Kettlethorpe School, Quran desecration and Suella Braverman’s horrific Islamophobia

Suella Braverman. Pic: UK Parliament

Juveriah Alam says a recent article in The Times by Home Secretary Suella Braverman about the Kettlethorpe High School Quran desecration was one of the most blatantly Islamophobic articles published in the mainstream media in recent years.

A few days ago Suella Braverman wrote an outrageous article in The Times entitled “We do not have blasphemy laws in Great Britain,” which focussed on the recent Quran desecration by a 14 year old boy at Kettlethorpe High School in Wakefield.

Obviously annoyed that the school had disciplined the pupil and authorities had outreached to the Muslim community, Braverman argued that “Schools answer to pupils and parents. They do not have to answer to self-appointed community activists. I will work with the Department for Education to issue new guidance spelling this out.”

She also called a video of a consensual community meeting at a local mosque about the incident “disturbing,” likening it to “a sharia law trial” where “the mother of one boy was made to account for his behaviour in front of an all-male crowd.”

She ranted: “We do not have blasphemy laws in Great Britain, and must not be complicit in the attempts to impose them on this country. There is no right not to be offended. There is no legal obligation to be reverent towards any religion. The lodestar of our democracy is freedom of speech.

“Nobody can demand respect for their belief system, even if it is a religion. People are legally entitled to reject — and to leave — any religion. There is no apostasy law in this country. The act of accusing someone of apostasy or blasphemy is effectively inciting violence upon that person.”

Okay then, let’s break this down.

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To be honest, Braverman’s article was a tedious read, but what makes it all the more difficult is the brazen Islamophobia involved – and having to engage with this as a Muslim is exhausting.

The article serves as a dog-whistle to those potential Tory voters who already look upon Muslims unfavourably. Most of these readers will take away a few main points with them – that there exists a sizeable number of British Muslims who want to create a blasphemy law as part of a wider strategy to impose Shariah law in the UK; and that these Muslims use the term Islamophobia as a means to get this done stealthily.

Right from the outset, Braverman oversimplified the facts of the Kettlethorpe High School incident as “a boy dropped a copy of the Qur’an which appeared to have been scuffed” and received death threats as a result.

Actually, the boy in question bought a copy of the Qur’an from Amazon and brought it to school as a dare after losing a video game. One wonders why the Qur’an was specifically chosen for this “dare” – it does seem as though a group of silly boys considered the Qur’an to be the most suitable because of how sacred it is viewed and possibly even pre-empting a potential backlash.

It’s also important to note that there were initial reports that the Qur’an was kicked around and spat on, but the subsequent investigation by the school found this to be untrue. It is understandable therefore that local Muslims would be concerned or even outraged at these initial reports and it is absolutely right that the school investigated them.

But the point that seems to be missed by so many figures wading in on this matter is that the condition of the Qur’an, being lightly scuffed, is entirely irrelevant. What is important is the intention of the pupils in question and the context.

Without reading the statements of the pupils interviewed and the final report of the investigation, as well as specific details as to why four pupils were suspended, we simply cannot ascertain whether Islamophobia was at play here. As it stands, it may have been Islamophobic to varying degrees, or it may not have been.

Contrary to populist rhetoric, purposely disrespecting the Qur’an can amount to anti-Muslim hatred just like throwing the Torah around can amount to antisemitism. Context matters. For Braverman and others to overgeneralise the matter as another case of Muslims wanting to impose a blasphemy law again, is bigoted and self-serving.

Braverman stated that “schools answer to pupils and parents,” not community activists. Well, as a mother of two children at school, I would have voiced my concern about this had it occurred at our school. I would expect a thorough and fair investigation wherever there is a possibility of racism or Islamophobia. If there is found to be none, I would accept that. This is how civilised society deals with such matters.

‘British Values’

It is particularly concerning that Braverman used this opportunity to highlight wholly unrelated matters which she regards to be “broader issues.” The Home Secretary stated her intention to issue guidance for schools based on these. No doubt this will just be a continuation of the insufferable “British Values” that schools are already forced to drill into their pupils.

The notion of British Values has developed considerably in recent years as a response to various events including the 7/7 bombings and the so-called Trojan Horse affair in Birmingham and Bradford schools. It well known that the language of British Values targets Muslims who are seen to be less British. So it is clear that Braverman, like her predecessors, is taking advantage of an opportunity to further target Muslims with the vague and nonsensical term “British Values.”

Kettlethorpe High School. Pic: Google

Braverman continued her Islamophobic dog-whistle politics by commenting on a video depicting a simple meeting at a mosque where the mother of the boy in question took the opportunity to express herself. The mother seemed comfortable and genuine throughout the video and she very articulately explained how her son’s autism affected his behaviour and how he was particularly sorry about offending his Muslim friend at school. This is a harmonious and constructive way of diffusing a matter which had gotten out of hand.

However, Braverman deemed the video “disturbing” and stated that it looked more like a “sharia law trial.” Her words are beyond irresponsible. It appears that she is seeking to heighten tensions and spark outrage from the far-right who have been raging about Shariah law courts for decades. Braverman likely isn’t aware about what a Shariah law trial involves but is happy to throw the term around if it wins votes from the most extreme segments of the far-right.

To someone who isn’t riddled with anti-Muslim prejudice, there was nothing “disturbing” about the video. It’s perfectly fine to voluntarily speak to a community of people – both parties are from the local community and it is entirely appropriate that they would seek to resolve matters or diffuse tensions amongst themselves.

‘Blasphemy laws’

Braverman goes on to rail against “blasphemy laws” stating that “there is no right not to be offended.” She parrots the tiresome rhetoric of the self-styled free speech pundits such as Ricky Gervais. Predictably, this over-used statement received much applause from right-leaning figures.

She’s right that we do not have blasphemy laws and that no religion is above criticism. But the reality is there is no Muslim movement towards imposing blasphemy laws or to curb free expression. We have every right to express our dismay at anything that offends us and we can even campaign to have a film banned, an individual sacked or an artist discredited if we wish to. This is all within our rights.

Sending death threats or threatening violence, however, is illegal and anyone doing so should be dealt with by the law. We have police for that. If they’re not doing their job, deal with them. It makes no sense to blame Muslims for the lack of adequate police response.

Bizarrely, Braverman brings up apostasy laws, stating that we have the freedom to “convert from Islam to Christianity.” This is in no way related to the case in question but again, serves as a dog-whistle, a way of citing yet another problem with Islam and Muslims.

The desecrated Quran

Braverman states that the freedom to leave Islam is the “same freedom that same freedom that allows a Muslim to say that Jesus was a prophet but not God Incarnate.”  She is essentially telling her readers that Muslims enjoy a freedom that they are reluctant to allow others to enjoy. That Braverman feels brave enough to make this incredibly inappropriate remark in a national newspaper is testimony to how Islamophobia is normalised within our media.

Braverman then states that these freedoms “can’t be disapplied at a local level.” This is yet another dog-whistle to those amongst the far-right who believe there are local areas in which Muslims seek to have control and that these are no-go areas for non-Muslims.

The Home Secretary goes on to mention other groups such as socialists and Catholics who “readily understand” that we have the freedom to criticise and mock. Braverman seems to imply that they’re the good ones. They get it. The ones who fail to get it are of course the Muslims.

To caveat her horrific prejudice, Braverman states that the “overwhelming majority of Muslims are tolerant, peaceful and embrace our values.” Firstly, it is no good making such a statement and then contradicting it throughout an article designed to vilify Muslims. Secondly, stating that Muslims embrace “our” values is a clear suggestion that Muslims are not part of the “our.” It is them and us. You could not get away with making such a statement about any other group of people.

Contrary to what Braverman suggests, Muslims do not seek a “special status” for Islam. The special status of Islam comes from the way Muslims practice Islam, how we fast, pray and give in charity. We don’t need to seek a special status from any government.

Predictably, Braverman blames “timidity” and “fear of being seen as Islamophobic” on the grooming gangs and failures with Prevent. The sad reality is the police and social services failed the victims of the grooming gangs. The police conveniently claimed that they feared being labelled as racist. The fact is they failed to do their jobs and gave serious crimes a free pass.

Similarly, Prevent failed because it is based on poor research designed to securitise the Muslim community. Simply, the deradicalisation programme failed its primary purpose: to deradicalise. It isn’t “fear of being labelled Islamophobic” that makes us weaker, it is the continual failure to constructively deal with criticism of the Prevent policy that makes us less safe.

Citing the term “Islamophobia” as part of the problem is incredibly off the mark. Currently, the Conservative Party has not implemented any sort of official definition of Islamophobia, while it has adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism. To continually accuse Muslims of trying to establish a backdoor blasphemy law while being unable to uphold even a basic definition of anti-Muslim hatred, clearly demonstrates the double standards at play.

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