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Sara Khan: Courageous (©sara khan)

An unwitting question from a Woman’s Hour presenter began a new fight for Sara Khan.

“Are you a government stooge?”

As she pondered her reply, Khan might have reflected that she had more than enough fights on her hands already.

Until the London bombings of 2005, she had given the appearance of being a conventionally successful member of the liberal middle class. She had a degree and career in pharmacy, and a husband and two children. She also had an enviable ability to deliver a principled argument in a cheerful and straightforward manner. In 2009, she abandoned her comfortable life and put her talent for tackling abuses she saw around her to good use. She founded the campaign group Inspire to persuade Muslim women to stand up against religious misogyny. Surely all reasonable people would agree with that. What else could they do?

The “bastardisations of Islam” — Wahhabism and Salafism — had “stolen my faith,” she said in 2015. “Muslim women needed to be told by other Muslim women that they need not bow their heads and indeed cover their heads before religious conservatives.” So far, so traditional. With slight changes of emphasis, liberal Christians and Jews could have used her criticisms against their own conservatives.

The arrival of Islamic State gave her an opponent no liberal from another faith had to face. IS was persuading girls to come to Syria to be abused and abuse others. “I too am British and Muslim,” Khan said in a widely-read open letter to Muslim schoolgirls. “You are being lied to in the wickedest of ways.”

The comparison between religious militants and paedophiles is obvious. When girls are groomed and exploited no one would object if a mother were to organise a campaign against the abusers and demand the support of the British state. Khan was not just enlisting the support of Theresa May and other politicians to protect girls, but their families too. Just as all parents do not want to hear that their children have been raped, Muslim parents do not want to hear that their daughters have risked and in many cases lost their lives by being lured from British schools to Syria.

As with campaigns against conventional child abuse, Khan’s work was both crime prevention and social work. Naturally, she supported the government’s attempts via the Prevent programme to stop children being radicalised. Indeed she would be outraged if this or any other government was not trying to stop grooming, as anyone else would be outraged if the government were to announce it had instructed the police to lay off paedophiles.

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Mark Lambert
April 27th, 2017
12:04 PM
I was not aware of that question on "Women's Hour" but it doesn't surprise me. Some months back Sara Khan was interviewed on BBC Asian network, regarding her book. However, almost the whole interview was led by the presenter about Prevent, and his own seeming objections to it. All his objections came straight out of the "Islamist organisation handbook" (and this was the BBC). But one question surprised me. It was regarding Khan's sister working for the Home Office. I cannot remember the exact context, but it was obviously loaded, and I do remember Khan being taken aback. The same interviewer dismissed any talk of Wahabbism, which made me curious. Did he not consider it a problem? As MP Charles Walker said to Teresa May in PMQ's a few months back (regarding death threats to Louis Smith) "I want to know what is going on in this country, because I no longer understand the rules".

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