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Sunanda K Datta-Ray: A culture of fear

Cradled by the Garonne river and the Pyrenees mountains, Toulouse in southwest France is an apposite place to discuss the Islamist threat that educationists believe looms over Britain. This town’s 800,000 population includes 75,000 Muslims. People here haven’t forgotten a 30-hour police siege two years ago that killed 23-year-old Mohamed Merah, who had shot dead seven French soldiers and Jewish civilians. Most important, this is where Christian forces resisted a Muslim advance way back in 721 when Duke Odo of Aquitaine defeated an invading Umayyad army at the Battle of Toulouse.

No such dramatic confrontation is expected in Britain. But according to Ofsted, Britain’s Office for Standards in Education, dedicated Islamists have taken a leaf out of the Jesuits’ “catch ’em young” book and are trying to subvert school education to indoctrinate schoolchildren. After months of public and political agitation, Ofsted has produced a report on what is called the “Trojan Horse” plot to undermine from within Britain’s secular plural ideals and prevent young Muslims from integrating with mainstream Britons.

Examining 21 schools in Birmingham, Ofsted noted that Islamists threatened headmasters and created a “culture of fear”. Some Muslim-dominated schools are accused of axing national curricula, so that instruction is anything but broad and balanced. They are poorly administered, teach homophobia and avoid sex education. The sexes are separated. Public funds are used for trips to Mecca, from which non-Muslim students are excluded. Radical clerics are invited as guest speakers. Native Englishwomen are referred to as “white prostitutes”, while females who do not cover themselves or wear hijabs are regarded as immoral.

Children hear that Jews should be fed to the pigs, homosexuals flung from mountaintops, and women who indulge in illicit sex stoned to death. A poll reported that 36 per cent of Muslims aged 16 to 24 years believe Muslim converts to other religions should be killed. But only 19 per cent of Muslims over 55 years shared this belief. They had not been subjected to indoctrination at school.

Ofsted has demanded that curricula stress “fundamental British values” and recommended spot inspections. Apparently, when schools had notice of inspections, they quickly laid on all-faiths programmes and Christian-oriented shows.

Britain’s 2.7 million Muslims constitute 4.8 per cent of the population. Around 81 per cent think of themselves as Muslim first. Migrants to the US know it’s necessary to submerge their inherited identity in the American Dream, but some immigrants to Britain believe they can carve out a cultural ghetto that blends the political activism of the Muslim Brotherhood with Saudi-based Salafist fundamentalism. While Tony Blair’s slavish participation in George W Bush’s wars against Afghanistan and Iraq alienated many young British Muslims, the London bombings and other incidents showed how easily some of them fall victim to Al-Qaeda’s propaganda.

Yet, Muslims are playing an increasingly prominent role in British political life. There are eight Muslim MPs and 12 Muslim peers. Although most British Muslims vote for the Labour Party, there are some high-profile Conservative Muslims too. The Minister for Faith and Communities, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, is one. The Economic Secretary to the Treasury in David Cameron’s government, Sajid Javid, is another. Other important Muslims include Salma Yaqoob, former leader of the left-wing Respect Party; Lord Hameed, the distinguished surgeon; and Sir Anwar Parvez, founder of the Bestway Group, who leads Britain’s 10,000 Muslim millionaires.

It’s only fair to acknowledge that despite the evidence of a handful of Birmingham schools, the overwhelming majority of British Muslims do want to succeed in non-sectarian terms. Around 83 per cent say they are proud to be British citizens. But the community is torn between two poles like women who cover their fashionable Western-style designer outfits with the top-to-toe burqa. The worry is about the 28 per cent telling another poll that the British society is “immoral” and that they hope Britain would one day become a fundamentalist Islamic state.

That sounds far-fetched. But one must remember Turkey wasn’t always a Muslim country. It was Greek Orthodox and the Eastern Christian empire until Constantinople fell in 1453. Byzantine Anatolia then became Muslim Turkey. Odo’s victory didn’t stop the advance by Muslims who eventually occupied large parts of south-western France, Spain, the Balkans and North Africa. Christians reconquered some of these lands. The rest remain Muslim.

Armies don’t conquer countries nowadays. Settlers do. So does finance such as Qatar’s massive investments in Britain. The British hope that Ofsted’s measures to save Birmingham schools won’t win only a temporary reprieve like Odo’s victory.

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