Monday 9 June 2014

Reds under the bed?

Those of us who are aged and wise will remember the time when there was much fuss and bother about infiltration by communists or Trotskyites into cultural and state institutions. Fortunately we avoided the paranoia of the McCarthy hearings in the United States.

I was reminded of this with the current palaver over “Trojan Horse schools" and Islamic extremism. Interesting how this story had developed, though not in a terribly helpful way. Suffice to say that the reports today have not uncovered an extremist plot even though they do raise issues that need to be addressed in those 5 schools.

What is disturbing about this whole story is the damage it may do to community relations in Birmingham, and indeed elsewhere. Is it not odd that the reports talk about “cultural isolation" in a way I suspect we would not find in reports about majority white, Christian schools in rural areas? Why, then, are schools that are in predominantly Muslim communities singled out?

Clearly the teaching of respect for varying faiths and practises should be at the bedrock of teaching in all schools, whatever their local community's faith.
We live in an increasingly multicultural country. The current debate slips too easily into assumptions that the Muslim community is prone to violent extremism and terrorism. Such attitudes could indeed foster the very isolationism that is supposed to be a problem.

The idea behind free schools and academies was about empowering parents and communities. Encouraging parents to become more involved as Governors, indeed to take over schools themselves and “free" them from council control.

Ironic then that three of the schools now under special measures are academies. One was only recently singled out for its outstanding academic performance. If I was a Governor in a Muslim school I might now be thinking it’s not worth the effort.

Building strong communities and giving greater power to citizens is core to better community relations between faiths and ethnic communities. It’s what many charities and my members do as core to their job. We need more volunteers and charity activists from Muslim communities, not less. Let's not drive a wedge between faith communities. That would indeed secure the “cultural isolation" that today's reports highlight as a supposed problem.

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