William & Mary

Kraemer Scholar speaks about extremism and women's rights

  • A voice against extremism
    A voice against extremism  Sara Khan's public lecture as the Kraemer Middle East Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence drew a mix of law students, undergraduates, faculty and local citizens who wanted to hear her powerful message.   Photo by David F. Morrill
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On  March 4, Sara Khan, a British Muslim human rights activist, delivered a lecture at the Law School in her role as William & Mary’s 2015 Kraemer Middle East Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence. Her talk was entitled “ISIS and Women’s Rights: The Key Battleground for Extremists.”

Khan, the director of Inspire, a women's rights and counter-terrorism organization that seeks to address inequalities facing British Muslim women, said that extremists are keen to disempower and marginalize women because women’s contributions to all aspects of life strengthen societies and democracies.

“If we are serious about addressing the threat of violent extremism, it is imperative that we not only recognize the relationship that exists between extremism and the lack of women’s rights, but that we also recognize the vital role women play in countering extremism,” Khan said.

Khan noted that women have countered violence and built peace in several parts of the world, including South Africa, Papua, New Guinea, and Northern Ireland. More recently, after 300 girls were abducted in Nigeria by Boko Haram, it was women, not men or the government, who initiated demonstrations, campaigns, and support for action.

“Women are shaping their countries’ futures, because they know it’s not just about their rights,” Khan said. “It’s about the well-being of their countries, which will help act as a bulwark against extremism.”

Khan went on to dispel the view that Islam calls for the suppression of women. The real villain, she said, is patriarchy. She felt that Muslim women should not reject Islam, but master its peaceful teachings to counter those who use religion to suppress them.

Before her public lecture, Khan took questions from law students  and undergraduates over lunch. On Tuesday, March 3, she gave a talk--“Making a Stand: A Woman's Jihad against Violence and Extremism”--at William & Mary’s Raymond A. Mason School of Business.

Recognized as one of Britain’s 500 most influential people working toward peace and stability in the United Kingdom, Khan has written commentaries for myriad English newspapers and the Huffington Post. She has also appeared on CNN Amanpour, ITV News, BBC Radio's Today Programme, and the BBC Woman's Hour among others.

The Kraemer Middle East Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence was established with a generous gift from Carole A. and Richard C. Kraemer ’65. The annual program, administered by The Wendy & Emery Reves Center for International Studies and the Law School’s Program in Comparative Legal Studies and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding, provides the opportunity for a scholar specializing in Islamic law and governance to spend a short period of time at William & Mary sharing his or her expertise with the university community. It is open to all geographical areas and sub-disciplines, provided the scholar's background, interest and topical focus are on or clearly related to Islamic law and governance.