If you want to stop extremism in UK schools, try a little understanding first.

Politicians are muddled, hysterical, disconnected from wider truths, and still clueless about religious ideologies

Share

A plague on both their houses. Michael Gove and Theresa May are playing dirty games and trying to discredit each other. Apparently these manoeuvres are preparatory bids for the Tory leadership. I don’t give a damn about overambitious political schemers. And nor should anyone else. We should, however, all be alarmed and livid that the two are fouling up public understanding and failing as senior government ministers.

The row is over several Birmingham schools which have allegedly been turned into conservative Islamic seminaries and infiltrated by “extremist” governors and teachers. A controversial Ofsted report due to be published today is already under fire. Its overseers did not detect any such plots or express serious concerns about these schools previously. Now, it seems, they will be critical of the atmosphere as well as the teaching at some named institutions.

Parents, pupils and the whole city have been unsettled by the political furore and further Ofsted visits. May – full of Thatcherite certainties these days – thinks Gove has done too little too late. So does Labour’s Tristram Hunt, who should beware of sounding so triumphant and smug. Autocratic Gove is incandescent.

But instead of bickering, these politicians should be safeguarding education; our children, our society, our futures. As a retired Asian school head said to me on Sunday: “I would not let them run my father’s small newspaper shop for two hours. They can’t be trusted and make things worse whenever they step in. It’s because they know nothing about multicultural Britain, its strong and weak points, what to do to make it work. They live in their own worlds. How many Muslim friends do any of them have? Do they even understand the problem they are trying to solve?”

No. They are muddled, hysterical, disconnected from wider truths, still clueless about religious ideologies and several key concepts. And yet they fire off opinions and haphazard words, revealing how ignorant they really are and how lazy their thinking.

Most journalists are even more so. The Left and Right have taken up entrenched positions on the “Muslim question”. For the former all criticism is “Islamaphobia” and the latter can only see us as the enemy within. Here then is a short lesson for politicians and members of my tribe. Terrorism, extremism, radicalism, political dissent, engagement with international conflicts, sharia, fundamentalism, self-segregation, Salafism/Wahhabism are not interchangeable nor inextricably linked.

Let’s take a state-funded school where drama, fiction and art are not taught. The state should intervene here because these rules, in effect, cut off possibilities for young Muslims. Full-body coverings are an affront because they define young women and girls as sexual menaces. Sharia is unacceptable because there should be one law for all. Our government should (but won’t) confront Saudi Arabia and Qatar which fund the  spread of hardline Islamic practice. Internet terrorism training is the most powerful corrupter of young Muslim minds. Mosque preachers have lost ground to those online. Politicians don’t even debate this evil. All these different challenges require considered and fair responses, not populist hyperactivity based on prejudice or extreme naivety.

Over the weekend I read and heard commentators for whom a head covering is a sign of “terrorist mindset” and young men going to fight in Syria are all preparing for the overthrow of western democracies (did George Orwell going off to fight Franco’s dictatorship make him a danger to Britain?). Callers to radio stations thought the Birmingham schools were training camps for suicide bombers. This is truly dangerous rubbish. We all, collectively, need to  find solutions for a number of real and present problems.

Some Muslim schools do indeed reject modernist values. A young boy, Ahmed  (not his real name) wrote to me from one  of these Birmingham schools. He is gay  and petrified.

“They say it is a white disease. They will kill me if they know. I cannot live any more. I was in a mixed school before and I was OK. But my parents moved me to this school and I am so alone here.”

In January a young Muslim girl emailed to say that she had been forced to wear a headscarf and cloak by her school and she feels trapped. State funds should not be paying for such mis-education. But then no other faith-based schools should be state funded either, because they are places of segregation and separation. Gove has pushed for these schools more than any previous Education Secretary. Here’s the result.

Meanwhile Theresa May has presided over some of the most draconian anti-terrorism laws in British history – including now a secret trial – and in doing so the Home Secretary has radicalised more Muslims than Abu Hamza ever managed. They take no responsibility of course. Being in cabinet means never having to say you are sorry.

The Ofsted report will no doubt raise howling protests from Muslim apologists and Muslim haters, from educators and politicos, supporters of the schools and their adversaries. My thoughts go out to the children, pawns in political and religious battles not of their making. Poor young things. They deserve better. 

 

Why we should treasure enduring sparkle of Dawn French

Sometimes someone is so monumentally talented, praise seems paltry or sycophantic. But still, I do hereby acclaim the singular and gifted Dawn French. Her TV shows are repeated over and over again on various channels. Time neither lessens their appeal nor dims her sparkle. Most amazingly,  Ms French just gets better and better.  

The comic actress, writer, novelist and Bafta fellow is touring Britain with a new stage show, an intimate monologue called  30 Million Minutes. Critics have been raving about her delivery and content, which is sharp and funny, as well as unexpectedly dark and “brutally unsparing”. On stage, she opens up, shares her pain and pleasures, talks openly about cancer, sex, her upbringing and relationships – all subjects the tabloids would have liked to have splashed on their front pages but rarely did.

And that is the second reason to admire her. She and her ex-husband, Lenny Henry (also a hero) managed to keep control of their lives. They kept their privacy in spite of fame and fortune. Those celebs who never stop whining about press and fan intrusion need to learn from these two.

I once sat next to her at a birthday dinner for a mutual friend. She was fine until I said I was a journalist. She turned away and barely spoke to me again. That wariness has kept her sane, I guess. But I want her to know, I love her work and dazzling smile and thank her for the joy she has brought us all, as well as her honesty and integrity.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £60,000

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Care Workers Required - The London Borough of Bromley

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This homecare agency is based in Beckenh...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Polish minister Rafal Trazaskowski (second from right)  

Poland is open to dialogue but EU benefits restrictions are illegal and unfair

Rafal Trzaskowski
The report will embarrass the Home Secretary, Theresa May  

Surprise, surprise: tens of thousands of illegal immigrants have 'dropped off' the Home Office’s radar

Nigel Farage
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas