By one of those bizarre coincidences, I bumped into Ed Balls, the Schools Secretary, on Tuesday night, just after I had accused him in print of being ‘the minister for Hizb ut Tahrir’. Quite extraordinarily, Mr Balls has spent much of the past seven days defending two primary schools run by supporters of this deeply nasty, racist and segregationist group after the Tories attacked his department’s decision to give them £113,000 of public money.
As you might expect, our meeting was brief. Mr Balls said I was disgraceful. I said I fully reciprocated the charge: Minister for Hizb ut Tahrir, while harsh, was entirely justified by the facts in this case. ‘No evidence has been found that extremist views are being taught. Give me the evidence,’ said Balls. Well, here it is, minister. Are these views ‘extremist’ enough for you?
The main evidence that Mr Balls has made a massive blunder is a chapter in a Hizb ut Tahrir pamphlet, ‘Education and Identity’, written by one Farah Ahmed. Mrs Ahmed is the head teacher of one of the two schools, and also a trustee of the Islamic Shakhsiyah Foundation (ISF), which runs them both. If I were a Muslim parent, I would not let my child within 20 miles of her.
In her chapter ‘The Western Education System and the British National Curriculum’, Mrs Ahmed attacks the religious studies elements of the national curriculum for ‘primarily push[ing] …the idea of “religious tolerance”.’ This, she says, ‘further aids distancing the Muslim child from the concept of Islam being the only reference point.’
She criticises the curriculum’s ‘systematic indoctrination’ of Muslim children ‘to build model British citizens’ and to ‘integrate all individuals into the fabric of secular society and develop them as personalities who uphold the values adopted by the society around them’.
‘Naturally,’ she says, ‘such a system [secular capitalism] will not be suitable to the needs of Muslim students as the aqeedah [belief system] of the Muslim is in complete contradiction to this.’
She decries ‘attempts to integrate Muslim children’ into British society as an effort ‘to produce new generations that reject Islam’. She describes English as ‘one of the most damaging subjects’ a school can teach and attacks fairy tales, saying these ‘reflect secular and immoral beliefs that contradict the viewpoint of Islam’.
Mrs Ahmed attacks the ‘obvious dangers’ of Shakespeare, including ‘Romeo and Juliet, which advocates disobeying parents and premarital relations’ and ‘Macbeth, which questions the concepts of fate and destiny’. She describes democracy as a ‘corrupt tradition’, and Western education as ‘a threat to our beliefs and values’.
In another chapter, co-authored with Hizb ut Tahrir’s women’s spokesman, Dr Nazreen Nawaz, Mrs Ahmed goes into great detail about how the education system would work in Hizb’s ‘caliphate’, the global Islamic superstate that is the party’s ultimate goal. (By extraordinary coincidence, some of the same themes are found in the ISF schools’ own curriculum document.)
‘Any topic or subject that emanates from a culture or viewpoint of life that differs from the Islamic aqeedah should not be taught at any level,’ continues this chapter. ‘Subjects such as … foreign history, foreign languages and foreign literature should be taught only at the higher level of education with the view of refuting their ideas and exposing their falsehood.’
Accusing the Tories of ‘smearing’ Mrs Ahmed’s school, Mr Balls wrote earlier this week: ‘Parents are being told that “fanatics” are teaching their children — presenting a propaganda victory for extremists on the Muslim community and racist organisations on the far-right.’
But Mrs Ahmed’s words are those of a fanatic: a publicly funded fanatic; a fanatic in charge of more than 100 impressionable children; and a fanatic newly strengthened by her endorsement from Gordon Brown’s right hand.
Last week, in a spectacle that made all my Muslim friends grind their teeth in fury, she was on TV presenting herself as a poster girl for the ‘wider… vilification of the Muslim community’, though coyly refusing to answer when asked if she had ever been a member of Hizb ut Tahrir. If anyone presented ‘Muslim extremists’ with a ‘propaganda victory’ last week, it was Ed Balls.
This disaster does, of course, hold lessons for people other than Mr Balls. The Tories have correctly apologised for their lack of grip, which allowed the minister to exploit the fact that they had not got all the details right.
Next up should be the media, expertly sent scampering down the hamster-run of process issues — were the schools registered, which particular pot had the money come from? — and failing to focus on the central charge, which would have taken about five minutes to substantiate.
Then there is the broader, and very dangerous, tendency in large parts of liberal Britain to see any attack on any Muslim as somehow impermissible or a threat to multiculturalism. But it is Hizb ut Tahrir which is the avowed enemy of multiculturalism — and is just as loathed by most British Muslims as the far right is loathed by most white people.
And then there is Ofsted, the crutch supporting Mr Balls’s claim that these schools are fine. But recently, we have come to understand how deeply unreliable Ofsted can be. This is, after all, the watchdog that gave the child protection service in Haringey a rating of ‘good’ in the same year as Baby P died, while failing a perfectly good school because it offered the inspectors coffee before asking them for their identification.
Ofsted is part of New Labour’s vast apparatus of ‘fake success’, where favourable results can be created by doing your paperwork the right way; whose inspections, in the words of its former head, ‘rely too heavily on data and tick-box systems’.
Although Mr Balls keeps repeating that ‘no evidence has been found that extremist views are being taught’ at the schools, this appears to be because no evidence has been looked for. In none of its reports on either school does Ofsted directly ask the ‘extremism’ question. And on the broader issues, what might just possibly have happened is that the inspectors gave the schools plenty of notice of their arrival, and the schools showed them what they wanted to see.
If BNP supporters were found to be running schools — let alone getting public money — it would rightly be stopped faster than you could say Nick Griffin. You would not be able to get near any BBC studio for people queuing up to condemn it. Hizb ut Tahrir are the Islamic equivalent of the BNP. Yet the government defends these schools, seeks to make political capital from their defence — and succeeds. That’s why this story is so depressing.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated December 5, 2009