By Neil Berry
29 April 2014
In the West, zealotry has come to be associated with bearded men of Middle Eastern appearance who dress in ankle-length white robes. Yet zealotry is hardly unknown among clean-shaven white Caucasian males who wear a suit and tie.
Who could fail to be struck by the maniacal fervour of former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair — or by that of the current UK Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove? As it happens, these two British ideologues have more than a little in common, both of them educated in Scotland in the Christian faith, both of them unswerving devotees of the United States and Israel, both of them furious fighters of the “war on terror” who believe that the West is fatally blind to the threat to its freedoms posed by militant Islam.
At present, Michael Gove is embroiled in a spiralling controversy over the “Birmingham schools plot,” following the circulation of an anonymous letter enclosing a document that outlines plans for “an Islamist takeover” of schools in the second largest British city. What has made the issue especially inflammatory is Gove’s decision to have the alleged plot investigated by a former policeman, Peter Clarke, who led the UK’s “counterterrorism” unit, thereby conveying the impression to the wider public that schools in Birmingham have been targeted as potential terrorist training camps.
If Britain’s Muslims feel that they are being demonized, not to say criminalized, by the education secretary, it is understandable. Certainly his action seems calculated to exacerbate popular British fears that they are the “enemy within.” Moreover, there is surely a danger that the drastic, sabre-rattling character of his intervention in Birmingham could incite the very radicalization it is meant to combat.
Yet if extremists turn out to have infiltrated Birmingham schools, it will be in no small measure thanks to Michael Gove’s own policies. For in his headlong autocratic determination to “reform” the education system, he has undermined local authorities’ control over schools — while also causing teachers to quit the profession in droves. The upshot is a de-stabilized education system, with an administrative vacuum where formerly there was proper oversight and accountability. It is a situation ripe for exploitation by unscrupulous elements.
In the fevered atmosphere that has descended on Birmingham some may even wonder if Gove himself is operating a hidden agenda. This after all is a minister for whom the “war on terror” has long been a consuming pre-occupation. In the aftermath of the 2005 7/7 terrorist strikes in London he published a fiery book, Celsius 7/7, lashing official complacency in the face of the domestic Islamist threat. The book likened the threat to a Trojan Horse and it is curious to note the name attached to the alleged Birmingham plot: “Operation Trojan Horse.”
About one thing that he warned against, however, he has been proved right. In his book, he delivered a cogent critique of the “covenant of security” by which the British security services adopted a policy of “appeasement” toward Islamists that they would be left alone — provided they perpetrated no act of terrorism on British soil.
What is faintly chilling about Michael Gove is that, like Tony Blair, he appears entirely devoid of the capacity to imagine that he could ever be wrong. That he has already alienated vast numbers of teachers with his hectic, heavy-handed “reforms” has, it seems, simply strengthened his faith that he is doing the right thing. There is little chance that he will regret antagonizing Britain’s Muslims with his robust response to the “Birmingham plot” — especially when he knows that it is likely to enjoy widespread public approval.
Whether Birmingham schools have been penetrated by jihadists remains to be determined. Meanwhile, the holy warrior attributes of Britain’s secretary for education are not in doubt.