Tuesday 2 September 2008

Scotland, sectarianism and faith schools

The autumn issue of Democratiya is now out. Among the many articles worth reading is this worrying piece by Tom Gallagher, on the growing links between Nationalism and Islamism in Scotland. According to Gallagher, Alex Salmond's SNP is actively encouraging ethnic and religious communalism in the hope of garnering Catholic and Muslim votes. (Incidentally, Gallagher's analysis of the reasons for Labour's decline in Scotland is similar to James Macmillan's, as reported in this post.)

Apparently the SNP 'have mobilised not just autocratic Catholic prelates but radical Islamic politicians in the hope that by offering them group rights they will deliver an ethnic block vote to the party. This raises the spectre, in some eyes, that in a Scotland fully under SNP control, individual citizenship will count for little and the party will rule through a large bureaucracy which franchises control of education, policy, and other policy areas to mobilised factions inside and outside ethnic minorities'.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the Nationalists' backing for state-financed Muslim schools and their support for the Scottish Islamic Foundation, whose chief executive Omar Saeed manages to square membership of the SNP with calls for the restoration of the caliphate. Amanullah de Sondy, a lecturer in Islamic studies at Glasgow University, believes that such schools will 'leave young Muslims vulnerable to extremist pressures', while Gallagher is concerned that 'there are no strong voices pointing out that young people could be pushed towards introspection and even religious militancy through the insistence that Muslims combine a Scottish allegiance with an active search for their religious roots'.

Coincidentally, today also sees the launch of Accord, a new campaign that opposes the educational segregation of children by faith. The campaign is supported by a diverse coalition of humanists and liberal religious groups, and is warmly welcomed by Polly Toynbee in an article in today's Guardian:

Accord wants faith schools to abide by the same admissions criteria as other state schools, with no selection by belief. Teachers should be employed for their skills, not their faith. It opposes Labour's new rules for faith schools, which came into law yesterday, allowing them to keep all jobs for the faithful. Teaching assistants, dinner ladies and caretakers may need to get on their knees to keep their jobs from now on.

But the National Secular Society doesn't think the campaign goes far enough.


Iftikhar Ahmad said...

Muslim youths are angry, frustrated and extremist because they have been mis-educated and de-educated by the British schooling. Muslim children are confused because they are being educated in a wrong place at a wrong time in state schools with non-Muslim monolingual teachers. They face lots of problems of growing up in two distinctive cultural traditions and value systems, which may come into conflict over issues such as the role of women in the society, and adherence to religious and cultural traditions. The conflicting demands made by home and schools on behaviour, loyalties and obligations can be a source of psychological conflict and tension in Muslim youngsters. There are also the issues of racial prejudice and discrimination to deal with, in education and employment. They have been victim of racism and bullying in all walks of life. According to DCSF, 56% of Pakistanis and 54% of Bangladeshi children has been victims of bullies. The first wave of Muslim migrants were happy to send their children to state schools, thinking their children would get a much better education. Than little by little, the overt and covert discrimination in the system turned them off. There are fifteen areas where Muslim parents find themselves offended by state schools.

The right to education in one’s own comfort zone is a fundamental and inalienable human right that should be available to all people irrespective of their ethnicity or religious background. Schools do not belong to state, they belong to parents. It is the parents’ choice to have faith schools for their children. Bilingual Muslim children need state funded Muslim schools with bilingual Muslim teachers as role models during their developmental periods. There is no place for a non-Muslim teacher or a child in a Muslim school. There are hundreds of state schools where Muslim children are in majority. In my opinion, all such schools may be designated as Muslim community schools. An ICM Poll of British Muslims showed that nearly half wanted their children to attend Muslim schools. There are only 143 Muslim schools. A state funded Muslim school in Birmingham has 220 pupils and more than 1000 applicants chasing just 60.

Majority of anti-Muslim stories are not about terrorism but about Muslim culture--the hijab, Muslim schools, family life and religiosity. Muslims in the west ought to be recognised as a western community, not as an alien culture.
Iftikhar Ahmad

Martin said...

Dear Iftikhar
Thank you for your comment. I disagree with almost everything you've written and, although you and I are never going to agree, here's a very quick summary of why. I agree that young people from a Muslim background (I prefer this to 'Muslim youth' as we shouldn't assume that all young people want to follow the religion of their parents) can face difficulties resulting from tensions between home/community culture and the surrounding 'indigenous' culture - as can all migrant communities - though it would be a mistake to polarise this and overlook the fact that many (most?) second generation British Asians draw their cultural values and tastes from a variety of sources and are quite happy to do so. Yes, I agree that these tension can cause problems with schooling and yes, I agree that there is still a degree of racism in the school system (though children from Pakistani/Bangladeshi backgrounds aren't the only ones to suffer from it). But I don't agree that segregated schools along faith lines would help - it may make matters much worse. And I don't think it's the main cause of extremism - certainly racism, poverty and educational disadvantage provide the seedbed, but you overlook the major role played by fundamentalist religious ideology in fomenting extremism. Sectarian schools encourage extremism rather than the opposite. Neither do I agree that education belongs to parents - certainly parents should be free to share their values and beliefs with their children, but children should also be exposed to other belief systems, and to the wider values and traditions of the society in which they live. Hence the value of secular, non-sectarian education. Finally, I do wish you wouldn't keep identifying children from Pakistani/Bangladeshi background as simply 'Muslim' as if this was their main or only identity - as in Muslim children needing Muslim teachers, etc.
I can't help believing that this way of thinking is part of the problem - not the solution.
Best wishes