A demand for segregation of the sexes. A requirement for Islam-focused religious studies.
A ”Trojan Horse” plot to remove Principals who won’t comply.
Welcome to Britain’s latest struggle with Sunni Islamist extremism — the battle of the classroom.
On Friday, the Birmingham News local news outlet to Britain’s second largest city — reported that self-styled ”jihadists” are seeking to destabilize a number of Birmingham schools.
Their target — those institutions that will not yield to their agenda.
While the depth of this plot has yet to be established, there’s no doubt that tensions of this kind have been growing over the past few years. Just last month, the British government announced that it would close an Islamic high school due its ideologically vested failure to recruit skilled teachers. Other Islamic schools have recently been accused of deliberate prejudice in their admissions criteria. The BBC and others have also reported on the pernicious role that Saudi money continues to play in influencing Islamic education in the UK.
All of this speaks to a basic truth — Britain is continuing to struggle with the challenge of Islamic extremism.
As I see it, there are two main causes for this malady.
The first and most important is the authoritarian sympathies that exist in contemporary British Islamic sentiment.
There are number of reasons for this continuing pollution. In part, the flow of Saudi money into British Mosques has fostered Wahhabi traditionalism as a shield against perceived social vice.
It also stems from the Salafi revivalism that emerged with the support of disillusioned younger Muslims in the 1990s (Salafi jihadism defines groups like Al Qaeda and Al Shabab).
Finally, it’s the product of a courage-insufficiency from mainstream British Muslim leaders. In essence, facing a growing spring of orthodox and politically active hardliners, many Islamic leaders have decided to stay silent — effectively ceding the debate to those on the ideological extremities.
Consider the reaction of prominent Muslim commentators in the aftermath of terrorist incidents.
Here we see condemnations not simply of the attack itself, but also of British foreign policy. And while robust foreign policy debates are critical the health of a democratic nation, this reactionary examination of foreign policy provides a small but implicit justification for terrorism. By association, it fuels the notion that secular society is the enemy of Islam — and thus also of British Muslims. In obvious terms, this understanding does nothing to strengthen social unity.
But this disassociation produces another negative consequence — insulating British Islamic thought from introspection. As I’ve noted before, whether involving cartoons or deliberate insult, many British Muslim commentators reject the extension of human rights into the realm of political opinion. The problem of course, is that this emotionalism exacerbates the bubbling tensions between in British society. Rather than promoting dialogue, it entrenches separation. It reinforces the idea that Muslims are “the other” — different and irreconcilable to Britishness.
And that speaks to the second problem — Britain’s awful record of integrating its Muslim citizenry into the social fabric of the nation.
Look at the senior cadres of the U.S. government and you see American society — diverse and broadly representative. Jump across the Atlantic, however, and it’s a different story. In the UK, Muslim representation in government is sparse.
Again, in part, this is the result of the self-exclusion of British Muslims from society. Still, that doesn’t alone explain the situation. Ultimately, a significant problem continues to be posed by the subtle prejudice that infects British society.
I’ve seen this first hand.
For three years I was the deputy manager of player security at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships. For two of those years, my boss, the detail leader, was a British Muslim man. Working amongst the upper classes, it was evident that a good number of Wimbledon attendees held him in quiet disdain. In their eyes, he didn’t seem to belong. But, as is always the case with prejudice, what was most troubling was its absurdity. My friend had an encyclopedic knowledge of the tournament, was trusted by the players and held the respect of his team, yet, with his Pakistani heritage and non-public (UK private) school accent, his otherness was too much.
Had I been in his place, I would have been infuriated. Tellingly however, my friend persisted in his professionalism. He got on with the job. And did it well.
Of course, this is just one example. Still, from my own experience of 26 years living in the UK, it’s also an indicative one. With a couple of exceptions, the British Muslims I have met were both honorable and kind.
That’s the critical point. Until Britain finds its identity, it will continue to languish in the social wilderness of dysfunctional political correctness. A dead space that energizes the fears of British non-Muslims and British Muslims alike. At present, the practical overflow of this failure is a dichotomy — thugs like the EDL on one side (think drunk soccer hooligans who got political) and jihadists on the other.
All Britons deserve and should demand better than this.