A Scrapbook Made in March

In the first few days of March this year, there were random bits and bobs in my inbox, patches and pieces, rags and fragments, gathered and gathering haphazardly, without much or even any rhyme or reason.

But as the month continued the scraps began to shake and shape themselves into a story, began to hang together on a unifying thread.

That little prose poem from America, those words of trust and courage from ancient Ireland set to new music in modern Canada.

That letter to parents of young children in Australia warning them to expect many sorely stressful episodes at home in the coming months.

That reference in a personal blogpost from Germany to the valley of the shadow of death … ‘How do I feel? Confused, was the first word that came to mind. Unmotivated, uncreative. I want to do practical things: painting, sanding, repairing, mending, constructing. I can’t write. I feel I should be writing wise words, stimulating stories, inspirational anecdotes; I should be supporting, sustaining, sympathising. But I can’t.’

Sermons, talks, interviews, prayers, laments, meditations, lyrics, images. Shaking and shaping themselves through March 2020 into a narrative, a single entity, all members one of another.

It acquired a name, the scrapbook acquired a name: Love in the Age of Coronavirus.

The love that makes the world go round, and that moves the sun and other stars, the love that is new every morning for our wakening and uprising … and love between lover and beloved, and for your neighbour as yourself, and for the common good, and for the earth.

If you have a spare moment do please drop in, and have a look round. It waits, does this scrapbook made in March 2020, to welcome you. The address is http://www.insted.co.uk/pdfs/Covid%20reflections.pdf

Theatre of Compassion and Anger

A review of Trojan Horse by Helen Monks and Matt Woodhead, currently (November 2019) on tour

Trojan Horse picture


Long before the play starts, the five actors are on stage. They are far apart from one another and each is sitting at a school desk. All have their backs to the audience and all appear to be writing. Presumably they are all taking part in an exam – they are being tested on what they know and can do, and their chances of future happiness, success and sense of self-worth are at stake.

Suddenly the lighting changes and the actors spring into action. They dash all over the stage at breakneck chaotic speed, pushing their desks before them. Within seconds they have cooperatively assembled the five desks into a single formation reminiscent of the dock in a court of law. One of them, a young male, makes a passionate speech from the dock. ‘I’m a big bad Muslim man,’ he declares, ‘and I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your school UP.’

Self-evident forgery

Then for the next 75 minutes the five actors recall key events that took place in east Birmingham in the period 2014—17 and that are collectively known as the Trojan Horse affair. Millions of pounds of public money were spent on the assumption that a self-evident forgery was in fact genuine; thousands of schoolchildren were given a tragically interrupted education; several teachers and headteachers were falsely accused of professional misconduct in an outrageous miscarriage of justice; and relationships of many kinds were horrendously, and it seemed irreparably, damaged. An appendix at the end of this review mentions various sources of further information.

The documentary play about the affair involves five actors darting hither and thither in a chaotic, manic and dazzling kind of dance, continually re-forming the stage furniture into new arrangements and constellations. Each actor plays many cameo parts and they switch between these from one accent, generation, language and mood to another, acting out their personalities with gesture, posture and extra bits of clothing which they keep in school desks when not wearing them.

Relics of colonialism

At one moment, for example, an actor may be playing the part of a sweary, stroppy, teenage Pakistani girl full of fury, angst, hormones and desperation, and then a few moments later the same actor is a Roedean and Oxbridge educated barrister mercilessly deconstructing the muddled sophistry of an Ofsted inspector, and a few moments after that she’s a stressed mum at her wits’ end, and then a young city councillor doing her valiant best to defend the city’s children against the casual cruelties and sheer bloody ignorance, and the self-serving opportunism, of Ofsted and the Department for Education at Westminster and Whitehall. Also they are up against decadent relics of colonialism, white supremacy, racism and Islamophobia.

The play ends with the same words with which it began, ‘I’m a big bad Muslim man, and Ill huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your school UP.’ But it’s much clearer the second time round that the words articulate an imaginary being like the big bad wolf of infancy and folklore, not a real person. The big and the bad being is projected and constructed by forces which are part of everyone, and everyone suffers in tragic consequence. Schools are blown up not by real children but by the infantile fantasies and projections of those who manage and inspect them.


Amid all the dazzling chaos on stage there are occasional moments of great tenderness, stillness, dignity and spirituality, expressing a sense that in east Birmingham, and in east Birminghams everywhere, there are reserves and resources, and hopes, energies and courage, that will eventually prevail, and will heal and mend that which is currently breaking or broken.

These positive energies are seen in the individual and collective ensemble skills of the five young actors – Komal Anin, Mustafa Chaudhry, Gurkiran Kaur, Qasim Marhmood and Keshini Misha; and in the writers – Helen Monks and Matt Woodhead; and the director, Matt Woodhead. Also the skills and determination of many other people have contributed to this amazing work of art, including John Holmwood the academic adviser and Madiha Ansari the engagement manager. Respect, gratitude and admiration for the whole company.

Robin Richardson (robin@insted.co.uk) _____________________________________________________


The play
Fuller information about the play, including details of the current tour in autumn 2019, is available at http://lungtheatre.co.uk/trojan-horse/
There is a fascinating interview with Matt Woodhead, the play’s co-author and director, at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ONujqmZJO8

Commentary in 2014
By M G Khan, The Guardian, 27 March 2014

By Assed Baig, Huffington Post, 7 April 2014

By Robin Richardson, Institute of Race Relations, 5 June 2014

By Sarah Soyei, Equaliteach, 19 June 2014

By Shamim Miah, Discover Society, I July 2014

By Robin Richardson, Institute of Race Relations, 31 July 2014

By Robin Richardson, Institute of Race Relations, 23 December 2014

What next?
by John Holmwood, Open Democracy, 2 October 2018

Brexiting Britain, spring 2019

Remainers and leavers, republicans and democrats, older and younger, cosmopolitan and patriot, Muslim and non-Muslim, comfortable and left-behind, them and us, ingroup and outgroup, self and other.

All these binaries, all this dualism, these polarisations.

So much either/or thinking, so little both/and.

So much zero-sum, so little win-win.

Trolling, snarling, impatience, mockery, curses, rudeness.

What are the causes and exacerbating factors? What are the opposites, the alternatives? What constructive ways ahead are worth considering?

Three papers posted on the Insted website contain readings, weblinks and video clips on these questions, most of them dating from 2018. Most are from the UK but quite a few are from the United States or elsewhere.

The first paper is entitled Brexiting Britain in Troubling Times: reflections and resources. Its authors and characters include a historian, a rabbi, several journalists, a political theorist, social psychologists, members of parliament, teachers, various researchers and observers, several activists and campaigners, a poet, an orchestra, and a choral society.

The links and thoughts are clustered under 12 headings:

1) What we human beings get up to
2) The two Englands
3) Hate in the media
4) The current demeaned other
5) The denial of death
6) Wot u lookin @?
7) New positive narratives
8) Faith in us
9) Democratic renewal
10) Repairing our humanity
11) More in common
12) Joy in the public square

The second paper is entitled Post-Brexit Counselling in Middle England: notes for a programme. It contains thoughts and concerns arising from an episode in Jonathan Coe’s wonderful new novel Middle England, published in autumn 2018.

The third is a bibliography about Brexit. It is entitled Brexit Tales and contains about 40 items. Some of these are books but most are weblinks to articles published in the last 12 months. Most of the books and articles are more, or much more, sympathetic to Remain than to Leave. But a high proportion are at the same time challenging and critical regarding the ways the Remain case has all too often been advanced.

What U Lookin @?

‘Don’t just stand there and look,’ says a piece of ancient advice, ‘DO something’.

The opposite is good advice too: ‘Don’t just do something, STAND THERE, and LOOK.’

‘What are you looking at?’ asks a poster. Human beings first started asking each other that question about 70,000 years ago. But the language in which it’s posed on the poster – ‘what u lookin @?’ – is the language of tweeting and text-messaging, less than 25 years old.

Homo sapiens has always been homo timens, an anxious creature. And has always needed to stand there, take stock, look, before acting. But nowadays looking has certain distinctive new features, evoked and symbolised by the international conventions of global youth culture, and global social media.

On the Insted website in autumn 2018 there are six new items concerned with standing there, looking, taking stock.

‘What U Lookin @?’ – a lecture to mark the 20th anniversary of the Runnymede Trust’s report on Islamophobia, with pictures and icons

Reflections and Resolutions – views and voices about equalities and change in British education systems

Equalities in Education – stories, endings and what next, autumn 2018

Defining and Describing Islamophobia – a few notes, and links to key documents

Religion and Conflict – modest notes and proposals

Tributes, Remembrance and Respect – former colleagues and comrades.

Race equality and education, a souvenir

The year 2018 is an eerily apposite year to be recalling equality issues in British history and society, and in British systems and institutions of education.

One hundred years since the Representation of the People Act 1918, and ninety since the Equal Franchise Act 1928. Seventy since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 and since the symbolic birthday of multi-ethnic Britain, that same year, with the arrival of SS Windrush.

Fifty since the assassination of Martin Luther King and since Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech in 1968.

Thirty since the Human Rights Act and the infamous Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988, and since the Fair Employment and Treatment Order (FETO) came into force in Northern Ireland, making it unlawful to discriminate on grounds of religious tradition. FETO was later amended and expanded to include other strands of equality too, and thus helped prepare for the Equality Act 2010 in England, Scotland and Wales.

And now in 2018 there is the demise, after 36 years, of a precious resource and reference point for equalities in education, the journal Race Equality Teaching (RET).

RET was founded in 1982 as Multicultural Teaching, and since 2010 has often been concerned with all the strands named in the Equality Act, not with race equality alone. Its last ever issue, after 101 previous issues, appeared in June 2018. But all issues since 2002 are now available at http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/ioep/ret

Values Universal

Education, it has been said, has four pillars – learning to be, learning to know, learning to do, and learning to live with others.

In these four ways, education is a force for healthy, mature and positive integration.

To educate a child, it has also been said, requires a whole village – mothers, fathers and families, of course, and neighbours and friends, and teachers in schools and colleges, and many other people as well.

Integration, lots of people have said, is a two-way road.

In both directions, says a report published today, the travellers on the two-way road are a mix of good, bad and normal.

The report is entitled Our Shared Future: Muslims and Integration in the UK, and it can be read online free of charge at http://www.mcb.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Our-Shared-British-Future-Report_Integration-14-March-2018.pdf

Published by the Muslim Council of Britain, the report contains the views and voices of a wide range of people ─ politicians (including Baroness Warsi, Dominic Grieve and Diane Abbott), lawyers, scholars and imams, academics and lecturers, activists and campaigners, community representatives, a chief constable, a poet ─ and from all four nations of the UK, and all parts of England.

The topics include employment, housing, the media, art and culture, education, gender, activism, loneliness, social mobility, policing, public life, Islamophobia, Islamic theology.

There are case studies and personal stories, statistics and diagrams, think pieces and practical proposals ─ about 40 different contributions altogether. The concluding contribution is a poem by Narjis Khan. Her final words are these:

How many more Mo Farahs will it take
before we can finally put an end to this debate?
We shouldn’t have to prove our worth to this nation
when most of us are only here because of colonisation.
So isn’t it time we moved on the conversation
and took ‘integration’ out of the equation?
Because ultimately in a world that’s been artificially divided
by lines on a map elsewhere decided,
all of us are just trying to improve our situation,
find a better life for ourselves and the next generation.

Surely that’s not something so controversial,
but an accepted truth, a value universal.

Two decades of Islamophobia awareness

November 2017 is Islamophobia Awareness Month (https://mend.org.uk/iam2017/)
November 2017 is also the twentieth anniversary of the 1997 Runnymede Trust report on Islamophobia. Runnymede didn’t invent the word ‘Islamophobia’, but it did help it to become known throughout the world.

Yesterday (Tuesday 14 November) Runnymede published a follow-up report. There is full information at https://www.runnymedetrust.org/projects-and-publications/equality-and-integration/islamophobia.html

Also this month there are public lectures in Leeds and London, organised by a partnership involving the Centre for Ethnicity and Racism Studies, the Counter Islamophobia Kit and ReOrient, the journal of Critical Muslim Studies all based at the University of Leeds, the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, the Muslim Youthwork Foundation, and the Insted Consultancy.

The public lectures are supported by a website at (https://www.islamophobia2017.org.uk/) and a Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Islamophobia2017/

Media coverage

Articles so far published in connection with the anniversary include the following:

Islamophobia, 20 years later: how we can hope to defeat it by Robin Richardson, Middle East Eye, 9 November, http://www.middle easteye.net/essays/islamophobia-20-years-later-runymede-trust-report-enlightenment-values-muslim-hope-2054654863

Let’s be clear: Muslims are neither good nor bad, we’re just human by Farah Elahi, The Guardian, 14 November, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/nov/14/muslims-neither-good-nor-bad-human-islamophobia-britain

A challenge for us all: study highlights prevalent Islamophobia in UK by Amandla Thomas Johnson, Middle East Eye, 14 November, http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/challenge-us-all-study-highlights-prevalent-islamophobia-uk-248627149

Why the government needs to look at how anti-Muslim racism passes the dinner table test by Aisha Gani, BuzzFeed News, 14 November, https://www.buzzfeed.com/aishagani/the-government-has-been-urged-to-redefine-islamophobia-as?utm_term=.pbjXkn9Rv#.jeDY90LnP

Society must fight anti-Muslim racism, says major study by Jonathan Walker, Birmingham Mail, 14 November, http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midlands-news/society-must-fight-anti-muslim-13900420

Britain needs wake-up call as Islamophobia grows, report claims by Seth Jacobson, The National, 14 November, https://www.thenational.ae/world/europe/britain-needs-wake-up-call-as-islamophobia-grows-report-claims-1.675634


Recent articles that are relevant though not directly related to the twentieth anniversary of the Runnymede report:

Sayeeda Warsi accuses UK press of hate speech and Islamophobia by Graham Ruddick, The Guardian, 14 November, https://www.theguardian.com/media/2017/nov/14/sayeeda-warsi-accuses-uk-press-of-hate-speech-and-islamophobia

Islamophobia is driving the ‘War on Terror’ and we must call it out, by CAGE, https://cage.ngo/article/islamophobia-is-driving-the-war-on-terror-and-we-must-call-it-out/

Corbyn attends Islamophobia event, as hosts deny extremism claims by Amandla Thomas Johnson, Middle East Eye, 2 November, http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/corbyn-attends-launch-islamophobia-month-hosts-defend-extremism-allegation-929469548

Born radicals? – Prevent, positivism and ‘race-thinking’ by Katy Sian,Palgrave Publications, 27 October https://www.nature.com/articles/s41599-017-0009-0,

Islamophobia – looking back, looking round, looking ahead


A new website about Islamophobia has been launched today. Its title is Islamophobia 2017, and its subtitle is Challenges for us all. There are two aims – a) to mark the twentieth anniversary of the Runnymede Trust report published in autumn 1997, and b) to recall major issues that still need to be dealt with. The site’s address is https://www.islamophobia2017.org.uk/.

The site has five sections:

Lectures – brief details about lectures in Leeds (9 November) and London (20 November), chaired respectively by Baroness Saeeda Warsi and Baroness Julia Neuberger.

Issues – links to 60 short articles about Islamophobia that have been published online in the last two years. They are mainly but not entirely from the UK, and are to do with a) concepts and definitions b) the Prevent programme c) media imagery and coverage d) hate crime and e) education and training.

Resources – brief summary of educational materials that have been published online in recent years, including readings, videos, syllabuses, lesson plans, exercises and activities.

Links – the websites of about 25 organisations from which further information, ideas and resources are available.

Blog – articles and posts published by ReOrient: The Journal of Critical Muslim Studies based at the University of Leeds.

The Runnymede Commission on Islamophobia and British Muslims was chaired in 1996-97 by Professor Gordon Conway, at that time vice-chancellor of the University of Sussex. It was not until after the text of their report had been finalised in June 1997 that members considered the report’s title. Discussion went backwards and forwards, and round and round. Eventually someone said in exasperation ‘Look, whatever we call the report we must signal that Islamophobia is a challenge for everyone, it’s a challenge for us all’.

‘Well,’ said someone else, ‘what’s wrong with that?’

Islamophobia: a challenge for us all was published a few weeks later. It was welcomed warmly by a wide range of Muslim organisations and groups in the UK, but was by and large ignored by official bodies. Also it was by and large ignored by antiracist organisations, and by churches and interfaith bodies.

But over the last 20 years Islamophobia has not gone away. On the contrary, it has become more serious both nationally and internationally, and much more complicated. More obviously than 20 years ago it’s seen now as a complex mix of challenges – a perfect storm of troubles, not a single phenomenon. It affects everyone. Everyone, accordingly, has a part to play against it.

Muslim foster row – fears, facts and fantasy


Another awful week has just ended in the shocking history of British Islamophobia. The week began with lies on the front page of The Times. It continued with the same lies, plus a few others, being recycled in most other papers. The true facts were reported by the Guardian, Independent and BBC, but not in high-profile ways. The week ended with a senior journalist on The Times claiming the paper had acted responsibly when in fact it quite clearly had not.

If you want to know what really happened you need not only to attend to the Guardian and BBC but also to various well-informed pieces in the blogosphere. This article lists 10 articles which between them show the flagrant falsehoods and simplifications which most of the press circulated, and discuss the damage that has been done.

Briefly, the coverage was a mixture of factual inaccuracy on the one hand and Islamophobic hatred, fear and fantasy on the other. As is customary with racist reporting, it was combined for good measure with attacks on local government, on social workers and on political correctness. One of its many disgusting and sinister features was its explicit and unashamed use of a new ethno-religious category – ‘white Christian’ – to refer to people who are decent, principled, rational.

THEY (Muslims and social workers) are bad. WE (White Christians, readers of British newspapers) are good. This was the unspoken but underlying assumption, the grand narrative that the episode was deemed to illustrate.

The front-page headline in The Times on 28 August was ‘Christian child forced into Muslim foster care’. The opening standfirst summary was ‘A white Christian child was taken from her family and forced to live with a niqab-wearing foster carer’. The ten articles listed below provide the truth, and begin to discuss what should be done in consequence.

How the press lied about the little girl staying with Muslim foster parents: here are the facts
by Tom Pride, Pride’s Purge, 31 August 2017

Muslim foster row – the facts

by Tim Fenton, Zelo Street, 31 August 2017

The UK’s Islamophobic press grows more damaging by the day
by Shenaz Bunglawala, The New Arab, 1 September 2017

The fostering case shows British case has problems reporting fairly on Muslims
by Miqdaad Versi, New Statesman, 31 August

So, it was all a lie
by Matthew Smith, Indigo Jo Blogs, 31 August

Times excuses itself – DISHONESTLY
by Tim Fenton, Zelo Street, 2 September 2017

Religious and cultural identity in foster care
By Sarah P, Transparency Project, 28 August 2017

The Other Side: my Muslim chidren were fostered by a Christian family
by Louise Butt, Amaliah, 30 August 2017

That Muslim foster carers story
by ‘Suddenly Mummy’

Why did Andrew Norfolk lie?

by Abdul-Azim Ahmed, Medium, 2 September 2017
View at Medium.com

Memorandum to Oppressors

Handout for a talk entitled Learning towards Justice, summer 1984

Introduction: notes on terminology

A relationship, interaction or social system is oppressive if it involves gains, benefits and advantages for some at the cost of losses, frustrations and harm for others. Oppressors are individuals, groups or classes who have more than their fair share of gains. The oppressed are those who have more than their fair share of losses. The archetypal oppressor lives in the northern hemisphere; is middle-class; is white; is male; has a senior position in a hierarchical institution.

Whether you are an oppressor or not depends on your location in an oppressive structure, not on your intention or wish. The question is what are you doing to transform the structure, not whether you wish to be an oppressor.

1 Seek confrontation and opposition

Over and over you get things wrong. You are deformed and blinkered by your location and experience. You cannot trust yourself, not your eyesight, not your judgement. Seek out people who have very different location and experience—that is, the oppressed—and heed their critiques, criticism and challenges.

2 Flattery and chance

Day in and day out, people flatter you. For you control goods and goodies which they desire. The consequence of this flattery is that you suppose with pride that you are in your present position through your own merit and achievement. But no, you are where you are through chance, not choice. You live in a society in which people with certain attributes (gender, race, class, nation) get rewarded and flattered.

3 Don’t divide and rule

There is a diversity of interests, concerns and priorities amongst the oppressed, and many are prevented—for example by the mass media and by the educational system—from knowing the dimension and contours of their oppression. You must not take, let alone seek, advantage from this diversity and lack of awareness.

4 Selfishness and self-interest

All human beings defend their self-interest, yes of course, and all in this do things which are morally wrong. But only oppressors have the power to define which wrong actions are crimes. Also oppressors have the power to define the signs, symbols and conventions of courtesy and considerateness. In consequence of this dual power, oppressors typically think they are morally superior to the oppressed. They are not. Never forget this.

5 Positive action

Regardless of any formal equal opportunities policies which may be around, you should be engaging continually in positive discrimination. Do everything you can to distribute power, influence, resources and goods to or towards the oppressed. You will often have to do this covertly rather than openly: so be it.

6 Acknowledgements

Everyone peppers their discourse and conversation with bibliographical footnotes—references to people from whom they have learnt, and/or people who are big names. Make sure that you yourself, in your footnotes and references, give credit only to the oppressed. This means—amongst other things—that you should indeed reckon to have your mind nurtured only or mainly by the oppressed.

7 The climate of oppressor opinion

Transformation of the system will come, if it comes at all, from the oppressed. You yourself have only a small part to play. But one thing you can do, and should do, is criticise, cajole, badger, pester, speak out, in the forums, informal as well as formal, of the oppressor. But watch out: don’t let them dress you in the cap and bells of a court jester, or the stiff righteous collar of a prig.

8 Double-agents

As long as you stay where you are it is possible that you will work, whether you wish to or intend to or not, against the interests of the oppressed. For example, and in particular, you are part of the velvet glove round the oppressor’s iron fist; you may be containing resistance, buying time for the oppressor, that’s all. One consequence of this is that you have no right or reason to expect gratitude, sympathy or trust from the oppressed.

9 Lifestyle

Look at your possessions, your personal time, your personal space and mobility: you are very comfortable, and very corrupt. You cannot completely change your lifestyle as long as you stay in your location. But you can keep it modest and frugal; you can share it; you can treat it lightly; and you can—and you must—risk it.

10 Words and platforms

The essential educational task is to equip the oppressed with words—the ABC, the first two Rs, Shakespeare and all that. Part of the essential political task is to provide them with platforms—a hearing in the places and spaces where a rule is to listen (words + platforms = communicative competence). Often you yourself should be silent, or at least your memoranda should be unmemorable. But sometimes you may speak, you may use both words and platforms. Choose them, choose them with care.
Robin Richardson, St James’s Piccadilly, 20 June 1984, published in Daring to be a Teacher: essays, stories and memoranda, Trentham Books 1990, pp 205-07.