Stories of allegations of the Islamification and radicalisation in Muslim-majority schools in Birmingham play on classic Islamophobic tropes.
sentimental, if you know what I mean
I love the country but I can't stand the scene
And I'm neither left or right
I'm just staying home tonight
Getting lost in that hopeless little screen
But I'm stubborn as those garbage bags
That Time cannot decay
I'm junk but I'm still holding up
This little wild bouquet.
So writes Leonard Cohen, expressing something of the position that many of us find ourselves; hoping for something of resonance emerging from the 'silent many' as Ofsted is drawn in to respond to the allegations of the Islamification and radicalisation in Muslim-majority schools in Birmingham (except Muslim-majority girls schools as girls don’t do politics!). The comparative absence of counter-narrative or audible murmurings of worry, was weakening conviction, that this is not a Jungian expression of a collective unconscious which may find the cure uncomfortable, but agrees with the diagnosis of Michael Gove. But there are now voices appearing worried at the implications of what started out as a witch hunt has now turned into a modern day inquisition.
Pnina Werbner in 2005 explained Islamophobia by describing it as the fear of Muslims and Islam constructed on the basis of three tropes The slave or the subordinate - the dangerous street mugger who threatens the law and order of society, a figure reflecting fear of rebellion and insurrection. This is the fear of the ghetto and the street. A fear of a Muslim physicality expressed through the language of self-segregation or segregated communities, espoused by Ted Cantle and Herman Ouseley a decade ago in a language now embedded in public policy. A body of people depicted as a congealed unmovable mass, unable to integrate or penetrate into wider society; allegedly a space whose counter values have been fostered by a multicultural egalitarianism that has compromised the cohesiveness and safety of Britain.
This is the Muslim imaginary space referred to by former New Labour Minister, Hazel Blears, as non-governed spaces, where notions of jihad are born, take shape and take action. It is a fear that creates ‘no go’ areas in people’s minds, a fear of Muslim ghettoes that challenge the aspirational ‘Middle England’ and you can hear it echoed in both the rhetoric of the EDL and that of mainstream UK politicians. It is the fear expressed in the charge of ‘Muslimification’ of state schools as self-segregated institutions producing self-segregating young people and communities. A charge that interprets acts of demography as acts of ideology.
The second trope that Werbner names is the witch: This is a different kind of fear: a fear of the disguised, the hidden, and the stranger seeking vengeance or retribution. This fear exists in the breakdown of trust within a community or nation leading to it becoming divided against itself, neighbour suspecting neighbour, colleague suspecting colleague. One can see this here in state measures that place a duty on teachers, employers, colleagues, neighbours and families to look for signs of radicalisation in their colleagues, students or children. This form of Islamophobia conveys the fear of a hidden agenda, of an intelligence planning and designing, a trope that the ‘Trojan Horse Plot’ has cultivated brilliantly.
The fear of the witch is based on a perceived danger to others. The focus of the prevent agenda is upon the beliefs, politics and values of young Muslims. The intrusive powers developed by the state in its counter-terrorism strategies require the widespread acceptance of an imminent threat in order to legitimise the erosion of human rights and the specific discrimination against whole communities. It is the witch that is depicted to be sitting in the ‘Trojan horse’. Appointing Peter Clarke, the former Head of the Metropolitan Police’s Anti-Terrorism Unit, as the Commissioner to investigate this, only confirms the view that this whole sorry mess is not about the education (actually we should just say schooling) of Muslim children but their de-radicalisation and the Dep’t of Education would not be able to get away with the wholesale labeling of children and young people as radicalized with any community other than Muslim communities. Its relative silence is an expression both of helplessness and fear of the force levelled at Muslims, It is keeping its head down waiting for the storm to pass and it will probably turn on anyone whose actions prolong the pain.
The press have been remarkably accurate! Forecasting what the Department of Education will do next, and the latest leak of the Ofsted report on Park View and Golden Hillock Schools before they are given to the school is another insult to add to the charges levelled against the governing bodies of these schools. But here Ofsted needs to be mindful that its integrity is not damaged by what appears to be an orchestrated campaign from within the D of E, using the national press to cultivate the next trope that Werbner identifies of the grand inquisitor.
This is the fear is of the ‘dominator’ - a force that seeks control of a person’s body and soul. How they live, work and believe. This is the fear, too, of an ideology capable of dominating and taking over. Language is often used to convey the ‘otherness’ of this dominator. The stylising of halal food in the same vein in which notions such as jihad and shari’ah are portrayed in the popular press now connects halal provision to the fears of the Islamification of public bodies rather than the people or markets served.
The ‘grand inquisitor’ trope is a classic instance of constructing a perceived symbolic threat. It is the values, beliefs and ways of being of the majority here, that are presented as being challenged by an alien, non-European (Muslim) force within the context of the international reach of Islam and the trans-national reality of British Muslim lives. In the recent ‘snap inspections of one of the schools Inspectors / Prevent Officers used ‘attitudes to homosexuality’ as a barometer of radicalisation. Using the same yardstick every football club, rugby team and cricket team and, for that matter, every other school might be labelled as an extremist organisation! Such a ‘divide and rule’ technique, based on identity politics, has a long and shameful history and is a disservice to all those that challenge homophobic attitudes endemic in all institutions.
The appointment of Peter Clarke is a statement that the dominant lens applied to the schooling for Muslim children is not about education but de-radicalisation and it is this reason that some schools previously judged by Ofsted as good or outstanding are being judged by the same body as inadequate or requiring special measures. It will mean that the securitisation industry has made serious inroads into education and schooling under the guise of inspecting to 'raise standards', they have needed Ofsted to get at Muslim children and by extension Muslim families en masse and this objective is now achieved.
The Trojan Horse ‘strategy’ will achieve its objective and these schools may well lose their governing bodies unless they challenge the legality of this process but Ofsted has lost much, much more. Margaret Mead pointed out ‘children need to be taught how to think not what to think’; which of these options a child receives is a matter of class and or religious identity. That’s why Leonard Cohen’s words may resonate so powerfully with those that love the country but can no longer stand the scene.
*MG Khan is a governor of one of the schools named in the allegations.
OurKingdom relies on donations from readers. Please donate here to help keep us producing independent journalism. Thank you.