Press reports have danced to the Islamists’ tune

Chris Sloggett at the National Secular Society on the stupid attacks on Sara Khan.

Today the BBC’s headline about her appointment is: ‘Controversy over new counter-extremism tsar Sara Khan’.

Many of those who claim to speak for Muslims do not like Khan because she promotes a positive message. She encourages a degree of integration into British society. She says Muslims should obey the same laws as everyone else and cooperate with the British state. She has called for honesty among Muslims about hateful ideologies and intolerant practices which are specific to, or particularly prominent among, those who share their religion.

Her organisation Inspire encourages girls and women from Muslim backgrounds to be aspirational. It has done important work countering the narrative of grievance and resentment peddled by so many. And Khan wrote a book, The Battle for British Islam, in which she tackled many of those peddlers, as well as their counterparts on the white far right, head-on.

Is this really work that we should explicitly describe as ‘controversial’? Anyone interested in the future of British society should support the general thrust of what Khan has tried to do.

It’s typical BBC though, to point a censorious finger at people considered “controversial” by reactionary religious men. They’ve been doing it for years.

That doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be reasonable analysis and criticism of her work. But if such a thing exists it has been drowned out today amid a hurricane of apologism. Advocacy groups such as 5PillarsUK, the Muslim Council of Britain and the Muslim Public Affairs Committee have berated Khan. Politicians such as Sayeeda Warsi, Naz Shah and Diane Abbott have cravenly jumped on the bandwagon.

And meanwhile press reports have danced to the Islamists’ tune. The BBC’s initial report on Khan’s appointment was particularly egregious. It described what had happened, included one sentence from Khan in reported speech, and then handed over the stage to a succession of Islamist apologists.

Was the Guardian any better?

The Guardian initially ran a reasonable, descriptive piece. Its headline declared Khan a “leading Muslim campaigner”. Then it decided to change it.

‘Choice of new UK anti-extremism chief criticised as “alarming”‘ was its new headline. ‘Sara Khan is seen as mouthpiece for the Home Office, says former Tory chair Sayeeda Warsi’ was the new standfirst. “The government has been criticised for appointing a divisive counter-extremism campaigner”, read the first line of the article.

Khan was “seen as being supportive of the government’s controversial Prevent programme” (ah yes, the Prevent victim-mongers getting their chance to say their piece without reply again). Warsi, Shah and Harun Khan of the Muslim Council of Britain were quoted before any description of Khan’s work and before anyone mounted a substantial defence of her.

Or the Independent maybe?

The Independent‘s headline read: ‘Government’s appointment of new anti-extremism chief branded “alarming” amid widespread criticism’. The first paragraph said the decision had been “widely criticised and described as ‘deeply disturbing’ by leading figures in the British Muslim community”. Soon we were being told that “Ms Khan has been a strong advocate for the government’s controversial Prevent policy, which has been described as ‘demonising’ Muslims.” (Of course it has also “been described” as many other things). Once again Shah, Warsi and Harun Khan were given the chance to spout their nonsense before the only defence came from Sara Khan herself and the Government.

It’s bizarre. They wouldn’t give this kind of sympathy to white nationalist groups protesting the hire of a BME woman charged with countering racist extremism. They seem to think Islamists are somehow the opposite of white nationalist groups, but they’re not. The two differ only on race; in every other way they match each other in reactionary repression and bullying.

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