Sara Khan is the British Muslim activist behind the campaign group Inspire on a mission to counter Islamist extremism here in Britain, which she believes seeks to deny women their rights, freedom and agency. Her own upbringing as the daughter of a Pakistani immigrant and her work in Muslim communities has given Khan an insight into the extremist mentality. The bomber responsible for the Manchester terror attack earlier this week - 22-year-old Salman Abedi - killed 22 people, including children, when he detonated an improvised bomb at the Manchester Arena as crowds exited after an Ariana Grande concert. Here, Khan speaks about the Manchester attack, how we need to pull together as a country and why we all need to do more. “We can’t afford to be politically correct or culturally sensitive about this issue any longer.” First published: Friday 26th May 2017
I was in tears all day after hearing about the attack. As a mother of two young girls and an activist who works in this space, it impacted me even more. What happened is heartbreaking and distressing. At the same time, I feel a lot of frustration, because the whole reason I co-founded my organisation, Inspire, was because I knew that the threat of Islamist extremism was real. And yet again we’ve seen an act by another young British Muslim with devastating consequences. People have lost their children.
What most concerns me about the Manchester terror attack is that explosives have been used. Some of the more recent attacks we have witnessed here and in France have used knives or cars as weapons, there is no great amount of planning required in these attacks. The Manchester terror attack is quite different because there must have been a network who helped assist Abedi plan the attack and make the bomb. This is going to cause the security services a huge amount of concern. The sad reality of terrorism is that you always have new and emerging trends.
Since the attack, I’ve noticed many Muslims display real anger at what happened, with many saying Muslim communities need to do more. On the one hand, there is this positive trend where British Muslims are contributing positively to society and are incredibly integrated – like London mayor Sadiq Khan – but at the same time there is a negative trend emerging that justifies such violence, which doesn’t subscribe to human rights and vehemently opposes democracy, and we have to address that.
There is no easy answer when or how we can work better together; it’s a multi-pronged approach. We need to continue engaging with the police and support them in their attempts to protect us all. We need to work with the government and with counter-radicalisation schemes like Prevent. Faith institutions and religious leaders have a role to play too; amplifying theological counter-narratives to extremist ideology is so important. When you have young people who buy into the Isis propaganda and think they are fulfilling some sort of religious mandate, it is really important to have people who can challenge that. And families too; they are really the first line of resistance because if anyone is going to notice changes in their children’s behavior it will be them. It is about recognising those signs and educating parents on where they can seek support and the steps they can take.
As a country, we shouldn’t feel nervous speaking about Islamist extremism. I think a lot of the time we fear that if we talk about it we may feed anti-Muslim prejudice attacks and abuse, but I think that sentiment has actually hindered our work in countering Islamist extremism. We have to recognise what Islamist extremism is: it is a far-right ideology that mirrors far-right ideological beliefs. We have to recogonise that this is a serious problem; we can’t always be culturally sensitive about this issue. Things have to change.