Panorama: Saudi Backed Schools Teach Extremism, Antisemitism

John Ware, reporting for Panorama, has uncovered a network of Saudi-funded weekend schools which are promoting sectarianism, extremism and racism against Jews:

BBC Panorama found that more than 40 Saudi Students’ Schools and Clubs are teaching the official Saudi national curriculum to about 5,000 pupils.

One text book shows how the hands and feet of thieves are chopped off.

The Saudi government said it had no official ties to the part-time schools and clubs and did not endorse them.

One of the text books asks children to list the “reprehensible” qualities of Jewish people. A text for younger children asks what happens to someone who dies who is not a believer in Islam – the answer given in the text book is “hellfire”.

Another text describes the punishment for gay sex as death and states a difference of opinion about whether it should be carried out by stoning, burning with fire or throwing the person over a cliff.

In a book for 14-year-olds, Sharia law and its punishment for theft are explained, including detailed diagrams about how hands and feet of thieves are amputated.

Can you guess what the response of the Saudi Embassy is? Go on, guess:

In a written response, the Saudi embassy said such materials were often taken out of context and often referred to historical descriptions.

Not everybody agrees:

But Neal Robinson, an expert in the Koran, said the context in which the materials are presented comes with risks.

“To present it cold, as it seems to be here, just part of the teaching of Islam, no it’s not wise. In the wrong hands I think it is… ammunition for anti-Semitism.”

Similarly, Usama Hasan – an imam, scientist and recent HP guest poster – is concerned about the impact of this sort of teaching and on British society as a whole:

Dr Usama Hasan, an Islamic scholar and part-time imam in east London, warned of the dangers of segregating young Muslims in Britain, particularly the seminaries where the next generation of imams are being educated.

“They don’t interact with people who are not Muslim… they don’t learn the ingredients of the western world, so it’s very easy for them to read the medieval texts which were written at a time when Islam was under attack and say non-believers are our enemies and we have to fight them.”

There is cross party concern about what is being taught to very young children at these schools. The Government is proposing to take action:

MP Barry Sheerman, former Labour chairman of the Children, Schools and Families parliamentary committee, said politicians had avoided the issue of controversial teachings in some Muslim schools.

“There are some very good Muslim schools but there are some Muslim schools that give me great cause for concern that is often around the ethos of the schools, the focus of the school and the kind of ideology that is concerning.”

Education Secretary Michael Gove said there was no place for the Saudi teachings with regard to Jews or homosexuals in Britain: “To my mind it doesn’t seem to me that this is the sort of material that should be used in English schools.”

He said in light of the BBC’s findings, the school inspectorate Ofsted was looking into the possible regulation and inspection of out-of-hours schools and clubs. At present, part-time schools do not fall within Ofsted’s mandate.

“Ofsted are doing some work in this area, they’ll be reporting to me shortly about how we can ensure that part-time provision is better registered and better inspected in the future,” Mr Gove said.

Separately, Policy Exchange has published an extensive report, Faith Schools We Can Believe In, which identifies successful models for faith schools, as well as steps which can be taken to ensure that they are not used as a vehicle for promoting hatred and extremism:

Among the problems identified are:

·         Britain’s education system – the Department for Education, Ofsted, independent inspectorates, education authorities and schools – is not equipped to meet such challenges.

·         Current due diligence checks are piecemeal, partial and lack in-depth expertise.  Vital work is contracted out to private companies.

·         The Coalition Government’s policy of opening up the education system to new academies and free schools programmes could be exploited unless urgent measures are taken to counter extremist influence.

·         Britain lags behind other liberal European democracies in addressing these problems in schools.

Policy Exchange proposes key structural, legislative and contractual changes to the way in which both the Department for Education and Ofsted do their work, including:

·         Current, inadequate counter-extremism mechanisms and due diligence checks, especially on new schools providers and bodies, should be replaced by a centralised and dedicated Due Diligence Unit (DDU).

·         The DDU should be based within the Department for Education and be accountable directly to the Secretary of State. This would recruit staff with relevant skills from across the public sector and become a centre of expertise.   The DDU should train Ofsted inspectors and other stakeholders in how to monitor schools.

·         Those seeking to set up new schools – including parents, charities, governors, companies and senior management – should be assessed both in the start up phase and thereafter.

·         New primary and secondary legislation should be passed to make it harder for extremists to engage in political indoctrination of children.  Existing legislation should be better enforced.

·         A commitment to core British values of democracy, tolerance and patriotism should be part of the ethos of every school and incorporated into new contracts for academies and free school providers.

·         Narrative British history should be a compulsory part the school curriculum

·         The smaller independent inspectorates with an explicitly confessional mission should be rolled into Ofsted to ensure both quality and uniformity of provision.

Let’s hope that decisive action to stamp out the propagation of antisemitism and extremism is taken, soon.

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