Quite why the CPS, which used to be a serious think-tank promoting conservative ideas, has taken to employing a self-publicising hackette to compile a report into a serious issue is far from clear. The pamphlet certainly isn't an academic study, and can hardly be said to constitute research. Rather, it is a newspaper column padded out with selective quotations and distorted statistics.
She claims that for Muslims Islamic schools "offer a bridge between their religious community and the wider secular society". Yet in arguing this case, she seems most concerned with pointing to those aspects of "wider society" that the bearded misogynists get so upset about, and stressing that girls (boys too, but mainly girls) will be protected from such things. No art classes in which children might be required to draw human beings. No mixed gym classes. No exposure to that dangerous thing, the opposite sex, either: at a co-ed school Odone praises, the lesson times are carefully staggered to ensure that boys and girls, while occupying the same building, never come into contact. Some people might find something slightly pathological about such an arrangement. Not Cristina.
This is a passage I found particularly chilling:
The architecture at Madani High conspires to [segregate]:
there is a girls’ wing and, mirror image, a boy’s wing, separated
by an elegant Arabic-style courtyard with a fountain. Madani
High is located on the fringes of Highfields, home to large
Somali and Caribbean communities and one of the poorest
areas in the country. But the high school building is spanking
new (construction finished last year) and dazzlingly high-tech,
with interactive white boards and sophisticated IT equipment
in almost every classroom. For the 70% of the student body
who come from Highfields, school must be an oasis in a
“We want the school to be a real centre for the community
around here,” Dr Muhammed Mukadam, Chair of the
Association of Muslim Schools and the principal of the school.
Here, side by side, is the ancient and the modern: outdated notions of sexual apartheid more appropriate to a medieval desert, but being reintroduced into 21st century Britain with all the bells and whistles of modern computer technology. A technology, I might add, developed in and made possible by the secular, materialistic, individualistic Western society from whose corruptions these refusniks want to protect their daughters. And the funding and the resources to make this institutionalised regression possible? Hitherto, of course, it has often come from the Wahhabists of Saudi Arabia. But increasingly, unless these plans are derailed (and, despite the noises he sometimes makes, Ed Balls seems in no hurry to stop them) the money will come from the British taxpayer. A famous phrase springs to mind, something about a nation heaping up its own funeral pyre.
Here's a very odd phrase. It comes from Iftikhar Ahmad, "who in 1981 founded the London School of Islamics, the first Muslim school in Britain": “Children from minority groups, especially Muslims, are exposed to the pressure of racism, multiculturalism and bullying". But hang on a minute, aren't we supposed to celebrate multiculturalism? Isn't a multicultural society something that government policy has long tried to create, often at the cost of individual human rights, let alone "social cohesion"? Well, it seems that the promoters of Muslim schools aren't that keen on a multicultural society after all. They equate it with racism and bullying. Why else would they want to separate off their children, "protecting" them from the British mainstream? These schools might want to teach their charges about modern British society, but they don't want to teach them to live in it.
Odone's enthusiasm for Islamic schools seems premised on the notion that Muslims are doomed to separatism; that deprived of access to schools offering a strict regime of sexual segregation and Koranic instruction Muslim parents will simply remove their girls from education and pack them off to Pakistan to marry some cousin twice their age. In some cases, of course, this is true. But Odone offers no evidence that girls from the tiny number of Muslim schools are not being subjected to "arranged" marriages. In any case, if children are being illegally removed from school then it is up to the authorities to investigate and, where appropriate, to prosecute. The timidity of the police and social services to tackle abuses of this kind for reasons of "cultural sensitivity" is regrettable; but further promoting educational ghettoes is no solution. It isn't even relevant.
A superb critique of Odone's idiocy, as regards Islamic schooling, comes from Yasmin Alibhai Brown in the Independent. YAB's demolition job is also well worth reading for the insight it offers into the ancient feud between these two journalistic prima donnas. But I suspect enthusiasm for Islam is not the prime motivating factor behind the noisily (if not always devoutly) Catholic Odone's enthusiasm for madrassas on the rates. Like others of conservative Christian opinions, she hopes to take advantage of the prevailing intellectual confusion of religion with questions of race and cultural identity in order to bring back God. Such people see Muslim reactionaries, who want to deny their children the choice to join mainstream society, along with their multiculturalist patsies in local and national government, not as a threat to British society but rather allies in the work of remoralisation. The sight of demure, perfectly-behaved young girls in headscarves looks to them like an exotic version of their own lost Eden: the 1950s, says, or the priest-haunted Ireland of a thousand misery memoirs. This is nostalgia with teeth.
One of Odone's favourite places would seem to be the Emmanuel Community College, a state school partly funded, and much influenced, by businessman Sir Peter Vardy. Vardy has made little secret of his religious agenda, and a former head of science was forced to resign in 2002 after being publicly exposed as an exponent of Intelligent Design, a "theory" that even the Vatican dismisses as nonsense. Odone speaks to the college's principal, Jonathan Wynch, and is oddly reassured by his answer:
Naturally, as a Foundation with a Christian ethos, we stand
by the Biblical account that God did indeed create the earth
and everything in it – however long it took Him,” he explains.
Creationism, as we understand it, is the belief that there is
scientific evidence that the world was created in six 24-hour
days. This has never been the position of Emmanuel College nor
its sister schools and is taught in neither Science nor RE. What
is taught in RE is that the Bible speaks of a six-day creation and
that this is variously interpreted. In Science, Darwinian
evolution is taught, a part of which is Darwin’s own reservations
regarding the absence of incontrovertible evidence to support it,
including the incompleteness of the fossil record. As a result,
given that students attend both RE and Science lessons, students
are aware of the controversies surrounding the
scientific/religious interface regarding the origins of life.
Odone thinks that this quote demonstrates that Creationism "is not a wild fire sweeping the country’s schools; it is not taught in science classes in place of, or as an alternative to, evolution." Either she is being disingenuous, or she wasn't listening properly, or she hasn't troubled to inform herself of how Creationists operate in schools. In the USA, proponents of various sorts of Creationism want to teach "Darwinism" as a theory among other theories, as part of the history of science. They claim that by stressing that it is "just a theory", they are being objective and balanced; it is those who want to teach it as "fact" who are the bigots. By narrowly defining "creationism" in its most extreme, "young earth" form and alluding to "Darwin's own reservations" and "the incompleteness of the fossil record", Wynch shows himself squarely of this anti-science tendency. If his is an accurate description of his science lessons, it would appear that evolution is not being properly taught at Emmanuel College.
As with the Islamic school, Odone raves about the well-behaved pupils, the modern buildings and banks of whirring computers to be found at Emmanuel. Most of these places seem far better funded than their secular equivalents. In some ways, that's the most alarming fact of all.