This article appeared originally in GatestoneInstitute.org
The Daily Telegraph reports that the British education watchdog, Ofsted, has placed yet another British school "in special measures… with its head and governors likely to be removed."
Small Heath School, which has a majority of Muslim pupils, is one of a number of Birmingham schools censured by Ofsted after investigations found a "narrowing of the curriculum."
The journalist Andrew Gilligan suggests that concerns over Small Heath School have sparked fears of a "resurgence of the 'Trojan Horse' plot," a concerted attempt by Islamist groups to infiltrate and Islamize British schools. The plot was first uncovered in 2013. A government report into the accusations, published in 2014, concluded that there had been a "co-ordinated, deliberate and sustained action to introduce an intolerant and aggressive Islamist ethos into some schools in the city."
Shanaz Khan, the head teacher of Small Heath School, was previously the deputy head teacher in Cardiff of Cathays High School, which was attended by two British jihadists before they headed off to Syria to fight with ISIS.
At the Cardiff school, Islamic preachers taught children that music and contact between boys and girls were "not permitted in Islam." According to Gilligan,
"Shanaz Khan, the new head teacher, who started in September, was heavily backed by several of the key plotters in Trojan Horse, which drove out non-Muslim head teachers and imposed hard-line Islamic practices at a number of state schools in Birmingham."
Would anyone have predicted, before the Trojan Horse plot was revealed in 2013, that a conspiracy to impose hard-line Islamic beliefs could possibly exist within the British education system?
Well, yes. The influence of extremist Islam within some British schools was hardly a secret. As far back as 1996, The Independent reported that British schools with large numbers of Muslim pupils were already providing for hard-line Islamic practises. The article reveals, in fact, that at the very same Small Heath School,
"Muslim governors are increasingly making demands. For example, Islamic law forbids drawing the human form… Some parents also object to the use of musical instruments in music lessons, fearing their connection with pop music and Western youth culture, which they see as riddled with sex and drugs. There have even been requests for separate play areas and separate classes for boys and girls."
It turns out, in fact, that the topic of Islamic extremism in British schools has been known about and discussed for decades. In 1993, a teacher at Park View School in Birmingham told the local authorities that the school's board of governors was "taken over by a Muslim sect." In 2013, Park View School was named as one of the schools that fell victim to the Trojan Horse plot.
As early as 2002, a spokesperson for a community group of South Asian women in Londonstated: "We believe that single faith schools will mean more discrimination and a greater stranglehold of the most conservative, anti-women and communal individuals over our children's education and our communities as a whole."
In 2004, the British Muslim writer and activist, Manzoor Moghal, warned that by providing taxpayer funding for segregated Islamic schools, and by accommodating the demands of Islamic lobby groups for "substantial changes in the culture, teaching methods, and even the curriculum of mainstream state schools," Britain risked encouraging "ignorance, hatred and violent conflict."
After the bombings of the London underground in 2005, the media's attention focused quickly on the problem of extremism in schools and universities. Ruth Kelly, the Communities Secretary at that time, declared that Islamic schools that encouraged "isolationism" and extremism would be shut down. A number of documentaries produced secretly-recorded footage of teachers at British Islamic schools "teaching pupils as young as 11 years of age contempt for other religions and wider society." In 2006, The Times reported that students at an Iranian regime-linked Islamic school in London were being taught to regard non-Muslims as "filth," and Jews and Christians likened to pigs and dogs.
In 2009, David Cameron, then the leader of the opposition, asked Prime Minister Gordon Brown why schools run by Hizb ut-Tahrir — an Islamist organization that promotes violence against Jews and the West — had received £113,000 of government money.
Also in 2009, the author and academic Dr. Denis MacEoin wrote a report on Britain's Islamic schools. It found evidence that a number of Muslim schools were linked to extreme Islamist networks and employed teachers who promoted, in addition to anti-Semitism, hatred towards women and the West.
In 2010, the Secretary of Education, Michael Gove, stated, "in both Surrey and Birmingham there were genuine dangers due to extremist influence in state schools."
In 2012, the Daily Telegraph reported that a "secret memo" published by the Department for Education warned that officials were "struggling to tackle extremism in state and private schools."
The Telegraph further revealed that the government was unable to cope because officials and ministers did not have "detailed information about the religious orientation of the groups and movements behind all independent faith schools."
Warnings of Islamic extremism, a pervasive threat in Britain, were ignored until the problem became widespread.
Although, for instance, the government and the Charity Commission have finally started to investigate the large number of British charities running aid convoys to Syria, Gatestone Instituterevealed two years ago that these charities were linked to extremist groups and glorifying Islamist terrorists such as Anwar Al-Awlaki.
Similarly, in 2014, although the Home Secretary Theresa May announced that the government was working to stop extremist broadcasts on Islamic television stations, her announcement came more than five years after the Quilliam Foundation, a Muslim think-tank, issued warningsabout the problem.
Moreover, although Prime Minister David Cameron announced in 2011 that the government would no longer give counter-extremism funds to hard-line Islamic groups, other politicians andcommentators had repeatedly warned about this problem years earlier.
Why, then, do these corrosive influences remain ignored for so long?
Even though not directly connected to Islamic extremism, in the case of Rotherham, a small town in England, an independent inquiry which examined the sexual abuse of children by gangs of Pakistani men, concluded that the problem was ignored for years because local government officials were "lacking the confidence to tackle difficult issues for fear of being seen as racist or upsetting community cohesion."
The same pattern of misconduct is possibly even more true when it comes to the problem of Islamic extremism. With schools, it seems, successive governments, out of fear of being accused of insulting Britain's Muslim community, have largely ignored the problem of Muslim schools indoctrinating young children with extremist views.
In 2001, in Birmingham, an elected councillor, James Hutchings, said that state-funded Islamic schools would only encourage segregation. He argued that, "[school] inspections might not be as vigorous as they should be due to pressure from race relations interests."
The authorities' fears have been played on by a number of Islamist-run Muslim community groups. Among these was the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), which insisted in a 2007 report that Islamic faith schools were, in fact, a bulwark against "Islamophobia."
This Muslim Council of Britain report turns out to have been written by Tahir Alam, since identified as the ringleader of the "Trojan Horse" plot.
In 2004, a similar report, produced by the Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia,stated that a failure to show "greater sensitivity to the concerns and needs of Muslims," especially in the education sector, would lead to increased levels of "Islamophobia" and greater hostility towards Muslims.
Manzoor Moghal again points to the government's policies of multiculturalism to explain the authorities' failure to challenge the growth of Islamist extremism in schools: "Instead of greater integration, this political creed has promoted separatism by emphasising differences and encouraging minority ethnic groups to cling to the customs of their homeland. In Birmingham, this has resulted in the rejection of western values by the governing bodies of too many Muslim-dominated schools."
Britain's multiculturalism doctrine was introduced with good intentions. Its failures, however, have outweighed its benefits. Increasingly, segregated religious communities receive state funds in order to remain separate. That extremists would gain a foothold seems inevitable.
It seems high time for the British government to re-think its financial support for religious communities, before extremist networks become more deeply embedded in other public institutions.
Some commentators have made the reasonable argument that the government should leave religion out of the state-school system entirely. It is clear that a public education system that fails to maintain the separation of church and state offers little, but risks a lot.
The Church of England and the Jewish community, however, would vigorously protest such a proposal. One third of state-funded schools in England, in fact "are legally designated with a religious character."
The most immediate solution, perhaps, is reform to school governance. The Trojan Horse plot demonstrated that extremist groups face few obstacles when appointing school governors, employing teachers with extremist links, or enforcing and teaching hard-line Islamic values.
By diluting the absolute power of school governors, local authorities and parents could serve to temper any hard-line ambitions. In addition, the Education Secretary could be given the discretionary power to veto particular school policies or preclude certain applicants from becoming governors or teachers. Organizations with extremist links could be barred from establishing schools or being involved in their management.
There may be no simple solutions, but Britain's multiculturalism trap is not a simple problem. Ultimately, there needs to be change.
Sam Westrop is a Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute and also Director of Stand for Peace, a counter-extremism organization based in London. He appears regularly on television and radio to discuss the problem of Islamist, far-Left and far-Right extremism.