Fanning the flames of Islamophobia

In March this year, in the run up to the local government and European elections that were to take place in May, The Sunday Times of 2 March ran an article by Richard Kerbaj and Sian Griffiths about a letter ‘leaked’ to it that had allegedly been written by an Islamic fundamentalist setting out plans for Muslims to take over schools in predominantly Muslim areas of the country by means of getting themselves appointed as governors. Supposedly addressed to Muslims in Bradford, it claimed it had already been very successful in Birmingham.

The letter was unsigned and turned out to be a crude forgery. George Galloway rightly described it as Trojan horse shit from the same stable as Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. In other words, a falsification to be used for justifying an offensive. In this case the offensive is the spread of Islamophobia in order to divide and weaken the working class at a time that the bourgeoisie is attacking its living standards to an unprecedented degree.

The educational consultancy firm Insted points out:

The first and most obvious sign that the document was a forgery was its use of the phrase ‘Trojan Horse’ to summarise the strategy which it claimed to be proposing. The term is fairly common in anti-Muslim writings but not at all likely to be used by Muslims, least of all by any who hold the kinds of view which the document caricatures. Thus, for example, Anders Behring Breivik described Islam as a Trojan Horse in a passage in which he quoted with approval an author who had written that ‘in Europe, the Muslim Brotherhood discovered a unique opportunity: Democracy. The democratic system leaves room for freedom of religion and freedom of speech, and finances religious communities and religious organisations. This has been utilised by the Muslim Brotherhood to infiltrate the Muslim communities, recruit members and build the Islamist networks that have become so visible lately.’ Breivik then added: ‘Whereas bin Laden uses bombs, al-Qaradawi [a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood] exploits democracy as a Trojan horse.’ The same general point was made by Sam Solomon and Elias Al Maqdisi in their anti-Muslim book Modern Day Trojan Horse, published in 2009. This was endorsed by, among others, Geert Wilders, who wrote: ‘I hope every person in the Western world reads it, including the sleeping political elite. This book should bring about a much needed awakening.’ The term ‘Trojan Horse’ to describe so-called Islamist extremism also appeared as a chapter heading in Michael Gove’s book Celsius 7/7, published in 2006.

“Since the document leaked to the Sunday Times contained many errors and howlers, and since even a cursory textual analysis showed it could not have been written by the person who claimed to be its author, media reportage increasingly recognised that it was a forgery .”

This did not, however, prevent the media going hysterical about first Muslim religious fundamentalism which later morphed into extremist terrorism being propagated in schools funded by taxpayers’ money.

Michael Gove takes up the cudgels

Had the hysteria remained in the media, it would be bad enough. However, it also severely took hold of Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Education, who found himself in a spat with Teresa May over the question of whether it was the fault of the Department of Education or of the Home Office that nothing had been done earlier to prevent schools being taken over by Islamists.

Michael Gove is a practising Christian who has, incidentally, proclaimed himself to be a “proud Zionist” (see Jessica Elgot, ‘Gove tells UJIA: “I am a proud Zionist”, Jewish Chronicle, 22 September 2011) and who supports the fundraising activities of the United Jewish Israel Appeal. This may have contributed to his alarm at seeing Muslims exerting the same civil rights given to all other communities in this country to influence their children’s education by becoming school governors.

As Insted points out: ” The Trojan Affair in Birmingham is not primarily to do with whether or not there is a plot by certain Muslims to take over a number of schools. Rather, the key issue is how to hold a balance between autonomy and accountability in the education system. Up until 2010 the vast majority of state-funded schools in England were accountable to their local authority. The coalition government that came into power nationally in that year is strongly of the view that a necessary condition for improvements in education is that schools should have greater autonomy, and should not be subject to local authority scrutiny and control. The situation now (May 2014) is that more than half of all secondary schools are no longer part of a local authority .” In the past local authorities exerted control over all taxpayer funded schools in their locality, but now they have been cut out of half the schools and Whitehall is supposed to carry out the supervisory functions that formerly fell to the local authorities. Whitehall simply does not have the resources to do this effectively. Nick Pearce points out in the Financial Times of 14 June (‘A school system that requires dawn raids is ripe for reform’) that “No other advanced country governs its schools from central government without an intervening tier”, the obvious reason for that being the sheer magnitude of the task would mean that it would simply not be possible for it to be done effectively without that intervening, local, tier.

So how does Gove respond to Ms May’s accusations? Why he appoints Peter Clarke, former head of the Metropolitan Police counter-terrorism command, no less, a scion of the War Against Terror, in to investigate the Trojan horse allegations and also sends in Ofsted to conduct ‘dawn raids’ on 18 Birmingham schools. Ofsted’s subsequent behaviour is so vicious that even the bourgeois media, at least those that like to maintain a reputation for respectability and intellectuality, have been shocked. Nick Pearce (op.cit.) writes ” Think about that for a minute. “Dawn raids” are proposed for institutions that educate our children …It is scarcely credible that the words ‘dawn raid’ would have been used if the schools concerned did not serve Muslim communities. As it turned out, the investigations and inspections that followed found little evidence to substantiate claims of extremist takeover …”

The inspectors were, according to the BBC, sent in to carry out ” unannounced inspections of a type which focuses on a single concern rather than the overall quality of teaching and learning” (‘How will government shut out the Trojan Horse?’, 10 June 2014). The Vice Chairman of Park View Educational Trust, controlling three schools that the inspectors found wanting, rightly observed: ” Ofsted inspectors came to our schools looking for extremism, looking for segregation, looking for proof that our children have religion forced upon them as part of an Islamic plot” (Quoted by the BBC, ‘Trojan Horse: schools trust hits out at special measures decision’, 9 June 2014).

In their search, they were determined to find the schools wanting and deliberately closed their eyes to anything that went against the predetermined conclusions. An Arabic teacher at one school, Oldknow, that had previously been rated as outstanding said that the inspector, after refusing to look at children’s written work that had been offered as evidence of their progress, then reached the conclusion that the children had made no progress! (See ‘A warning from Birmingham’, Socialist Worker, 17 June 2014).

Ofsted findings

Of the bits and pieces they were able to find that would cause concern to some people, Seumas Milne quite rightly wrote:

“They came up with a string of allegations , most based on hearsay, contested or exaggerated out of recognition according to teachers and parents. Christmas had been cancelled, it was said, music banned, an extremist preacher had addressed pupils, girls and boys were segregated, western women had been described as ‘white prostitutes’.

“The only prostitute mentioned turned out to be in a homily of the Prophet Muhammad’s about a woman who saved a thirsty dog, Christmas events abounded in the censured schools, music was taught and gender segregation took place in PE, as in many other schools – while single sex schools are common across the country.

“But the absurdity of the inspectors’ findings is clearest in the case of Gracelands nursery school, whose staff were taken to task for failing to ensure its 2- to 4-year-olds were protected against ‘extreme and radical behaviour’.

“That’s not to say, of course, that there’s nothing behind the allegations, which have clearly been fed by former and current staff – or that there aren’t legitimate grievances. These are not faith schools and some have clearly pushed the schools’ religious boundaries.

“It’s just that they have nothing to do with extremism or terrorism, and could have easily been dealt with in a routine system of accountability. Instead, schools which had delivered outstanding results for deprived communities are now smeared and destabilised – and their pupils with them.” (‘Michael Gove’s toxic assault on schools is based on naked discrimination’, The Guardian, 11 June 2014).

Despite intense probing, the inspectors found no evidence of extremism:

Reports published by Ofsted did not … cite direct examples of extremist teaching or incidents of radicalisation [and can it be doubted that they would have done if there had been any!] and spoke instead of risks to children as schools neglected their duty to give a balanced education and promote community cohesion” (‘I’ll strengthen British values in schools’, Gove says, after “Trojan plot” report’, The Times, 18 June 2014).

In fact, so little did the inspections bring to light that Ofsted had to establish previously non-existent criteria on which to judge the schools in order to be able to fail them. Two of the new deadly sins are apparently (1) segregating male and female students in any class and for any reason and (2) failing to take measures to ensure that pupils do not fall prey to extremism. There was in actual fact very little segregation of male and female pupils in general, but to the extent there was, in PE, RE or sex education lessons, is the British government, which accepts single sex schools, really in a position to claim that this cannot be permitted? Can it even be imagined that in a school whose pupils were not mostly Muslims if a teacher decided to ask male and female pupils to sit apart because of a belief that this would improve classroom discipline, this would be considered an outrageous breach of those pupils’ human rights? Or that it would leave them disadvantaged in future life, as the inspectors alleged in the case of the Muslim majority schools? As for failing to take measures to ensure that pupils do not fall prey to extremism, since when has that been required of any school? Do guidelines exist as to how it should be done? Or are Gove’s minions only now scrambling to try to produce them? And are such standards applied to schools in the various deprived non-Muslim areas where the pupils are mostly white to protect them against the extremism of the EDL or similar organisations? We think not.

Ofsted’s crusaders, moreover, have been dispatched to other areas with a high level of Muslim residents, including Bradford, Tower Hamlets and Luton.

We might mention in passing the shock horror finding reported by Graeme Paton in the Daily Telegraph of 12 June (‘Ofsted probe widens to Luton and London’) that “in one Luton primary inspectors have already found books promoting stoning, lashing and execution”. All we can say is that this could have been one of the St James Bibles that Michael Gove himself partially financed for distribution to all schools in England in 2012 (see David Hughes, ‘Michael Gove defends school Bibles scheme’, The Independent, 25 May 2012). Tender and susceptible primary school children opening their Bible would find many instances where stoning to death is prescribed for various offences, including sex outside marriage, cursing or blaspheming, breaking the sabbath and disobeying one’s parents. What would a primary school child make of Deuteronomy 22:13-21 for instance, which reads as follows?:

If any man take a wife, and go in unto her, and hate her … and say, I took this woman, and when I came to her, I found her not a maid: Then shall the father of the damsel, and her mother, take and bring forth the tokens of the damsel’s virginity unto the elders of the city in the gate: And the damsel’s father shall say … these are the tokens of my daughter’s virginity. And they shall spread the cloth before the elders of the city. … But if this thing be true, and the tokens of virginity be not found for the damsel: Then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her with stones that she die .”

We think that such texts should not be available in primary schools, be they Muslim or Christian texts – but there is no need to close the schools down in which they are found if the students are doing well. Just remove the books to schools catering for A Level students since they, one would hope, would on the one hand be able to understand them and on the other should by then have developed or be developing the skill to consider them critically. There would be absolutely no point in banning these texts in the case of older pupils because if they did not read them at school, they would certainly have no difficulty accessing them elsewhere. So long as Muslims are treated no differently from Christians and Jews when it comes to dealing with such texts associated with their respective religions, who could possibly object?

‘Fundamentalism’ in schools

In their trawl to please Gove, their master, by turning up evidence of extremist takeover of schools, inspectors have dug up accusations such as that made against Oldknow Primary Academy to the effect that “they are trying to promote a particular and narrow faith-based ideology…” and have set up a madrassa within the school – i.e., if you strip out the prejudicial formulation of the issue, they offer Islamic RE to Muslim students – shock horror!

Frankly, Gove is in no position to object to such activities.

The education secretary, Michael Gove, has approved three free schools run by groups with creationist views, including one with a document on its website declaring that it teaches “creation as a scientific theory”.

“Grindon Hall Christian school in Sunderland, a private school due to reopen in September with state funding, says on its website that it will present creationism as science and affirm the position that Christians believe God’s creation of the world is “not just a theory but a fact”.

“Ministers have also approved a free school in Sevenoaks, Kent, that says on its website it will teach in RE classes that “God made the world”, while a third free school, in Nottinghamshire, is a fresh proposal from a group initially turned down over creationism.” (Jeevan Vasagar, ‘Creationist groups win Michael Gove’s approval to open free schools’, The Guardian, 18 July 2012).

Clearly, in Gove’s view Christian fundamentalism is fine, but Muslim fundamentalism is not!

It is interesting to note that although it is reported the Ofsted inspectors had a great many questions to ask during their dawn raids on how schools dealt with homosexuality, no prominence whatever has been given to what answers they received. Since all religious fundamentalists, be they Muslim, Christian or Jewish, frown on homosexuality, then if the schools inspected had been hotbeds of fundamentalism, surely it would have been impossible to conceal a degree of homophobia. But there were apparently no such findings, despite extensive interrogations of pupils and staff. Or could it be that the whole point of the Trojan Horse exercise is to widen the gulf between Muslims on the one hand and Christians and Jews on the other hand and that therefore it would be a tactical error to make any mention of an issue on which all of them agree?

The consequences of what the inspectors found

The inspectors, sent in on a one-point programme, raking over the coals to find at least some facts that would please the fanatical Gove, used their powers in cases where they were able to unearth anything even slightly untoward to condemn the whole school – many of which had been judged to be “outstanding”, no less, when the Ofsted inspectors visited them with unprejudiced minds.. Five schools were declared inadequate, 11 told they need to improve. Only one was acquitted. Not surprisingly, the schools are demanding a judicial review of the government decisions taken in this case.

Four academies found to be inadequate (despite brilliant results) have been told by Gove that he is minded to terminate their agreements – ” in effect sacking the trusts who run them and imposing his own new sponsors on the schools. They have until July 4 to put their houses in order. Alternative sponsors are understood to be waiting in the wings, though, if he does “.

In the case of the one local authority school found to be inadequate, the governors will be sacked and an interim board appointed to take over.

Furthermore, Gove has effectively ordered two Birmingham schools serving overwhelmingly Muslim populations, Oldknow and Golden Hillock, to hold a ” daily, broadly Christian act of worship” (excused in other such schools), according to Seumas Milne (op.cit).

In addition teachers who invited “extremist” speakers into a school would be barred from the profession for life – and regulations allowing governors to be banned for life if they promoted “extremism” would also be introduced. This is in addition to the regime of dawn raids. As Gove is not only a Christian fundamentalist and a Zionist but also a raving anti-communist of McCarthyite persuasion, It is easy to see how “extremism” is to be interpreted. One of the speakers condemned as ‘extremist’ by Gove is Sheikh Shady al-Suleiman, a deeply conservative Australian fuddy-duddy of Palestinian descent, who happens to sympathise with the resistance in Afghanistan. Clearly an extremist! Inspectors excited in having uncovered the shameful news that the Sheikh had been an invited speaker at assembly at Park View School were intending to use this invitation as a basis for claiming in their damning report on what had been considered up to then an outstanding school that it was in the habit of inviting extremists to address assemblies. It then emerged, ” after the school complained, that Asuleiman had been granted visas by the Home Office, had spoken at several other schools and universities, and that the government Prevent team did not regard him as an extremist. The subject of Asuleiman’s talk was time management .” (Richard Adams, ‘Trojan horse school damned in Ofsted report’, The Guardian, 8 June 2014). In the light of this embarrassingly provable evidence, the inspectors had to water down their report and merely claim in general terms that invited speakers were not properly vetted, though they no longer had any evidence for even this.

The fact is that the grounds on which the inspectors “failed” so many outstanding schools – schools moreover that achieved excellent results despite having an intake with a very high proportion of very deprived children – are on criteria that have never before been given any priority, and probably still would not in the case of schools which did not have a large Muslim intake.

Islamophobic attitudes drive the young towards extremism

The vast majority of Muslim parents are neither extremist or fundamentalist themselves and certainly do not wish to see their sons go off to foreign wars to be killed or severely injured at an early age. All they are interested in is their children doing well at school.

It’s not schools that drive young people into the arms of extremists, it’s the likes of Gove whose patent Islamophobia does more than anything else to cause immature young Muslims to reject ‘British values’, i.e., bourgeois democracy. The iron fist of the ruling class that lurks behind such ‘democracy’, directed at the working class at home and every progressive movement abroad, is daily becoming more and more apparent, which cannot but force the oppressed into resistance, i.e., to what the ruling class terms ‘extremism’, regardless of what homilies they may receive while at school against resort to violence.

The British and US imperialists have an established record of being able quite often to mobilise religious fundamentalist resistance to further imperialist interests – the best current examples being the way they were mobilised to overthrow the government of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya and are being mobilised to attempt to overthrow the government of Bashar-al-Assad in Syria. Although Islamic fundamentalism does also sometimes mobilise against imperialism, those who genuinely wish to fight for freedom would do better to turn to the consistent anti-imperialism espoused by Marxist-Leninist movements the world over.

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