By Champagne Charlie
Last Friday’s Guardian carried a piece by Education editor Richard Adams headlined “Ofsted Inspectors upgrade Birmingham school in ‘Trojan horse’ scandal to good”.
The piece begins “The school at the centre of the Trojan horse scandal has been given a clean bill of health by Ofsted inspectors, two years after allegations of an Islamist plot to infiltrate education made national headlines.”
The inattentive reader could be forgiven for thinking that it has now been shown that there was no Islamist plot and the allegations against senior teachers and governors at the school have been disproven. It is only when you read on, that it becomes apparent that Adams is writing about the school as it now is, under a new leadership team, the previous Islamist leadership having been removed. Even so, Adams feels it necessary to throw in one of his typical weaselling half-truths: “allegations of a city-wide plot were never substantiated and are thought to be a hoax.”
It’s time the facts of the ‘Trojan Horse’ affair that have been established beyond reasonable doubt (sources can be checked on Wikepedia, from which I’ve drawn extensively) were set out clearly, if only to counter the torrent of downright lies, half-truths and obfuscation that continues to emanate from Mr Adams, the SWP and elements within the NUT.
The ‘Operation Trojan Horse’ letter was leaked to the press in early March 2014. It is an anonymous document, purporting to be from an Islamist in Birmingham, advising a fellow Islamist in Bradford, on how to take over schools and impose an Islamist agenda. Early on, most informed commentators expressed the opinion that the letter was probably a fake, created by someone who wished to draw attention to alleged Islamist influence in Birmingham schools.
The author of the letter claimed responsibility for installing new headteachers at four schools in Birmingham, and identified 12 others in the city which would be easy targets due to large Muslim attendance and poor inspection reports. It suggests encouraging parents to complain about a school’s leadership with accusations of sex education, forced Christian prayer and mixed physical education, with the aim of obtaining a new, Islamist, leadership. It was also suggested that once successfully taken over, schools should apply for Academy status so as to have a curriculum independent of the Local Education Authority. The author described the plan as “totally invisible to the naked eye and [allowing] us to operate under the radar”.
Despite widespread doubts about the provenance of the letter, Birmingham’s education commissioner Sir Mike Tomlinson stated his belief that what the letter described was happening “without a shadow of doubt”. Read the rest of this entry »
A debate has been taking place in the AWL’s paper Solidarity:
The Daily Mail has condemned the National Union of Students over its links with the organisation Cage (formerly Cageprisoners), run by former Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg.
The Daily Mail (7 January) targetted NUS Vice-President Shelly Asquith, criticising her for speaking out in opposition to the government’s Prevent strategy — the government’s scheme ostensibly aimed at stopping young people being “radicalised” by “extremists” but which is aimed exclusively at Islamic fundamentalism and Islamism and has is linked to increased state surveillance and repression on the grounds of “national security” and “counter-terrorism”.
The Daily Mail linked opposition to Prevent with support for Cage. Spokespeople for Cage have been invited to NUS events to speak against Prevent. The paper also linked opposition to Prevent with some student unions banning speakers such as Germaine Greer, Julie Bindel and David Starkey.
Criticism of NUS and Asquith by the right-wing press has brought understandable ire from the student movement and the left. The Prevent strategy is deeply flawed and many students are rightfully worried about its potential negative implications for freedom of speech on campus, and about using teachers and lecturers as spies and informants. The NUS and Asquith are absolutely right to organise speaker tours against something that would be damaging to the student movement.
The Daily Mail’s pro-freedom of speech language, is hypocritical given its support for repressive government measures that would dampen down freedom of speech on campus. The paper was also hugely patronising and sexist — at one point, the NUS Vice-President is referred to as a “Corbyn girl”. We should unequivocally defend NUS for its stance on Prevent. Despite the crass hypocrisy of The Daily Mail, that is not the only issue here. Banning speakers — not matter how offensive they may be — in an attempt to create so-called “safe spaces”on campuses makes it more difficult to argue against government censorship and repression. Moreover, working with Cage and Begg is a huge own goal for the NUS in terms of fighting Prevent.
Members of Cage and Begg have made statements supporting right wing Islamists such as the Taliban. The NUS does itself no favours by allying with them. Equally the left’s response to opt for unequivocal defence of Cage is dishonest. In its opposition to the Daily Mail, Socialist Worker interviewed Moazzam Begg and Azad Ali (who has also worked with Cage) without once criticising them, or even mentioning their history. This, not just the Daily Mail’s racist witch hunt or propaganda for the Prevent agenda, is a problem. We do not have to defend Begg or groups like Cage in order to defend Muslim students or overlook the views of Islamists in a battle against a greater enemy, on this occasion The Daily Mail.
From Patrick Murphy:
Why and how to oppose Prevent
In February 2015 schools, local authorities and colleges in the UK became subject to something called “the Prevent duty”. Under the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act, this was a legal duty to “have regard to the need to protect people from being drawn into terrorism”.
In this age of high-stakes monitoring and the tyranny of Ofsted, that “duty” led to frequent cases of over-anxious staff reporting perfectly innocent behaviour as if it were dangerous. The Prevent programme itself was introduced by the last Labour government in 2006, in response to the 7/7 London bombing, and driven by the concern that atrocities were the work of “home-grown” terrorists.
At the time it was part of a four-pronged anti-terrorist strategy: “Pursue, Prevent, Protect and Prepare”. In 2006 the strategy was focused exclusively on Islamist terrorism and based on the principle that there was a decisive causal link between extremist ideology and violent acts. The strategy relied heavily on funding Islamic groups seen as “moderate” and able to act as a counterweight to the “extremists”.
In 2009 the focus narrowed to target Al Qaeda and the funding increased. At the same time an attempt was made to widen the definition of extremism to include “promoting Sharia law or failing to condemn the killing of British soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan”, but that was quickly withdrawn. In 2011, the Coalition government extended the definition of extremism to include non-Muslim groups, and in particular the far right. Funding was withdrawn from so-called “moderate Islamic” groups, on the not entirely unfounded basis that some of them were promoting much the same ideology as the “extremists”. So-called “British values” became the litmus test for what was deemed “safe”. Prevent was given a focus on protecting young people from grooming by jihadis and other extremists.
The left should unequivocally oppose everything that jihadists or far-right extremists represent. We oppose them not in a passive or abstract way; we want them stopped, caught and defeated. We want children and young people protected from efforts by such people to groom them and endanger their lives, just as we would want more and not less effort by the state to prevent child abuse, whether it is violent or sexual or through neglect. The Prevent agenda is, however, very unpopular across mainly-Muslim communities and on the left. The National Union of Students calls for a boycott and has produced a handbook on it. The largest teachers’ union, the NUT, is likely at its conference at Easter to pass a motion which calls for Prevent to be withdrawn. So, representatives of some of the most important groups and communities expected to make Prevent work dislike the strategy.
They are right to do so. For a start, there is no evidence that Prevent is successful in “preventing” jihadi recruitment. The number of young people travelling to Syria to join Daesh indicates the opposite. So none of the other problems with the strategy can be excused on grounds of ends justifying means. Muslim communities feel targeted. Until 2011 other forms of terroristic extremism went unmentioned. Even now the references to the far right appear fairly token. Many initiatives developed as part of Prevent increase the level of surveillance in our society, by encouraging people to spy on and suspect the worst of each other, or by the misuse of local state power. Prevent funds were used to fund all the CCTV cameras in central Birmingham.
The strategy is open to political abuse. Once its approach is embedded the state can easily recalibrate it to target direct action environmentalists, anti-fascists and the labour movement. Prevent undermines the relationships many public service workers, especially teachers, have with their communities, students and young people, and thus cuts against teachers gaining trust and being able to re-educate young people tempted by terroristic ideologies. Without doing anything significant to stop recruitment to terroristic ideologies, the Prevent strategy introduces or exacerbates a whole set of other problems. It should be withdrawn.
Socialists, however, should acknowledge that there is a real problem of jihadi-terrorist recruitment. There are useful ideas in the NUS handbook, but major weaknesses too. Against Prevent it proposes we ally with the self-styled “human rights NGO” CAGE. Omar Raii explained the problems with that in an article in Solidarity 390. NUS claims that Prevent diverts attention from “the government’s own complicity in nurturing political violence due to its recent foreign policy decisions as well as its long history of colonialism” and that, by focusing on terrorism, the government is guilty of redirecting attention to “the consequences of its actions”.
The logic here is that the terrorists are not really responsible for their own actions. They were made to do them by some recent foreign policy decision or by “the long history of colonialism”. This view simultaneously excuses and infantilises religious fascists. NUS dismisses what it calls “the conveyor-belt theory”, the idea that there is a decisive link between extremist ideas and acts of violence. But the evidence they cite against shows only that violence has multiple causes and that ideological predisposition is not enough on its own.
It is ironic that NUS should deny the link between the expression of reactionary ideas (extreme homophobia, misogyny, religious hatred) and the threat of violence. Too many student unions have sought to ban speakers they don’t like on grounds that the ideas represent a risk to the safety of various constituencies of students. So Germaine Greer, Julie Bindel and Dapper Laughs are too dangerous to be heard, but overt jihadi-terrorist ideas have no consequences?
We should oppose the Prevent strategy for the right reasons and alongside the right allies. We should also treat the danger to children as real and serious. Policies to deal with grooming, travel to Syria, and social media safety should be embedded in regular school safeguarding policies and training. Citizenship teaching should be reinstated in schools: it has been marginalised by government obsessions with tests, league tables, and core subjects.
More primary schools should be encouraged to discuss ideas, including through the teaching of basic philosophy. Prevent isn’t necessary to do such work. It does more harm than good, by closing debate down where it should be opened up.
From Jim Denham:
Omar Raii (Solidarity 390) and Patrick Murphy (Solidarity 391) both draw attention to the shortcomings and potential dangers of the Prevent programme, aimed at countering “extremism”/”radicalisation” in schools and colleges.
It does indeed seem to be the case that in some instances Prevent has been implemented in a heavy-handed manner by over-zealous and/or ill-trained teachers. I can also agree that Prevent is potentially a threat to free speech – discouraging free and open discussion of the issues surrounding terrorist ideologies and thus making it more difficult to counter them. However, there is a great deal of credible evidence showing that much of the opposition to Prevent stems not from “ordinary” parents and teachers, but is being organised and co-ordinated by ultra-reactionary Islamists, specifically Cage, Mend and their front organisation, Prevent Watch.
Many of the media stories about heavy-handed and/or inappropriate Prevent interventions were, in fact, put about by Prevent Watch with the intention of spreading fear and confusion in Muslim communities. Several of these stories have turned out to be exaggerated or, indeed, downright false — for instance the story about the Muslim boy in Accrington whose family received a police visit after he wrote at school that he lived in a “terrorist house” when what he meant was a terraced house.
Sections of the media had a field day with this story, but it now turns out that the police visit had nothing to do with Prevent or “terrorism” but happened because the boy had also stated that he’d been subjected to physical violence at home. Prevent Watch continues to carry this false story on their website.
Omar and Patrick rightly point to the foolishness of much of the left (and the NUS leadership) in allying with Cage/Mend/Prevent Watch in opposing Prevent. But both comrades take it as read that we should oppose Prevent, albeit “for the right reasons and with the right allies.” I’m not convinced. Teachers and others in positions of responsibility towards young people are, quite rightly, required by the state to take action to protect their charges from grooming and all forms of physical and mental abuse. Surely protecting children and young people from terrorist ideologies is a similar responsibility that socialists should not, in principle, oppose? A final (genuine) question: Omar states that Prevent “is aimed exclusively at Islamic fundamentalism and Islamism”: is this true? I have read elsewhere that only 56% of those referred for intervention under Prevent have been Muslim.
From a London teacher (name and address supplied):
This bureaucratic drive is probably counterproductive
Yes, of course, we should oppose the government’s anti-Islamist strategy, Prevent. It is heavy-handed and, probably, counter-productive.
Teachers already have a legal obligation to actively stop children being put in danger, and keep them safe. So, for example, I have reported to the school’s safeguarding officer that one of my students had been attacked by his dad. The senior member of staff then reported the incident to the police.
In the same way I recently reported a student for Islamic extremism. That report led to a police raid on his family’s home. How can I justify reporting this student? Because I might have saved his life (and the lives of others he might have hurt if he had ended up in Syria). So, on the level of the obligation to keep kids safe there is no need for extra legislation. Nor is there any need to force schools to teach “a broad and balanced curriculum which promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils.” That’s already a legal obligation in schools like mine.
If the government wants to stop religious radicalisation the best first step would be to abolish religious schools. My school does quite good work promoting gay equality and women’s rights; I bet you can’t say the same about the independent religious schools attached to the mosque at the end of my road, or for any priest-and-nun-infested schools as well.
All religious schools maintain boundaries, encourage isolation and obscurantism. The problem with Prevent is that, firstly, it is part of a ruling-class ideological offensive against Islamists which is done in their name, with their ideas. The government knows it is part of a bureaucratic elite, and they are seeking to co-opt teachers and others into gathering information on their behalf which they wouldn’t be able to collect otherwise. But the net is far too wide.
If a kid tells me they are in favour of sharia law I would like to talk to them, not to get them arrested or put under state surveillance (I can draw a distinction between a student who might be about to sign up with Daesh, and another who is curious, or awkward, or bloody-minded, or contrary, or a bit sexist). And finally this policy will be overseen by school Head teachers who are paranoid about becoming the next school to have a student disappear to Syria (with all the bad press and interest from Ofsted that that generates). They will over-report to cover their arses.
Obviously what is required is for the unions to develop an independent policy. We should oppose Islamist terror in our own name, and educate students to value liberty and equality. There are groups which oppose Prevent for their own reasons (because they are Islamists, or the Islamists “useful idiots”), but that shouldn’t stop us critiquing the government from a socialist perspective.
From Adam Southall:
Prevent script is authoritarian
I was very interested to read recent articles and correspondence regarding the government’s Prevent strategy (Omar Raii, Solidarity 390, Patrick Murphy, Solidarity 391, Jim Denham, Solidarity 394).
As part of being formally inducted into a new role, I had the pleasure of receiving a session on Prevent. This consisted of a heavily prescribed and standardised script and DVD presentation. It was clear the tutor was not allowed to depart from the script, expand or engage in discussion.
I was a little surprised that the “main terrorist threat to this country” is still regarded as being from Al-Qaeda. Included in the script and DVD was an overarching “explanatory” “expert” narrative which explicitly regarded terrorism by Al-Qaeda and presumably ISIS as merely the latest in a long line of historical “ideological terrorisms”, which included in the past people “fighting for a homeland” and even “for a communist society.”
The sources and motivations behind Al-Qaeda and ISIS are undoubtedly complex and contradictory, but to equate these with the mass democratic struggles including armed actions by such as the African National Congress of South Africa, the Palestine Liberation Organisation, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Irish Republican Army and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, for national liberation, democratic self-determination, and some degree of social emancipation, seems to me to be not only ludicrous but to indicate an underlying dangerous and authoritarian ruling class ideology.
People are not required or expected to have agreed with every dot or comma or action by groups such as these, but there is surely a world of difference between movements and organisations fighting for basic democratic, national, human and social rights, and those which would seek to impose some form of clerical-fascistic/murderous dictatorship over the people.
The editorial in today’s Independent:
Free Schools should not be able to recruit on faith alone
A working definition of the phrase “the worst of all worlds” in education would be a faith-based free school, which, whatever its merits, is “free” to divide children and communities on fairly broad grounds. Such institutions do already exist, but their governing bodies are prevented from recruiting more than half of the intake on the grounds of religious affiliation, itself a notion that sends a shiver down the liberal spine. Now, there is agitation for that quota restriction to be lifted.
The reality of many faith schools, free or not, is that they are an exercise in parental deception. Previously Godless parents suddenly develop an interest in the Pope’s moral guidance or turn up to hear the vicar’s homilies on a Sunday morning.
For those parents unwilling to go through such charades, or who cannot afford to move to a prime catchment area, their children have to take whatever the local authority gives them.
With our continued subsidies to private schools with only a flimsy claim to “charitable” status, we have now created a patchwork of schooling in Britain in which money and religious belief (real or feigned) are the main determinants of educational success, which is itself linked to success in later life. None should be very surprised that social mobility is becoming a concept we will have to teach in history lessons. This situation is unfair and profoundly inefficient for the economy, and there is no cause to make matters worse by distorting education even further.
Even without the help of the odd religious extremist, if children of all faiths think it natural to go to schools separately, we should not be surprised if they feel they have less in common with their fellow citizens as they grow older. Faith schools, even with a 50 per cent quota for diversity, and even with some excellent teaching, have their drawbacks.
Excellent comment, except for the words “have their drawbacks” substitute “should be abolished”.
Teachers and senior staff linked to the Trojan Horse allegations of “undue religious (ie Islamist) influence” in Birmingham schools, have been appearing before the misconduct panel of the National College of Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) since mid-October. The NCTL is the professional body for teachers and has the power to impose lifetime prohibitions on teachers.
As the hearing has not yet concluded (it is expected to last until December), Shiraz has taken a conscious decision not to cover the proceedings, even though the hearing is in public and the local Birmingham Mail has carried extensive reports of the disturbing evidence presented by witnesses. Most of the national press, including (until now) the Guardian, also seem to have decided not to cover the hearing in detail, or to be very circumspect in their coverage, while it is in progress*.
But today’s Guardian carries an article by the paper’s Education editor, Richard Adams, headlined “Witness in ‘Trojan Horse’ case accused of religious slurs”.
Adams’s story is written entirely from the standpoint of the teachers and senior staff accused of misconduct, and seems to be based upon the ‘line’ of cross-examination being pursued by their lawyer, Andrew Faux, as he attempts to discredit one of the witnesses (‘Witness A’, a former teacher at Park View School) who has given evidence of malpractice. Faux has accused Witness A of herself making a series of racial and religious slurs.
Faux, as a lawyer acting for some of the accused teachers, is perfectly entitled to pursue this line of cross-examination. What is, however, quite outrageous, is for the Guardian, in one of its few articles covering the hearing, to report Faux’s attacks in detail, adding that the witness “faced an internal complaint in the wake of comments she was alleged to have made at an event.” No details whatsoever are given of the evidence presented by Witness A against the teachers and senior staff of the Trojan Horse schools.
Adams closes his article by repeating, once again, the tired old red herring that “The [Trojan Horse] letter is widely regarded as a hoax” – yes it is, but that’s not the point. The question is, are the claims of Islamist influence in Birmingham schools true or not? The answer to that question has nothing to do with whether the Trojan Horse letter was all it purported to be.
Whether Adams is acting directly on the wishes of Mr Faux and his clients, or whether he (Adams) is so committed to defending/excusing the accused teachers and senior staff that he simply cannot write an impartial article, we shall probably never know.
But he has form:
Here’s what Adams, had to say about this matter in June 2014, shortly after the story first sufaced: “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 throughout.
- * Adams has written two other articles covering some of the allegations, and emphasising that “The Department for Education said its case against Johirul Islam, a former teacher at Park View, ‘has been discontinued’ in the hearing’s fourth day… The decision suggests the NTCL may struggle to press its case against several other teachers facing similar allegations” (here)
- * The Guardian website has carried another article reporting one of the allegations of misconduct: this was not, however written by Adams, but came from the Press Association. And as far as I’m aware (and I read the Graun every day) it did not appear in the print edition – C.C.
Why can’t most of the left be as clear-cut and straightforward on the scandal of state-sponsored sectarian schools as the NSS?
Prime Minister ‘blinkered to ignore role faith schools play in segregating communities’
Statement from the National Secular Society
Despite criticising “segregated” education, Prime Minister David Cameron has defended the continuation of faith schools in a speech on counter extremism.
In a wide-ranging speech, delivered in Birmingham, Mr Cameron set out his thinking on how to confront extremism and Islamist ideology and rejected what he called the “grievance justification” for Islamist violence.
He talked about Britain as a “multi-racial, multi-faith democracy” and as a “beacon to the world”. He said no-one should be demonised but said there was a need to “confront, head on, the extreme ideology” behind Islamism.
He said that Britain needed to be bolder in asserting “liberal values”, which he called “our strongest weapon”.
The Prime Minister issued a strong challenge to “the cultish worldview” of extremists and the “conspiracy theories” that support it, and he said the UK should contrast the “bigotry, aggression and theocracy” of the Islamists with our own values.”
Mr Cameron indicated that funding would be made available for groups willing to lead reform and spread an “alternative narrative”. He also committed to do more to tackle extremism in prisons.
Turning his attention to the newly introduced “Prevent duty” for public sector bodies, Cameron said that it is “not about criminalising or spying on Muslim children” and accused some of its opponents of “paranoia in the extreme.”
However, despite warning that “the education that our young people receive” in schools in “divided communities” is “even more segregated than the neighbourhoods they live in”, David Cameron said the UK should not “dismantle faith schools.”
Instead, he said “it is right to look again more broadly at how we can move away from segregated schooling in our most divided communities.” The Prime Minister suggested that faith schools could share sites or facilities.
“It cannot be right that children can grow up and go to school and not come into contact with people of other backgrounds [and] faiths,” he said.
Research by Demos recently found that “some faith schools effectively exclude other ethnic groups” and that minority faith schools were particularly segregated.
NSS campaigns manager Stephen Evans said, “Much of this speech is very welcome – and echoes what secularists have been saying for a long time. But it is blinkered to ignore the role that faith schools play in creating the segregated communities that Mr Cameron rightly criticises. The potential of faith schools to exacerbate the separation of communities is obvious for all to see.
“Children from different backgrounds need to mix with each other on a daily basis if we are to break down the barriers. They will never truly understand and trust each other if their schools are encouraging an us-and-them mentality. Tinkering round the edges with occasional visits and shared resources is not good enough – in fact it can be counterproductive, reinforcing the feeling of being from different worlds.”
The Prime Minister also said action was needed on unregulated religious ‘schools’, an issue previously raised by the NSS.
On hate preachers and Islamist speakers invited onto university campuses, the Prime Minister said: “When David Irving goes to a university to deny the Holocaust university leaders rightly come out and condemn him. They don’t deny his right to speak but they do challenge what he says.”
In contrast, Cameron argued that university leaders “look the other way through a mixture of misguided liberalism and cultural sensitivity” when Islamist speakers attend university events.
He also issued a strong rebuke to the National Union of Students.
“When you choose to ally yourselves with an organisation like CAGE, which called Jihadi John a ‘beautiful young man’ and told people to ‘support the jihad’ in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said, it brings “shame” to your organisation and “your noble history of campaigning for justice.”
The Prime Minister cited the review of sharia ‘courts’ among measured to crackdown on non-violent extremism, and promised a consultation on lifetime anonymity for victims of forced marriage, in a proposal welcomed by the National Secular Society.
He spent much of the speech dealing with non-violent extremism, and argued that “if you say ‘yes I condemn terror – but the Kuffar are inferior’… then you too are part of the problem.”
Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said: “This all sounds very familiar, and we are glad that the Prime Minister is catching up with the NSS’s thinking and suggestions. All he has to do now is carry out his plans, which may be more difficult than he thinks. There is a lot of resistance not just from the Islamists but from the liberals who imagine that taking a stand against the Islamist threat is equivalent to attacking all Muslims. It is not and for all our sakes we must not be put off tackling the bad guys for fear of offending the good ones.”
The Government will publish its counter-extremism strategy in the autumn.
Your protests needed right now – Iran arrests leader of teachers’ union
Esmail Abdi, a leader of the Iranian Teachers’ Trade Association, was arrested on 27 June following his attempt to obtain a visa to attend the 7th Education International World Congress in Ottawa, Canada in late July.
After his passport was confiscated at the border, he was ordered to return to Tehran to meet with prosecutors. However, upon reporting to the prosecutors’ office he was arrested while more than 70 teachers waited outside in support.
Protest now: http://www.labourstart.org/go/esmail
Abdi’s arrest comes after nationwide rallies were held earlier this year to protest wages that leave the majority of teachers below the poverty line.
The Education International is deeply concerned about the repression facing representatives of the Coordinating Council of Iranian Teachers Trade Associations and has asked us to launch this very urgent campaign.
It will only take you a minute — please send your message off now:
Please share this with your friends, family and fellow union members — and with any teachers you know.
The Vice Chancellor of Queen’s University, Belfast, has cancelled a symposium on the issues raised by the Charlie Hebdo killings. The professed reasons for the cancellation were supposed security concerns and – more worrying in many ways – concern for the “reputation” of the University. Nick Cohen has written a typically good piece about this and other attacks on free speech in higher education, but the article we re-publish below (from Little Atoms) is by one of the invited speakers, Jason Walsh, and you can tell that despite his measured tone, he’s angry:
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?
Hmmm… May be able to tell the strategic political and industrial sense of the slogan “Gove out!” now. I wonder if he’ll be replaced by someone committed to a well funded, public education system…