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Batley row shows no safeguarding for Muslim pupils and institutionalised Islamophobia in Education

9th Apr 2021
Batley row shows no safeguarding for Muslim pupils and institutionalised Islamophobia in Education

(Credit: Pixabay/Commons)

It is an adage that Muslims reeling from their religion being vilified must duly endure condescending lectures on the principles of free speech. However, freedom of expression is not and has never been absolute in this country, nor is it an excuse to abandon the safeguarding of children.

Our zero-tolerance approach to racism and anti-Semitism in schools is not afforded to Islamophobia. Muslim students at a grammar school in Batley had to face the denigration of their Prophet. Parents reported that the offensive Charlie Hebdo caricature of the Prophet wearing a bomb-shaped turban with a lit fuse protruding was shown during an RE class. No regard was paid to the emotions of the Muslim students who had witnessed their beloved Prophet being depicted as a terrorist.

It would be right to assume that anyone responsible for taking a class of Year 9 teenagers would be mindful of the sensitivities of Muslims, especially when they constitute most of the pupils.
What could have also been avoided were the unwelcome comments by ministers, including Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, who condemned peaceful protests from parents. He insisted that schools “are free to include a full range of… ideas and materials in their curriculum, including where they are challenging or controversial.” Although, it was admitted that “must balance this with the need to promote respect and tolerance between people of different faiths and beliefs”.

Fortunately, there was a more conciliatory reaction by the Headteacher Gary Kibble, who said, “The school unequivocally apologises for using a totally inappropriate resource in a recent religious studies lesson.” He also insisted that the staff member involved “has also given their most sincere apologies” and that he had “immediately withdrawn teaching on this part of the course, and we are reviewing how we go forward with the support of all communities represented in our school.”

Batley Multi Academy Trust, which runs the school and four others, has subsequently announced the launch of an “independent investigation to review the context in which the materials [which caused offence] were used and to make recommendations in relation to the Religious Studies curriculum so that the appropriate lessons can be learned and action taken, where necessary.” The investigation outcome will be made known by the end of May.

Coincidentally, the town is in the constituency where Labour MP Jo Cox was brutally murdered in 2016 by white supremacist Thomas Mair. Despite being a secular humanist, she stood for many Muslim causes and campaigned for many liberties. Five years on, Batley is still described as a battleground for the far-right.

The school said the teacher used the material as part of a discussion on blasphemy laws, prohibiting blasphemy against Christianity. The laws were abolished in England and Wales in 2008, but not until this year in Scotland, while equivalent ones remain in Northern Ireland.

Questioned about the cartoon incidence during a visit to Italy, Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said he did not know about the case, but supported the showing of the cartoon as freedom of speech. “In this country, I think, we have to hold on to freedom of speech. We have very good relationships with Muslim leaders across the country”.
“In other words, exercise your freedom of speech, but don’t prevent other people [from] exercising their freedom of speech,” he added.

What is missing in the debate on freedom of speech is the impact the cartoon had on Muslim pupils, neglected is the hurt and distress that the students feel in seeing the person they love most is being portrayed as a terrorist. Instead of creating an environment of love, mutual respect and dignity during an RE class, the school has created a hostile environment. The row erupted during a pandemic. Students, who have been mentally affected by remote learning, are then faced with an attack on their religion upon their return to school.

How harmful must all this have been for the vulnerable children? This is a child safeguarding issue, the school is duty-bound to ensure that pupils are protected. Comments by the Government and other Tory politicians show indifference to the welfare of the Muslim pupils, the Opposition who have been noticeably silent, are no different. It seems Islamophobia is being institutionalised in the education system too in this country.

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Over 120 people attended a landmark conference on the media reporting of Islam and Muslims. It was held jointly by The Muslim News and Society of Editors in London on September 15.

The Muslim News Awards for Excellence 2015 was held on March in London to acknowledge British Muslim and non-Muslim contributions to the society.

The Muslim News Awards for Excellence 2015 was held on March in London to acknowledge British Muslim and non-Muslim contributions to the society.

The Muslim News Awards for Excellence event is to acknowledge British Muslim and non-Muslim contributions to society. Over 850 people from diverse background, Muslim and non-Muslim, attended the gala dinner.

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