The pervasion of the counter-extremism apparatus in British society is now unprecedented. Co-opted professionals across disciplines which normally would be founded upon trust and confidence have been zombified into spying rings for the state as people are purged from the civil sector through the States direction of what constitute unacceptable views. The impact continues to shake up the education sector as children are being subjected to child abuse, Muslim teachers are suspended for their views expressed in the private sphere, and Ofsted continues its political agenda at the expense of the Muslim minority and their faith. Indeed, the shaping of thoughts and political views continues to broaden. A recent report revealed a non-Muslim child was bullied by counter-terror police for planning a protest outside David Cameron’s constituency office.
The agenda ploughs on, however, and the next step in ensuring that there are “no ungoverned spaces” for the authoritarian state, is direct state interference in the religious affairs of faith groups.
The foundational premise through much of the Muslim demonisation process that was the Trojan Hoax affair was that there was “Islamic influence” in a state school. Of course, parsing through the hyperbole one realised that what was done was perfectly normal, in accordance with the law and reflective of the demographic, until neocons disliked it and wished to create a pretext for their “British values” social engineering programme and impose an extreme version of secular liberalism (see comments by a Birmingham priest here). Religion (Islam) is interfering with state schools! was the wailing of the neocons and their propagandists in the media.
The neocon state now however, is looking to exert “undue secular liberal influence” in the private religious sphere through its proposals to regulate private, supplementary schools.
Proposed Regulations and Discriminatory Focus on Madrassas
Whilst the consultation document itself remains agnostic of focussing on particular faiths, there is little doubt that the proposed measures are targeted at the Islamic faith and the Muslim minority. This was most evident from the context in which this proposal was announced; the puerile, anti-Muslim violence-stoking speech by our wonderful Prime Minister. Highlighting “Islamist extremism”, “diseased” worldviews, and various other ailments the PM felt expressing his ideological nemesis, Cameron focussed exclusively on madrassas, as “institutions that actually help incubate these divisions”. Whilst there was nothing wrong with Yeshivas, and Christian Sunday schools, for David Cameron,
“…in some madrassas we’ve got some children being taught that they shouldn’t mix with people of other religions, being beaten; swallowing conspiracy theories about Jewish people”.
He of course chose to ignore the existence of problematic beliefs and practices in the Jewish and Christian settings. Extremism is the context, and as noted extensively on this blog (see below), extremism is a discourse mainly applied explicitly to Muslims.
The “Extremism” Context
The extremism framework for these proposals are confirmed in the government’s proposals. Outlining the primary purpose of the regulation it is noted that,
“The 2011 Prevent strategy first made clear that, over the lifetime of the strategy, the government would work to reduce the risk that children and young people are exposed to harm and extremist views in out-of-school education settings.”
To bolster the notion of “extremism”, the document makes a reference to the widely discredited Trojan Hoax report by neoconservative henchmen Peter Clarke:
“Peter Clarke’s review into Birmingham schools found evidence of “co-ordinated, deliberate and sustained action…to introduce an intolerant and aggressive Islamic ethos”
The reference is all the more tenuous given the fact that the Education Select Committee found there were no coordinated plots, and aside from one incident, no “extremism”. Moreover, in individual cases against teachers, Islam itself, or rather “orthodox Islamic doctrine” was identified as the problematic “undue influence” – far removed from Clarke’s “intolerant and aggressive Islamic ethos”. Noteworthy here is the fact that such an identification controversially has tied the orthodoxy to an “extremism” context (it should be noted that the teacher making the accusations against the teachers had allegations of making “racial and religious slurs” against herself).
Compliance with “British Values”
The document makes it clear that teachers and the teaching must comply with “British values”:
“…we are seeking to ensure that those who work in positions of trust and influence with children and young people respect those with different faiths and beliefs and do not, in expressing their individual beliefs, promote intolerance against others”
In explaining “prohibited activities”, the document elucidates an example:
“Undesirable teaching, for example teaching which undermines or is incompatible with fundamental British values, or which promotes extremist views”
Thus, any aspect of the syllabus which fails to comply with “British values” will attract two potential sanctions: barring teachers permanently from teaching profession and/or closing of the premises.
The proposal further advocates that Ofsted should take up the regulatory role.
Gutting Islam of Islam Through State Conformity
All the evidence gathered from the PREVENT implementation and Ofsted’s interpretation suggests and that Islam itself will be the cause for many madrasas closing down.
Whilst the aspect of not teaching “intolerance” is admirable, how this has thus far been construed transcends the border of absurdity. Through Ofsted’s inspection framework around PREVENT, evidence suggests (see here) that a belief in the superiority in one’s faith and the invalidity of another religion or way of life, opposition to homosexuality, and a sense of religious purpose are regarded as signs of extremism and radicalisation. Looking at the types of cases which are being referred to PREVENT police or the Channel deradicalisation programme, one finds that Islamic markers are being used as signs of radicalisation. A presentation on the history of the caliphate, starting to wear a hijab (see here), asking for a prayer and even converting to the Islamic faith have all been indicated as reasons for a PREVENT referral.
Ofsted as Thought-Police
The suggestion for Ofsted regulation raises further causes for consternation.
Right from the beginning of the Trojan Hoax scandal, Ofsted inspectors have been biased in their judgements. They have been accused of a discriminatory focus on Islam, whilst inspectors have demonstrated an anti-Islamic tone. Inspectors have been reported to having made remarks about the “beards” of Muslim men. Sex separation has been condemned in Muslim majority schools but applauded in non-Muslim majority schools. Ofsted have made value judgements on Islamic texts found in the staff library at one school, for instance, whilst ignoring the content of other faith texts including a Bible. My recent investigatory piece found that though Ofsted and Michael Wilshaw brandished the revelation that a Muslim faith school had “extremist, sexist or partisan” Islamic books in their library (concordant to the Islamic orthodoxy), Ofsted however completely ignored Jewish and Christian children’s books which also contained material and which could be construed by an agenda-driven regulatory body as “extremist”.
Furthermore, amongst the various reports describing orthodox Jewish practices that blatantly violate “British values” (see here also), the “extremism” label has been absent from official statements. In fact, reports suggest there is a “reluctance to take a hard line with the Orthodox Jewish community”.
Taken together, the unprecedented religious interference by the state will focus on Islam as it forges an Islam rubber-stamped by neocons in Government. And if their interpretation is anything to go by, it means doing away with fundamental aspects of Islam. It is nothing short of educational apartheid reminiscent of the British-Indian colonialist period in which a weak empire attempted to control Muslim thought and dissent through forced indoctrination at schools.
Baseless Proposals, Rejected Counter-Extremism Strategy
There is no question that a response nothing short of a complete rejection of the proposals is required. The purpose of madrassas is to administer Islamic education to children whose parents voluntarily submit them to such learning in accordance with their parental rights. It is an exclusively private affair outside the business of the state.
Of course health and safety, background checks and the like are important and over the years in the context of madrassas, such regulation has been improving under the auspices of the Muslim regulatory body Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board (MINAB). It is already promoting good governance and many teachers are already background checked. Using this channel to further encourage other seminaries to practice good governance would make more sense.
It must be emphasised that PREVENT itself is a discredited counter-extremism strategy (see here for a critical overview) which has been rejected by a plethora of academics and experts in the field of sociology and counter-terrorism (see here, here and here). In fact, a report by Mi5’s behavioural science division suggests that those perpetrating political violence “do not practise their faith regularly” and “many lack religious literacy”. On the contrary, it concludes that,
“a well-established religious identity actually protects against violent radicalisation.”
Madrassas and strong traditional learning operate as barriers to illegitimate violence.
Finally, the reason for this proposal must be questioned. Whilst Cameron’s discriminatory culturalist attacks on Islam and madrassas provide sound-bites necessary for the press to sell their papers and continue the dehumanisation process of the Muslim minority, it fails to substantiate empirically that madrassas in Britain are linked to “radicalisation”. On the contrary, a report by the Institute for Public Policy Research found that,
“There is an absence of strong evidence linking madrassas to the radicalisation of young people in the UK.”
The government has failed to justify its disproportionate Orwellian intrusion into the religious sphere and its clandestine forging of a state-approved Islam. Muslim organisations, mosques, maktabs and madrassas must come together to challenge and firmly reject this state blueprint for colonialist control of private Islamic education, and ultimately protect against the deconstruction of the Iman of Muslims.
Further reading: On the topic of madrassas and the ideological nature of the attack on madrassas I refer to my previous blog here.