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January 17, 2005
The fear of Islamic education

My feeling about this speech, which has undoubtedly been the big education news story today, is that I am glad he said it.

Head of Ofsted David Bell sparked anger among Muslims today after warning that Islamic faith schools must not be allowed to threaten the coherence of British society.

A traditional Islamic education offered by a growing number of schools "does not entirely fit" children for life in modern Britain, the chief inspector of schools said.

Mr Bell singled out Muslim schools for failing to teach pupils their obligations to British society, and called on them to promote “tolerance and harmony”.

The Muslim Council of Britain described Mr Bell’s remarks as "highly irresponsible" while the Association of Muslim Schools accused him of "Islamophobia".

The head of England’s schools watchdog made his comments in a lecture on citizenship education to the Hansard Society in central London.

"Islamaphobia" – like its verbal parent "homophobia" – is a clever piece of propagandistic invention. The purpose of the word "islamophobia" is to say that anyone who fears Islam is in the grip of a mental disease, rather than saying anything which might be true. I am emphatically not Islamophobic, because I don't have any phobia about Islam. But it does often scare me. And if me and many others saying such things means that Islamic educators become scared themselves about how we might react to their activities in our midst, then good. I want them to think that we are watching them, and worried about them, and I want them to be on their best behaviour.

Mr Bell, judging by this report, was rather circumspect about his exact objections to Islamic education, and if he really was so circumspect, he might have done better to spell it all out a bit more clearly.

Let me do it for him, by saying what I fear about Islamic education.

I fear that Muslims are being taught to be cruel to their own women, or in the case of Muslim women, cruel to themselves. I fear that they are being told that forcing their women into loveless marriages that are not unlike domestic slavery is virtuous rather than vicious. I fear that Muslims are being taught to regard cruelties to non-Muslims are also morally tolerable rather than morally wrong.

Politically, I fear that Muslim schools are teaching Muslims to vote Muslim, in a way that will attempt to be tyrannical, and will actually be deeply divisive. And I fear that a small but significant minority of the pupils of such places might turn into the next generation of terrorists.

And I think that part of the way to prevent such schools cranking out bigots and Stepford wives and political pains-in-the-arse, and the occasional terrorist, is for the people in them, teachers and pupils alike, to know that in these particular respects they are not entirely trusted. On the other hand, if, after fifty more years of Muslim education in our midst, we are not overrun with bigots, and our politics continues to be reasonably smooth, and absolutely no terrorists have been incubated by such places, then fine, people like me (not me because I'll be long gone) will alter their prejudices and fears, and relax. Meanwhile, we're on our guard, and if Muslims don't like that, tough.

None of which is any excuse for any of the rest of us to be personally impolite to any Muslims, still less to commit crimes against them.

I am absolutely not scared that Muslim schools are doing a worse job of producing scientists and technologists and lawyers and doctors than are the regular state schools. If they do this worse, so what? Who cares? This only matters insofar as it gives the Devil and opportunity to find mischief-making work for idle brains. Meanwhile, my prejudice is that such schools probably do at least as well as the other schools.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:58 PM
Category: Islam

Hello Brian,

Thank you once again for an interesting and thought provoking post. I am sympathetic to your sentiments concerning Mr Bell's Speech and Islamic schools in general but I am rather interested in your likening of the word "Islamophobia" with the word "Homophobia". When you expand on your points concerning "Islamophobia" you state that you have rational fears concerning Islam that should not be simply labeled as "Islamophbia". However, by comparing the term with "homophobia" and describing them both as "propagandistic invention" I infer that you believe that there are reasons to be fearful of homosexuals/homosexuality (given the context of this post).

I have no reason to suspect that you are personally fearful of homosexuals/homosexuality but this particular aspect of the post intrigued me and if you could expand on it I would be most greatful.

Simon Bone

Comment by: Simon Bone on January 19, 2005 11:51 AM

I may even be "grateful" :( (Poor education showing)

Comment by: Simon Bone on January 19, 2005 11:54 AM
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