I’ve just finished watching John Ware’s excellent BBC Panorama about what’s being taught in some Muslim schools: a subject which I, and others, believe is the single most worrying aspect of Islamist and radical activity in Britain.
At present the vast majority of British Muslims have little or no truck with Islamist ideas. But in some Muslim schools – not in all, but in a significant and growing number – a new generation is being raised to be much more radical than its parents.
The BBC’s film is another encouraging sign of the growing pressure under which Islamism now finds itself. But the Telegraph has been following this story for a while. As I’ve reported in the paper over the last couple of years, some British schools (most but not exclusively Muslim) are teaching impressionable children to suspect, even despise, the society in which they will have to live. Other schools are teaching an overly narrow, Islamic-focused curriculum, turning out students ill-equipped for life in anything other than a Muslim ghetto. This is, quite simply, a betrayal of the children involved and a recipe for social conflict.
The most shocking and headline-grabbing aspect of the film was, understandably, the Saudi-sponsored weekend schools which teach children racism, anti-Semitism and Sharia punishments. It was fun watching the Islamists’ usual transparent wriggling and lies – the Saudi government trying to deny responsibility for its own textbooks, and so on.
But in terms of broader social impact, what’s happening in parts of the wider Islamic education sector is far worse. It’s perhaps best understood as an example of state failure. The state is failing in some places to provide adequate education of its own. And it is unwilling to regulate or even understand the alternative provision that has grown up.
Some schools run by people with unequivocally sectarian, anti-Western, anti-British views about education are actually being funded by the state. They and others have also been whitewashed by the bodies that are supposed to protect children, Ofsted and the Charity Commission, two of the feeblest watchdogs Islamists could possibly wish for.
Even Ofsted looks good, however, by comparison with some inspections. We were the first paper to mention the remarkable Bridge Schools Inspectorate, which has been given the job of inspecting many Muslim schools and which also featured heavily in Panorama. The BSI is co-controlled by Muslim schools’ own lobbying and trade body, the AMS, and allows Muslim headteachers to inspect each other’s schools, returning favourable verdicts which don’t always seem entirely deserved. And now, the Government’s drive for more free schools and faith schools risks giving organised radical groups even more of an opening.
The think-tank Policy Exchange has today published an important report calling for the abolition of the Bridge Schools Inspectorate and the establishment of a Due Diligence Unit to assess all schools, their trustees and staff, against a statutory definition of extremism. Two of its authors also took part in the Panorama film. Policy Exchange’s suggested definition of extremist is those who:
– support or condone the deliberate targeting for attack of civilians (as
defined by the Geneva Conventions) anywhere in the world.
– call for, or condone, attacks on British service personnel and their allies
anywhere in the world or against any forces acting under a UN mandate.
– call for or condone the destruction of UN member states.
– give a platform to deniers of, or apologists for, crimes against humanity, including genocide.
– support or condone terrorism anywhere in the world.
– discriminate or advocate discrimination on the basis of religion, religious sect, race, sexual orientation or gender in any aspect of public life or public policy.
– oppose armed forces’ recruitment.
I think this is a good first go but needs more work – I’m not sure any school which “opposes armed forces’ recruitment” should be automatically damned as extremist. And of course British forces didn’t act under a UN mandate in Iraq, did they?
As well as the obvious prohibitions (on the advocacy of racism, sexism, homophobia, violence, hatred or hostility), whatever criterion we settle on should have at its core the obligation that all British schools must prepare their pupils to be full, equal and participating citizens of Britain, not of some Muslim Ummah.
I know that Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, is one of the politicians who most gets this problem. He was quite strong on Panorama and I have every reason to hope for action on this crucial area.