Regulars will know that although I take the Graun every day, its editorial line and a lot of its columnists infuriate me. So credit where its due: the paper’s role in exposing the News of the World phone-hacking scandal in the first place, and its dogged pursuit of the truth over five long years has been superb. The Graun is largely responsible for the criminal Coulson being brought to justice – something that would never have happened if matters had been left up to the Metropolitan Police (who now have serious questions to answer about their own cosy relationship with News International).
The star of the Graun‘s team on this story has been, since he first broke it in 2009, the relentless Nick Davies, who this week crowned his achievements with a magisterial and surely definitive account of the trial itself, closing with this quietly devastating conclusion, the full meaning of which is unmistakable when read in context:
It seems to have become forgotten, conveniently by some, that before the Old Bailey trial two former newsdesk executives, Greg Miskiw and James Weatherup, pleaded guilty, as did the phone-hacker Glenn Mulcaire and a former reporter, Dan Evans, who confessed to hacking Sienna Miller’s messages on Daniel Craig’s phone.
Neville Thurlbeck, the News of the World’s former chief reporter and news editor, pleaded guilty after the police found the tapes he had of Blunkett’s messages in a News International safe.
In the trial, Coulson was convicted of conspiring to hack phones while he was editor of the News of the World. The jury was discharged after failing to reach unanimous verdicts on two further charges of conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office faced by Coulson and Goodman.
But Brooks was found not guilty of four charges including conspiring to hack phones when she was editor of the News of the World and making corrupt payments to public officials when she was editor of the Sun. She was also cleared of two charges that she conspired with her former secretary and her husband to conceal evidence from police investigating phone hacking in 2011.
The jury at the Old Bailey returned true verdicts according to the evidence. They were not asked to do more.
Superb stuff, and I only wish I could leave it at that. But yet another example of the Graun at its stupid, relativist worst has been drawn to my attention by Comrade Coatesy: a vile piece defending a vile man and a vile organisation, the writing all the more objectionable because of its post-modern pretentiousness. At least it didn’t appear in the print edition, but was evidently considered suitable for publication at the cess-pit that is Comment Is Free.
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.”
Shiraz Socialist has for some time been in possession of documents that seem to show a conspiracy by Islamists to exploit the Tories’ academy programme in order to take over schools. We have, up until now, refrained from using this material or commenting upon it, because we were not clear on its provenance and not satisfied of its authenticity. There must, properly, be the suspicion that the documents have been faked in order to stir up anti-Muslim feeling. However, this material is now in the public domain (the Birmingham Mail, the Independent, the Daily Mail and the Times have all carried articles), so we’ve decided it’s time for us to cover the story.
Firstly, what do the documents contain?
The documents’ central and most alarming content is what seems to be a letter from a Birmingham Muslim fundamentalist to a co-thinker in Bradford.
This details a five-point guide called ‘Trojan Horse’, for taking over schools and urges the rolling out ‘Trojan Horse’ to Bradford and then Manchester, boasting that considerable success has been achieved in schools in predominantly Muslim areas of Birmingham
The documents outline alleged successful plots carried out against a number of Birmingham headteachers and other members of staff.
The documents also give a step-by-step guide for targeting “under-performing” schools with dirty tricks methods, involving the spreading of lies about the school heads.
The recipient is first urged to identify any Salafi (ie: hard-line fundamentalist) parents sending pupils to the school.
‘They are always the most committed to the faith and are hardliners in that regard and once charged up they keep going for longer,’ says the letter.
‘When the parents have been identified, we start to turn them against the headteacher and leadership team.
‘The only way to do this is to tell each parent that the school is corrupting their children with sex education, teaching about homosexuals, making their children pray Christian prayers and mixed swimming and sport.
‘If you can get them to be very vocal in the playground as they drop off or pick up their children that will stir up other parents.
‘The parents MUST be given direction and told not to discuss this with anyone, you only need a maximum of four parents to disrupt the whole school, to send in complaints to question their child’s education and to contact their MP and local authority.’
Once the head has been forced out, Islamist governors push through plans to make the schools academies.
The academy status, as promoted by the Tories, allows them to be run out of the control of the local authority, with funding provided direct from central government.
The letter states: ‘’Operation ‘Trojan Horse’ has been very carefully thought through and is tried and tested within Birmingham, implementing it in Bradford will not be difficult for you.’’
Trojan Horse, the letter states, has been fine-tuned so that it is ‘totally invisible to the naked eye and allows us to operate under the radar. I have detailed the plan we have in Birmingham and how well it has worked and you will see how easy the whole process is to get the whole process is to get the head teacher out and our own person in.’’
The documents propose that schools with poor Ofsted reports and with large Muslim student populations should be targeted for takeover.
They add: ‘’The poor performing schools are easy to disrupt, the better performing with strong head teachers is much harder and so we have to manufacture a strong enough reason, but rest assured we have not failed yet, no matter how difficult removing the head teacher may be. You just have to be clever and find the most appropriate way to deal with the school.’’
The documents add: ‘’This is all about causing the maximum amount of organised chaos and we have fine-tuned this as part of operation Trojan Horse. You must identify what the heads strengths are and build a case of disruption around that.’’
One passage reads: “We have caused a great amount of organised disruption in Birmingham and as a result we now have our own academies and are on our way to getting rid of more headteachers and taking over their schools … Whilst sometimes the practices we use may not seem the correct way to do things you must remember this is a ‘jihad’ and as such all means possible to win the war is acceptable.”
Yesterday’s Times (11 March) drew attention to “glaring errors” in the letter, suggesting that it might be a fake. The main “glaring error” is a reference to the ousting of the former head of Springfield School in Sparkhill/ Moseley, Birmingham. The letter states “We did this perfectly to Noshaba Hussain from Springfield School. However, the Governors reappointed her so now we have another plan in place to get her out.” In fact, Ms Hussain was dismissed in 1994 and was not reinstated. The Times also states that “the crudeness of the apparent forgery is underlined by another error. It identifies two Birmingham schools where the plotters claim credit for removing head teachers late last year. However, the author seems to have muddled up their departure dates.”
The Times goes on to quote Tahir Alam, a former “education chief” at the Muslim Council of Britain, and named in the letter as involved in the plot: “This ridiculous assertion is based entirely upon a leaked document nonsensically referred to as ‘Operation Trojan Horse’ … the authenticity of which any decent and fair-minded person would question and quickly conclude as a hoax. Any reference to me is a malicious fabrication and completely untrue.”
As against this, Shiraz can report that we’ve spoken to a number of teachers from some of the schools named in the documents, and they are of the opinion that the documents are probably genuine – if only because their content tallies with verifiable events in at least two of the schools named in the documents. The former headteacher of Saltley School, Balwant Bains (who we have not spoken to) is reported as saying he was “bullied and intimidated” in the months before he resigned last November after clashing with the school’s governors. The Birmingham Mail (10 March) reported that “Friends claim the respected head, of Sikh origin, was undermined when governors over-turned his decision to expel a Muslim pupil found with a knife. The harassment of Bains included an anonymous text message branding him a “racist, Islamophobic Head teacher.” Five non-Muslim governors of the school have resigned, leaving 12 Muslim governors out of 14. The problems at Saltley School began, according to our sources, when Mr Bains was asked by governors to make curriculum changes, including the scrapping of sex education and citizenship classes because they were allegedly deemed “un-Islamic”. He was, we’ve been told, instructed to introduce Islamic studies into the curriculum and told that only halal food should be served to pupils, even though Saltley is a non-faith school. Mr Bains resigned after an Ofsted report concluded that he had a “dysfunctional” relationship with the school’s governors.
Shiraz has also been told by Birmingham teachers that at another school named in the documents, Adderley Primary, four Teaching Assistants have been forced out following the school’s receipt of resignation letters that the four denied having written. As a result of the ‘Trojan Horse’ documents the police have now re-opened their fraud investigation into the letters. At least one of the Teaching Assistants is now pursuing an unfair dismissal claim.
Shiraz Socialist will be following this bizarre affair and will report on developments. In the meanwhile, whether or not the ‘Trojan Horse’ documents prove to be genuine, what is clear is that the Tories’ academy programme is opening up education to religious fanatics, sectarians and bigots, making a mockery of the government’s proclaimed commitment to social inclusion.
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.
The present issue of the New Statesman carries a quite extraordinary example of special pleading and exaggerated claims of victimhood from the Catholic journalist and apologist Cristina Odone.
The starting-point for her long-winded whinge is the fact that a Christian organisation had difficulty finding a venue in London willing to accept a booking for a conference entitled “One Man. One Woman. Making the Case for Marriage for the Good of Society.” Both the Law Society and the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre cited their respective diversity policies as the reason for their refusals. Annoying for the organisers, undoubtedly. Excessive? Perhaps. But evidence of persecution (Odone doesn’t use that word, by the way, but it’s quite clearly what she means)? Don’t make me laugh.
If you can’t be arsed to follow the link above, here’s a representative taste of Odone’s pathetic bleating:
“Only 50 years ago, liberals supported “alternative culture”; they manned the barricades in protest against the establishment position on war, race and feminism. Today, liberals abhor any alternative to their credo. No one should offer an opinion that runs against the grain on issues that liberals consider “set in stone”, such as sexuality or the sanctity of life.
“Intolerance is no longer the prerogative of overt racists and other bigots – it is state-sanctioned. It is no longer the case that the authorities are impartial on matters of belief, and will intervene to protect the interests and heritage of the weak. When it comes to crushing the rights of those who dissent from the new orthodoxy, politicians and bureaucrats alike are in the forefront of the attacks, not the defence.
“I believe that religious liberty is meaningless if religious subcultures do not have the right to practise and preach according to their beliefs. These views – for example, on abortion, adoption, divorce, marriage, promiscuity and euthanasia – may be unfashionable. They certainly will strike many liberal-minded outsiders as harsh, impractical, outmoded, and irrelevant.
“But that is not the point. Adherents of these beliefs should not face life-ruining disadvantages. They should not have to close their businesses, as happened to the Christian couple who said only married heterosexual couples could stay at their bed and breakfast. They should not lose their jobs, which was the case of the registrar who refused to marry gays. When Britain was fighting for its life in the Second World War, it never forced pacifists to bear arms. So why force the closure of a Catholic adoption agency that for almost 150 years has placed some of society’s most vulnerable children with loving parents?”
You’d never guess, would you, that religious belief is given special protection under UK law (Section 10 of the Equality Act 2010, and the Employment Equality [Religion and Belief] Regulations 2003) in a way that, for instance, atheism is not. In fact, Zoe Williams, writing in today’s Graun, makes the point that atheists in Britain (and elsewhere) tend to lack the status and advantages taken for granted by the religious. She suggests an explanation that might help explain Odone’s shrill and self-righteous exercise in self-pity: “This systematic civil exclusion, I think, has rather shallow roots – not in a prejudice against the faithless, but in the loam of human politeness, where groups are accorded attention, respect and sensitivity in proportion to how much they will complain if they don’t get it. Something to think about heathens: maybe we are simply not complaining enough.”
Of course, there are many places in the world where religious people do suffer persecution - often by adherents of other religions. But nothing remotely like that happens in the UK, and anyone who suggests it does is either living in a paranoid fantasy world, or conducting a cynical exercise in bare-faced cheek. I’m not sure which category applies to Odone, but I’m damn sure one or the other does. Or maybe both.
(Jim has already written on this below, but I want to add my piece.)
Well, can you believe it?. An illiberal piece of policy is advanced by a powerful body, against it comes a petition, a demonstration, media shouting and then the policy is withdrawn. Amazing.
To recap, Universities UK, (UUK) (formerly The Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals of the Universities of the United Kingdom) put out guidelines that allowed speakers at meetings in universities to insist women and men be segregated for “genuinely religious” reasons. Student Rights picked this up. The bloggers you’d expect – Maryam Nazie, Ophelia Benson, James Bloodworth produced angry posts. The mainstream media moved in – Nick Cohen in the Spectator, and Yasmin Alibai-Brown, finely furious, in The Independent.
Imagine the scenario:-
Sheikh Shifty is invited by some ISOC group to speak about Freedom and Justice at the University of Excellence. Sheikh Shifty will only speak if the women sit separate from the men.
Obvious answer – tell the misogynist theocrat to take a hike, in these words,
“I am sorry to inform you that it is against the principles of the University to allow meetings to occur with gender segregation.”
But not in the UUK’s horrible management speak:- .
if imposing an unsegregated seating area in addition to the segregated areas contravenes the genuinely-held religious beliefs of the group hosting the event, or those of the speaker, the institution should be mindful to ensure that the freedom of speech of the religious group or speaker is not curtailed unlawfully
There was a petition and a small demonstration which Channel 4 covered at length.
Then the BBC began to thunder. The Today programme (1:35) on 11th December had a long piece which started with the reporter regretting his old LSE, the one in the 1980s where students were raucous but not so ready to be offended, or offended on the behalf of putative others.
The next day the BBC got Nicola Dandridge, the Chief Executive of UUK, into the Today (2:10) studio. Regular Today listeners recognised the tones with which Justin Webb interrogated her. It’s the one which they use on a duplicitous politician who has no moral leg to stand on - who has, say, been fiddling her expenses. It’s the voice of outraged decency against a moral moron and it was music to my ears, an angry liberal telling off a squirming piece of inconsistency and illogic. (For a biting take down of Dandridge’s muddled defence, I would strongly recommend this.)
“If this is all that Dandridge means – that people have the right to sit where the hell they want and some will sit cliquishly by gender or other groupings, there is no role for Universities and no reason why the situation should ever be addressed in policy.
Worse, “If women want to sit where the hell the want”? IF? What is this world in which you live where women routinely have no desires and sit where they are told without a single thought disrupting the gentle currents of air between their ears?
All women always sit where they want unless coerced or forced. The fact that you can’t acknowledge this openly, that women naturally have desires and preferences, that we make conscious choices here-there-and-everywhere, speaks to a profound sexism whose paucity of respect for a woman’s mind truly challenges the ability of words to express. I can only repeat your own phrase:
If women want to sit where the hell they want
and goggle at your idea that you will only impose segregation in times and places where women have no preferences.
The politicians - Chuka Umunna , Jack Straw, Michael Gove, David Cameron spoke out. Under the threads of their statements in the Guardian commenters were saying, Bugger me, the horrible Tory creeps are right this time. I’d normally be spitting that politicians were interfering in University affairs – they really shouldn’t, you know – but I’m cheering them. If the representative body of the Vice Chancellors and Principals are so bloody clueless, and the NUS are so supine, they need to be kicked.
I think a lot of the response has been visceral. The suffragettes weren’t force fed for this, the women who fought a grinding battle to get entry into English universities shouldn’t be pissed on
So now the UUK has withdrawn gender segreation from its guidelines. It looks like the forces of light have won for once.
Congratulations to those who attended protests and wrote copiously. If only every campaign could be so successful. But what a ridiculous waste of everyone’s time and anger-fuelled action.
Flesh is Grass has a sane, thoughtful piece:-
Women always miss out when public spaces are segregated by leaders and organisers – even if voluntary, it’s a small change in culture, in the general view of what is acceptable. Authoritarians always use the values of open, pluralist societies against those societies themselves, and weaken them incrementally. Let’s stop this.
She also pointed out that feminists like Caroline Lucas, MP, Green Party and Natalie Bennett, Leader, Green Party did not speak out. I read that Caroline Lucas had said it wasn’t a priority. Also there hasn’t been a peep out of that clutch of feminist writers in The Staggers. Polly Toynbee, one of the old-guard Guardian, undid the miserable expectations we now have of her paper, by sticking to her old feminism and atheism. At least they didn’t publish any of their usual apologetics on these matters. The Observer has an editorial and a good piece by Catherine Bennett.
On the other side:-
Well, one is an article which looks like parody in the Huff Po by Camilla Khan, the Head of Communications,(!) Federation of Student Islamic Societies, who tries to wrap this up in a mixture of post-modernism and spirituality. She has managed to use every con-trick word – those words that irritate like berry bugs in a bra cup – “discourse”, “empower”, “nuanced” and “diversity, “
Firstly, the term segregation itself is highly problematic and acts to conflate the reality further. As Saussure theorised on syntagmatic relations, ‘within speech, words are subject to a kind of relation that is independent of the first and based on their linkage,’ and segregation connotes various forms of separation and oppression.
The problem is calling segregation, segregation. If you called it something else it would be fine. Telling Molly when she walks into a room that she can’t sit here because she’s a woman, isn’t segregation, just nuanced diverse empowerment.
Tendance Coatesey has a bit of fun with Khan’s linguistic studies – Saussure is old hat, I understand – but she really should read a bit of Orwell, and note that calling mass murder “liqudation of anti-social elements” doesn’t stop it being mass murder. But whoever has influenced her writing style, it wasn’t Orwell.
Her other con-trick is that very old anti-feminist ploy, that women taking a different (and different will mean inferior) place is a path to spirituality. So the anti-suffragists said that women agitating to take part in public life spoiled their purifying influence and their moral specialness. They were meant for a higher destiny.
As with life, Islam acknowledges that we form different groups who occupy various intellectual and social spaces. Diversity is celebrated with spirituality at the forefront, forming a broad frame of reference which is not always easily comprehensible to those outside of it.
No, I can’t comprehend how her spirituality is so much compromised when she takes a bus, goes to the cinema or sits in her cultural studies class. What about the diversity of those women who don’t want to be herded with other women, and men also. Is that celebrated? (Add “celebrate” with abstract nouns to my list of berry bug words). I think the “diversity” is a pretty damned narrow one.
Second is Shohana Khan. Khan is a member of Hitz ut-Tahrir, the fighters for a Caliphate where apostates will be killed.
Her argument boils down to:- Men and women must be separated because otherwise they will get sex on the brain and not be able to do something.
Rather the concept of separating men and women in public spaces in Islam, is part of a wider objective. Islam has a societal view that the intimate relationship between a man and a woman is for the committed private sphere of marriage, and should not be allowed to spill outside of this sphere. This is because in society, men and women need to cooperate to achieve things in society whether in the work place, in education, in interactions across the public space. Islam firmly believes if the sexual instinct is let loose in this public sphere, it can taint and complicate these relationships. Therefore Islam promotes ideas such as honouring women which are upheld in society, but alongside such ideas specific rules and laws are implemented to help maintain the atmosphere of healthy interaction between the sexes.
And if the woman breaks these rules, eg by not covering her head she’s fair game is she?
I think it has been observed that public school boys for instance, especially in times past, had a highly unhealthy attitude towards women because they weren’t used to them as normal human beings. So you’re talking garbage – and rather prurient garbage at that. Islamists are as sex obsessed as Hugh Hefner.
Now I won’t say I haven’t been at a public meeting and thought a chap in the audience was rather a dish. In fact, political meetings at universities is where many of us met our soulmates – that person who was highly vocal about the need to oppose nuclear proliferation and had lovely grey eyes. The partnerships of couples who fell in love with the shared ideals and the person can be highly productive. The Pankhursts were one such couple. Jennie Lee and Nye Bevan were another. So I can’t deny there is a sexual element at public meetings, as there is in the offices where we work.
But that it should dominate someone’s mind so much that it screws up their ability to act! What’s wrong with them? Knowing how to behave in public is part of growing up, as is concentrating on the matter at hand. The only people offering distractions who should be segregated are those twerps with buzzing mobile phones.
So a victory this time round. End with Any Questions (:38). Shami Chakrabati took what has been a common attitude – why on earth are we even talking about this?
Johnathan Dimbleby: Is there justification for segregation in an educational setting?
Amjad Bashir (small business spokesman for UKIP, Pakistani immigrant, from Bradford): No. The answer is no. Absolutely not. . . All through my life, and my children, my grand children are all mixing, all sexes, whether it’s primary schools, whether it’s secondary schools. whether it’s universities. There is no room. This is England This is the twenty first century. It’s not Saudi Arabia, where women are not allowed to drive, It’s not Saudi Arabia, where they are not allowed to have bank accounts. This is England. We should allow our youngsters to mix and decide their own future. This is the twenty first century. I am against this segregation.
We haven’t always agreed with Yasmin Alibhai Brown, but her column in today’s Independent is an honourable and quite brave statement of principle that needs to be thrown in the face of relativist/”multicultural” (sic) idiots and religious reactionaries everywhere:
Fully veiled women hinder progressive Islam
Toleration is good but not when it prevents fair interrogation and robust argument
First a British judge, then dedicated educationalists running a British college have been defeated by the aggressive guerrilla army of Muslim Salafists and their misguided allies. At Blackfriars Crown Court, Judge Peter Murphy ordered a 21-year-old, veiled defendant to show her face. The accused had been charged with witness intimidation and pleaded not guilty. Whatever the results of that case, she and her supporters certainly intimidated the judge, who backed down so the trial could proceed.
Birmingham Metropolitan College was similarly cowed and had to reverse a directive forbidding students from covering their faces. One hooded lady crowdsourced a protest against the college. Some overexcited student union members, Muslim objectors and online petitioners have forced a U-turn. Shabana Mahmood, MP for Ladywood, Birmingham, welcomed the capitulation. Happy days. Muslim women can now to go to courts and college in shrouds.
That all-covering gown, that headscarf, that face mask – all affirm and reinforce the belief that women are a hazard to men and society. These are unacceptable, iniquitous values, enforced violently by Taliban, Saudi and Iranian oppressors. They have no place in our country. So why are so many British females sending out those messages about themselves?
Some think they are outsmarting anxious Western institutions by covering up, winning dispiriting culture wars which will give them no advantage in our fast moving world. Young women in niqabs are either testing the state as teenagers do their parents or think their garb is political action – but for what? Many women, mothers in particular, have been brainwashed by proselytisers who want to spread conservative Islamic worship across Europe and North America. They are well funded by sources based in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states.
And then there are those vacuous females who argue that it is their right to be objectified, that they must be allowed to live as invisible creatures. I don’t know which of these dubious forces prevailed in the examples above. But I do know that this trend is growing fast and cannot just be “tolerated” as a minority tendency, just one of many choices people make.
Toleration is good but not when it prevents fair interrogation and robust argument. I have written hundreds of times about the prejudices and discrimination experienced by Muslims, and other minorities. It isn’t easy being a Muslim anywhere in the world – not in Muslim lands or the West. But when Muslims wilfully create problems and build barriers, anti-racists and egalitarians have an absolute duty to engage with them critically and in good faith. I know frank engagement is avoided because it gives succour to the EDL, BNP, neocons and manic anti-Muslim atheists. I, too, have to think hard before penning columns like this one. In the end though, I don’t think we should abdicate these grave responsibilities because so much is at stake.
The woman before the judge must know that she or others like her will never be judges or barristers. Will she make her daughters do the same? The system wasn’t picking on her – a defendant in a micro mini would have caused as much disquiet. And the aggrieved college student, what future does she imagine? She denies herself jobs for the sake of what? They keep apart from fellow Britons by withholding proper human interactions. It’s not right or fair.
None of our sacred texts command us to cover our faces. Some branches of Islam do not even require head coverings. These are manmade injunctions followed by unquestioning women. We are directed always to accept the rules of the countries we live in and their institutions, as long as they are reasonable. For security, justice, travel, education and health identification is vital. Why should these women be exempt? We Muslims are already unfairly thought of as the enemy within. Niqabs make us appear more alien, more dangerous and suspicious. If it is a provocation for Ku Klux Klan to cover up so they can’t be recognised, it is for Muslims too.
This is a struggle between the light of the faith and dark forces here and also in Islamic countries. The clothes symbolize an attempted takeover of the religion just when believers are looking for liberty, autonomy, democracy and gender equality. Malala Yousafzai doesn’t hide her determined face. Nor do our female Muslim MPs and peers or civil rights lawyers.
Some of the bravest human rights activists are Muslim women. Take Tamsila Tauquir awarded an MBE for her charitable work with Muslims and Tehmina Kazi, director of British Muslims for Secular Democracy, which I co-founded seven years ago. The two of them, with other idealists, have embarked on an “inclusive mosque” initiative, with pop-up prayers in various venues, where men and women, gays and straights, humanists and modernists can pray together. Many others are trying to promote progressive Islam, which fits our times and needs.
Islamic zealots must fear these developments and want to crush them. Whether they know it or not, fully veiled women are part of this reactionary mission. Our state must not aid and abet them. The judge and the college should not have retreated and handed them this victory.
NB: since this article was written, the judge in the (alleged) witness intimidation case has ruled that the accused woman must remove her veil while giving evidence and (presumably) while under cross-examination: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/09/16/muslims-woman-must-remove-veil-evidence_n_3933773.html?utm_hp_ref=uk