Wednesday 11 June 2014

Michael Rosen Letter on Trojan Horse Plot

If you've been following the news around the Trojan Horse Plot news story about Muslims in Birmingham trying to take over state schools (read more here, here, here, here and here), two things caught my eye this morning that might interest you.

The first is a letter from Michael Rosen, who is an wonderful children’s poet and writer and an atheist and asks people in this blog post to defend Muslims:

"I am an atheist and someone who hopes that one day we will have secular education in all schools.
I am an atheist who believes in religious toleration. On that basis, I think we have common ground.

I believe I am living in a country that does not believe in religious toleration. This is in spite of much talk about 'British values' which apparently refers to such things as 'democracy', 'freedom' and - ironically, 'religious toleration'!

I believe that I am living in a country that does not believe in religious toleration because one faith is being singled out for special treatment. This is not toleration, it is discrimination.

We know the examples:
highlighting segregation of sexes in schools where there are Muslims whilst it goes on for many different reasons in the education system as a whole, between schools, or within schools;
highlighting Muslim dress whilst the religious dress of other faiths is not mentioned...

So, my position is this: while we are in a situation in which we do not have universal secular education with religious toleration, we should aim for an end to all forms of 'cherry-picking' and 'selectivity' . We should oppose any attempt by politicians to select this or that part of one faith's practises as 'objectionable' whilst failing to notice that equivalents are practised by other faiths.

With this in mind, may I plead with practitioners and leaders of all faiths to regard these selective attacks on Muslims as an attack on you and indeed on all of us?

May I plead with you to point out to politicians exactly how some of their statements about Islam or about Muslim religious practices, could if applied consistently, apply to you?

At present, they are getting away with being selective because, in part, we do not hear your voices saying, 'Us too!'

When one group is attacked, we are all unsafe. You too. Please do not ever think that by politicians attacking one faith, your faith is made secure. Please speak out, call the politicians to account and show that their cherry-picking and selectivity for what it is: prejudice, discrimination or just cynical vote-seeking."

The second is  a column from a Muslim called Manzoor Mughal (who is the head of the Muslim Forum think-tank) in the Daily Mail (where else?) which talks about how shariah courts and the burkah are spreading, how France is a good example (really?) and how there shouldn’t be any Muslim schools:

"As chairman of the Muslim Forum, a think-tank on Islamic issues, and a long-standing community activist in the East Midlands, I have warned for more than a decade about the insidious spread of radicalism through our civic institutions.

Ten years ago almost to the day, I wrote in this newspaper about the dangers of giving into the demands made by a self-appointed group of Muslim academics and ‘community activists’ who complained of Islamophobia in our education system. 

Instead of greater integration, this political creed has promoted separatism by emphasising differences and encouraging minority ethnic groups to cling to the customs of their homeland.

In Birmingham, this has resulted in the rejection of western values by the governing bodies of too many Muslim-dominated schools.

Any reasonable parent would prefer their child to be reared in a school environment of freedom and intellectual inquiry that leads to decent job prospects, than inculcated with the destructive influence of religious separatism"

What I also found interesting was an article in the Guardian written by Michael Rosen (10th June 2014) about how the Department of Education has taken a more dictatorial approach o the provision of education in England over the years:

"Sceptics might point out that surely the secretary's powers are balanced by parliament, the civil service, advisers and the school inspectorate. Yet, what is clear from the last 20 years or so is that parliament has steadily withdrawn from its role in the sphere of education, as the decisions have become more and more detailed and technical. Meanwhile, anyone on the inside track in education knows that the civil service, the hired advisers and the inspectorate have become part of the secretary of state's fiefdom – either unwilling or unable to criticise the secretary's pet "reforms".

Further limits on absolute power did, quite rightly, come from teachers' professional organisations, university researchers in education and teaching unions. Since the days of Kenneth Baker, there has been a persistent and sustained attack on these three institutions as if they were ignorant, stupid, irrelevant and hostile to improving schools. This has been a way of curtailing debate in a field – education – that thrives on debate, whether that's at the level of ideas about education, or in the classroom itself.

While I'm on this matter of debate, I've been trying to track down where and when we voted for a government policy that seeks to induce, or require, all schools in England to become directly contracted to the secretary of state, as academies. I can remember being told that schools would "have the chance" to apply to be academies, but that's a different matter altogether. The truth is we haven't ever been given a chance to vote on this major change in our civil existence. You decided it."

Interestingly the Education Minister, Michael Gove the letter in the Guardian above is directed towards has been accused of Islamophobia for instance for his book Celsius 7/7, published in 2006, which, as the Huffington Post describes: "singles out political Islam, or Islamism, as a "totalitarian" ideology underpinned by "hellish violence and oppression" and compares it to the threat posed to the West by Nazism and communism."  The Muslim Public Affairs Committee don't seem to like him much either.

All of this does make you wonder what the real issue is and what the true story is.

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