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Minister to promote “tolerance” of different faiths – by discriminating against young Muslim children

Minister to promote “tolerance” of different faiths – by discriminating against young Muslim children

Categories: Latest News

Tuesday February 13 2018

In a recent article in The Times, the minister for schools systems, faith and counter-extremism in education, Lord Theodore Agnew of Oulton, has said that schools which ban the hijab and fasting will be supported by the Government in the event of a backlash from parents (and other organisations).

The article follows the backlash faced by teachers at St Stephen’s school in Newham, which centres recent controversy after it announced the banning of the hijab for some pupils.

A video report by The Sunday Times, released on 14th January 2018, showed the head-teacher of St Stephen’s, Ms Neena Lall, stating that the school had concerns that the pupils did not feel “British”. According to the report, the school banned the wearing of the hijab by girls under the age of eight in an effort to tackle the issue. However, it has since come to light that the Sunday Times had allegedly “twisted” the words of Ms Lall, by significantly editing the video interview, to further their own agenda.

The school’s decision to ban the hijab prompted a significant outcry from parents which eventually resulted in the revoking of the ban. Ms Lall has since apologised for the introduction of the ban.

Lord Agnew, in The Times article, states that he was appalled by the outcry and the intimidation faced by the staff.

“I have seen the vitriolic abuse on social media after this decision and read of the intimidation of staff, resulting in the resignation of the chairman of governors”.

The minister said that the teachers were “completely within their right to make decisions on how to run their schools in the best interests of their pupils – in line with the law and in discussion with parents, of course”.

He emphasised the importance of instilling “British values” in children, which include, by Ofsted’s definition: “democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect for and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs and for those without faith”.

Lord Agnew said: “All schools have to take into account the need to promote the fundamental British values…”

And stressed that if schools “undermine British values, or if there is evidence of discrimination in the classroom, we will not hesitate to take action”.

It is first interesting that these comments seem to be made from a misunderstanding of the situation.

The Sunday Times manipulated the footage from the video interviews, connecting the banning of the hijab with Ms Lall’s concern of students not feeling British.

Indeed, Ms Lall has since clarified her position by saying she had “never connected the two”.

The hijab ban was in fact introduced as a health and safety concern as the curriculum had been modified to include more sports activities. The teachers were concerned that wearing of the hijab may cause problems by restricting the movement of the children.

However, Ms Lall has apologised for not discussing the decision with parents of the children affected.

She said: “I can see how important this issue is to you and I am sorry that we didn’t recognise that and I am sorry that we didn’t communicate with you more”.

As such the minister, Lord Agnew, seems to be commenting on the topic from an uninformed point view – linking the hijab ban to British value.

Lord Agnew also in the article claims that backlash from the hijab ban resulted in “the resignation of the chairman of governors” however, Ms Lall states that the chairman, Arif Qawi, in fact resigned because he used abusive language – “…crucify the unholy bastard” – when referring to a local imam; illustrating further the seemingly uninformed viewpoint of Lord Agnew.

It is also interesting to note that with increasing controversy and mounting tensions surrounding Islamic dress in schools, public bodies appear to be resorting more and more to Orwellian newspeak to justify their agenda.

Recently, Ofsted’s Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman, used the term “muscular liberalism” to describe her intention to force British values – ironically values that include tolerance and respect for other faiths and religions – upon children from ethnic backgrounds (an intention that not only implies that BME communities don’t already support British values, but one that is also dangerously reminiscent of the colonial “civilising mission”).

Lord Agnew in The Times article continues this pattern by referring to British values throughout the article, emphasising their importance, whilst simultaneously condoning the introduction of discriminatory and ill-justified policies.

This is illustrated by Lord Agnew’s suggestion that schools should only make decisions if parents are included in the discussion. However, he simultaneously also holds the stance that the teachers of St Stephen’s were within their right in enacting the hijab ban though parents had little to no part in the discussion leading to the discussion. He, therefore, seems to paradoxically support the importance of the British value of tolerating and respecting the perspectives of other faiths and cultural identities, whilst simultaneously disregarding the opinions of those who hold those perspectives.

In the deafening cacophony of voices adding to the ongoing national debate surrounding the hijab in schools, it is imperative that those in positions of power – particularly those in Government – are mindful of the need to ensure that they are in possession of a full understanding of the situation.

As demonstrated by the misrepresentation found within the Sunday Times’ video report, media reporting alone cannot, and should not, be the basis for informed policy making.

Furthermore, there needs to be greater recognition and understanding of what the term “British values” actually means. While it is thus far still ill-defined at best, if we are to assume that it contains an understanding of tolerating and respecting other faiths, those employing the phrase to justify specific policy agendas should remember that respect and understanding are the principles at its core.

Ultimately, it is therefore illogical to use the British value of tolerance as a justification for intolerant policies.

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