A Tale of Two Birmingham Schools

John Holmwood states that “Fundamental ‘British’ values are understood to involve a commitment to democracy, the rule of law and religious tolerance. A strong implication is that some ethnic minorities lack a commitment to such values where conservative orientations to gender roles and sexual orientation have come to indicate this weak commitment. The failure to embrace British values on the part of some minorities is also put forward as an explanation of poor pupil achievement, which, in turn puts integration at risk. Yet British values tolerate the exercise of conservative orientations on the part of the wealthy, who are also allowed to purchase educational advantage for their children. While all schools are expected to have a religious ethos – expressed in the legal requirement for religious education and daily acts of collective worship – when that ethos is Islamic it is subject to profound suspicion, such that the authorities are willing to castigate educationally successful and unsuccessful schools alike.

Sir Michael Wilshaw was asked by the House of Commons Select Committee on Education in 2015 if he thought that children, communities and schools in Birmingham had benefited from Ofsted’s intervention over the Trojan Horse affair. He replied, “they have benefited in some sense, because they are not the subject of the sort of policies that would be pursued by these governors with a very particular view of how schools should be run. They are free of that. But those schools have been through an enormous amount of turmoil” (paragraph 76). Four years after the Trojan Horse affair, the successor school to Park View has yet to reach the educational success it achieved for its pupils. In other words, its pupils have been ‘freed’ from the supposed constraints of their own cultural expression, while not being provided with the academic achievements that would ensure social mobility. In the meantime, Defence Secretary, Sir Michael Fallon launched the first of his new army cadet corps at the school, offering them access to the British Army as an alternative route.”


Do Muslims Belong in the West?

In this discussion, Talal Asad identifies the problematic ways in which the presence of Muslim communities in Western contexts has been characterized in response to outbreaks of violence such as the recent events in Paris. Asad argues that many of the critiques to which Muslims are subjected, namely their dependence on transcendent forces, also inhabit the intellectual assumptions of secular and atheist commentators.  He further expresses the need to examine Islam as a “tradition” in order to avoid precisely the types of sweeping generalizations and focus instead on the complexities and particularities of the various ways in which Islam is lived. The inability to historicize Islam as a tradition has played into the calls for a “reform” of the religion and resulted in the inability to confront the underlying causes of the recent eruptions of violence. This interview was conducted in New York on 17 January 2015. It was later transcribed for publication. Click here