What role do women play in this struggle?
Khan: Empowering women has consequences for the whole country. Women are usually passionate about fighting extremism because they can see the impact of extremist ideas in their own families. The women I meet in this context are always very courageous.
For some time, we have been running special programmes for Muslim women in which we have, for example, provided them with theological counterarguments. When women participate, this has an impact on society as a whole. In 2015, when the IS proclaimed its caliphate, we conducted an anti-IS campaign. Women and mothers were the focus. We gave them the tools to protect their children from these ideologies. It is important that when they encounter an imam who preaches hatred, they donʹt just ignore it, but do something about it.
Eight hundred and fifty British joined IS and about half have returned. Why are young people radicalising in Britain?
Khan: The reasons are many and varied; they may be personal or social. But it's mostly about ideologies, extremist propaganda, identity and belonging. Ignorance – that is, not knowing the counterarguments also plays a role. Social media are also crucial. It's no different in Britain than elsewhere. The tenor of public discourse is divisive and characterised by a lack of respect. Dialogue, listening to different opinions and perspectives can have a hugely beneficial effect.
What do you think the future holds? Will this resurgence in extremism soon be over?
Khan: Weʹre living through an era of extremism. When we look at the world situation, it is extremely worrying. I don't believe things are going to improve any time soon. So we must do everything we can to counter it. Individual countries must ensure equality, diversity and human rights for all their citizens. These values are crucial because they are threatened by extremists.
Have you been targeted by extremists yourself?
Khan: It goes with the territory – you get used to it over time. But it only happens because extremists donʹt want us to do what we do. That simply means we have to carry on and ignore them. This work is simply too important not to be done. It affects us all.
Interview conducted by Nermin Ismail
© Deutsche Welle 2019
Sara Khan is Lead Commissioner for Countering Extremism for England and Wales. Prior to this role she co-founded Inspire, a non-governmental organisation that aims to counter extremism and promote gender equality. She is also the author of the book "The Battle for British Islam: Reclaiming Muslim Identity from Extremism."