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Tauheedul Islam Boys High School, run by Star Academies, was reported in the Times as having started a cadet force, to the strange glee of Star Academies Chief Executive Mufti Hamid Patel. This piece is the second in a series examining Star Academies, how it got to a point where it is celebrating an agenda to militarise young Muslim children, and what it is subjecting Muslim children to.
In the previous piece, it was shown how Star Academies – previously known as Tauheedul Educational Trust – had entrenched neoliberal and neoconservative policies from the outset of their free schools journey. Hamid Patel, had passionately defended the free schools neoliberalisation agenda, supported Michael Gove when he departed as Secretary of State for Education, and maintained what seems like a mutually beneficial relationship between neoliberal elements of the government and Star Academies.
In this section, I will continue to examine Star Academies to better understand the Trust’s recent moves.
My sources close to the school state that one of the arguments made defending their decision to start a cadet force was the ridiculous suggestion that people should not blame the invasions in Iraq and Afghanistan on the army, but rather the politicians. Yet, dubious rationale aside (soldiers can conscientiously object to wars), the trust is honouring one of the British architects of the Iraq war by allowing him to become a trustee. However, this is not Straw’s only claim to infamy.
Straw: Triggering Muslim Demonisation
For Muslims, Straw is often remembered for his callous 2006 comments about veiled Muslim women which triggered the social and political demonisation of a minority within a minority. Its impact continues to reverberate today.
In 2012, Straw released his political memoir in which he expressed white supremacist concerns about how the “Asian population grew, mosques replaced redundant chapels and churches, and some Anglican schools became 100 per cent Muslim” (Straw is an Anglican himself). Moreover, he also took issue with how more women were choosing to don the veil, stating that people would “notice” and “worry about it”. Surely, as a representative of his constituents, his job would have been to dismiss unfounded anxieties and white supremacy concerns instead of pandering to them by publishing such selections of his book to the right-wing populist mob readership of the Daily Mail.
Ten years after his first set of statements, he continued to support his views, now becoming a Mufti and arguing that “no direct authority for the wearing of the full veil in the Holy Koran”. I will return to this claim below when highlighting the views of other directors.
Though Straw likes Muslims to believe that his innocent column “took a life of its own”, the fact remains that his statements were made in a broader context that is marked by the discrediting of multiculturalism and the ascendancy of assimilationist “British values”.
Multiculturalism was openly being questioned by ministers like Ruth Kelly, who was launching an initiative to tackle extremism at that time. Muslims, and in particular, veiled Muslim women, became useful political capital in these discussions.
Straw: Racialisation of Crime and “Grooming Gangs”
Another issue which fitted neatly with the agenda to discredit multiculturalism was the “grooming gangs” issue. In 2011, Straw went off on an inflammatory, racist rant insisting that Pakistanis had a “specific problem” because of their culture that sees “white girls” as “easy meat”. The logic is repulsive: using the same thinking, one could argue that there must a “specific problem” with culture of “white girls” that increases their tendency to make themselves “easily available”.
The basis of his argument was flawed from the outset. Dr Ella Cockbain, who focusses on child sexual exploitation (CSE) has stated,
“Reflecting a broader preoccupation with the idea of irreconcilable culture clash theories, grooming proved a convenient focal point for longstanding frustrations about arranged marriage practices (whose implication for migration policies should be remembered), perceived misogyny and insufficient assimilation. Despite little direct supporting evidence for such cultural correlates, they were not only presented as self-evident but as direct causes of grooming. In fact, certain claims can be readily exposed as dubious, despite attracting little scrutiny at the time. For example, Jack Straw, Britain’s former home secretary, was quick to explain grooming as an inevitable consequence of an arranged marriage culture, whereby young unmarried Pakistani-heritage men resort to abusing readily available white British girls out of pent-up sexual frustration. Not only is the notion that CSE [Child Sexual Exploitation] is the only outlet for sexual release risible, but Straw ignores the fact that the offenders in the cases in question were typically already married and in their 20s or 30s, hardly the sexually frustrated ‘young men … fizzing and popping with testosterone’ of his argument.” (Cockbain, 2013)
The notion of ethnically-driven Child Sexual Exploitation lacks evidence and ignores statistical and selection biases due to the way crimes are recorded as well as local demographics.
Dr Cockbain similarly pointed this out recently in her scrutiny of Quilliam’s flawed report that attempted to support Straw’s claims.
Straw, however, repeated his racist claims earlier this year. His statements were promoted by the white supremacy propaganda outlet Breitbart news.
Straw: The Iraq War, Neocons and Rendition
Straw’s record and behaviour on Iraq is appalling. He, along with Tony Blair, drove Britain into invading the country. His voting record shows that he consistently voted for Iraq, despite knowing that it could be a “long and unsuccessful” war. Straw even suggested pursuing war without a UN vote using the Kosovo intervention as precedent.
Straw, understandably, voted against investigations into the Iraq war several times. The Chilcot inquiry revealed that he was aware of Blair’s promise to George Bush in 2002 that he would be “with him all the way”.
Given that the war was cooked by hardcore American neocons, it is unsurprising that Straw was close to them. In his memoir, Straw states,
“I had met Dick Cheney once before, and was to meet him many times thereafter. He was ever courteous, but I never warmed to him, nor he to me… Paul Wolfowitz was a very different character. This was my first meeting with him, but our close family friend Richard Danzig, a Democrat who had served in Bill Clintons administration as Secretary of the Navy knew Wolfowitz well, had spoken of him in positive terms. His politics were not mine (nor Richards). Post 9/11 he became evangelical in his pursuit of the war on terror, and his fixation with Saddam Hussein verged in zealotry. Yet he was a true polymath, with engaging personality…” (Straw, 2012)
Whilst Wolfowitz et al are well known for their perpetual war, “regime change” and advocacy for an “Islamic reformation”, little is known about Richard Danzig. Straw portrays Danzig as someone outside of the neocon circle by emphasising his politics and “Democrat” affiliation.
Danzig served as the 71st Secretary of the Navy under the Clinton administration. He is a consultant for US intelligence agencies, currently serves as a Trustee to the RAND corporation (the infamous US think-tank that produced the RAND document on “democratising Islam”, which served as blueprint for deforming the faith), and the Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Center for a New American Security (CNAS).
The CNAS is a hawkish think-tank that has a pantheon of neocons as its members. Its former chair was Richard Perle, a prominent War on Terror advocate. Robert D Kaplan, a CNAS senior advisor, promoted the Iraq war and believes that Western Imperialism can once again stabilise the Middle East.
Former head of CNAS John Nagl sits on the Board of Advisor. He advocated the counter insurgency (COIN) doctrine within the army soon after the start of the War on Terror. This made him favourable with arch neocons William Kristol and Robert Kagan who invited him to speak at their debut event establishing the Foreign Policy Initiative. The FPI is considered the successor to the infamous Project for the New American Century (PNAC).
Then there is the neocon Robert Kagan a founder of PNAC. He has contributed to CNAS reports such as “Extending American Power”, and has spoken at CNAS events. He along with PNAC co-founder Kristol argued in 2003 for a “remoralisation of America” – the closed society – which ultimately required a “remoralisation of foreign policy”. Neocon foreign policy of course bequeathed us the disasters that stretch across the Middle East and Afghanistan today.
In January 2018, Victoria Nuland was welcomed to CNAS as CEO. In 2014, Nuland was exposed for actively picking and choosing a Western-friendly leader of Ukraine, escalating tensions with Russia in the process. Pertinently, Nuland suggested a meeting with Ban Ki-moon to cement the effective regime-change, brazenly side-lining the EU (infamously using the terms “f*** the EU”). One American Russia expert called it “two steps from a Cuban Missile Crisis”.
Nuland’s old boss is Iraq disaster architect Dick Cheney, whilst her husband is the aforementioned Kagan. Danzig praised Nuland in the following words:
“Toria has the deftness of a diplomat, the will of a warrior, and the insight of an intellectual.”
That is quite the “close friend” Straw has there.
Straw’s distancing from Wolfowitz and neocon policy in general does not remove the inconvenient fact that Straw pushed for war along neocon policy lines. The Chilcot report revealed that Straw emphasised Iraq when reviewing the first WMD dossier which eventually resulted in the “dodgy dossier” that misled the country to war.
Under Blair and Straw, Muslims were kidnapped, renditioned and tortured. In 2005, Straw rejected this and told the Commons foreign affairs committee that this was a “conspiracy theory”. This year, it was revealed that the government and intelligence agencies helped finance three rendition operations. On one occasion, at least, Straw authorised the payment of “a large share” of the costs.
Whilst trying to dodge the impact of the Chilcot Inquiry (he was caught emailing Colin Powell saying that Brexit had distracted from Chilcot), he remains unrepentant for initiating a war which has resulted in genocide and a region that continues to be inflamed in conflict.
Straw: Militarisation of Society – The Armed Forced Covenant
Straw’s moral sterility does not end here.
The Armed Forces Covenant attempts to enforce a “moral obligation” to “respect and support” the armed forces. This has the effect of self-censoring or inhibiting criticism of the British Army where it is legitimate to do so. For example, the British Army does not deserve respect or support for breaching Geneva Conventions by subjecting the members of the civilian population of Iraq to cruel and inhumane treatment. However, stating this could breach the “moral obligations” set out in the Covenant. The demands of the Covenant also ensure that militarism continues to creep into civil society.
When attempts were made to enshrine the Covenant into law, the proposed legislation imposed a “mutual obligation” for the “nation” to sustain the army and its land operations. In a democracy, the army is subservient to the civil – there is no “mutual obligation”. This is not too dissimilar to the neoconservative understanding of the relationship between the military and a democracy.
“Moves are needed to take defence and security, as far as possible, back out of the arena of short-term party politics.”
Straw voted for the military covenant to be enshrined into law.
Terrorism and Islam
In terms of his comments on terrorism, his statements are often carefully crafted to ensure that his Muslim constituents are not too perturbed. These statements, however, mimic the neocon culturalist account of political violence, enabling the demonising a minority.
Thus, Islam is blamed but as a “perversion” which has been reflected in Judaism and Christianity through historic violence (see for example, here his statements in 2002 and 2013). Notably, his position implies that Judaism and Christianity are no longer a problem, but Islam and its “perversion” is. What is omitted here in this deceptive, yet convenient explanation is the former Foreign Secretary’s foreign policy and therefore his own culpability.
Ironically, while blaming Islam and interpretations of it for political violence, he himself supports and advocates the violence of war when it comes to invading Muslim countries.
The hypocrisy is further entrenched when one considers that he is also an advisor for the Eurasian Council for Foreign Affairs, a group aimed at facilitating Europe’s political and economic relationship with Kazakhastan. Kazakhastan is regularly slammed for its use of torture and poor human rights record. The autocratic leader of Kazakhastan is Nursultan Nazarbeyev. Nazarbeyev commissioned Tony Blair to improve his image after civilian protestors were killed. While Blair makes money off improving the image of tyrants, Straw advises a think-tank dedicated to normalising EU relations with a despotic regime.
Straw is as toxic and morally dubious as they come: from leading wars into the lands of Muslims while demonising Muslims in the UK to effectively whitewashing a brutal dictatorship; from positing a culturalist account of political violence that targets Islam to domestically advocating militarisation of society that fundamentally changes the relationship between the civil and the army.
There are some serious questions that require answers.
- Why did the Muslim elements of the Blackburn constituency continue to support Straw for so many years?
- What on earth is this obnoxious man doing on an educational trust run by Deobandi Mufti?
- To what extent does his influence extend into schools?
- Why are other Muslim trustees of Star Academies “personal friends” with him?
Kothia, Patel and the Promotion of Colonised Muslims
Kamruddin “Kam” Isap Kothia is the 55 year old CEO of Time2, a tech company which sells a range of smart home products. According to companycheck.co.uk, Kothia has a total current net worth of £185.5million.
Kothia’s circle is disconcerting. Worryingly, Star Academies saw it fit to invite the Islamophobe Michael Wilshaw as a key note speaker to their 2018 annual conference. Kothia is seen at the conference grinning with Wilshaw.
He is also a “personal friend” of the niqab-bashing Straw, who he has known for some 20 years.
If we recall, Straw asserted that there was no direct reference to the veil in the Qur’an. This view is at odds with Kothia and Patel, both of whom put their names to a 2009 statement issued by Blackburn Council of Mosques. The statement asserted that the veil “is most definitely an Islamic and religious matter that is grounded in the Holy Qur’an and the traditions of the Prophet (Peace be Upon Him)”. Less than ten years on, not only has a man who wants the veil removed been brought into their Trust, but as “personal friends” they are now overseeing policies that detrimentally impact the faith of Muslim children.
In 2012, as a Chair of Governors for Tauheedul Islam Girls High School, Kothia was appointed Deputy Lieutenants by the Lord-Lieutenant of Lancashire to assist him in representing The Queen. Kothia’s role is to support the Lord-Lieutenant and be a minion for the Royal family. Of pertinence is that his role also requires him “to liaise with local units of the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Army, Royal Air Force, and their associated cadet forces”.
Kothia, who was “delighted” at the time, said that it was a “great honour” to be appointed.
Kothia has in the past Tweeted out a link to the Daily Mail saying how “Pupils from Eden girls school… [are holding] poppies to their lips at Armistice Day event at Trafalgar Square”.
He also Retweeted The Armed Forces Muslim Association Twitter account which parades a propaganda story that reinforces a particular, acceptable type of Muslim. The story relates how Muslim that had been brainwashed at Sandhurst later “refused to betray Britain” despite being tortured and imprisoned during WWI. It is interesting to note that the Muslim man was a part of the 5th Battalion, 7th Rajput Regiment. The 5th Light Infantry Regiment – also Rajput officers – stationed in Singapore became aware that they would be sent to fight the Ottoman Muslims. On 15th February 1915, 800 Muslims turned against their officers, killing around 40 British officers and seizing ammunition. The mutineers were executed. I doubt the Ministry of Defence will be pushing this story any time soon.
As we shall see in the next piece, Star Academies schools are inebriated in all things British military, subjecting Muslim children to nationalistic militarism. Is Kothia among the drivers for these dangerous policies?
Patel is little different when it comes to these disturbing themes. In 2014, he praised a speech by David Cameron in which Cameron patronisingly “celebrated” certain types of Muslims. This type consisted of dying for the British Empire and being rewarded with the Victoria Cross for structurally supporting colonisation. Such Muslims are the role models which the Mufti posits as “inspiring”.
In another Tweet, Patel shares a worrying article which argues that by recognising the contribution of Muslims who died for British colonialism , the far-right may stop being Islamophobic and make Muslims feel “more British”. The report references Eden Girls School and how they are learning about how Muslims died in the British Indian Army.
The argument ignores the fact that far-right racism and hatred has existed long before the War on Terror designated Islam and Muslims its existential enemy. This abhorrent argument is classic victim-blaming: Muslims – often victims of far-right hate and violence – are the cause of the rise of the far-right. Moreover, the cure is the creation of a Muslim who is too dumb enough to see how colonialism systematically destroyed Muslim religious, economic and political institutions and resources across the Middle East and beyond.
Is this the self-immolating, self-demonising thinking Patel wishes to imbibe into Muslim children? And is this indoctrination acceptable to Muslim parents who send their children to Star Academies schools?
The views of the directors do not bode well for Muslim pupils and their parents. A close analysis of the activities conducted at Star Academies schools shows that the neoliberal and neoconservative policies entrenched early in the Trust’s history, and expressed in the views of trustees and the CEO, are directly impacting pupils.
Muslim pupils are being extensively subjected to state-sanctioned brainwashing projects that seek to reconstitute the Muslim identity. This will be covered in the next piece.
Cockbain, E., 2013. Grooming and the ‘Asian sex gang predator’: the construction of a racial crime threat. Race & Class, 54(4), pp. 22-32.
Straw, J., 2012. Last Man Standing: Memoirs of a Political Survivor. London: Pan Macmillan.