what it describes as the first-ever national conversation on extremism.

It summarises hateful extremism as behaviours that can incite and amplify hate, or engage in persistent hatred, or equivocate about and make the moral case for violence; that draw on hateful, hostile or supremacist beliefs directed at an out-group who are perceived as a threat to the wellbeing, survival or success of an in-group; and that cause, or are likely to cause, harm to individuals, communities or wider society.

“Our country”s response to terrorism is robust. This is not the case for hateful extremism. Yet if we are to be successful in reducing the extremist threat in our society, we need to focus our efforts on challenging hateful extremism,” said Khan, who was appointed to the new Commission last year and charged with setting out the parameters for an overhaul of the government”s anti-extremism strategy.

“The government must urgently overhaul its approach to challenging extremism, starting with a new definition of hateful extremism, a new government strategy and a Home Secretary-led taskforce,” she said.

Through the taskforce, the UK home secretary – Priti Patel – is urged to provide leadership within government, building on the expertise of those who have been working to challenge hateful extremism elsewhere in society.

Under the proposals the commission would work with the home secretary, task force, government bodies and civil society to assess any ongoing or emerging situations and put this response in place.

The report also confirms that the commission will “generate a full, working definition of hateful extremism, to allow everyone to feel more confident in identifying and countering it”.