Putting the cart before the (Trojan) horse?

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. Parkfield Primary School is in an inner city area of Birmingham consisting of approximately 98% Muslim pupils. It is geographically located in the centre of an area of secondary schools in the city infamously caught up in the ‘Trojan horse plot’ to allegedly Islamise Muslim pupils. The school is currently at the centre of a storm over a clash between parents who object to the content of a programme called ‘No Outsiders’, designed and delivered by the assistant headteacher, Mr Andrew Moffat, a gay Christian man. This enhancement to the curriculum is presented as an attempt to improve inclusion and diversity, but it seen by parents as ideological indoctrination, and a way to deradicalise Muslims away from Islamist extremism.

Muslim parents are voicing their concerns on a daily basis by holding demonstrations outside the school of approximately 730 young people. The programme goes on in earnest because Mr Moffat and others within the local authority see it as promoting inclusiveness. Under any other circumstances, this would be seen as highly desirable if not necessary in the context of communities who face economic and cultural alienation and marginalisation. But these Muslim parents are of the view that while it is absolutely essential to respect differences, their children are not just taught that homosexuality is acceptable, the inference is that by not accepting homosexuality that these young people are therefore homophobic. As such, they are required to deradicalise their beliefs, which are enshrined in their religious practices, motivations and everyday behaviours. The issue of homosexuality in Islam is a complex debate as it often polarises people between the extreme of regarding it as an unforgivable sin punishable by death to tolerating it because it is the will of God that a human being is born homosexual and it is not up to human beings to decry what God has created. Undoubtedly, many of the cultural norms and values associated with homophobia exist within communities who regard the practice as not just unacceptable but un-Islamic and this is where the fault lines of this conflict are most pertinently seen.

Park field school insists that ‘No Outsiders’ is not an attempt to ideologically re-engineer the behaviours of young people by legitimising homosexuality and therefore to counter it is to potentially be seen as on a path towards radicalisation. But the Muslim parents are of the view that by putting their young children, often as young as 4 or 5, through this initiative it contravenes basic faith principles. In the ‘Position Statement — Parkfield Parents’ [sic] Community Group’ (no date), there is a testimony from a mother, ‘My 10 year old daughter came home one day and asked “mum is it true if I want to be a boy it’s OK? Mr Moffat said that it is fine because you may be a boy trapped in a girls [sic] body” Mr. Moffat said to the whole class “It is OK to be gay in all religions.” and explained that “he was gay and a Christian, and that they could be gay or lesbian and be Muslim”.’ Both the LGBT community and Muslim minorities face the combined realities of discrimination, marginalisation and exclusion. But why it is true that homosexuality, same-sex marriage, fluidity or anti-binary distinctions in relation to gender are seen as increasingly normalised in secular liberal societies, the experiences Muslims face on a regular basis, including violence towards them on the basis of their perceived identities and practices, are at odds with a wider concern around equality for all. The realities of life facing the Muslim communities in inner city Birmingham is diametrically opposed to the embracing of homosexuality as perfectly normal. While these parents may regard teaching the acceptability of homosexually in primary schools as unacceptable, they are also facing the wrath of those who would argue that their dissatisfaction with the policy of the school is in some way tied up to notions off radicalism. Being averse to the teachings of homosexuality is not specific to homophobia. Parents would simply not have their very young children open to such understandings of the world without greater qualification and contextualisation.

It appears therefore that this ‘No Outsiders’ is in part a reflection of ideological reengineering based on the pursuit of an overarching deradicalisation drive that seeks to mollify, moderate and minimise ideas associated with notions of extreme Islamic observance, which, in this regard, is seen to be homophobic and therefore inconsistent with wider notions of equality. In the document ‘Increasing resilience in pupils and creating an alternative narrative’ (no date) by Headteacher Hazel Pulley, it states that ‘In response to Prevent’, the school aims to ‘Develop a curriculum where children are taught to recognise and celebrate diversity and difference in their own communities and in the wider society’. The following slide of this PDF of a Powerpoint begins with the header, ‘How does “No Outsiders” reduce radicalisation?’ with the single bullet point, ‘Teach children from nursery onwards to recognise and celebrate difference’. The ‘conclusion’ slide suggests ‘…that early intervention is essential’ and ‘Schools need the tools and the leadership to be successful in preventing radicalisation’. Much could be seen here as amiable in spite of the associations with the policy of ‘Prevent’, which is regarded in highly critical terms with the government only now introducing an independent inquiry on its effectiveness. This is, in effect, 12 years since it was first introduced publically and after thousands of young Muslims have been wrongly processed by it through a referral system that selects candidates based on perceived radicalisation. That ‘No Outsiders’ is an initiative to improve equality is not the issue. The dilemma is that a deeply problematic policy framework, with its numerous accusations of Islamophobia, is using a test of ‘homophobia’ as a means to deradicalise Muslims. Is this therefore yet another instance of Islamophobia that has been shielded by the idea of equality and diversity for all — an irony of dramatic proportions? While it is absolutely right and fair that the LGBT communities are seen in equal terms, parents argue that children of a very young age should be prevented from being forced to choose between accepting homosexuality as akin to openness to diversity. But that by rejecting it that it somehow conforms homophobia and therefore legitimises de-radicalisation through re-education which is akin to indoctrination.

These subtle but complex lines separate the policy of the school and the perceptions of parents whose children they feel are vulnerable to misunderstandings of the world and themselves at an age when they have yet to define who they are and to what they belong. Which, arguably, is potentially a reflection of a ‘No Outsiders’ policy to realign Muslim beliefs in a programmatic way, with its application is through the lens of ‘Prevent’, which is in the eyes of many people is an ignoble approach that seeks to cast the net of suspicion wide and far and thereby institutionalise Islamophobia.

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