By Vincent Cooper
22 June 2014
Islam in British schools
The political and media debate on the alleged Islamist Trojan Horse infiltration of Birmingham schools reveals -- like no other issue regarding Islam in Britain -- a deep and long-held political fear in confronting the truth about the nature of Islam and large-scale Muslim immigration.
That truth -- and it has been a concern of governments for some time -- is that with Britain’s rapidly increasing Muslim population, the teaching of any culturally conservative interpretation of Islam (the bare minimum that any serious Muslim would insist on) is entirely incompatible with the secular, liberal and pluralistic values that define British society, and even perhaps incompatible with the long-term political stability of the country.
In pursuit of the multicultural dream that has dominated Western political culture since the end of the Second World War, the British political class turned a blind eye to this problem.
Even in the Birmingham case, it wasn’t the politicians who decided something was wrong. It was largely media attention to the problem that forced the politicians to take action.
The immediate issue with Birmingham’s Trojan Horse debacle is not the threat of Islamic terrorism, but the threat of an eventual cultural Balkanisation of the country as Muslim demographics increase and Muslims gradually assert their own deeply felt religious identity, particularly in the area of education.
What is happening in Birmingham today (and now Bradford, according to latest reports) will grow as the Muslim population grows. The government is deeply worried about the future, not just the present.
Yet this threat of eventual Balkanisation should come as no surprise.
Critics of heavy immigration and multiculturalism have been pointing out the problem for years, and I have in mind here not only the controversial Enoch Powell but perfectly reasonable types such as Ray Honeyford, hounded out of his job in the Eighties for pointing out what is now happening in Birmingham.
The unsurprising fact about Britain today is that over sixty years of heavy Muslim immigration, with strong help from a liberal agenda of multiculturalism, have resulted in the establishment of separate, some would say antagonistic, cultural identities in many of Britain’s cities.
Given the strength of Britain’s growing Muslim population and the strong demands of the Muslim faith, the inculcation of an Islamic ethos in Birmingham’s largely Muslim schools should come as no surprise.
As the journalist Peter Hitchens said, you cannot welcome large numbers of adherents of a certain religion and then get alarmed and panicky when they practice that religion.
Politicians such as Michael Gove and Theresa May -- with Labour politicians standing on the sidelines pretending to be innocent-- squabbled over who is responsible, as if the problems of Birmingham were a recent surprise event.
The political class knows that the issues in Birmingham have a history, a history of vast numbers of unassimilated immigrants that has radically altered the cultural landscape of the country.
Michael Gove’s intervention in Birmingham is an attempt to put right a problem that was sixty years in the making.
Can Mr Gove succeed? The government’s solution to Britain’s almost cultural anarchy is to introduce legislation requiring all schools to “teach British values”.
But what are British values?
This “British values” solution looks very much like the government is in a tailspin and is responding to a very disturbing social development with ad hoc measures, inventing “inclusive” social values that all schools must respect.
But not all schools are the problem. Certain Muslim schools are the problem.
It’s not fully realised that when a government has to impose formal rules to maintain social cohesion, it is an acknowledgement of advanced social fragmentation. When Britain was a culturally homogeneous country there was no need for such legislation.
The salient fact here is that the British political class have never acknowledged the long-term cultural consequences of heavy Muslim immigration. It’s as if there could never be any problem with it; that a rapidly growing Muslim demographic could practise their faith in our accommodating free society while effortlessly slotting into the wider social fabric of British life.
But Birmingham has shown that this is not so.
The separation of boys and girls in class, with girls sitting at the back, veil wearing, the call to prayer over loudspeakers throughout the school -- all very much the expression of a basic Muslim ethos and all happening in Birmingham.
And with the Muslim population increasing, the government is extremely concerned about the future. The problem is not so much Islamic extremism, but almost any form of conservative Islam in schools.
Why is this? What is it about Islam, and not Christianity or Judaism that puts it on the edge of wider British society?
BBC World at One’s Martha Kearney, discussing the Birmingham schools issue, put the question: “would there be the same fuss if these were Catholic governors?”
That question captures the essence of the problem. Why is a Christian ethos or a Jewish ethos acceptable in schools, but not an Islamic ethos?
The only rational answer, and the only possible justification for Ofsted banning what was going on in those Muslim Birmingham schools (which academically were excellent) is the one given by the straight-talking Allison Pearson of the Daily Telegraph, who boldly stated that our Western values are superior and must be thoroughly defended throughout the country.
Ms Pearson speaks the truth. British values of freedom are superior, and we must be free and proud to say so.
However, with a rapidly growing Muslim population, how will governments in forty or fifty years defend these freedoms when Muslims are a majority or plurality in many of Britain’s towns and cities?
Will Islamic values not then be a major feature of those towns and cities? Will Islamic values not then be British values?
Vincent Cooper is a regular contributor to The Commentator