The Trojan Horse reports are in, and they make for damning reading. ‘An aggressive Islamist agenda… a coordinated, deliberate and sustained action to introduce an intolerant and aggressive Islamist ethos’. Teachers who claimed that the Boston marathon bombing and the murder of Lee Rigby were in fact hoaxes and an 'Attack on Islam'. And so on. The grim details are out. But there is a story behind this story which has not been thought about, though it ought to be. That is the response of Britain’s Muslim communities to these awful revelations.
Ever since 9/11 a considerable appeal from the non-Muslim majority in the West has been ‘where are the moderates? Where are the moderate voices who are willing not just to excuse or remain silent in the face of their religion’s extremists, but to actually stand up and say ‘these people are bringing our faith into disrepute, we recognise it, we hate it, and we are going to actually push them out of the faith.’ The unwillingness of more than a tiny number of Muslims to actually stand up and speak out as well as push out the extremists is very noticeable to non-Muslims. Indeed, I would suggest that it is one of the largest contributing factors to the hardening of attitudes across Europe towards Islam in general (see here for some interesting polling on this).
So when the story of Birmingham schools emerged – with stories of the most appalling racism against white people and disgusting bigotry against Christians, gay people and others – it should have provided a fine opportunity for what is generally termed the ‘moderate majority’ to make their voices heard. Granted, the ‘Trojan Horse’ story started strangely and plenty of us were uncomfortable about writing or speaking about it until we knew what the facts were behind the allegations in the original document. But, once the press and then the official investigations got underway, it became clear that, whatever the origin of the document, what it alleged was true. It has now been repeatedly found to be true.
Yet the response of Muslim communities has not been to accept this and to do something about tackling it. Far from it. The official responses have almost to a man and woman been denial, evasion and a fall-back onto claims of ‘Islamophobia’ and racism.
I can think of only two people of Muslim background who have had a consistent, brave, outspoken and truly moral response to these events. One is the Labour MP Khalid Mahmood (who has again urged Muslims to face up to the challenge and not to pretend the plot is a fake). The other is the Quilliam Director and prospective Liberal Democrat Parliamentary candidate Maajid Nawaz, who has been equally principled in his consistent opposition to what has been unearthed in Birmingham.
Both these men have recognised that there exists a real problem: that some schools in Birmingham have been caught in the process of being taken over by hardline Islamic fundamentalists. Both men recognise that such fundamentalists are a threat to everyone in society – Muslim and non-Muslim – and that those who teach hatred and suspicion of the wider society must be opposed.
There might be other examples I have not come across. But, otherwise, it seems to have been evasion all the way from almost every other Muslim group I have looked at. There has been the anti-Gove crusade led by the Birmingham-based erstwhile leader of the ‘Respect’ party, Salma Yaqoob. And then there has been all the accusations of ‘witch-hunts’ and more from most other Muslim journalists, broadcasters and politicians. On radio and TV, I have had a number of exchanges with Muslim spokesmen and women about this, and the level of denial is not so much shocking as deeply concerning. For instance, this story has produced a lot of appearances by someone called Myrriam Francois-Cerrah, a student, blogger and convert to Islam, who insists that there is nothing to see here and that the reports into Birmingham schools – rather than the schools themselves – are the problem.
As it happens, I have had quite a few conversations with various Muslim leaders off record in which I have tried to persuade them that failing to face up to this problem now is going to lead to far bigger problems down the road. After all, I understand, like most people, how inevitable it is that when your faith, community or group comes in for criticism, one natural response for many people is to protect themselves and their people. The instinct is to close ranks, to deny the 'outsiders' any ‘victory’ over them and not to give their 'detractors' any 'ammunition'. Plenty of other faiths and groups have done this. When the Catholic Church started to become aware of the paedophile scandal within its ranks, its immediate instinct seems also to have been to try to avoid airing its ‘dirty laundry’ in public. As I have suggested to various people over recent months, Britain’s Muslim communities might learn from the Catholic Church, among others, and see that trying to avoid such an airing always ends up causing a far worse and more visible scandal to emerge at some later date.
But there seems almost no willingness to recognise this. The official reports are in, and their conclusions are fairly unanimous. The majority of the population will be utterly shocked by them, as they have been by the revelations of this story from the outset. But Britain’s Muslim communities, spokespeople and representative groups appear to be content in denying the facts, ignoring the problem and pretending that it is ‘Gove’ or Peter Clarke or anyone else who is the problem, rather than the people who are trying to make little Talibans of British children in Birmingham. Some are crying 'racism', yet it is what has been unearthed in some Birmingham schools that is the real 'racism' of our time.
Of course, the denial and smoke-blowing may seem like a sensible strategy now. But, at some point in the future, people will rue the day that such evasions were thought sensible. After all, when the question ‘Where are the moderates’ is asked after this episode, it will not have escaped the wider public's notice that we seem to be able to count the true, outspoken, moderates on a couple of fingers.