The teacher at Batley Grammar School was, and is, in the wrong. I completely support the school in suspending him. Not only from the school’s standpoint, but in terms of the damage this man has undoubtedly caused to the subject. I say this as an RE teacher of 12 years, a person with an ounce of common sense and a person who values human decency above all else.
I do not know what I am more ashamed of; the teacher who not only thought it was okay and has since claimed he’s expressing his ‘freedom of speech’ by presenting the Charlie Hebdo cartoon, or the flag flying Brits who have flocked to Twitter to insist Muslims leave the country, mirror the teacher’s sentiment of ‘freedom of speech, innit’ while also demonstrating that they fail to understand that this freedom voids their ‘they have no right to be offended’ rhetoric.
For those of you not in the know, it is an offence for any Prophet to be drawn within Islam. This includes Moses, Noah and Jesus. I must point out that very few Muslim students I’ve taught over the years have taken any issue with the presentation of the image of Jesus, being the most discussed Prophet who appears in many religions (including Hinduism). Why? They accept the culture of the UK and the fact that it is still a ‘Christian’ country which has displayed Jesus in many forms of art for centuries.
It is blasphemous to attempt to recreate the Prophets. Not having a law in place does not stop it being so, as some seem to claim. It just means that it is not a ‘crime’ here in the UK. Does it mean it’s okay to put young Muslims through distress because our country no longer frowns upon the use of ‘oh my God’ and ‘Jesus Christ’?!
The Intent of the Image
Since this news broke on Thursday, I have maintained that the biggest decider regarding the image is the intent by the artist. To a certain extent, is does not matter what the intent of the teacher was because if the image was intended to offend Muslims, you can give all the disclaimers you want; they will still be offended. It has been revealed that these students are in Year 9, that is a very hard age and year group to be presenting a controversial piece of artwork. I can only begin to image how distressful it could be..
It has been revealed that the image shown was the Charlie Hebdo one from January 2015. The one that caused extremists to kill many who worked at the office. They also recently came under fire for an appalling cartoon of the Royal Family. The intent of that image is clear; it is meant to cause hurt and distress.
The Teacher’s Intent
This is where I really find myself angry. I have thought long and hard about this over the last few days and I cannot imagine a rationale that would ever allow me to use that cartoon. Nor can I come up with a justifiable value that makes the hurt caused worth it. Any RE trained teacher, worth their weight in gold will tell you that it’s inconceivable to use an image of Muhammad (pbuh) in a lesson.
There is an online petition that is believed to have been set up by students. It is explained on there that the image was used to explain racism. Well, that proves that either the teacher is incompetent or that he failed in what he was really tying to teach because that image is not an example of racism. It is, however, an example of Islamophobia or, in a broader context, xenophobia.
Is it really a big deal?! Well, in my experience, yes, it is a big deal. Over the years I’ve lost count of how many times a child has wrongly shouted ‘That’s racist that’, so I do believe it is important to make a distinction between the different forms of discrimination and make sure it is understood that ‘Islam’ is not a race. While the religion has foundations in the middle east, your ethnicity does not exclude you from being Muslim.
I would also question the critical thinking skills of 13- and 14-year-olds and their ability to understand the image within the confines of its context. My professional opinion would be that even a high ability sixth former would struggle to understand and be able to detach personal belief to critically evaluate the image as the teacher wanted.
Robert Jenrick has weighed in and said “In a free society, we want religions to be taught to children and for children to be able to question and query them.”
Students don’t need to see an image created my someone who isn’t Muslim in order to question the faith. Once again, the views of those in charge of our education system prove they haven’t got a clue what we as professionals do.
He has also stated that issues should not be censored. What issue Jenrick? What issue was so important to discuss that no other resource could have been used? What issue could not be explored and questioned without breaching a student’s right to their religious expression?
Oh, and while we’re at it Jenrick (and Williamson), could you please show me where in any RE Agreed Syllabus is it stated a Year 9 class should discuss whether an image of Muhammad puts Charlie Hebdo at fault or Muslims? That’s the conclusion I’m coming to. At no point is it professional to attribute the actions of ISIS to Islam, nor is it appropriate to expect students to evaluate blame when it comes to terrorist actions.
With all due disrespect, Jenrick and Williamson, you have no place in commenting, you are a plague on our industry and the sooner you are out of every single teacher’s hair, the better.
The Xenophobic British and the Myths They Believe
“Blasphemy isn’t illegal here.”
“Your rules don’t apply here.”
“Go back home if you don’t like it.”
“We’ll never be an Islamic State for your voodoo cult.”
That is just some of the outrage from the Twitter-verse I encountered on Thursday. Every stereotype and mistruth I have tried to challenge over the years spat out by those who believe ISIS represent all of Islam.
I am not saying any religion is perfect, I’m agnostic for that very reason. All have a past that is embroiled in violence, corruption and behaviour they would rather forget, but they are not condemned for them in the way Islam is.
Isis (and any other ‘Islamic’ extremists) is to Islam what the KKK are to Christianity. After the attacks at Charlie Hebdo, the hashtag #NotInMyName trended, and it is worth remembering now.
Extremists use extensive censoring and cherry picking to come to the violent conclusions they do. They practice selective interpretations of their Holy Texts to justify the horrific acts and autrocities we are all familiar with. And despite the voices to the contrary, the British public believe extremism to be the status quo.
When the Qu’ran instructs
“That is why We ordained for the Children of Israel that whoever takes a life—unless as a punishment for murder or mischief in the land—it will be as if they killed all of humanity; and whoever saves a life, it will be as if they saved all of humanity.”Verse 5:32
,an instruction many extremists choose to ignore, you must begin to question the true purpose of Islam and the information you’ve been missold.
I know many Muslims, I’ve taught many Muslims. I also accept that what I teach of Islam is far removed from what the living religion is (and that is down to the sanitation of the religion through the exam specifications. Some things we teach are in direct contradiction of what some students believe.) however, it is not a faith or community to fear. Islam is derived from the Arabic word “sal’m” which. literally means peace. Muslims know this. So should you.
One thing that has certainly come out of this, is that there is still work to be done to develop our multicultural country and foster a culture of acceptance. Between this, Brexit and the hatred focused on Meghan Markle it is becoming harder to be proud. It’s hard to not acknowledge how much like America we are when it comes to all forms of xenophobia.
When the Xenophobes Miss the Point
“It is only a F@@@ing Cartoon”
“Cartoons don’t do any harm”Twitter
You need to read what I say here carefully.
I am certain they said it was only a cartoon when the Nazis started printing cartoons of the Jews in papers. That is all they were after all, and cartoons don’t do any harm, right?
Yes, teachers use the Jewish cartoons today, but it is in a very controlled way in order to teach how those images were wrong, hurtful and damaging.
My argument still stands; the Charlie Hebdo cartoon has the same impact the Nazi Propaganda images had AT THE TIME.
This one of Muhammad (pbuh) will never have that expiry. The crux of the issue is not going away any time soon. So if you have a Muslim demographic, it really is cruel to expect them to engage in a debate about a forbidden artwork inciting violence in France.
Finally, I think the best way to simplify this. The teacher was an adult and pausing for thirty seconds could have resolved this. Not showing the image will not decrease the value of the lesson and, most importantly, will not cause harm, or do I show an extremely offensive image that will cause harm and distress to even one of the members of my class due to background while not adding much in terms of value to the lesson?!