Controlling Muslim Discourse: The Neoconservative Epistemology in Sara Khan’s Hope not Hate Piece

 The last piece analysing Hope not Hate’s (HnH) report State of Hate 2017, engaged the question of Sara Khan’s circles of influence.  Her links to notorious members of the counter-Jihad movement would, at the very least, cast doubt on what was produced in the report. One of the structural flaws noted in my last piece was that Khan’s operating framework was the highly discredited PREVENT policy. The policy is based on neoconservative assumptions and promoted by those who intermingle with the worst of the far-right counter-Jihad movements.

This piece will take an epistemological account of Khan’s writing and elaborate the way in which destructive neoconservative assumptions permeate it, leading to the perpetuation of structural prejudice against the Muslim minority and control of Muslim discourse.


The neoconservative assumptions manifest early in Khan’s contribution.  The London bombings are invoked to demonstrate how “Islamist-inspired violence” is a threat to “our shared values”, perpetuating a clash of civilisations analysis which regurgitates the warmongering thinking along the lines of Bernard Lewis and Samuel Huntington, later refined by neocon ideologues.  The inconvenient truth rooted in foreign policies and history is excised, even when, in the cases of the 7/7/ attackers, their motivation was explicit – the Iraq invasion. The historian William Dalrymple, commenting on the specious ideological neocon thesis, has stated,

“Throughout Gove’s book [Celsius 7/7], neocon myths are reheated and served up, despite being long discredited At the heart of Celsius 7/7 lies the idea that the Islamists are motivated by a deep hatred of freedom: as Bin Laden noted in his 2004 broadcast, if that was so, “Why did we not attack Sweden?” Instead, it is specifically to fight for freedom from US interference in the Islamic world that Al-Qaeda was formed: “We have been fighting you because we are free men,” said Bin Laden in the same speech. “Just as you violate our security, so we violate yours.” This was echoed by Mohammad Siddique Khan before 7/7: “Your governments continuously perpetuate atrocities against my people all over the world . . . Until we feel security, you will be our targets. And until you stop the bombing, imprisonment and torture of my people, we will not stop this fight.””

This thinking underpins contemporary radicalisation theories. Interrogating the epistemology of “radicalisation” thinking, Professor Arun Kundnani writes,

“How has this happened? The answer lies in the way that “knowledge” in the field of radicalization studies has been constrained and circumscribed by states. National security agencies have instituted the field, defined the object of knowledge, and set the questions to be studied. Thus, rather than ask what are the social, political, and historical causes of terrorism, radicalization studies ask what leads an individual to adopt an extremist ideology assumed (incorrectly) to be correlated with terrorism.

This narrative, whilst deflecting state scrutiny, enables the culturalist assault on a minority religion through the proliferation of flaccid terminology like “Islamist” and “extremism” – a point noted by academics as problematic.  Professor David Miller has stated that “there are fundamental questions about the very concept of extremism” whilst Professor Conor Gearty has identified the dynamic the term “extremism” engenders socially and politically:

“There was always a risk that identity politics would be turned into a cultural war, the majority versus the rest. We don’t hurl racist abuse anymore, not in public. We say ‘extremist’.

It inevitably leads to a coerced mechanism to deform Islam and categorise Muslims as either “good” (deformed and state compliant in their ideology) or “bad” (possessing alternate worldviews, with a fundamental difference on foreign policy), creating suspect communities in the process. It is a testimony to the deeply problematic nature of “extremism” that the UK government is still unable to define the term without breaching human rights.

Yet, for Khan – and by extension HnH – the application of “extremism” is considered a priori knowledge in the context of the Muslim minority.

Conflating Muslim Groups with Extremism/Conflating Extremism with Hate

Given Khan is a PREVENT-proponent, it is expected that her contribution is inebriated with PREVENT-thinking. As is symptomatic of PREVENT, Khan conflates and obscures the terminology she uses. The impact of this is a bigoted marginalisation of whole groups where “Islamist”, “fundamentalist” and the new-fangled “Salafi-Islamist” – terms undefined in the actual report – are automatically conflated by Khan with “hatred and discrimination” and “Al-Qaida and ISIS”.

The idea that “extremism”, defined by PREVENT as an opposition to “British values”, leads to terrorism is an empirically unfounded one. It is rooted in Orientalist thinking which presupposes that unless Muslims in particular are not “civilised” by believing in values defined by the state, there is an inherent propensity towards hate and indiscriminate, unjustified violence. Of course, critical analysis and opposition to the conceptual nature of democracy does not mean a hatred of people, otherwise a plethora of classic and contemporary philosophers would be considered hate preachers or potential terrorists. Similarly, disagreement with the epistemologically liberal conception of equality and human rights does not equate to hate, otherwise Orthodox Jews and Christians would be present in the HnH report.

This does not stop Khan from imposing her post-9/11 neoconservative framework – a framework which has tied alternate ideas and viewpoints to hate and violence – on activist groups from the 90s.  She thus claims that in the 1990s “Salafi-Islamist hate groups attracted thousands at their annual events”.  The label “Salafi-Islamist” does not even exist prior to 2016 and before the birth of her poorly constructed Home Office-linked bookThe Battle for British Islam.

This reductionist, ahistorical and demonising approach to diverse Islamic activism in the UK is precisely the type formed and advocated by dubious neocons “think-tanks” connected to the war machine.  It is designed to associate “Islamism”, for instance, with fascism, architecting the necessary enemy for neocons in order to perpetuate the cold war politics of fear and war. In constructing this enemy, the neocons have been at the forefront of perpetuating a conspiratorial perception of “Islamism”. The academic Sadek Hamid in his recent work has written,[1]

“Similar to Islamophobic networks in the US, a cluster of writers and individuals associated with London-based think-tanks such as the Centre for Social Cohesion, Policy Exchange, the Henry Jackson Society and the Quilliam Foundation have produced numerous reports articulating their opposition to Islamism and highlighting its potential to infiltrate institutions and dominate the representation of Muslims in Britain.

This fits with Khan’s perception of “Islamism”, defined by the likes of Michael Gove (Policy Exchange) and the UK government (see below) to include orthodox Islamic beliefs that lead one to the door of terrorism.  Thus, for Khan, “promotion of Islamist ideals” is sufficient to “normalise and create a climate where violent ideologues are able to recruit impressionable young individuals”.  Further, Salafi-Islamist groups “including non-violent-extremist variants”, not only constitute a threat to national security but also “hamper” the fostering of “compassionate co-existence and cohesive community”.  This theory was recently refuted by the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee, which concluded “Islamists” were a “firewall against violent extremism”, turning Khan’s thesis on its head and at the same time demonstrating the fallacy of using broad-brush terms like “Salafi-Islamist”.

Structural Prejudice

Khan’s neoconservative narrative is intrinsically responsible for the perpetuation of structural prejudice. Hamid writes,

“Resorting to a rhetorical binary of ‘Good Muslim” and ‘Bad Muslim’ reinforces prejudices, instead of providing meaningful explanations for the complex religious identities and experiences of Britain’s second largest religious minority.[2]

This is all the more ironic, given Khan’s piece is published on a report about hate. The cumbersome application of such labels and declaring the labelled groups a security threat and an anathema to society is precisely the type of demonisation propagated by bigoted Islamophobes highlighted in my previous piece, and ironically, ISIS.

A further dynamic to observe here is the “slippery slope”; i.e. those concepts and beliefs which have semblance – however distorted – between a violent archetype and a particular peaceful group, is used to suggest that a violent propensity exists within the peaceful group.  It is this dynamic that underpins David Cameron’s draconian assertion that there was a need to deal with the “conditions” which give rise to “extremism”.  The entire Casey Review is similarly based on this “conveyor-belt” thinking. It is a bigoted analysis further compounds the targeting of whole groups, and religiously orthodox/divergent political opinions.[3]

PREVENT Regulation of Muslim Discourse

The regulation of Muslims beliefs and discourse is exemplified well in Khan’s categorisation of two well-known Muslim online platforms, and  Whilst furnishing little evidence of actual “hate” promoted by these two platforms, Khan and HnH have included them using the PREVENT framework. Khan writes,

“The British Salafi-Islamist ideology pushes victimhood grievance propaganda which is often anti-Western, advocates belief in establishing and supporting a caliphate governed by sharia law and promotes intolerance towards Muslim beliefs and practices outside the folds of Salafism and Islamism.

The pathologisation of grievance and the categorisation of the orthodox belief in the Caliphate as being linked to “extremism” are constitutive themes of the PREVENT Strategy. This raises the question of course, how does highlighting victimisation of a minority or supporting a caliphate (an orthodox Islamic viewpoint) equate to hate? If this is the case, then are Amnesty International and the Ahmadiyyah, who have a “Caliph” in Britain, “extremist” too. And why are they not included?

The idea that being “anti-Western” is equivalent to hate and potential terrorism is similarly authoritarian and a clear attempt to control discourses which may be critical of the state and its militarist policies. It is important to understand that for neocons, the idea that foreign policy is problematic and a driver for terrorism is itself “grievance propaganda”.  When the deformist Tariq Ramadan claimed in 2007 that there was a “link between terrorism and foreign policy”, neocon David Goodhart, who has been instrumental in shaping the discourse on integration and contributed heavily to the anti-Muslim narrative found in the Casey Review, denounced Ramadan’s assertion as a “grievance-seeking” diatribe. The “moderate” Ramadan was no longer a “moderate”.

In 2014, Peter Clarke, at the behest of neocon Michael Gove, investigated the now disproven Trojan Hoax allegations against Muslims in Birmingham.  He produces a report which was heavily criticised for its neocon assumptions by academics.  Applying the PREVENT definition of “extremism”, Clarke highlighted “anti-Western sentiment” as a problematic “undercurrent”. Elaborating this he stated,

“There is also an undercurrent of anti-Western sentiment, explicit antagonism towards the British military, a sceptical reaction to news of terrorist attacks (Lee Rigby and the Boston bombings).

To demonstrate the “antagonism” towards the British military (p.66), Clarke referenced Muslim teachers criticising a mosque’s support for British soldiers and taking issue with a government initiative to encourage soldiers to take up teaching careers (p.68). Incidentally, the link to the article itself contains statements from teachers opposing the idea due to it creating a “military ethos” in schools. With regards to the “sceptical attitude” towards news of terrorist attacks, Clarke presented an article by Glenn Greenwald questioning whether the Lee Rigby murder was technically “terrorism”.

The picture created is one where, unless a Muslim is not supporting militarism and exhibiting blind faith in the state and the media, he or she is somehow “anti-Western”.  Simply put, this is McCarthyistic control of control of ideas.

The application of “anti-Western” sentiment as a sign of “extremism” is also discriminatory. Presumably Glenn Greenwald, Noam Chomsky, Frankie Boyle, or, of late, Shashi Tharoor are also “anti-Western” and therefore vulnerable to “extremism” and terrorism.  If this is not so then Khan’s – and PREVENT’s – use of “anti-Western” is not only totalitarian, but discriminatory too.

5Pillars and Islam21c express narratives that broadly have some resonance with the Muslim mainstream community. For instance, Palestinian activism, belief in the historic and theological significance of the Caliphate,[4] opposition to violent Western foreign policy and strong opposition to draconian public surveillance programmes like PREVENT. It is no mere coincidence that Khan has included web platforms which happen to express the very ideas that PREVENT has a history of regulating and restricting.  What is of greater concern is that a civil society organisation dedicated to combatting hate has co-opted a policy of persecution.

Accentuating the control of dissent, Khan echoes the far-right neoconservative view of “Islamists” as deceptive and subversive and writes that “Salafi-Islamists”,

“even employ the language of human rights, multiculturalism and liberalism to neutralise opposition and conceal their illiberal worldview”.

In other words, the raising of issues which detrimentally affect the Muslim minority, and asserting these issues through a legal remedial framework, is “Salafi-Islamist”.  In doing so, Khan in fact employs the hate-financed Henry Jackson Society’s prescribed method of silencing PREVENT-critique: smearing criticism of PREVENT and its proponents through the “liberal” use of the label of “Islamist”.

Concluding Remarks

From Khan’s own links to the very epistemology of hate she has employed in the report to target Muslims, the credibility of HnH has come into serious question.  The broken PREVENT security apparatus has been used control and shape Muslim discourse insidiously beneath shoddy and hypocritical concerns of social cohesion.

In the coming pieces the result of employing a systemically problematic and demonising framework will be highlighted and commented upon. This will also include exposing misleading and/or distorted statements and cases designed to exaggerate the perception of a threat.


[1] Hamid, S., Sufis, Salafis and Islamists – The Contested Ground of British Islamic Activism, 2016, I.B. Taurus & Co: London, pp.2-3

[2] Ibid. p.3

[3] For more on this, see Kundnani, A., The Muslims Are Coming! Islamophobia, Extremism, and the Domestic War on Terror, Verso Books: London, 2014, p. 257

[4] See also, Hamid, S., Islamic Exceptionalism: How the Struggle Over Islam Is Reshaping the World St.Martin’s Press: New York, 2016, p.11

2 thoughts on “Controlling Muslim Discourse: The Neoconservative Epistemology in Sara Khan’s Hope not Hate Piece

  1. Reblogged this on | truthaholics and commented:
    “From Khan’s own links to the very epistemology of hate she has employed in the report to target Muslims, the credibility of HnH has come into serious question. The broken PREVENT security apparatus has been used control and shape Muslim discourse insidiously beneath shoddy and hypocritical concerns of social cohesion.

    In the coming pieces the result of employing a systemically problematic and demonising framework will be highlighted and commented upon. This will also include exposing misleading and/or distorted statements and cases designed to exaggerate the perception of a threat.”

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