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Response from Extremism Commission to our letter 12-Oct-2019

Response from Extremism Commission to our letter 12-Oct-2019


Sharia Watch: We have several issues with their response and will be replying to them in due course.

Dear Sharia Watch UK

Thank you for your letter dated 12 October 2019, and for taking the time to read our report and share your concerns. We stand by the inclusion of Anne Marie Waters’ words in our report.

The Commission for Countering Extremism is an independent, non-statutory committee of the Home Office. It was established to support society to challenge all forms of extremism and provide impartial advice to the Government on new policies. Over the last 18 months, the Commission, in line with its three key principles of engagement, impartiality and evidence, has explored all forms of extremism across England and Wales and published the results in our report, Challenging Hateful Extremism. In this report we set out our new definition of hateful extremism, which we describe as:

• Behaviours that can incite and amplify hate, or engage in persistent hatred, or equivocate about and make the moral case for violence;
• And 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.

Inciting hatred against people because of their religion or race should have no place in our society. It is not clear from your letter how your concerns about sharia practices relate to hateful extremism. The reports by the Council for Europe do not discuss extremism and I wonder why you have drawn this to our attention. With regards to your concerns about sharia councils, they have no legal status and no legally binding authority under British law. Whilst sharia is a source of guidance for many Muslims, sharia councils have no legal jurisdiction in England and Wales. Thus, if decisions or recommendations are made by a sharia council that are inconsistent with domestic law, domestic law will prevail. Sharia law is a voluntary code which people are free to ascribe to if they wish, just as they are free to ascribe to other codes of behaviour. Our report describes the potential restriction of rights and freedoms that can occur from the enforcement of cultural or religious practices, but this is a separate concern from what we have identified as hateful extremism.

One way to help victims would be to discuss this issue with the new Domestic Abuse Commissioner, Nicole Jacobs or the Victims Commissioner, Dame Vera Baird. I would also refer you to the findings of the “Independent review into the application of sharia law in England and Wales” published in February 2018. The review recognised that some women may not understand that they are entitled to all rights under British law. The Government is working with voluntary sector organisations to educate and inform couples and their children of their rights. I am pleased that some progress has been made in this space.

Even where challenging conversations are needed, these should always be conducted in a constructive and respectful manner. There is no place for targeting individuals for hate. I have shown in my report the hateful extremism of Islamist activists in our country. The Commission has repeatedly challenged Islamists – but also Far Right and other hateful extremists. Distinguishing the hateful activity of Islamist extremists from the peaceful religious practice of ordinary Muslims is essential if we are genuinely concerned about combatting extremism. There are over 3 million British Muslims, the vast majority of whom are contributing positively to our country and public life. Many of those at the forefront of combatting Islamist extremism are British Muslims and we must support them. I am concerned about Sharia Watch’s reductive characterisation of sharia and of Muslims. Portraying them as a monolithic and extremist community is dangerous and can be interpreted as amplifying hatred against Muslims. That is utterly unacceptable. I urge you to consider the real-world consequences of promoting these divisive narratives.

Like those of other faiths, Muslims work hard to balance their faith and modern life. Where people abuse this faith to cause suffering to others I have and will continue to challenge it. But to treat Muslims differently simply for practicing their faith in a lawful manner is unacceptable and discriminatory. It undermines the principles of our democratic society. We are grateful for you taking the time to share your views as we implement the recommendations of our report. Our next steps are to share our newly developed workplan with the Home Secretary.

Yours sincerely,

Sara Khan
Lead Commissioner for Countering Extremism