Dame Sara Khan wants to hear directly from those in the UK who have been targeted by extremists to understand the impact on their lives and the support they have received
Image: PA Archive/PA Images)
The government’s adviser on social cohesion has reported on the devastation that extremism and hatred have wreaked on communities across the country.
Writing exclusively for the Daily Mirror, Dame Sara Khan has described the horrific moment far-right activists “descended onto Sunderland” to spread their “anti-minority extremist views”.
“From demonstrations to promoting disinformation and conspiracy theories online, the bile they spewed was diverse and caused harm” on multiple levels.
Three years ago, the Counter-Extremism Commission found that far-right activists were exploiting concerns about the safety of women and children to attack Muslims and ethnic minorities.
The government agency warned that the tactic attracts white communities that would not normally support the far right and exacerbates social divisions.
Some groups “deliberately distort the truth to persuade their audiences to adopt discriminatory and hateful attitudes,” the report says.
Dame Sara launched a review today to gain a new understanding of Brits’ experiences of extremism.
She wants to hear directly from those who have been targeted by extremists to understand the impact on their lives and the support they have received.
Dame Sara Khan, independent advisor on social cohesion and resilience, said: “As a former counter-extremism commissioner, I have seen firsthand the impact of extremist and other divisive activity in our cities and communities. Too often the response to those who sow hatred and division is slow and ineffective.”
Kemi Badenoch, Minister for Aligning Communities, said: “By sharing your views, you will help ensure our work on countering extremism stays on track – so that risks are easily identified and swiftly addressed in our communities and us build resilience and promote social cohesion.”
Brendan Cox, Together co-founder and advisor, said: “I know firsthand the terrible impact extremism can have on individuals, families and our communities. This is a serious challenge for our society and it is vital that we do more to respond to this threat. Sara’s review, which examines how extremism affects individuals, local communities and social cohesion, is important and I encourage everyone to participate so she can incorporate your views into her recommendations to government.”
Jo Broadwood, CEO, Belong – The Cohesion and Integration Network added: “Belong’s own research has shown that local areas that prioritized social cohesion before and during the pandemic experienced stronger social connections, trust, neighborhoods and communities during the crisis maintained more positive attitudes toward others.
“As such, actively observing and maintaining social cohesion is an essential part of building social capital and supporting communities and places to be resilient against the forces of division, intolerance and extremism.
“It is important that we understand cohesion in this broader sense. We therefore applaud this call for evidence and encourage all those striving to build a more cohesive, inclusive society to respond.”
Lady Sara Khan says…
I have seen the devastation that extremism and intolerance can have on people, businesses and social cohesion in our cities and communities.
In Sunderland, I saw local, national and international far-right activists targeting the area for over 13 months, trying to spread their anti-minority extremist narratives. From demonstrations to promoting disinformation and dangerous conspiracy theories online, the damage has been diverse and at social, economic and democratic levels.
I have come across many other examples, including Islamist hate speech in schools that deliberately seek to undermine cohesion, and interfaith projects – including between Jewish and Muslim groups. Their attempts to mainstream hate preachers and Islamist narratives create a climate of intimidation and hatred, particularly against those brave enough to stand up to them.
These cases sow division, fear and hatred in society.
During the pandemic, we also saw activists targeting secondary schools and hospitals, and in some cases violently threatening doctors, nurses and volunteers.
Academics, journalists, politicians and teachers have all told me how fundamentalists have threatened and attacked them just for doing their jobs or for standing up for democratic values.
Mirror readers instinctively know the impact terrorism and extremism are having on the country as a whole, but what we need now is the bigger picture – how is it affecting daily life in local cities and what more can be done to address it .
That is why I was asked by the Prime Minister to look at how we protect social cohesion and build resilience against extremism at the local level. Together, how can we improve our response to the harm and dangers of extremism in our communities?
I want to hear from victims of extremism whose life-changing experiences are shocking and, unfortunately, often go unrecognized.
My public consultation, launched today, will seek to understand the experiences of victims, local areas, councils and civil society so that we can build even stronger communities that truly reflect our modern and diverse country. I will take an independent, impartial, and evidence-based approach and would like to hear from anyone with experience on these issues.
Understanding HOW we live well together despite seemingly huge differences is what social cohesion is all about. It is the glue that holds democratic societies together.
Open debate is a sign of strong democracy and we must always encourage different opinions. But extremism, threats and intimidation undermine cohesion. We have to face that as a country and eradicate it.
We cannot take our country’s social cohesion for granted when extremists seek to undermine the well-being of our communities. For this reason, I encourage you to speak up through the evidence hearing.
https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/government-launches-anti-extremism-review-26652957 Government launches anti-extremism review to promote social cohesion