This article first appeared at the Telegraph‘s website. It makes a refershing change from the waffle and evasion that’s been published in the Graun on the same subject. I do not have Sarah’s permission for republishing this, but it’s so good I thought it simply deserved the widest possible audience, and I suspect most Shiraz readers don’t read the Telegraph in either print or electronic format:
Trojan Horse plot: we must not excuse bigots on the grounds that they are Muslim
Bigotry is bigotry, whether it’s religious or not.
By Sarah Khan, director of Inspire
As a Muslim, I object to hardliners and apologists who try to excuse bigotry on the grounds that it’s “Islamic”
One of the most shocking findings, from both Birmingham City Council’s report and from the Government’s own investigation into the Trojan Horse affair, was the incredulous hate peddling promoted to young children by fundamentalist Muslims who attempted to infiltrate a number of schools. Children had been told not to listen to Christians because they were “all liars”; and how they were “lucky to be Muslims and not ignorant like Christians and Jews.” Schools put up posters warning children that if they didn’t pray they would “go to hell” and girls were taught that women who refused to have sex with their husbands would be “punished” by angels “from dusk to dawn”. One of the ringleaders of the Trojan Horse plot told an undercover reporter that “white women have the least amount of morals”, white children were “lazy” and that British people have “colonial blood.”
Let’s be clear. These bigoted views are exactly that – bigoted. As a Muslim I object to those hardliners who aggressively suggest such views are Islamic. They are not. Yet this hate peddling was done in the name of Islam. I have seen over the years how sexist, homophobic and intolerant Muslims deliberately manipulate my faith to justify sexism, homophobia and intolerance to other faith communities. They hide behind the excuse of “Islam”, and argue they are within their religious rights to hold such bigoted views – and British society too often acts as if these are the natural rights of all Muslims. Such an attitude was seen, frustratingly, in the Muslim Council of Britain’s statement in response to the Trojan Horse findings, but also from Birmingham City Council, who did little to stop such practices as there had been a culture within the council which was more concerned about potential allegations of “Islamophobia”. This paranoia incredibly took precedent over the welfare and well-being of children in our schools.
How did it come to this? Part of the reason is the lack of a clear understanding within society of what actually constitutes anti-Muslim prejudice which is then manipulated fully by Muslim hardliners who know this only too well and who gleefully run circles around liberals. But another reason is also because of the confusing messages that are emitted which treat Islam and all Muslims as if they are a homogenous block, and the refusal by Muslims in authority to call out bigotry when they see it being committed by Muslims themselves. Despite their attempts of speaking out in favour of Islam, they refuse to separate the bigoted views of some Muslims from Islam itself.
Take the Muslim Council of Britain. In their statement they complained that Mr Clarke was “conflating conservative Muslim practices to a supposed ideology and agenda to ‘Islamise’ secular schools.”
For the record, I’d like to know: what exactly does the MCB define as conservative Muslim practice? Does the MCB believe homophobia, sexism, intolerance and the “inferiority” of other faiths are conservative Muslim practices? The religious conservative Muslims I speak to tell me they are offended that this could ever be justified as such. Yet predictably, Muslim representative bodies like the MCB at best sound wishy-washy, and at worst continue to defend and justify such bigotry under the guise of “conservative Muslim practice.”
The SWP/NUT/Guardian “line” on Islamist influence on Birmingham schools – that it’s all an “islamophobic” campaign – is no longer tenable.
Even Rick Hatcher of Socialist Resistance, which is broadly sympathetic to the Graun/SWP line, has cast doubt upon their claim that there are simply no problems in Birmingham schools.
Just for the record, let me remind you of what the Graun‘s education editor, Richard Adams, had to say about this matter: “Is the Trojan Horse row just a witch hunt triggered by a hoax?”
This shabby article by Adams was not a one-off: he had previously reported on Park View School (the academy at the centre of the allegations) following a visit that was quite obviously organised and supervised by the school’s ultra-reactionary Islamist chair of governors, Tahir Alam. In short, Adams has been a mouthpiece and conduit for the Islamist propaganda of people like Alam, Salma Yaqoob and the SWP.
Yet now, even the Graun has had to face reality, and last week leaked the conclusions of the Peter Clarke enquiry (commissioned by the government) and then gave extensive and detailed coverage of the enquiry led by Ian Kershaw, commissioned by Birmingham City Council.
Both reports backed the main thrust of the ‘Trojan Horse’ allegations – that there had been (in the words of Ian Kershaw, quoted in the Graun), a “determined effort to change schools, often by unacceptable practices, in order to influence educational and religious provision for the students served.”
Kershaw differs with Clarke only in nuance, with the former finding “no evidence of a conspiracy to promote an anti-British agenda, violent extremism or radicalisation of schools in East Birmingham”, while the latter found there had been a “sustained and coordinated agenda to impose upon children in a number of Birmingham schools the segregationist attitudes and practices of a hardline and politicised strain of Sunni Islam.”
Clarke uncovered emails circulated amongst a group of governors and others, calling themselves the ‘Park View Brotherhood’ which he describes thus: “The all-male group discussions include explicit homophobia, highly offensive comments about British service personnel, a stated ambition to increase segregation at the school, disparagement of Muslims in sectors other than their own, scepticism about the truth of reports on the murder of [soldier] Lee Rigby and the Boston bombings, and constant undercurrent of anti-western, anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiment.”
Both reports also agree that Birmingham City Council, on grounds of “community cohesion” chose to ignore evidence of headteachers and other staff being bullied and driven out in order to turn what were supposed to be secular schools into de facto Islamic schools. The Council preferred a quiet life and turned a blind eye in the name of “community cohesion.” Council leader Albert Bore has since apologised “for the way the actions of a few, including some within the council, have undermined the great reputation of our city.”
Perhaps surprisingly, the Gove-commissioned Clarke report makes the obvious, but politically inconvenient, point that the academy status of many of the ‘Trojan Horse’ schools made them especially vulnerable to extremist influence: “In theory academies are accountable to the secretary of state, but in practice the accountability can amount to benign neglect where educational and financial performance seems to indicate everything is fine. This inquiry has highlighted there are potentially serious problems in some academies”
So we now have a situation in which the two reports commissioned into ‘Trojan Horse’ have both concluded that there was a real issue of organised, ultra-reactionary Islamist influence in some Birmingham schools. The newspaper at the forefront of the campaign of denial that followed the allegations has now relented and faced reality. The leader of Birmingham City Council has acknowledged what happened and apologised. But will those on the left (in particular, but not only, the SWP), who took the Guardian ‘line’ now admit their mistake? More importantly, will the NUT leadership, instead of prevaricating on the issue, now take a clear stand in support of secular education?
By Andrew Coates (reblogged from Tendance Coatesy):
Humanists Show the Way Forward.
Faith Schools Undercover: No Clapping in Class (Monday 14th July at 8pm on Channel 4) revealed:
- Exclusively that even before the so-called anonymous ‘Trojan Horse’ letter came to light the Prime Minister’s office had been warned of what was going on
- Claims by current and former members of staff at Park View – one of the schools implemented in the ‘Trojan Horse’ allegations – that male pupils were given worksheets saying women couldn’t say no to sex with their husbands and also girls at the school were sent home from a sports event because only a male coach was present
- The ultra-Orthodox Haredi Jewish schools in the London Borough of Hackney ‘operating illegally and without the most basic health, safety and child welfare checks’. Channel 4 Dispatches has shocking evidence that Hackney Council, the Department for Education and Ofsted have all known about the schools for years
The programme began with concerns at Oldknow Academy Birmingham. A parent had complained at Christmas not being celebrated and got short shrift. He wrote to the PM.
The most important item was on Park View school,
A former teacher said, on camera, but anonymously that,
“about 60 male pupils were given a worksheet saying women couldn’t say no to sex with their husbands.
She says: “The work sheet categorically said that you know the wife has to obey the man. Well I think it makes the boys feel that they have got that power over girls. The east Birmingham area has one of the highest rates of domestic violence in the country.”
This was flately, and not very convincingly, denied, by the school.
Local MP Khalid Mahmood says: “I am not talking about here extremism in schools although ultimately it could lead to it, and that’s my fear, is that when you are grooming young people into that sort of a mind-set then its very easy once they leave school is to go that extra additional step.”
He also dismissed suggestions the controversy smacks of Islamophobia.
“Over 200 people complaining to the local authority about what’s gone on and you can’t really claim that it’s a witch-hunt,” said Mahmood, whose own actions have shown him sensitive to the difficulties raised by racist attacks on Birmingham Muslims.
There was a report on Olive Primary School in Blackburn.
During this there was evidence that music in school was discouraged, that clapping was not encouraged, and that other “un-Islamic,” practices were frowned on.
Olive Primary is run by the Tauheedul Education Trust, with two other secondaries in Blackburn.
The Lancashire Telegraph draws attention to one feature of the Trust’s activities,
The programme revealed trust schools hosted lectures by three extremist preachers, including Mufti Ismail Menk banned from six UK universities for preaching same-sex acts were ‘filthy’.
It showed him saying of gay people: “With all due respect to the animals, they are worse than animals.”
In Hackney illegal Jewish religious schools (for the ultra-orthodox) exist,
Channel 4 Dispatches discovered that more than 1,000 boys aged 13 to 16 have disappeared from registered schools in the London borough of Hackney.
Instead they are being sent by their parents to be educated in yeshivas – fee-paying schools where the curriculum is solely religious.
We have identified more than ten unregistered, illegal, schools.
And what’s really shocking is that Hackney Council, the Department for Education and Ofsted have all known about these schools for years.
We’ve seen internal government briefing documents that reveal as early as 2008 the Department for Education was aware of the issue. One document states the Department knows a number of schools are ‘operating illegally and without the most basic health, safety and child welfare checks’.
In 2012 the Department acknowledged those running the schools were breaking the law, but said they preferred to work cooperatively with the community.
There were shots of a school, including a room where Hasidic instruction and disputation was taking place. Students went in an out till late in the day.
The conclusion of this section was very unsettling.
Dispatches contacted the schools featured but have received no response.
Hackney Council, Ofsted and the Department for Education told Dispatches their concerns date back many years and they are aware of all the schools on our list.
They say they’ve been working to get them registered.
The Department for Education, who Ofsted and Hackney say have the power to take action against the schools, told Dispatches that ‘where applications for registration are still not forthcoming we will press for a prosecution as it is a criminal offence to operate an unregistered illegal schools.’
The programme seemed to suggest that the Council, out of concern for religious and cultural feeling, was unwilling to act.
Andrew Gilligam reports,
Government documents obtained by Channel 4’s Dispatches and the Jewish Chronicle newspaper say that many of the schools are “operating illegally and without the most basic health, safety and child welfare checks”.
Many boys in the Orthodox Jewish community in Stamford Hill, London, “will stop secular studies at the age of 13 or 14 and start attending ‘yeshivas’ where the curriculum is solely religious,” the documents say.
Between 800 and 1000 boys aged between 13 and 16 are “missing” from the school system in the borough of Hackney alone, the papers add.
Undercover filming by Dispatches in and around the schools shows the boys packed more than 50 to a classroom in dirty, run-down buildings, some converted houses. More than a hundred boys were filmed going in to an illegal school in Lynmouth Road, Stamford Hill, arriving from 7.30 in the morning and leaving late at night. The establishment is believed to be one of twelve illegal schools in the neighbourhood.
In 2011, about one third of the 20,000 state funded schools in England were faith schools, approximately 7,000 in total, of which 68% were Church of England schools and 30% were Roman Catholic . There were 42 Jewish, 12 Muslim, 3 Sikh and 1 Hindu faith schools.
The British Humanist Association says,
“Around a third of all state-funded schools are schools ‘with a religious character’ – the legal term for ‘faith’ schools. This number has grown in recent years as successive governments have increased the influence of religious groups in the state-funded education system.”
That is, with the introduction of Academies and Free Schools, this percentage is believed to have risen.
Faith Schools Undercover noted their role in encouraging ethnic and cultural segregation.
The idea that parents have the right to run, publicly funded, education that promotes their religion, is fundamentally wrong.
Some liberals seem unable to respond to the issues raised (Harry’s Place for example).
There are those who claim to be on the left who find excuses for these arrangements.
They claim that criticisms of, notably, the Birmingham schools, are an ‘Islamophobic’ conspiracy.
This completely fails to look at the problems religiously-run schools create – as indicated by the Channel Four Dispatches documentary.
It indicated that concerns had a solid basis.
The National Secular Society sets out a much better position that those wishing to sweep the subject of Faith education under the carpet.,
Rather than facilitating the segregation of pupils along religious lines, we would like to see steps taken to ensure children of all faiths and none are educated together in a respectful but religiously neutral environment.
As long as faith schools are publicly funded, we campaign for an end to exemptions from equality legislation that allow them to select pupils on the basis of the religion, or religious activities, of the child’s parents.
We are concerned that the Government’s desire for greater proportion of academies and free schools, which are independent and self-governing, will see more and more control of state funded education handed to religious organisations.
Dispatches showed more than enough reasons to back this stand.
The author of many of the pro-religious education policies, Michael Gove, is now Chief Whip.
He has been replaced by even more faith-influenced minister, Nicky Morgan, a Tory MP who voted against same-sex marriage, as education secretary. She “continues as minister for women and equalities”.
Guest post by Pink Prosecco
Nathan Lean is the author of The Islamophobia Industry: How the Right Manufactures Fear of Muslims (2012). His latest post, “Stop Saying ‘Moderate Muslims’. You’re Only Empowering Islamophobes” is characteristically frustrating, leaving the reader (or this one at least) uncertain whether he is (mostly) making sense or succumbing to a dangerous moral relativism.
After sketching events at a recent Heritage Foundation panel in which Brigitte Gabriel clashed with a young student, Saba Ahmed, Lean explains:
That prompted much hand-wringing, primarily on cable news, about the supposed silence of “moderate Muslims” in this supposed age of Islamist extremism. What no one on either side of the debate questioned, though, was the legitimacy of the phrase “moderate Muslims” itself.
Fair enough, I think. Most Muslims will tell you that their version of Islam is simply correct – not “moderate Islam’, just Islam. The Muslim whose views will probably strike most non-Muslims as “moderate’, because broadly compatible with secular and liberal norms, is unlikely to see herself as following a watered down version of the faith. Instead she will view both violent extremists and theocrats as wedded to a perverted and distorted form of Islam.
You could argue that “moderate Muslim’ has a subtext of “doesn’t take her religion seriously, thank goodness’. I believe that’s what Baroness Warsi was getting at in her rather incoherent 2011 speech on Islamophobia. (Obviously many “moderate Muslims’ will have no special problem with that label, but you can object to it and still be perfectly “moderate’.)
Nathan Lean then makes some points it seems easy to go along with. Brigitte Gabriel thinks no practising Muslim can be moderate, Sam Harris asserts that moderate Muslims are those that “express skepticism over the divine origins of the Quran and “surely realize that all [sacred] books are now candidates for flushing down the toilet”, and Pamela Geller thinks that today’s moderate is tomorrow’s mass murderer.
But just when I’m feeling perfectly well aligned with Lean against a bunch of bigots he says this:
To be fair, it’s not just the wackos. [M]any have used this phrase to describe Muslims who fit a certain preferred profile. Many Muslims themselves have bought into this dichotomy, if only to distance themselves from the so-called radicals and extremists to assure paranoid non-Muslims, in other words, “I’m not “that” kind of Muslim.”
Now, even the most irreproachably moderate Muslim might feel irritated at being constantly required to condemn things which have nothing whatsoever to do with him. But what on earth does Lean mean when he refers to “so-called radicals and extremists’? Does he mean terrorists and those who believe adulterers should be stoned to death? Lean’s failure to define his terms makes it impossible to know what he is actually arguing here.
This passage is very satirical, but I don’t mind admitting that I feel implicated in his sketch of the Buffalo wings customer.
How is it that we talk about Muslims much like we talk about Buffalo wings, their “potency” being measured not by some objective rubric but rather by our personal preferences? It’s the mild ones that we seem to search out: not so spicy in their religious practices that they burn us, yet not so bland that they dilute our religious diversity altogether.”
I feel no compunction in condemning those who think apostates and blasphemers should die. But I have no problem with Muslims who pray, fast, and choose to conform to their own understanding of sexual morality and modesty. (Later in the article Lean sets up a straw man, implying that that Muslims who observe Ramadan are viewed as “flirting with extremism’. This – unless you are some kind of counter-jihadist wingnut – is rubbish.)
Lean completely occludes non-violent extremism in his analysis, even though the views held by some entirely non-violent and law abiding Muslims are more extreme than those of the most lurid far right parties.
Even if a mere 1 percent of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims is committed to violence, why is it that we haven’t seen 16 million violent attacks?
With rhetorical sleight of hand he darts back to those who set the bar unfairly high for “moderation’.
Proving one’s “moderation” is a trap, anyway. The only way to do it is to meet the criteria set forth by the person making the demand. For Gabriel and others, it’s by supporting Western foreign policies in the Middle East, cheering continued military aid to Israel, and even rejecting certain Islamic tenets. It’s why a figure like Zuhdi Jasser, a darling of the Republican Party and Peter King’s star witness in the “radicalization” hearings, is held up like a trophy while Saba Ahmed is mocked.
What does “rejecting certain Islamic tenets’ mean? There is little consensus about what Islam “is’ so I am completely at a loss as to whether Lean has in mind lashing blasphemers or believing there is no God but Allah. There’s an awful lot of middle ground between Zuhdi Jasser, who opposed the so-called Ground Zero mosque, and the terrorists who created Ground Zero in the first place. As Lean fails to acknowledge this, his post is ultimately meaningless.
By Sean Matgamna (re-blogged from Workers Liberty)
A group of three academies, one other academy, and one council-controlled school in Birmingham have been put into “special measures” by Ofsted government inspectors for allegedly acting like “faith schools”.
Ofsted complains that Park View school has weekly “Islamic-themed assemblies”, with invited speakers “not vetted”, and that from year 9 onwards religious education is almost all Islamic. Faith schools are explicitly allowed to have their assemblies, and their religious education, organised around their chosen religion, and to imbue other subjects with religious ideology.
Over 35 per cent of all state-funded schools in England are “faith schools”. They can freely do all or most of what Ofsted complained of in Birmingham.
The furore about an alleged “Muslim plot” to turn the Birmingham schools into indoctrination centres for “extremist” Islam rips the covering right off one of the great scandals in British life.
The scandal is not about Muslims, but goes right across the spectrum of the religious indoctrination of children in Britain. The huge majority of faith schools are Christian. Some of them are bland about their religion, and some of them militant.
It is not only about the Tory/Lib-Dem coalition administration. Faith schools increased under Labour from about a quarter to over 35% of schools.
The Government’s answer is that faith schools should continue, but they must be obliged to teach “British values”.
That is dangerous nonsense. The real answer is that all schools must be secular. Religious preaching of all sorts must be taken out of them.
The problem is in part the marshmallow language the Government uses — “extremists” and “moderates”. It is also that much of the Government’s talk about “British values” is “spin” rather than something that has or will have substance to it.
The government lists among those values “tolerance” and “respect” for those of different faiths.
When a school is run by vigorous, convinced, ardently religious people, mandating “moderate” values is either an infringement on religious freedom, or a nonsense, or both.
All serious religious people believe, and in the nature of religious belief must believe, that their own faith is the one true faith. All of them teach that. Explicitly or by implication, they believe that other religious beliefs and practices are wrong, pernicious, even the work of the Devil.
When a religion ceases to think it bears the only real truth, it is on the road to self-weakening and dissolution, at a quicker or faster pace. Anglicanism is an example. Serious belief in the truth and godly inspiration of one’s own religion implies intolerance and contempt for, and desire to subdue, the false religion.
Now the Government says that devout Muslims — often the most convinced and most militant of contemporary religious people — must be “moderate”, and must have “respect” and “tolerance” for those whom their religion tells them are mistaken and sinful.
No doubt the majority of British Muslims do not hold the “extreme” positions, but those who do have the moral high ground, appealing to precedent, age-old tradition, and sense of historical identity and affinity.
Governments should enforce the law against, for example, those who plot religiously-motivated bombing campaigns. And governments have a right and a duty to interfere with what religious people do when they break the social code — for instance, ill-treatment of children by Christian sects, such as the one Victoria Climbie’s murdering religion-crazed aunt belonged to, or mutilation of the genitals of young girls.
But there is no way a government can tell a religious community what to think and believe and pass on to young people. How can a government eradicate the belief of its devotees that a religion or a sect is the only right one, that its devotees are the only “saved” people? It cannot, not without enormous repression; and that would not succeed either. The opposite: it would drive adherents of the faith being targeted into the camp of the “extremists” and “martyrs”.
What follows? That we should “defend” those who might want to indoctrinate children with beliefs and practices that are foul and might point some of them towards jihadism? That we should focus on the demand for “extremist” Muslims to be treated not with suspicion but like bland school-running Anglicans?
That would be absurd.
In the name of religious freedom and the equality of all religions before the law and the state, it would be to “defend” vigorous religious education of all stripes, at whose heart is the systematic and long-term psychological abuse of children. Religious education implants intense emotions, fears, and beliefs in children who as yet have little power of reason and judgement. It is vicious child abuse.
No, the Government has been drawn onto the dangerous ground of threatening to impinge on the freedom of religious belief because its scheme makes no sense.
The real solution is to make all schools — including those now Catholic, Anglican, Jewish, etc. — into secular schools, places where religion is studied only in the cool comparison of different religions, their histories, the origins of their sacred books, the derivation and evolution of their core beliefs, etc.
That would give the children some secular space to retreat to in face of bullying, insistent parents or religious officials, and give them different values to counterpose to the religious values of homes which may be spiritually from a different age and very different societies.
The children of religious parents are entitled to the protection of society and the social institutions.
In some faith schools today small girls go about covered from top to toe in Islamic religious dress. A society that does not win children freedom from such impositions is obscene, and if it does not use the law to stop them will be convincing neither to itself nor to the serious religious people who have contempt for modern commercial society and for those who would regulate and “moderate” them.
The possible social consequences of the continued development of faith schools are dreadful to contemplate. Faith and ethnicity here often go together. Faith schools are also often race-segregated schools. Instead of schools being a force for integrating communities, they entrench social, ethnic, and religious antagonisms. Children are moulded and narrowed in one outlook.
Faith schools in Northern Ireland played an important part in maintaining, reinforcing, and perpetuating Protestant-Catholic sectarianism. It was the Catholic Church, the church of the most oppressed people in Northern Ireland, which insisted on faith schools — or rather, on its own right to indoctrinate children with its beliefs.
At the height of the Troubles, a small group of people started “mixed” schools, as a means of helping to destroy sectarianism. The movement has so far had little success. It would have been better to have had “mixed” schools before sectarian conflict had ripped the society apart.
What all this means for Britain now and for what sensible people should advocate for Britain now is plain: take religion out of our schools. Make education public and secular. Make religion a private matter.
The educational commentator Fiona Millar wrote the following article yesterday, before the publication of Ofsted’s reports into the Birmingham schools involved in the so-called ‘Trojan Horse’ allegations of undue and improper ultra- conservative Islamic influence (not “terrorism” or even “extremism”, by the way). Ofsted’s findings confirmed the essential truth of the allegations in the cases of several of the schools, five of which are to be placed in special measures.
At least Millar recognises the problems and dangers posed by allowing religion any influence in education – unlike the Graun‘s wretched apologist of an education editor, Richard Adams, who seems to wilfully misunderstand and misrepresent the issues at stake.
Miller takes particular exception to the appalling suggestion by the loathsome (Labour) MP Liam Byrne, that the solution to the problem is to turn these nominally secular schools into faith schools:
Why Liam Byrne is wrong about the “Trojan Horse” schools.
I am sure I am not alone in being unsure of what to think about the Birmingham “Trojan Horse “ story. I daresay we will find out more tomorrow when Ofsted publishes some of the reports into the schools implicated in the alleged plot to radicalise pupils in the area.
The key questions seem to me to be:
1. Have there been attempts to organise and pack the governing bodies of the schools? Someone with very good inside knowledge of the Birmingham situation told me that what has gone on in some of the schools is akin to the entryism of the Militant Tendency in the Labour Party in the 1980s
2. If there has been this sort of organisation – to what end? Is this because Islamic organisations want to radicalise pupils? Or is it, as some of the teachers and leaders in the schools have suggested, because they want to get involved and ensure that a previously marginalised and underperforming group get the best possible education? Some of the schools concerned do demonstrate outstanding achievement and progress for their pupils so there has been obviously been effective governance on one level.
3. But does the best education for this particular group of students, who make up almost 100% of the intake in some of the schools concerned, require a degree of “Islamification”.
Lee Donaghy , assistant principle of the Park View Academy, which is at the centre of the storm, was quoted in today’s Observer saying: “Part of raising achievement is schools acknowledging children’s faith and accommodating it”
But is that right? And if it is, how far should that accommodation go? I thought Tristram Hunt got it right on the Radio 4 Today programme yesterday. His message was that of course we want the highest standards, especially for previously underachieving ethnic groups, but we don’t want education excessively tailored to any one religious group in our state comprehensive schools and we do need better local oversight of schools than we have at present. Read the rest of this entry »
Adams of the Graun: evasion and waffle
When Ofsted publishes its reports into the Birmingham schools involved in the so-called ‘Trojan Horse’ allegations of the islamisation of nominally secular state schools in that City, it will censure six schools for failing to provide a “rounded education” or prepare pupils “for life in modern Britain.” In other words, the essential claim of the ‘Trojan Horse’ document – that Islamists have been organising to impose their fundamentalist agenda on schools in Birmingham – is true.
Since the ‘Trojan Horse’ document appeared in March, and the Ofsted inspections were ordered, Tim Boyes, the Head of Queensbridge School in Moseley, Birmingham, has come forward to claim that in 2010 he warned the Department of Education that in some Birmingham schools, pupils and staff were displaying “racist, aggressive and disrespectful behaviour” and that “I and a whole series of colleagues … were reporting concerns about governance and things that weren’t going well … tensions and politics have exploded and as a result head teachers have had nervous breakdowns, they’ve lost their jobs, schools have been really torn apart.” Gove’s department failed to act, says Boyes.
Very similar claims have now been made by a prospective school governor, Keith Townsend, who told Monday’s Radio 4 Today programme that a small group of governors had “infiltrated” the governing body of an un-named Birmingham school (thought to be Golden Hillock School in Sparkbrook), demanded a stricter Muslim regime, and set about driving out the non-Muslim headteacher. Townsend says he reported his concerns to Birmingham City Council in 2008 (when it was controlled by a Tory-Lib Dem coalition) but received a “dismissive reply.” Labour MP Steve McCabe says he can recall having a conversation with Mr Townsend at that time and taking his concerns to an assistant director at the City Council.
All of which puts the Guardian in a bit of a spot. All the Graun‘s coverage to date has concentrated upon suspicions about the provenance of the ‘Trojan Horse’ document, rather than the question of whether or not the allegations of an organised Islamic fundamentalist campaign to take over some Birmingham schools, are actually true. The logic put forward by the Graun is that because the ‘Trojan Horse’ document may well be a hoax, therefore the claims made in it must, of necessity, be untrue: an argument that simply doesn’t follow, if you give it a moment’s thought. At times, the Graun and its Education editor Richard Adams, seem to have been acting as little more than a mouthpiece for the ultra-reactionary Islamist Tahir Alam, Chair of governors at Park View School, and influential at its sister schools Golden Hillock and Nansen. Adams even wrote a glowing report of a visit to Park View, that was clearly arranged, organised and supervised by Alam himself!
How will Adams and the Graun react when the Ofsted reports show them to have been so completely and egregiously wrong about what’s been going on in Birmingham?
Well, we were given a foretaste yesterday, in a typical piece of evasion, double-speak and waffle from Adams. The article’s wretched nadir must surely be this:
“The tranche of reports on 21 state schools, which could be published as early as this week, say there was scant evidence of religious extremism on a daily basis in classrooms, with most criticism reserved for school management and cases of overbearing behaviour by school governors.
“Ofsted’s inspectors appear to have been unable to find much evidence of claims of homophobia or gender discrimination, which have been alleged by anonymous former teachers at some of the schools” (my emphasis -JD).
Now, try a little experiment: try substituting the word “racism” (or, indeed, “Islamophobia”) for “religious extremism” in the first paragraph, and, again, for the words “homophobia or gender discrimination” in the second: then see how it reads.
This isn’t exactly a new low for the Graun (there’ve been too many of them to keep up with), but it’s one more depressing example of that paper’s miserable descent into relativism, pro-Islamism and a complete betrayal of secularism and enlightenment principles.
Yesterday’s Guardian G2 carried a lead story claiming that “In Britain, there is now a cycle of Islamic scare stories so regular that it is almost comforting, like the changing of the seasons. Sadly, this rotation is not as natural, or as benign, although it is beginning to feel just as inevitable.”
The piece, by one Nesrine Malik, goes on to cite stories about gender segregation “in UK universities and Muslim schools”, complaints about Channel 4’s Ramadan coverage, “the niqab debate” the media coverage of “Muslim grooming gangs”, sharia courts and what the author describes as “the … “parallel Islamic law” scare story”, a report (source unspecified) that Lloyds TSB had reduced or eliminated overdraft fees on its Islamic bank accounts, and the present row over halal meat in supermarkets and fast food chains.
Malik lists these stories together, she promises, with “the facts that discredit them” … but, as anyone who reads the piece for themselves will soon discover, she doesn’t provide those facts. In most cases she doesn’t even cite any specific examples or sources.
The section on the sharia law “scare story”, for instance, does not refute or deny the fact that sharia courts operate in the UK, or that the Law Society recently drew up guidelines for sharia wills. The “facts that discredit” this “scare story” turn out to be the following statement from the author:
“On closer inspection, it is clear sharia courts only have jurisdiction on civil matters and everyone must opt in to a sharia court. They only have an advisory capacity and address mainly property and civil matters, and rulings are then only enforceable by civil courts.”
That apologia begs many more questions than it answers. Note that it doesn’t deny that sharia courts operate in the UK, but seems to suggest that it’s OK because they “mainly” have jurisdiction on “property and financial matters.” Which is really no answer to the alleged “scare story” at all, is it? The author also fails to mention that the campaign against sharia law is not a right-wing or racist initiative, but is, in fact, led by the left-wingers and feminists (many of them of Muslim origin) of the One Law For All campaign.
The author complains about how these stories amount to a “constant blurring of facts”, but her own piece is a classic example of just such “blurring”: she conflates the serious concerns (expressed by parents, teachers and MPs) about ultra-conservative Islam/Islamism being promoted in Birmingham non-faith state schools (not “Muslim schools”) and legitimate concerns about gender segregation guidelines issued (though later withdrawn) by Universities UK, with much more contentious issues like grooming gangs and halal food – issues that have in some instances been exploited by racists.
The clear intention of this shoddy, dishonest and poorly-researched (almost no sources are given, for instance) article, is that any and all concern about Islamism (ie political Islam) and/or ultra-conservative Islamic activity, must be racist scare-mongering. Malik should try telling that to Khalid Mahmood, the Birmingham Labour MP, and the teachers who have expressed concerns about what’s going on in some schools, or to the left-wing feminists of One Law For All.
But Nesrine Malik has form when it comes to this sort of thing. Back in 2008 Max Dunbar (then a regular Shirazer) did an excellent “fisking” of her that is worth revisiting in the light of her latest Guardian piece. Dunbar’s 2008 conclusion applies just as well today:
“I used to get outraged about people like Nesrine Malik. Here we have an independent woman working in finance in secular London, telling women in the developing world that theocracy really isn’t so bad as they make out. Isn’t this an imperialist attitude?
“But in the end, the appropriate response isn’t outrage: it’s a dark and riotous laughter at the arrant stupidity of it all.”
Guest post by Pink Prosecco
Adam Deen, of the Deen Institute, has been coming in for a bit of flack from (some) Muslims over his ‘modernising’ approach to Islam. In particular he has spoken out against the marginalization of women in university ISOCs, the way they have been excluded from full participation. Now he is at the centre of another controversy, this time sparked by the Happy Muslims video, which you can see at the Pharrell – HAPPY BRITISH MUSLIMS! site here. Deen appears with other Muslims, including his wife Myriam Francois Cerrah, dancing and singing to the Pharrell Williams hit ‘Happy’.
Several different objections have been raised to this project. The most predictable focus on the supposed impropriety of the video:
“We’ve basically lost all meaning for what the word hijab means. I can’t even be bothered to explain this issue again, the fact that hijab is a state, not just a piece of cloth on the head. Anyway, whatever. This isn’t about the women anyway, this is about the mindset of *all* who support such things.”
Others complain that it is pandering to non-Muslim prejudices to put on a display of happiness and normalcy in order to counter stereotypes. A few just find it a bit cringey, and some feel happiness is rather misplaced when there is so much suffering in the world.
Here is an extract from one of the more aggressive responses, a post by Uthman Badar.
“What we have here is an attempt by Muslims to been seen as ‘normal’ by the mainstream non-Muslim white majority in response to overbearing stereotypes and allegations to the contrary. In the words of the producers,
‘We Brits have a bad rep for being a bit stiff, but this video proves otherwise. We are HAPPY. We are eclectic. We are cosmopolitan. Diverse. Creative. Fun. Outgoing. And everything you can think of.
This video is to show the world despite the negative press, stereotypes and discrimination we are burdened with we should respond with smiles and joy, not anger.’
There is so much wrong with this approach, I don’t know where to begin!
It has Muslims coming in to bat for ‘Brits’ and their bad rep. Reward for the excellent treatment received by Muslims in Britain and by Britain abroad? House-Muslim mentality?”
The quotation from the video’s publicity material, that Badar objects to above, in fact demonstrates that the participants are not complacent about anti-Muslim bigotry, yet still unequivocally identify as British, and want to reach out to non-Muslims with a positive message.
It’s a cheerful video – but I do wonder what it is for exactly. I don’t think EDL supporters will see the error of their ways after watching it – they’ll probably think the performers are practicing taqqiya. Those with more nuanced concerns may quite like the video – but wouldn’t have seen people like Julie Siddiqui as a problem in the first place.
I think Uthman Badar (and others like him) have got this all wrong. My hunch is that this video was never intended to influence non-Muslims, but rather to enable Deen and co. to position themselves in opposition to more conservative, or orthodox, Muslim voices. Participants such as Salma Yaqoob have sometimes seemed keener on differentiating themselves from Quilliam types than from Muslim ‘puritans’ (to use Deen’s term). It’s positive that the battle against real hardliners, usually waged by ultra-liberal Muslims and non-Muslims, is being joined by those who are only moderately moderate.
Guest post by Pink Prosecco
Above: Maajid Nawaz
If a Muslim expresses some reservations about Quilliam’s rhetoric or strategies, I tend to assume, not that they are an Evil Islamist, but that – they have some reservations about Quilliam’s rhetoric or strategies. These are things reasonable people may disagree about. However some recent responses to Maajid Nawaz’s decision to tweet a Jesus and Mo cartoon go beyond reasonable criticism.
He tweeted the picture after it featured (on a T shirt) on BBC’s The Big Questions, where it was the focus of a debate about free speech. This is the offending image in question.
Nawaz’s tweet has apparently caused many Muslims, including Mohammed Shafiq of the Ramadan Foundation, to make a formal complaint to the Lib Dems. (Nawaz is the Liberal Democrat PPC for Hampstead and Kilburn.)
Of course it is quite proper to draw attention to bigoted remarks made by politicians, and expect the whip to be withdrawn, or some other form of censure applied, depending on the level of offence. But the fact some Muslims think it is inappropriate to depict Muhammad does not make Jesus and Mo offensive. Non-Muslims, and Muslims (like Nawaz) who don’t think pictures of Muhammad are taboo, should not be bound by others’ religious dogma.
Reactions to Nawaz cover a spectrum ranging from death threats to warm support – and many of his supporters are fellow-Muslims. In the middle of the spectrum we find people who would certain not condone or incite violence but who demonstrate clear hostility towards the reformist Nawaz. Not all of his antagonists are Muslims. Here’s Gorgeous George’s response.
“No Muslim will ever vote for the Liberal Democrats anywhere ever unless they ditch the provocateur Majid Nawaz, cuckold of the EDL”
5Pillarz, a blog written largely by and for British Muslims, has decided that Nawaz should be their top candidate for ‘Islamophobe of the Year’. The EDL is mentioned at the bottom of their list of suggestions, as a kind of afterthought.
As Maajid Nawaz says:
“Why are many on the “Left” largely silent on Muslim reformers. Want to defend minorities? Well, we’re a minority within a minority, defend us”
As someone from the ‘Left’ I’m happy to defend and support Maajid Nawaz – though I’d draw the line at voting for him.