The latest on Birmingham schools

Two separate enquiries into the ‘Trojan Horse’ allegations have started reporting their findings.

Children were taught that all Christians are liars and attempts were made to introduce Sharia law in classrooms as part of an alleged ‘Trojan Horse’ takeover plot of Birmingham schools, an inquiry has found.

The inquiry commissioned by Birmingham City Council found evidence of religious extremism in 13 schools as school governors and teachers tried to promote and enforce radical Islamic values.

Schools put up posters warning children that if they didn’t pray they would “go to hell”, Christmas was cancelled and girls were taught that women who refused to have sex with their husbands would be “punished” by angels “from dusk to dawn”.

The report found that the extremism went unchecked because the council “disastrously” prioritised community cohesion over “doing what is right”.

A separate review by Peter Clarke, the former counter-terrorism chief, found evidence of “co-ordinated, deliberate and sustained” attempts to introduce an “intolerant and aggressive Islamic ethos” in schools.

At the Golden Hillock School a teacher allegedly told children at an assembley “not to listen to Christians as they were all liars”. The incident was referred to counter-terrorism police. One teacher at the school also reportedly told children they were “lucky to be Muslims and not ignorant like Christians and Jews.”

It was a curious experience reading this article on the latest ‘Trojan Horse’ revelations in the Guardian. Having covered the issue so woefully badly and one-sidedly (and doing Muslims no favours at all in the process) it now publishes a piece documenting the appalling views and policies of the Park View Brotherhood.

‘The evidence from 3,000 messages spread over 130 pages of transcripts shows this group either promoted, or failed to challenge, views that are grossly intolerant of beliefs and practices other than their own. The all-male group discussions include explicit homophobia, highly offensive comments about British service personnel, a stated ambition to increase segregation at the school, disparagement of Muslims in sectors other than their own, scepticism about the truth of reports of the murder of Lee Rigby and the Boston bombings and a constant under current of anti-western, anti-America and anti-Israel sentiment.”

The report gives examples of this social media chat, and adds: “The endorsements of links to extremists speakers betray a collective mindset that can fairly be described as an Islamist approach that denied the validity of alternative belief”.

He says that, based on their comments, some members of Park View staff seemed to believe the Rigby murder was a staged event or hoax and “exhorted their colleagues to spread videos promulgating this view ‘to all your contacts’ “.

Why couldn’t the Guardian have posted pieces like this article by Usama Hasan in the earlier stages of the enquiry, rather than (or in addition to) this weak and evasive article by Salma Yaqoob? Dr Hasan writes:

In my youth I was a member of a UK organisation that called itself “The Movement to Reform the Muslim Youth”. Back then, we regrettably had an extremist mindset that was characterised by dreams of global domination for Islam. These would involve the re-establishment of a caliphate and the enforcing of a narrow, sectarian, xenophobic and puritanical theology.

This organisation went on to become Jimas, which has since come a long way and now embraces an ecumenical and inclusive philosophy. However, it also gave birth to a more reactionary offshoot that maintained the ultra-conservative Islamism and the original name of the organisation, led by Tahir Alam from Birmingham until its closure in 1995. … As readers may be aware, Alam is allegedly now at the centre of what is referred to as the “Trojan horse” plot.

None of the revelations that have come to light in recent weeks as a result of investigations into the plot surprise me. These include the findings in Peter Clarke’s draft report, leaked to the Guardian, which found strong evidence of an Islamist agenda ruining a small number of schools in Birmingham. The methods are familiar to me, as is the mindset that inspires them.

Although I think it gets rather tangled up in the distinctions between conservatism, radicalism and extremism, this statement from the Muslim Women’s Network makes some useful points.

As a women’s rights organisation MWNUK are horrified at the numerous concerns raised directly with us especially with regards issues of equality and diversity. We were told about segregation in some classes and assemblies. Expected seating arrangements were made clear to pupils so they would self-segregate and which is now being presented as the choice of pupils themselves. Not wearing the headscarf has also been presented as a pupil choice.  However, it was reported to us that pressure was exerted on girls who did not wear the hijab.  We were informed that they would be reminded in certain Islamic Studies lessons and assemblies that “girls with morals wore the hijab.” Such incidents upset girls and particular male Muslim teachers also told them they were not good Muslim girls because they did not cover their heads.  Some boys also picked up this rhetoric and repeated it.

It is frustrating that perspectives from Muslims such as the MWN’s Shaista Gohir  and Quilliam’s Usama Hasan were for so long brushed aside by the Guardian, creating a false impression that this is an issue all Muslims could agree upon, and that the only authentic Muslim response – and the only principled anti-racist response – was to go on the defensive.