Culture, Education, Equality

No Outsiders protests: Paving path for more Islamophobia

While some of the UK population watch in despair that yet another attempt to bring the country back from the brink of disaster is failed by the incompetent bunch of tossers aka MPs, something else happened in a school in Birmingham which probably won’t create enough uproar, at least not for the right reason. I can’t help but link anything is happening in Britain these days to Brexit, and this is no different. However, at the end of this essay, it will be clear why the links are relevant and why Brexit needs to be stopped before it breaks the society apart.

Parkfield primary school in Saltley, Birmingham adopted the No Outsiders, an LGBTQ awareness course. This has caused an uproar amongst the families of the pupils and a few weeks back, the parents threatened to withdraw children from the school unless the course is suspended. After a few days of standoff, the authorities gave in to the protests of the parents and dropped the programme. A few weeks later, today on 14th of March, following consultation amongst the Academy trust, parents and the DfE, it was decided that the course will be suspended until a resolution is achieved between the school and the parents.

When this issue first came in the news, about the protests, we had a debate at home and thought perhaps the four-year-olds don’t really need to understand about lifestyle choices, but it could be introduced on a slightly later stage, say about seven. But then, thinking about the children of non-binary parents who would spend a long time doubting their identity during their formative years, my opinion swayed towards including the LGBTQ awareness right from the beginning of the school age. Also, not knowing how to view someone’s parents who do not fall into a mummy-daddy stereotype, it would perhaps become a reason for the children to distrust/alienate. Nevertheless, we did the rational thing of going through the pros and cons of teaching about relationships from the reception years and acknowledge that there may be more room for discussion on the age of introduction. However, if the school introduced the course from reception as mandatory, although some of us may be slightly uncomfortable about it, we would not oppose the plan vehemently.

So what would you say about the parents who boycotted the school, took their children out of the school and made them protest at the school gates along with the parents demanding the resignation of the headteacher who proposed to introduce the No Outsiders programme? “What a bunch of w@nkers”, right? What would you think of the parents if I add the detail that 98% of the children who attend the school were Muslims and the reason behind the parents’ protest was that the teachings were against their religious beliefs? I’d still think “What a bunch of w@nkers”. I don’t think it needn’t be any more complicated than that.

But is that the reality? The reaction on the social media with supposedly moderate reader base suggests otherwise. The majority of the reactions are in the same vein, criticising the religious indoctrination of Islam and how a school’s curriculum is now influenced by the religious naysayers. Personally, I have been involved in a number of arguments opposing the decision and unsurprisingly enough, the likes and loves were generally from non-Muslim readers, whereas the criticism to my argument and commendations to the school board’s decision were mainly from the Muslims.

So what was my argument? That education knows no religion in particular. The state of UK has no official religion, even though every Tory prime minister likes to mention during Easter and Christmas that Britain is a Christian country. The essential values of being British are individual liberty and respect & tolerance. So whilst the schools need to respect the beliefs of different faiths, it cannot be hijacked by the one single faith. One may argue, what about over-indulgence regarding Christmas and Easter? And I’d fully agree with them, but let’s not meddle into that topic. So, No Outsiders is an essential programme, apt with the increasing bigotry in society. I went in further suggesting that if the religion was of such paramount importance to the parents, why do they send children to a state school with no recognised affiliation to one religion?

Probably my argument seems a bit Islamophobic. However, it is quite the contrary. Allow me to explain. But before doing so, let me present some other findings that I thought would support my perspective. The epicentre of the attention, headteacher Andy Moffat is Gay, he’s been awarded an MBE for the No Outsiders programme that broadened children’s tolerance, and he changed a few schools due to arguments he had regarding his teachings. He was also nominated for an award given to World’s best teacher. In a world where teaching qualities are in decline, Andy Moffat is an exception. The point I’d like to highlight about the details I provided is that he changed a few schools before arriving at Parkfield. The reason? You probably guessed it right, that he told the children that he’s gay, that being gay is normal, that he tried to introduced No Outsiders in those schools. He was forced to resign or abandon the programme whilst being in the previous schools because parents have complained. So you see, everywhere he’s been in the past, he angered the communities with views for schools that broke the glass ceiling. This must be a déjà vu moment for him, being confronted by a group of unhappy Muslim parents that his teachings were against the religion?

Déjà vu? Yes of course. But it’ll be surprising to find out that schools he resigned from before Parkfield were due to parents’ complaints who were Christians as well as Muslims. It was contrary to the Christian values. So, does that imply, that perhaps there was something wrong in Mr Moffat’s teachings if he irked the feelings of parents of two religions? No, absolutely not! And I would brand the parents who opposed to the programme in the other school the same what I thought about Parkfield protesters — “What a bunch of w@nkers”. If the same issue was flagged by 100 other religions, the feeling won’t change. One may argue that it’s easy to pass my judgement being an atheist. There are two points to add. First, atheists don’t have religious sentiments. So something cannot hurt a feeling that you don’t have. Secondly, there may be atheists who are/were opposed to the course. I’m my view, if they are so opposed to it that they had to demand an apology from the teacher, they are probably homophobic. They are a bunch of w@nkers as well, in my view. Now, disagreement on the age of introduction is slightly different, where parents admit that children should be taught about homosexuality in schools but reception may not be the year. This argument doesn’t apply for Parkfield because even parents of students in Year 6 took part in the protests. I do not know the details about the parents from the other school, but citing religious feelings meant that if the children aren’t ready at 4, they won’t be ready at 11.

Education for children should be based on no bias. Schools should be at least one place where the children can learn how not to be bigots. We have the outside world to teach that anyway. They should learn what is right and not discriminate based on race, religion, sexuality. They need to learn to be tolerant. No Outsiders is a course created to broaden tolerance and it’s myopic not to realise how essential it is to be living in a multicultural society. There is already a lot of bigotry related to religious education, with parents unhappy about their children knowing about other religions because they are “unholy” or “violent”. The trust shouldn’t have bowed down under the pressure from the parents. What would be next one to go? Sex education? Teaching about contraception? What about science or anything that questions the existence of God? However, those who are raring to have a go at the Muslim community for the conservative sentiments, please note that before the Equalities act repealed it in 2010, the Local Government Act, passed in 1988 by Saint Maggie herself, prohibited the local authorities to promote homosexuality.

These days, when we are becoming increasingly click happy, it’s easy to pass judgement without understanding both sides of the story. The reports in the newspaper cited a number of protesting parents who said that the course is against the religious belief of the community. Yet, it needs to be understood that No Outsiders is not a new curriculum introduced this year. In Parkfield primary, the programme has been running for at least two years. There was an article published in 2016, how a teacher is transforming communities with his No Outsiders curriculum. The article also cited the reaction of the parents. Whilst some were against the course, some expressed the importance of the course, do the children are not presented a one-sided version of what is acceptable and what isn’t. So, suddenly after two years or more of running the programme successfully in the school, why did the parents realise that it’s wrong and they started demanding the resignation of Mr Moffat? Was it a sudden awakening in the entire community or are there in fact, external influences? Was it the retaliation for the foiled Trojan Horse campaign? The other fact to be borne in mind is that from the previous school, he was forced to resign because it was untenable to continue teaching whereas in Parkfield, although the course was axed until further resolution, Mr Moffat is presently continuing as head teacher. So apart from the meeting with parents, it’s not clear how much pressure was put on him in the previous school, whether it was only from parents or from staff and trust as well. Or is it simply because the Parkfield trust doesn’t want him to resign for personal interests, of keeping an MBE teacher to maintain their Outstanding Ofsted rating?

Let’s now look at the aspect what I mentioned before — the Brexit connection. This news of the LGBTQ course being dropped from Parkfield Primary will obviously be seen in different lights by people from the different political spectrum. Whilst the faction in the left are busy lambasting the trust and the communities for dropping the course for an ideological reason, the ones on the right — Tories, far-rights, gammons, zombies — this news is a golden opportunity for them to peddle their politics of fear. Soon this will be one of the chapters in the next Tommy Robinson book, an agenda on the Britain First campaign to protest outside a school with largely minority students, a reason for Nigel Farage to travel to Brussels to give a lecture on the untenable situation Britain was in. This incident will be seen as the effect of Muslim conservatism on the liberal British society. A further reason why Brexit was justified to limit the influx of immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa. It’s another red herring to feed the xenophobic minds of the 17.4m who believe that immigrants are the root of their problem.

The utter bigotry of the xenophobic faction of Britain, who is sure to earn a mileage from this incident is blatantly disgusting. People who express their dismay in the intolerance of the Muslim community in Saltley are perhaps the ones who instil homophobia in their children. It’s probably these stalwarts of tolerance who protest at the supermarkets when they make all their meat supplies halal. It’s probably these beacons of liberalism who squirm hearing someone speak a language that’s not English. Where the country would be without these gems of Britain, the only group of people to withhold the true British Values? And that’s why, on the august day of 23rd June 2016, these saviours, the modern day Knight’s Templars finally won the crusade against the barbaric invasion that was the “swarms of refugees” heading towards the UK. The Brexit result was the manifestation of the anti-immigrant and Islamophobic bias of the general public, brainwashed by the profiteering peddlers of the Leave campaign.

It is therefore unfortunate that the after carrying on with the No Outsiders course for over two years, the protests not only meant a lost opportunity for the children to learn acceptance and tolerance towards the LGBTQ community but also, this will fuel the hostility towards the Muslim community. A community that is already branded for harbouring extremist feelings by the nationalist press and media, this will only marginalise the Muslim community, another little hurrah from the Brexiters. Needless to say the persecutions faced by the LGBTQ community in the UK will see no improvements if more and more schools keep dropping it. I don’t know what the future holds for Mr Moffat, not the pupils of the Parkfield primary school, but I do hope that the protesting parents realise the repercussions of their action, not just for the parents, but for the long term future of their children being integrated into the society. Let’s hope that the parents and the education trust will reach a resolution in favour of continuing with the curriculum. Let common sense prevail over bigotry and prejudices.

Standard
Equality, Politics, Socialism

Two observations on equality inequation

We were just returning from our week long break in Paris. The day was hot, at times in mid-thirties. We anticipated a cooler weather in the UK. When we reached Folkestone, the temperature didn’t plummet. I thought for a brief moment that it was perhaps the wrong week to be on holiday. It would have been better had the weather here been worse.

But that thought made me think further. Why is it that the weather had to be worse here to make a holiday abroad seem more pleasant? Is it because spending all the money and effort for a break away from the usual cold and damp weather now seemed worthless because anybody who stayed here enjoyed the sun just the same? And is it not the same problem with the wealth? No matter how well off one seems to be, they don’t feel exclusive enough if the others had what they have. That we are not happy with what we have got, no matter how much it is — isn’t that the first symptom of inequality of wealth? Sunshine is ubiquitous, just like all resources on earth that we exploit, but we all want a bigger share. So when we look in contempt at other people for being wealthy and not doing enough to help the poor, we should look at ourselves as well. WE, are part of it, and it needs reminding all the time if we even hope to make a difference one day.

The day after, we were eating Father’s Day dinner in a restaurant. It’s not a Michelin star place, but a chain restaurant mainly catered for middle-class clientele. I couldn’t help but overhear the conversation at the table next to us. A middle-aged man, his Aussie partner and opposite them sat a young man of early twenties with headphone on the ear and a woman about the same age. It seemed it was the boy’s family and the girl was the girlfriend. They were talking about the Grenfell Tower and the young woman was vociferously explaining the shortcomings of the councils, the legal implications, where Labour was wrong, where Tories were wrong. She sounded compelling and had won the debate at the table.

Yet, her argument, albeit filled with facts and legal jargon, lacked a basic factor. It lacked empathy for the families that were ruined — the human factor in the equation of the accountabilities. She is a Uni student, and with her knowledge, I wouldn’t be surprised if she was doing politics. I thought of the a time if she became a politician. She could present an excellent speech but could still be totally aloof from the people she’s standing up for.

The political elite of this country, irrespective of the party, has this issue of connecting with the common public. If not all, the majority of them, especially the party frontbenchers, hails from a privileged upbringing, and learned politics as theory and analysing the history rather than following the first principles of politics — understanding people. And by not understanding the public or by making the public think that politicians are above their class, it alienated public from most mainstream politicians and paved paths for opportunistic populist parties. The image of one Nigel Farage holding a pint of beer comes to mind.

Brexit results showed the danger of populism and the permanent damage it’ll inflict on the course of UK’s future. It’s about time that the mainstream parties start diversifying their candidate portfolio. A number of barriers have been broken in recent years in terms of politics and inclusion of candidates of various background, but classism is another hurdle to overcome. Social engineering in UK public service is a fact, and unless this prejudices are removed, a politician will never be representative of the public they are meant to represent.

And this realisation brought home the two random thoughts together. We live in a society where we are taught seek more, have more than others. Our actions define our own future, and others’ as well. Until we reach a point where we learn to think differently or our inherent tendency to create inequality is neutralised by a system fair to all, we will not be living in a society we can be proud to be a part of. And to achieve an equal society, the equality should not be devolved or merely representative, but the equality which will be entitled, ubiquitous.

But then, will it ever happen? After all, sitting here, writing about all this rather than doing something about it, I’ve just followed the benevolent socialist bandwagon, who talks about reforming the world but does nothing.
Standard
Equality, Racism

The white man in that photo: Griotmag homage to Peter Norman

It was a historic moment. I had seen the photo in many books on Olympics, a fascination of my teens. Most of the photos only featured Tommie Smith and John Carlos in their epic Black Power salute, fists in black gloves, thrust indignantly in air, and their heads bowed down, feet bare. I did not fully understood the significance on the photo then, but it exuded a sign of defiance, just as did the photo of the lone protester in front of the tank in Tiananmen square. Knowing about the Civil Rights Movement, the enormity of the protest became clearer. It was one of the momentous photo of the twentieth century, a photo that makes time stand still, a photo made me speechless, in anger, in solidarity and in respect.

But media is a weird thing. They go at great lengths obscuring the complete picture, and only represent the distorted version to suit them and their reader base. And thus, the story of Peter Norman, another legend who was as much part of the protest as was the two Americans, remained out of limelight. He remained “The other white man” in that iconic photo. Nearly 50 years later, his record still remains an Australian record for 200m sprint. Yet, Norman was shunned in his own country for donning the badge Smith and Carlos wore during their salute, and never represented Australia in Olympics again. It took Australian Parliament to officially apologise for their discrimination that ruined the career of one of their greatest sporting heroes.

Apart from the record books, Peter Norman was not known to me until today. Yet, his enormous athletic achievement during the final race was eclipsed by what he did on that award ceremony. On that day, he stood up for humanity, he stood up for a cause that he believed in, against injustice, only to go back home in ignominy and shame.

Peter Norman, the Silver medal winner stands in the podium with Tommie Smith and John Carlos during their momentous Black Power Salute, seen wearing the Olympic Project for Human Rights badge
Source : Griotmag

The main article from Griotmag is shared here, featuring Peter Norman, The white man in that photo1

Once the famous poet tagore dedicated this song to the Indian freedom fighter Subhash Bose:

If they answer not to your call walk alone
If they are afraid and cower mutely facing the wall,
O thou unlucky one,
open your mind and speak out alone.
If they turn away, and desert you when crossing the wilderness,
O thou unlucky one,
trample the thorns under thy tread,
and along the blood-lined track travel alone.
If they shut doors and do not hold up the light when the night is troubled with storm,
O thou unlucky one,
with the thunder flame of pain ignite your own heart,
and let it burn alone.

On that epic day in Mexico City in 1968, three young sprinters stood up in solidarity for the oppression of the black Americans. They knew what awaits them once they came off that podium. Smith and Carlos later became a champion for their cause as USA embraced diversity following the Civil Rights Movement. Norman remained a pariah even after his death, the retribution of the AOC still denying his due respect. But they were well aware of their fate, and decided to stand for what they believed in. In the words of Tagore, they trod on the blood-lined track alone, for humanity, for a balanced society, for a better world. They are inspirations to millions, who believe in a cause, yet, don’t stand up for it against the whole world. They made us believe that if we stand by our ideas, and beliefs, and if the whole world does not agree, stand firm still in defiance to the world, and it will change, if not in our lifetime, but one day2…So let’s not forget Peter Norman, the unsung hero of the Olympics Black Power salute, so his sacrifice of a lifetime does not disappear into oblivion.

1. The original article by Italian writer Riccardo Gazzaniga L’uomo bianco in quella foto.
2. Australian Parliament issued an apology for their discrimination against Peter Norman. Australian Olympic Committee, however, refused the claims and in fact asked for a retraction and apology from the author and the magazine retraction and apology from the author and the magazine

Standard