Islamophobia – looking back, looking round, looking ahead

LECTURES, ISSUES, RESOURCES, LINKS, BLOG

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.

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The Department for Education — inept or nasty?

Is the Department of Education inept or is it nasty? Is it thoughtless and inconsiderate or is it, worse, callous and cruel? Has it taken its eye off the ball or is it, much more seriously, contemptuous of its legal and ethical duties to have due regard for the consequences of its actions and policies? Is it guilty not only of errors of judgement but also of deceit and bad faith?

These questions are about individual ministers and, at all pay-grades, civil servants. Also they are about systems, routines, procedures, habits, ways of doing things, and not doing things. And they are about the collective mindsets which underlie the DfE’s organisational culture – they are not only about racist actions, for example, but about institutional racism as well. And they of course apply not only to the DfE itself but also to agencies set up by and accountable to the DfE, for example the National College for Teaching and Leadership (ACTL), and to external consultants and advisers whom the DfE and its agencies from time to time engage, for example lawyers and legal teams for specific cases.

In the present context these questions arise from consideration of how, over the last three years, the DfE has handled and mishandled the Trojan Horse affair in Birmingham. The latest twist in this tangled and tortuous saga occurred on 30 May 2017, and was summarised with headlines such as Trojan Horse case against five Birmingham teachers thrown out by tribunal (Daily Telegraph) and Five teachers accused in Trojan horse affair free to return to classroom (Guardian).

A panel looking into allegations against some headteachers and other senior teachers had transferred its attention to the behaviour of the DfE itself, and had referred to repeated failures on the part of government lawyers to share crucial evidence that could have been of substantial assistance to the headteachers’ case, and that could have radically undermined the DfE’s own case. (Also, incidentally, the transcripts might well have confirmed what many observers suspected, which is that an earlier inquiry, the so-called Clarke inquiry, has been amateurish and improper in the way it was and was not conducted.) This was not merely a technicality of slight importance but, on the contrary, an abuse of justice whose seriousness was such that the panel had had no option but to end the hearings.

‘It is fundamental to the proper administration of justice,’ the panel pointed out, that an investigation such as the one it had been conducting ‘must be able to rely on the regulatory authority [namely, in this instance, the NCTL, set up by the DfE] acting in a way which ensures the integrity of the process.’ It continued: ‘There has been an abuse of the process which is of such seriousness that it offends the panel’s sense of justice and propriety.’

The panel also considered there had been a ‘lack of candour and openness’ by the DfE and ‘a lack of cooperation in assisting the panel to get to the bottom of what happened’. Serious errors had been far-reaching, it said, and had extended over the entire life of the case.

‘Such failures arise out of decisions which were consciously made,’ the panel declared, but also it considered that the DfE’s deliberate decision to withhold essential evidence represented ‘an extraordinarily serious error of judgment as opposed to bad faith’. The DfE had been inept, the panel in effect concluded, but not nasty.

However, is the distinction between being inept and being nasty really so very clearcut? Is it helpful, in instances such as this, to distinguish between errors of judgement on the one hand and bad faith on the other? Neglect and negligence can be criminal, not just bad manners or administrative oversights, and can cause real and lasting harm to certain individuals, and to the contexts in which individuals interact and have their being.

‘Without scheming to do wrong, or to make others unhappy,’ said Jane Austen two hundred years ago, ‘there may be error, and there may be misery. Thoughtlessness, want of attention to others’ feelings, and want of resolution, will do the business.’

It is almost certainly the case in the present instance (though not argued or even suggested by the Trojan Horse tribunal) that the DfE’s errors were in part or even largely due to hostility towards Islam and Muslims, and to callous indifference towards the misery for Muslims it was itself causing.

Did institutional racism and Islamophobia underlie not only the DfE’s careless conduct at the disciplinary tribunal but also how it perceived and reacted to the Trojan Horse forgery in the first place? Did racism and Islamophobia underlie the amateurish reports which the DfE in due course sponsored? Did they deeply affect the flawed Prevent and British Values projects which it then promoted, and zealously promotes still? Does the DfE realise, really realise, that the rule of law applies to itself as well as to everyone else?

Well, those are questions for thorough investigation at another time and in another place. In the meanwhile profound sympathy is due to the individuals, schools, families and communities in Birmingham that have been harmed over the last three years by the actions and non-actions of the DfE, and much corrective and restorative work needs to be done.

Robin Richardson, 1 June 2017, slightly updated 2 June

Notes

There is further information about the panel’s statement in news items by John Dickens in Schools Week, and Richard Adams in the Guardian, both on 30 May:

http://schoolsweek.co.uk/trojan-horse-nctl-drops-disciplinary-case-against-5-teachers/

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/may/30/trojan-horse-tribunal-five-birmingham-teachers-islam

The panel’s statement itself is published in full at <a https://www.matrixlaw.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Panel-decision-and-reasons-on-behalf-of-the-Secretary-of-State-for-Education-in-respect-of-applications-for-the-proceedings-to-be-discontinued.pdf

There is an interesting legal opinion of the panel’s statement at >https://lawyerwatch.wordpress.com/2017/06/02/cryptic-trojan-who-takes-responsibility-if-disclosure-is-the-achilles-heel/

There is substantial discussion of the Trojan Horse affair and related issues in British Values and British Identity: muddles, mixtures and ways ahead by Robin Richardson, London Review of Education, autumn 2015. It can be read at http://www.insted.co.uk/london-review-education.pdf

New in 2016

The blog of the Insted consultancy, previously named Insted Consultancy News, has a new name – The Prose and the Passion. The phrase is derived from a famous plea by E. M Forster (1879—1970) in his novel Howards End (1910). ‘Only connect the prose and the passion,’ he said, ‘and both will be exalted.’

Five papers were added to the Insted website in early 2016, and can be accessed at http://www.insted.co.uk/, or else by clicking on the links below.

Learning to live together in 2016: British values and preventing extremism, introductory remarks at a conference for headteachers, January 2016, http://www.insted.co.uk/learning-to-live-together.pdf

Challenging extremism through education: reflections, responses and resources, details of about 70 recent items in newspapers and the blogosphere, including several which propose constructive ways ahead in the education system, http://www.insted.co.uk/challenging-extremism-through-education.pdf

British identity and British values: muddles, mixtures and ways ahead, an article first published in the London Review of Education,  September 2015, http://www.insted.co.uk/london-review-education.pdf

The promotion of British values: a model school policy statement, reflecting ways of integrating fundamental British values into a school’s overall policy framework, http://www.insted.co.uk/values.pdf

School governors and British values: a statement of concern,  notes on the apparent failure of the Department for Education to have due regard for natural justice and the rule of law in its dealings with Trojan Horse schools in Birmingham, summer and autumn 2015, http://www.insted.co.uk/school-governors.pdf

The Prose and the Passion blog is managed by Robin Richardson. An interview with him about his career and work over the years, conducted in 2012 on behalf of the International Association for Intercultural Education, can be read at http://www.insted.co.uk/interview-with-robin-richardson.pdf.

Peter delivers on a Trojan horse

On Tuesday 22 July the new secretary of state for education in England, Nicky Morgan, made a statement in the House of Commons about the Trojan Horse affair and about a report by Peter Clarke that had been laid before the House earlier on the same day. ‘Mr Speaker,’ she said, ‘we are all in the debt of Peter Clarke for the rigour that he brought to his investigation and for the forensic clarity of his findings. And we are in the debt of my predecessor [Michael Gove], now the chief whip on this side of the House, for his determination in the face of criticism to invite Peter to take on this task.’

The reference to ‘Peter’ implied a close – even cosy – personal friendship between the ministers and the person appointed to report to them, and inevitably raised doubts about Clarke’s professionalism, independence, seriousness and objectivity.

Morgan then immediately proceeded to emphasise the government’s view that ‘we need to deal with the dangers posed by extremism well before it becomes violent’, adding that Clarke’s report ‘offers us important recommendations to address this challenge in schools’. She did not acknowledge that the government’s operational definition of extremism is extraordinarily vague nor that Clarke’s evidence for the existence of such extremism in Birmingham schools is extraordinarily thin.

The cumulative effect of Clarke’s report is to present the neoconservative and profoundly offensive view that Islam is ‘a swamp’ in which noisome creatures such as crocodiles and mosquitos thrive and are given nourishment and support. ‘Peter’ has delivered what his political and media friends hoped and asked for. His report is a grave disservice, however, to very many millions of others.

There is further brief comment on Clarke’s report in this week’s newsletter from the Institute of Race Relations – http://www.irr.org.uk/news/hatred-hysteria-and-a-trojan-horse/