Lazy journalists and sensationalist newspapers had a field day with the fairytale story of a “Muslim extremist” plot to take over Birmingham schools, writes Yusuf Patel.
The Muslim takeover of schools was almost complete, all the pieces were in place, years of painstaking planning was about to pay off, yet at the eleventh hour the whole plan was scuppered when the secret master plan was leaked, pulling the proverbial rug from underneath our very feet. Epic fail! Back to the drawing board!
It may seem like a mediocre storyline from a Spooks episode that failed to make the cut, but over the past few weeks the headlines seem to back up the claims. Or do they?
The “Trojan Horse” document leaked to the press, had more holes in it than Swiss cheese and it left just as bitter a taste in the mouth of many of us used to the kind of sensationalism that has characterised the reporting of matters pertaining to Muslim communities.
That did not stop inspectors from visiting “suspect” schools and by all accounts asking leading questions and building their evidence of an extremist takeover of Birmingham schools. This was of course purely based upon selective information after a briefing that one academy would be placed in special measures even before the report was published.
The poisoned narrative that the media reporting bolsters suggests Muslims are plotting a takeover, deploying such cunning and guile that even Sherlock’s arch nemesis Moriarty would turn green with envy. Yet such a simplistic notion relies on Muslim determination, coordination, strategic nous and a huge smattering of patience – attributes which are unfortunately absent amongst Muslims to the extent that such a bold plan requires.
Who benefits from this gift that keeps on giving? For newspapers, these stories act as the principle fodder to a readership that wants to gorge themselves on stories that prove what they already know – that Muslims are utilising any and every means, foul and fair, to change “our way of life”, with a mixture of taqiyya and political correctness to ensure the plan succeeds.
Yet some newspapers are infamous for not allowing the truth to get in the way of a good story and “extremist” Muslim parents pressuring schools, secret documents, anecdotes and hearsay, as well as concern from the very heart of government are key ingredients that amount to an editor’s wet dream. Boys will be boys, and lazy journalists will sensationalise.
Muslim parents and sex education
I have supported parents concerned with the way some schools teach Sex and Relationship Education (SRE) in state schools over the past four and a half years, including parents in Birmingham. During this time I have met and spoken to thousands of Muslim parents, I have only ever come across parents concerned with the education of their children in the most holistic sense. They do not use this or any other issue to pursue a hidden agenda and it is important to stress, they do not ask for special treatment.
Guidance from the government clarifies that teaching in this area has to be in line with parents’ wishes and the culture of the community the school serves. Any decent school which prizes its relationship with parents will seek to include the views of parents in decision-making.
This is so important that the new Ofsted framework requires that schools have strategies in place to engage parents to achieve successful outcomes for pupils, without this a school cannot be graded outstanding. If parents do not want SRE to be taught in a school and convince the governing body of a school, it can decide not to teach it beyond the statutory science elements. Despite the fact that the law is on their side, the headlines may still scream “Muslim parents enforce Shariah law in a school”.
Liberal minded parents may convince a school to change the way a particular part of the curriculum is taught, influence the choice of Modern Foreign Language (MFL) or even arrange an educational trip to a foreign country, but if Muslim parents in a state school, comprising close to 100% Muslim pupils opt for Arabic to be taught, a prayer room established, a change to the uniform policy to accommodate the Islamic dress code or plan a foreign trip to Makkah, we are told this is a Muslim takeover and the Department for Education and Ofsted call for an investigation.
The problem is the mere mention of “extremism”, an ill-defined catch all word is used to paralyse Muslims and force us to self-censor in a way other communities are not made to do. A few years ago when a group of east London parents were at loggerheads with a primary school, which had decided to teach about homosexual relationships under the guise of fighting homophobic bullying, the local authority monitored the situation under the remit of assessing extremism. When David Cameron recently visited Birmingham he was adamant there was no place for extremism in schools.
The biggest casualty in this mess will be Muslim parents who will, in the future, think twice about pursuing a legitimate issue with schools for fear of being accused of seeking to engineer an extremist takeover. It is not inconceivable that unscrupulous schools could bank on this to ensure parents toe the line. Despite this, we have to think and act from the perspective that these are our schools and as parents we have a stake in them.
No doubt most schools do an excellent job but that does not mean we do not get involved in schools, celebrate their successes, voice credit where it’s due, but also intervene to ensure our voices are heard when it matters.
Yusuf Patel is the founder of grassroots organisation SRE Islamic. He is also a khateeb, public speaker and writer.