Here’s the depressing truth about the Batley Grammar controversy: the mob has won. Angry protesters who gathered at the school gates to demand teachers be forbidden from displaying images of Muhammad have pretty much got their way. Following an external inquiry into what happened at Batley Grammar, the trust which runs the school has said such images should never be used again.
This affair kicked off in March, when a teacher was suspended for showing his pupils a cartoon of Muhammad during a Religious Studies discussion about blasphemy. In an attempt to resolve this surreal situation, in which a teacher in a supposedly modern secular democracy was effectively being punished for blasphemy, the Batley Multi Academy Trust commissioned an inquiry.
Many people are focusing on the inquiry’s favourable comments about the teacher. He did not intend to cause offence to Muslims, the investigators conclude. He ‘genuinely believed’ that the image of Muhammad had ‘an educational purpose and benefit’. His suspension should be lifted, they say. Let him back into the classroom.
I’m sorry, but that is easier said than done. It is highly unlikely the teacher will be able to waltz back into his old job. He has been subjected to vile abuse and death threats. He has been in hiding for two months. According to his father, he feels ‘crushed’ and ‘devastated'. He is worried that ‘he and his family are all going to be killed’.
Does this sound like someone who will be turning up to the school gates tomorrow morning, lesson printouts tucked under his arm, buzzing to engage his pupils in discussion and debate?
Saying ‘lift the suspension’ is fine as far as it goes. It is, of course, an outrage that this teacher was suspended in the first place simply for challenging his pupils to think about religion, blasphemy and freedom. But it is also naive, given the circumstances. It overlooks the extraordinary levels of demonisation and persecution this teacher has experienced just for doing his job.
That persecution was witlessly assisted and even emboldened by the cowardice of various institutions. They essentially capitulated to the mob.
The school in West Yorkshire suspended the teacher and issued an ‘unequivocal’ apology for his ‘totally inappropriate’ display of the image of Muhammad. The teaching unions were mostly silent, apparently because they didn’t want to inflame tensions. But tensions were already inflamed, courtesy of intolerant protesters calling for a teacher to be sacked for offending their religious beliefs. Any teaching union worth the name would have got stuck in and said: ‘This teacher did nothing wrong. Freedom in the classroom is more important than your feelings.’
This capitulation had a devastating impact. It pleased the protesters and it left the teacher with very few public defenders. As his family said, he felt like he had been thrown under a bus. An inquiry now saying ‘Hey, you can come back to the classroom’ is unlikely to be of much comfort to a teacher so publicly put through the wringer.
Indeed, the inquiry continues the capitulation. It advises that images of Muhammad should not be displayed in classroom settings in the future. It says it is ‘not necessary’ to use images of Muhammad in religious studies lessons. Apparently, it is not appropriate to use ‘any such images of the type used on 22 March’ — the day the teacher committed his supposed speechcrime — in religious studies lessons ‘or any other lessons’. Batley Grammar – and presumably other schools – should commit themselves to ‘ensuring that offence is not caused’, the inquiry says.
This is yet another cave-in to intolerance. It gives the protesters what they want: an assurance that no image of Muhammad will ever see the light of day in Batley Grammar again. It essentially subjects Batley Grammar to the blasphemy laws of the religion of Islam by insisting nothing untoward or offensive should be said about the Prophet on school territory. This should alarm everyone who believes in freedom of speech.
Britain is not an Islamic country. We do not have Sharia law. Our public servants should not be pressured into bending the knee to Islamic ideas — or to any other religious ideas, for that matter.
This all sets a dangerous precedent. It will embolden cancel-culture mobs — whether of the religious or non-religious variety — by making it clear to them that if they kick up a stink, then they too might be able to wipe ‘offensive’ material from a school’s curriculum. This is the hecklers’ veto in action. Giving schoolgates protesters a veto over what happens inside the school is a very bad idea indeed.