Saturday 7 June 2014

Trojan Horse schools: State ideology coming to you?

                                      Birmingham schools CCF on manoeuvres

From a Catholic perspective, the whole row over alleged extremist infiltration of Birmingham schools is distinctly unsettling.

Putting aside the difficulties in being certain of the facts -and when politics and religion are involved, getting clear here is going to be particularly difficult- from what facts seem to be clear, we have at least in part a clash between the general social conservatism of orthodox Islam and the official secularized Liberalism of the UK state. Additionally, we just have elements of real stupidity in dealing with a minority religion. Beyond that, we have a genuine worry that some aspects of Islam represent a threat to the security of the country.

Specific claims (according to the Guardian):

1) The academy is not doing enough to keep students safe, including raising students' awareness of the risks of extremism.

Muslims are always going to have split loyalties, much like most serious religious groups. Our first loyalty is to God, mediated through the structures of our religion. It is inevitable that Muslim understandings of the world and politics will be different from those of non-Muslims. All that can be done here is to establish a respect for civic peace: that disagreements are resolved politically rather than by force.

2) External speakers, such as those who speak to students as part of a programme of Islamic-themed assemblies, are not vetted and pupils not taught how to use the internet safely.

Nobody can use the internet safely if you mean avoiding unpleasant views. (It's quite another thing if you mean keeping your anti-virus software up to date. I presume this isn't what's meant.) 'Vetting'? Fine. What is the substantive test for being vetted? I presume that at least one person already thinks any given speaker is a good egg and not wearing a suicide vest. If it means not having views that secular Liberals don't like, see 1).

3) Students are not prepared properly for life in a diverse and multicultural society.

Good if this means rejecting the usual liberal claptrap. I've always encouraged Muslims I've come across not to kowtow to the rather thin secularism they'll come across in much British education, and to be confident in the basic soundness of their tradition. (Ditto my own children.) I doubt if this is what Ofsted means by 'being prepared'. I wish it were.

4) Staff feel intimidated and fearful of speaking out, while some believe the governors involve themselves inappropriately in the running of the school.

Well, not an infrequent occurrence in education. More details please.

5) Sex and relationship education is ineffective, with students not well supported in understanding how to protect themselves from bullying.

I presume this means the usual 'sex ed' agenda. It's always ineffective. (I assume what this really means is that Muslim teachers are unwilling to teach the 'shag everything that moves' official philosophy. Again, good.)

The absurdities here are reflected in the Daily Mail's dubbing of a representative of the Humanist and Cultural Muslim Association as a 'centrist'. A 'humanist' Muslim is as much a Muslim as an atheist Catholic is a Catholic. If you are going to engage with serious Muslims, there is absolutely no point in expecting them to end up agreeing with atheists.

There may well be genuine issues in the schools of public safety. But so far as I can see, the main issues at the moment are those inevitably resulting when minority belief systems confront majority systems, but have become canny enough to organize themselves effectively to resist the majority pressure. Muslims aren't going to disappear into secularized atheism (which I suspect was the basic assumption of many multiculturalists). That means the State is going to have to engage seriously with people who will, inevitably, have different conceptions of human flourishing. As a Muslim blogger puts it:

The reality is that certain political stances, values, social mores, moral precepts etc. do have widespread, indeed majority, acceptance amongst the 2.6 million strong Muslim community. Halal slaughter provisions, a general aversion to licentiousness coupled with the desire to protect their children from it, Shariah finance, opposition to government foreign policy vis-à-vis Iraq, Afghanistan and Israel – just some of the issues on which there is broad agreement in the Muslim community. Other examples one might cite are: revulsion towards blasphemous cartoons of the prophets, rejection of homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle and the right of Muslim women to wear the hijab (and somewhat more contentiously the niqab). I believe that it is an incontestable truth that all of the above examples I have cited are normative positions in the Muslim community. I challenge anyone to canvass the major Muslim population concentrations in Britain and come back with findings that show otherwise. On these issues and others most Muslim groups concur and speak in unison. They can be said in all honesty to represent “the Muslim view”.

Engaging with those different conceptions of flourishing is never going to be an easy process, but it's essentially one of messy negotiation and compromise. It's not helped by branding mainstream Muslim views 'extremist' and giving the impression that, if we just get the bureaucracy right, they'll stop believing all that rot.

As ruling elites become more and more secularized, the ability to deal with religious belief also diminishes. We're seeing it with Islam now. We've seen it in the past with Catholicism and will doubtless see it again. But neither serious Islam nor serious Catholicism is going away, whatever the fantasists of secularization might believe.

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