It is a common cliché to suggest that things often get worse before they get better. This certainly seems to be the case, regarding the treatment of Muslims in Britain. Waves of deliberate, destructive and distorted hyperbole have been lashed towards the community, with pernicious, poisonous and prejudicial sentiments. Muslims have been tainted with the brush of terrorism, extremism, radicalism and now religious conservatism. This is nothing but political populism pandering to right wing voters. To be a practising Muslim in today’s Britain is seen as a potential threat to the country.
It was no surprise that Ofsted discredited itself in doing the expected bidding for its political masters, by putting five Birmingham schools under special measures, lining four up for takeover and taking 11 others to task. With some of these schools having previously received an “outstanding” rating within the last year, trust in the objectivity of the inspection regime has severely eroded. The alleged offence of some of these schools had nothing to do with their performance. The main charge against them was for not teaching children enough about the threat of extremism, and, in the absurd case of Gracelands, it was for failing to ensure 2- to 4-year-olds were protected against ‘extreme and radical behaviour.’
Ofsteds did not find any evidence to substantiate the allegations of extremism and the so-called “Trojan Horse” conspiracy to takeover schools, as reported by the media, commentators and politicians.
This has led to an open battle between Education Secretary, Michael Gove, and Home Secretary, Theresa May, over who can claim to be toughest on Muslim “extremism” in their race to replace Prime Minister, David Cameron, as Conservative leader, if he fails to win next year’s general election. Not that Labour is much better, having blindly followed what is believed to be a vote winning issue. This form of Islamophobia is a ready-made replacement for playing the race card.
The biggest farce of all is that the latest taunting of Muslims is based upon a hoax letter fabricated to create great alarm about a supposed al-Qa’ida inspired ‘Islamist’ plot to take over state schools. Yet no one is questioning all the hallmarks of the dodgy sexed-up Iraq-style dossier, surreptitiously dubbed the ‘Trojan Horse scandal’. It was anonymously written, unsigned, undated with many factual errors and as it has turned out, all the allegations are unfounded.
Instead, the report should be openly celebrating the incredible academic successes of these previously failing inner-city schools, particularly in the case of Park View school. The success stories are due to a reconnection of education with the local community and schools being given a religious ethos. It is surprising that Gove is treating the British state as a secular body. British schools are awash with religion, yet it appears to be unacceptable for schools to contain an Islamic dimension even if virtually all the children attending are Muslims.
The argument has thus been changed that schools must promote British values. But these so called ‘British’ values are nothing but universal humanitarian values, which are heavily promoted by Islam. “It is critical that we ensure that our traditions of liberty and tolerance are protected so that everyone, whatever their background, can feel that sense of pride in this nation and allegiance to other citizens, which all of us would want to celebrate as the best of British,” the Education Secretary declared. “Freedom, tolerance, respect for the rule of law, belief in personal and social responsibility and respect for British institutions,” said Prime Minister, David Cameron. “Democracy, gender equality, equality before the law,” Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, said.
The thrust of the campaign is thus pure hypocrisy. It is naked discrimination. It is rampant Islamophobia that has taken hold of political leaders. The Conservatives claim that they are supportive of diversity in British society but where does this stop and make way for so-called extremism begins? Claims that Muslims need to be integrated and learn the English language is spurious. Muslims are integrated. Muslims excel in English GCSE.
There has been no evidence of extremism in the schools that were targeted. The target is actually religious conservatism – Muslims practising the religion of Islam. For example, Gove writing in the Catholic Herald (February 2011), told Catholic schools that they could escape ‘meddling’ by local authorities by becoming academies, which would ensure a Catholic school could “remain true to its Catholic traditions”.
Allegations that Christmas celebrations were cancelled, boys and girls separated, music banned, an extremist preacher addressed students, saying that white women were prostitutes and many similar claims were all found to be untrue. Furthermore, many non-Muslim teachers, head teachers and governors in these schools remain integral members of the school, which falsifies the allegation that these schools were becoming exclusive to Muslims.
Where justified failings in governance, for example, have been identified, they must be resolved – but this must be seen through an objective lens of governance and applied across all schools, and not through the lens of security, which is only applied to Muslims.
At a time when underachievement in schools is greatest amongst poor white British children, one would have thought that the Government would showcase success stories in deprived areas as models for other schools, facing similar challenges. Park View has been a shining example of great achievement, where encouraging a cultural ethos has worked. It is a beacon of light for all, whether of a religious persuasion or not. It is even part and parcel of the official policy to create a “more diverse school system” with academies and free schools. The issue should not be mischievously used to whip up anti-Muslim hysteria and impose a narrow agenda of ‘British values’, in a poisonous campaign of discrimination and intimidation. Unfortunately, the plight of Muslims being treated as second-class citizens only seems to worsen