Who speaks for Muslims?

The announcement yesterday that the government has chosen Sara Khan as the Lead Commissioner for its new Counter-Extremism agency has provoked predictable condemnation from the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) and one of its most high profile allies, Conservative peer Baroness Sayeeda Warsi.

The announcement yesterday that the government has chosen Sara Khan as the Lead Commissioner for its new Counter-Extremism agency has provoked predictable condemnation from the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) and one of its most high profile allies, Conservative peer Baroness Sayeeda Warsi.

Together the MCB and Warsi have criticised the appointment by saying Khan lacks “broad based support” in the Muslim community and that she is “considered by many in Muslim communities as simply a creation and mouthpiece of the UK Home Office”.

It is not clear on what basis the MCB and Warsi claim to speak for “the Muslim community”. Those vague words, “considered by many” look more like a cover for their own prejudices, projected onto a population that is never given a choice over who should represent them. Self-styled “Muslim community leaders” have long claimed to speak for millions when in fact they represent no-one but themselves and the dogmatic Islamist agenda that feeds extremism. When someone else with the same skin colour and religious background comes along and offers a different, less divisive perspective, it shatters the carefully cultivated illusion of unanimity.

Considering that Warsi was herself ennobled by the UK Government and sits, unelected, in the House of Lords, it seems rather hypocritical of her to attack Khan for being a “creation” of Government.

What the MCB and Warsi really want to say, but dare not, is that they do not like Khan’s liberal politics, they mistrust her intentions and they fear she will undermine their dubious claim to speak on behalf of “the Muslim community”.

But Sara Khan has as much right as they do to talk about Muslim community issues and put forward solutions. With years of experience working at the coal face, helping hundreds, if not thousands of Muslims, she may be exactly the right person to talk about extremism and how to fight it. At the very least, she shows that Muslims have diverse opinions – the first step, perhaps, in overcoming stereotypes about them.

Author: Munira Mirza

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