Speaking Up

I plan to improve N&C by talking less. More links and quotations from the articles linked, and less of me commenting on them. That will be an improvement, right? Right.

There is this article in the Guardian about some reactions to David Bell’s speech to the Hansard Society in which he expressed some reservations about ‘faith’ schools.

The head of the government’s education watchdog prompted an angry reaction from Muslim leaders yesterday after claiming that the growth of Islamic faith schools posed a challenge to the coherence of British society. In a deliberate intervention criticised as “irresponsible” and “derogatory” by senior Muslim representatives, the chief inspector of schools David Bell claimed that a traditional Islamic education did not equip Muslim children for living in modern Britain.

The article goes on the cite three Muslims who disagree with Bell and one who agrees. Three seems like a smallish number to be called ‘Muslim leaders’ and ‘senior Muslim representatives.’ And then there is some vagueness in the very terms ‘leader’ and ‘senior representative’ in this context. Do the three people quoted lead and represent all Muslims? Does anyone? Or is that particular choice of nouns part of the habit of thinking and talking about Muslims as more of a single entity than other ‘groups’ or ‘communities’. Is it, for instance, a way of ignoring and obscuring the possible existence of Muslims who don’t like the idea of ‘faith’ schools, who share Bell’s reservations about the idea, and who aren’t entirely happy to have it thought that all Muslims want all Muslim children to go to faith schools? If so, wouldn’t that tend to reinforce the idea (surely already out there) that Muslims as a group are more eager to be, and to be seen as, Muslims-as-a-group? And also to be and to be seen as more keen on religious segregation than other groups are?

In other words is the article reporting on something? Or is it creating the something it aims to report on. Or both. Probably both. No doubt there is some anger about Bell’s speech, but the article could be doing its bit to create the impression that the anger is more universal than it is, merely by its choice of words. With, no doubt, the best of intentions. But I can so easily imagine being a Muslim who wanted to be a Muslim but also wanted to be various other things – call them what you like – modern, secular, urban, pluralist, universalist. Part of the world of comprehensive schools and public libraries and community centres and Citizens’ Advice Bureaus and the NHS; one to whom restriction to a smaller world of co-religionists would feel suffocating and limiting. I can so easily imagine feeling intensely exasperated if journalists always referred to the segregationist wing of my co-religionists as my leaders and representatives. ‘They’re not my damn leaders!’ I would want to shout. ‘I didn’t elect them, I didn’t nominate them, why are you calling them leaders and representatives? They’re just some people! They don’t speak for all of us!’

Well. That wasn’t a very good job of talking less, was it. I guess I’m not going to be very good at that.

One more. Letters to the Guardian about Ken Livingstone and Yusuf al-Qaradawi. From Ramzi Isalam of OutRage!

I fled to Britain to escape murder by Islamic fundamentalists in Algeria. Now I find the mayor of my adopted city embracing a cleric who provides theological justification for the homophobia of the people who wanted to kill me. Why is the mayor prepared to have a dialogue with fundamentalists like Dr Qaradawi and the Muslim Association of Britain, but not with liberal and progressive Muslims and not with the victims of Islamist repression and dictatorship?

Why indeed. And from Nadia Mahmood of Middle East Centre for Women’s Rights and Faz Velmi.

Yusuf al-Qaradawi may well condemn the September 11 attacks and the killing of hostages in Iraq. What he most certainly does not condemn is the fundamental political and social vision behind these atrocities – the project of establishing a theocratic state in which individual liberty and every trace of democracy are eliminated. Would the mayor embrace a Christian cleric who argued, as Dr Qaradawi does, that gay sex should be punishable by death, that wife-beating is sometimes justified and that the world is dominated by a Jewish conspiracy?

Would he indeed.

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