A report last month triggered some consternation in Muslim circles. On the 26th of November, Star Academies – formerly, Tauheedul Educational Trust – was reported in the Times as having started an army cadet force at Tauheedul Islam Boys’ High School (TIBHS). It recorded a celebratory statement from the Star Academies chief executive Hamid Patel:
“They have recently been reflecting on the 400,000 Muslims who fought alongside the British Army for freedom during World War I…. So the launch of the cadet unit at TIBHS will be particularly poignant… We are excited that this will be the first cadet unit in the country established by a Muslim faith school.”
The report added that “local mosque leaders” had “given their blessing” to the militarisation of children and was being supported by parents and governors.
On the same day, a companion leading article with the subtitle “Cadet forces at Islamic schools could help to make the army more diverse” was also published in the same paper. Both articles framed the news with three themes:
- “improving relations with Muslim communities”
- Selective history where Muslims are only seen to die for a dying British empire
- The army’s inability to “recruit from the Muslim community”.
The report was reproduced in a regional media outlet and the Asian Image. The latter report usefully shared tweets from Star Academies and TIBHS’s Twitter accounts. Star Academies stated that they were “proud that [TIBHS] had become the first Islamic Faith School in the UK to start an army cadet force”. TIBHS’s tweet claimed it was a “milestone”. The report also showed a Tweet from the racist Home Secretary Sajid Javid sharing the Times report declaring it to be “wonderful”.
There are deeply problematic issues with the activities of Star Academies and the psychological projects it is subjecting Muslim children to. Pertinently, the Trust exemplifies a dangerous concoction of neoliberal and neoconservative policies.
In this piece, we will examine how the Star Academies has formed this troubling trajectory which has led to a disconcerting endpoint.
The trend is seeded in the period of 2011/12 when submissions were made to turn TIBHS into an academy. This was followed by waves of free school submissions. The submission forms reveal an insight into how Tauheedul has been pandering to detrimental policies from the outset.
Tauheedul states that it is “inspired by Deobandi Sunni Muslim values”. What will become apparent is that these set of values are not the only ones touted.
In one of the submissions, Tauheedul outlines how it is feeding students into the Conservative’s Big Society programme (p.11). The Big Society programme was championed by David Cameron whilst Michael Gove, a close friend of Cameron and one of a small group of neocons surrounding the PM, was a proponent of it. The programme encouraged more voluntary participation in public and community life and services whilst cutting public expenditure and welfare benefits to the detriment of social mobility.
Unsurprisingly, it also happened to reinforce neoconservative objectives of ensuring a docile and subservient future generation. One of the ways the programme sought to do this was through the National Citizenship Service, which mimicked Cameron’s Combined Cadet Force at Eton (see also how neocon David Goodhart calls for it to become mandatory).
It is worth briefly elucidating how this dovetails neoconservative political philosophy.
For neocons, liberalism leads to cultural decline, and a society which is not willing to sacrifice their rights and their life for the “greater good”. Following their philosophic figurehead, Leo Strauss, neocons aver that “ceremonial seriousness” (drawn from national, civic symbolism and “values”) is necessary to cultivate collectivism for a fascist “closed society” in which people become willing to self-sacrifice. The purpose ultimately is to create a people who are hardworking, believe in and worship the civic religion of “British values”, are willing to follow commands of the state and give their lives readily for the state. For society to do this,
“Society must internalize its authority and rule over man from within.” (Drury, 2005, p. 86)
This is an important ingredient for realising Strauss’s ideal society. For Strauss, this ideal society is one which is constantly threatened by war and based on “only from the principles of the right, that is from fascist, authoritarian and imperial principles”.
The NCS is a mechanism to socially engineer the above set to of behaviours and aims. It is eerily similar to the US neoconservative equivalent which was proposed by neocon John McCain in 2001. Spring boarding off the 9/11 tragedy, McCain’s National Civilian Community Corps programme would require those enrolled to work for organisations like Red Cross and Habitat for Humanity. Like Cameron’s desire to replicate his time in Combined Cadet Force at Eton through the NCS, McCain’s proposal was overtly militarised; enlistees would work in teams, wear uniforms, and develop cohesion between teams to help foster the notion of the “citizen-soldier”, disconcertingly echoing the pre-World War II Nazi social engineering programmes.
Tauheedul’s submission, explicating its curriculum model, states that it would ensure,
“Year 11 students will undertake Community Placements and the ‘National Citizen Service’ to learn about community responsibility and to contribute to the ‘Big Society’.” (p.45)
It is worth noting that there is an overlap between Cadet Forces and the NCS programme. In October 2012, a pilot was initiated where the Combined Cadet Force/Army matched their cadet activities to the NCS, demonstrating the similar objectives of the two.
For Star Academies, starting a cadet force was a natural progression of the deeply embedded NCS programme. The cadet force is a sharper implementation for realising neocon objectives. According to a report (available on the government website) titled “The Societal Impact of Cadet Forces” and prepared by a group of academics from the University of Southampton, it concluded that “cadet forces are able to inculcate a respect for authority” and the children that go through the forces, “have high levels of respect for authority”.
Another product of neoconservative paternalism and regulation is the widely derided, academically-baseless precrime PREVENT policy. Shaped by neoconservative think-tanks, PREVENT and the discourse of radicalisation, extremism and social cohesion rest upon neoconservative, clash of civilisations assumptions. These assumptions inherently demonise Islam as the cause of violence.
As Professor Arun Kundnani notes, the countering violent extremism policy (like PREVENT) seeks to politically neuter Muslims whilst demanding that Islam be reformed (Kundnani, 2014, p. 110).
Tauheedul has been concerned about perceptions of “extremism” as well as “social cohesion” from the outset. It has sought to allay these concerns.
In October 2011, the chief executive of Tauheedul, Hamid Patel, outlined his defence of a Muslim free school. Tellingly, the article intercepts criticism about a faith ethos school undermining “social cohesion”. Patel used his promotion of the Big Society agenda in the school’s curriculum to prove that anxieties about “social cohesion” were misplaced.
Tauheedul’s submission also explains that,
“there is a wider international agenda around extremism that also impacts on the way that Muslims and organisations run by Muslims are viewed…. The Tauheedul vision is overt in tackling these matters ‘head on’…”
How did Tauheedul seek to tackle matters of extremism “head on”?
“Both this new Free School for boys and TIGHS see themselves as community schools with policies designed to send out reassuring messages about integration, collaboration and social cohesion”
It further added,
“The school will promote progressive Islamic and traditional British values which acknowledge the global economic and social context its students will enter when they leave”
The terminology used is very specific. Consider that the 2011 PREVENT Strategy Review defined “British values” as the opposite of “extremism” (p.34). The review also highlighted “allegations” about a “minority of independent faith schools” that have been “promoting views contrary to British values”. Regarding “British values”, t was noted as early as 2011 that,
“The neoconservative agenda… includes a securitarian drive to contain Islamism and propagate ‘British values’.”
Its connection to militarisation is explained by Dr Nataliya Danilova who asserts that “British values” in schools “opened the door to the militarisation of British secondary school education. This militarisation has been developing, first, through the initiatives in citizenship and remembrance and, second, through the direct intervention of military institutions into the educational system”.
The “British values” agenda was already being implemented by Tauheedul before Michael Gove made his pronouncement to formally promote “British values” as enforced policy in 2014 off the back of the anti-Muslim Trojan Horse farce (Holmwood & O’Toole, 2018, p. 63).
Militarisation, PREVENT and remembrance is now thoroughly baked into all levels of the Trust. This will be examined in the subsequent pieces.
During my extensive coverage and fact finding around the Trojan Hoax affair in 2014, it struck me that Tauheedul emerged from the domestic War of Error unscathed. However, due to want of time and my focus dedicated to the bile churned out in amazing synchrony by the Four Horsemen of assertive Muslim achievement apocalypse – Andrew Gilligan, Peter Clarke, Michael Gove and Michael Wilshaw – I was unable to investigate this curious anomaly. It is worth interrogating this period, to better understand Taudeedul’s formation of their present state.
As shown above, Tauheedul had both key closed society policies firmly embedded in its schools: pseudo militarisation and PREVENT. In a July 2014 Ofsted report for Tauheedul Islam Girls’ High School and Sixth-Form College (TIHGS), inspectors noted that,
“Teachers have been well trained in the ‘Prevent’ strategy, the government’s programme for tackling extremism. They draw on a range of resources and activities to raise students’ awareness of the risks of extremism and radicalisation… Senior leaders constantly seek out ways to promote activities and events that challenge religious, political and racial extremism”
Around the same time Channel 4 Dispatches aired a programme showing teachers in a staff room discussing orthodox Islamic beliefs. The same trick worked in decimating schools in Birmingham, but not so for Tauheedul’s Olive School. An Ofsted report for the Blackburn school concluded that there were no safeguarding concerns. The following year it was rated “Outstanding” by an Ofsted that was led by the Islamophobic Michael Wilshaw.
“…the DfE is prepared to give the Tauheedul Trust the benefit of the doubt because officials are satisfied its religious conservatism lacks the Islamising political ingredient which Clarke says was present in the Park View Brotherhood. Unlike the Brotherhood, the Trust has also “bent over backwards” to find out what the DfE wants for the school to be thought acceptable.”
In other words, Tauheedul was actively capitulating to DfE’s political demands and was also – for the time being – the acceptable type of Muslim. Though Ware is utterly contemptible when it comes to presenting Muslims, the theory of being the barely acceptable face of Muslims is plausible. The school had invited Ofsted to do an inspection straight after the documentary was aired. A spokesman for the school confirmed that if anything emerged they would act if it undermined their “progressive, vision and ethos”.
It did not dawn upon Tauheedul that the issues raised should not have even triggered an Ofsted inspection.
The attacks upon Muslims with labels of “extremism” and “Islamism” comes from an unfounded concern about the politically-active, faith-informed Muslim archetype. This concern ultimately reflects insecurities about the idea of a Caliphate. The hired neocon political hitman Peter Clarke wrote in his academically discredited report into the Trojan Horse:
“Virtually every issue – political, educational or social – is addressed and judged from a religious perspective. This approach is usually taken to confirm a Salafist or Islamist ideological standpoint.”
Whether the above definition is Islamist or not, is a question the answer to which the Deobandi scholars know well. Tauheedul’s responses, however, failed to address the idea that their privately held religious beliefs should be a marker for potential terrorism, reinforcing the political Islamophobia that was surging through Ofsted.
Of course, this pandering to securitisation policies did not prevent Deobandis as a whole being treated as a suspect community a couple of years later.
In 2016, Gove was commissioned by David Cameron to oversee a review into prison radicalisation. Gove brought in Clarke to assist him. “Deobandi Islam” became the target as it was painted as antithetical to “British values” and therefore “extremist”.
No amount of sycophancy could prevent the attack on orthodox Islamic beliefs beneath the proxy of “Deobandi Islam”.
A Champion for Neoliberal Policies
Patel and the directors of Star Academies have strongly championed the government’s neoliberalisation of education through advocacy of the free schools agenda. Emerging from liberal ideas, neoliberalism posits business and market-driven solutions for societal problems by facilitating privatization and deregulation. Human relations become defined by competition. Faulty Laffer-curve economics are used to push dubious policies that deregulate the market leading to cascading social and economic catastrophes like the 2007 financial crisis, re-regulation of individuals, austerity measures, increasing economic inequality gaps and disenfranchised poor and middle classes. The corporatism gives rise to corporatocracy, with hidden lobby groups funding and influencing political parties, politicians and dark policies. All this and more fuels populism which leads to the present day political crises of strongarm dictator-esque leaders.
In the education sphere, neoliberalism ensures a docile, subservient labour market is produced:
“Under neoliberal strictures, schooling is being diminished to a form of job training as reflected by the routinized forms of standardized testing and GERM”. (Kalin, 2018, p. 123)
Professor Pasi Sahlberg recognised that the neoliberal academisation was being rolled out internationally and called it the Global Educational Reform Movement or GERM. Severely critiquing this trend, Sahlberg found that countries implementing these reforms have seen a decline in academic results. The standardisation of tests has increased pressure on teachers and children. Where reform has been fully implemented (such as South Korea and Japan) there has been a high job attrition rate and even student suicides.
Understandably, there is concern around free schools and academies in the UK too, with Ofsted being explicitly called out for being “a political tool of the GERM project”. Patel’s only contributions made to TES are two PR pieces for the free schools agenda.
In 2011, Patel argued that free schools are “aided by a philosophy that is pragmatically focused on success rather than being curtailed by the dogma of history.” He passionately asserted that free schools offered a different approach which “puts the consumer in charge”. He then proceeded to address superficial criticisms of free schools without addressing the crippling neoliberal ideology underpinning it. In 2015, he used the high academic results of his Islamic schools to prove that “the programme is fulfilling its promise” and is unfairly criticised.
Earlier this year, Professor Anne West of LSE, and Dr David Wolfe QC at Matrix published a report cataloguing a number of issues, and concluded that academisation had reduced freedom and autonomy of schools. While TIHBS and TIHGS are doing well, a string of academies trusts are now failing as the problems mount.
Convergence of Neoliberalism and Neoconservatism
Neoliberalism is a toxic ideology that is neatly exploited by neocons. Professor Shadia Drury observes,
“It is corporate capitalism that the neoconservatives champion – and corporate capitalism is compatible with conservative and Straussian vision of society because it requires authority, discipline, conformity, and hierarchy.” (Drury, 2005, p. xxv)
In other words, neoliberalism is useful in fostering the Straussian “closed society”.
From Supporting Neocon/Neoliberal Policy to Praising Michael Gove
A close analysis of the government’s messaging and Patel’s public statements surfaces a trend of reciprocal support, where Patel is a rampart for the policy and even people, and the GERMists and neocons use Tauheedul as an example of free schools success.
In 2013, Michael Gove directly referenced “Tauheedul Girls and Boys schools” to support his academies success story. In 2014, Patel was providing supporting statements made by then Education Secretary Nicky Morgan on the changes to religious studies.
In 2014, Gove was made to step down in a cabinet re-shuffle. He was heavily criticised by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, as well as the National Union of Teachers. Petitions reaching well over 100,000 signatures criticised Gove and had already called for his resignation.
For Muslims, it was a sigh of relief for a plethora of reasons:
- Gove’s oversight of the creation of the Quilliam Foundation and its subsequent funding;
- His characterisation of Islam as the enemy ideology of “Islamist extremism” which needed to be dealt with in his notoriously anti-Muslim book Celsius 7/7;
- His signing of the statement of principles of the hate-financed Henry Jackson Society which has shaped discriminatory, anti-Muslim policies;
- His involvement with the virulently neoconservative Policy Exchange think-tank which fabricated evidence to demonise Muslims;
- His justifications for the devastating “shock and awe” doctrine used to devastate Fallujah in Iraq and Jenin in Palestine;
- Blind support for Zionism, Israel and his opposition to BDS.
These concerns were realised with the abovementioned Trojan Horse scandal, where Gove went to war in Birmingham based on lies, echoing the Iraq war. Gove’s orchestration of a similar pattern of attacks on Islam in the prison sphere continued to evidence his anti-Muslim slant.
A group of heads however issued a letter that was published in the Spectator praising Gove. The letter asserted that despite his politics, he was “a man of conviction” who would be remembered as a “greater reformer”. Adolf Hitler was also a man of conviction and a reformer, but nobody today would dare put their name to a letter placing his toxic politics aside to reminisce over his statesmanship.
Patel, rather disturbingly, was among the signatories.
In 2015, Patel was rewarded with an Imperial honour for his work by being made Commander of the Order of the British Empire – one level below a knight. In a time where honours are turned down by prominent individuals on the basis that their “ancestors would be turning in their graves after how Empire and Colonialism had enslaved them”, Patel parades his CBE alongside his name.
In the same year, Tauheedul became one of five sponsors to receive grants totalling £5million to help it take over underperforming schools. This news was announced by Nicky Morgan while she was speaking in the context of the neocon one-nation conservativism policy at the Policy Exchange think-tank.
The structures for the perpetuation of neoconservative and neoliberal policies were established near the beginning of Tauheedul’s journey into the free school world. What is perhaps more perturbing for Muslims is that an Islamic scholar – Mufti Hamid Patel – oversaw an implementation of this thinking that is now directly affecting Muslim pupils. It must be remembered that nationalism (British values) and religion (in this case Islam) are considered pillars of neoconservative political philosophy. Religion and nationalism is important to neocons because they are a useful “noble lie” that helps create pliable, compliant citizens, whilst the philosophic elite – warmongering neocons – can continue with their statecraft. Protracting religion through nationalist policies (PREVENT/British values/militarisation) is therefore a powerful way to regulate and control people.
The theological and moral rationale in nationally rolling out a toxic combination of neoconservatism and neoliberalism remains to be seen.
The extent of the damage from these policies will be covered soon. However, to fully understand the continuity of pernicious thinking elaborated above, the next piece will examine the views and expressions of some of the other directors of Star Academies as it exists today.
Drury, S., 2005. Political Ideas of Leo Strauss. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Holmwood, J. & O’Toole, T., 2018. Countering Extremism in British Schools? The Truth about the Birmingham Trojan Horse Affair. Bristol: Policy Press.
Kalin, N., 2018. The Neoliberalization of Creativity Education: Democratizing, Destructing and Decreating. s.l.:Palgrave Macmillan.
Kundnani, A., 2014. The Muslims Are Coming! Islamophobia, Extremism, and the Domestic War on Terror. London: Verso Books.