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Crusade against British Muslims in education

The 'Trojan Horse' plot allegations in British media aim at discrediting the work of Muslim educationalists.

Last updated: 12 May 2014 12:41
Ibrahim Hewitt

Ibrahim Hewitt is Senior Editor of the Middle East Monitor.
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Many state schools do not cater to Muslim students, says Hewitt [Getty Images]

Many Muslims in Britain are convinced that there is a witch-hunt against them headed by government officials and the right-wing media; a non-Muslim friend of mine called it a "crusade". Equally, right-wing "think-tanks" have weighed in with their comments to stir up an evil brew that threatens community relations.

Attacks include scurrilous media articles and the so-called Trojan Horse plot in Birmingham, which sees Muslim educationalists and school governors accused of plotting to "Islamise" state schools in the city. The real Trojan Horse plot is the planting of neo-conservative apparatchiks in key positions within government departments and quasi-governmental bodies. The Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, is himself an avowed neoconservative.

Although nominally expressing concern about the education of Muslim children, the real motive of such attacks has nothing to do with improving the education of Muslim children, but with controlling it. In doing so, Britain's new crusaders seek to discredit decades of hard work and sincere community efforts to improve our children's life chances as they face the future in an increasingly hostile atmosphere.

A few years ago, one religious affairs correspondent for a well-known newspaper told me that a senior Church of England figure was very calm about the upsurge of mosque planning applications in the 1960s: "Let them have their mosques. We have their children in our schools." What we are seeing today is nothing less than an ideological struggle for control of the education of Muslim children.

The crusaders are not satisfied that all schools, including independent Muslim schools, are inspected regularly; we must have "investigations" and "commissions" as well. Character assassination is a common tactic and no Muslim with any track record of community service can feel secure. It seems, at times, that the more successful you have been in getting Muslims involved in voluntary roles, including school governors, the more likely it is that you will be targeted.

Lies and half-truths buried in text with very little context form the backbone of such attacks; never let the facts get in the way of a good story. So one school in Leicester with which I am associated is accused, for example, of gender segregation when, in fact, such segregation has never been a policy there.

Head to Head - What is wrong with Islam today?

Indeed, for two years until last July, Al-Aqsa School had boys and girls of secondary age being taught together, probably a unique situation among Muslim schools in Britain. This was dropped only due to a lack of demand for places and parental preference for single-sex provision. Parental choice, it is worth noting, is supposed to be a cornerstone of the Secretary of State's wildly expensive Free School programme.

Readers of the Telegraph read on April 26 that "the alleged ringleader of the Trojan Horse plot wrote a detailed blueprint for the radical "Islamisation" of secular state schools which closely resembles what appears to be happening in Birmingham."

In fact, Tahir Alam co-authored in 2007 a book for the Muslim Council of Britain intended to act as a guide for schools with advice about making suitable and adequate provision for their Muslim pupils.

The real scandal is that such a guide was needed 20-odd years after the Muslim Educational Trust's British Muslims and Schools which covered much of the same territory. Many state schools simply do not cater to their Muslim pupils and their achievements suffer as a result. Happy pupils are happy learners, but too many people in positions of authority put political dogma over pupil achievement when those pupils are Muslim.

Claims that the government is pursuing an "anti-extremism" agenda are wearing thin; it is anti-Islam, period. It's fine for Muslims to have their faith as long as they keep it to themselves and out of the public domain. In other words, the neo-conservatives want Islam to be shorn of its "complete way of life" guidelines. This is dangerous territory.

Look at the former Yugoslavia; Muslims were given the green light to register themselves as an "ethnic minority" even if they didn't pray or, as Professor Ernest Gellner wrote in Nations and Nationalism, didn't even believe in Allah and His Messenger. Many had assimilated to such a degree that they were indistinguishable from their neighbours, but they were still raped and killed for being Muslims when the state broke up.

Is that what the neocons want for British Muslims? Such people have succeeded in marginalising religion in schools - faith is often the only forbidden f-word therein - and while they claim that Britain is a Christian country the reality is that they don't want to see anyone practising a faith on their own terms, Christian or otherwise. Muslims, as far as they are concerned, need a "reformation" to secularise our practises, or face unspecified consequences. The threat is clear.

It looks as if the education dispute in Birmingham has much wider connotations and is spreading to other cities. We must expect more alarmist articles in a media intent on sensationalising issues and creating rifts in British society. The people behind them want to weaken the Muslim community and while we may have our mosques and a relative handful of schools most of our children are indeed in "their" schools. That is reason enough in the twisted logic of the neocrusaders to target any Muslim who works to improve the lot of Muslim children in the education system. The writing is on the wall.

Ibrahim Hewitt is the Senior Editor at Middle East Monitor (MEMO) in London and has worked with and for Muslims schools in Britain for more than 30 years.

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The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

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