A few days ago, the religious studies teacher showed some of the infamous Mohammed cartoons from Charlie Hebdo magazine and talked about them with the students, The Times reported. That was exactly what happened to the French teacher Samuel Paty almost half a year ago – a jihadist waited for him after school and cut his head off.
The educator in Batley near Bradford, a town that is home to a large number of Muslims, has now realized where the real limits of freedom are in Britain in the 21st century. After loud protests from parents and Muslims who had travelled to the school, the school administration kneeled down, and issued a deeply contrite apology for the “completely unacceptable” teaching material. The teacher also had to “most sincerely” apologize. The school has opened an investigation into the incident and has suspended the teacher from duty.
Obviously, the submissive requests for forgiveness were not nearly sufficient. There are already numerous appeals from Muslim organizations circulating on the Internet, which – figuratively – challenge his right to life. For example, the local Muslim association “Purpose of Life” writes that the teacher should never teach again because of his “sadistic” offense. The Ramadhan Foundation from Manchester also raged that the teacher had made a “disgusting attack on the faith”. He should have known “how much that affects his 70 percent Muslim students”.
Several dozen Muslim demonstrators gathered in front of the school on Thursday, shouted at the hastily summoned police and blocked the entrance. Education Minister Gavin Williamson has meanwhile let his spokesman condemn the fact that there were threats against the teacher as “unacceptable”. But Williamson avoided positioning himself clearly in favour of freedom of expression. Other politicians also warned not to “pour oil on the fire” and avoided making clear statements.
After there were numerous death threats against the educator, according to the Daily Mail, on the advice of the police, he has now gone in hiding with his girlfriend somewhere at a secret location.
The Free Speech Union, a group that campaigns for freedom of expression, reacted with outrage to the fact that the school had given way to a “censorship mob” and suspended the teacher. The school is thus signalling that it is indeed a crime to show the prophet Mohammed in a picture. The publicly financed school is submitting to the Islamic understanding of a ban on images and violating its educational mandate to a critical discussion. Muslim students should feel no more hurt by Mohammed drawings than Christians by the satirical film “Life of Brian”. “In this country there is no ban on blasphemy above freedom of speech,” said Toby Young, journalist and general secretary of the Free Speech Union.
After all, on Friday students at Batley Grammar School started a petition for their teacher, demanding that his suspension be lifted. The teacher is not racist or “Islamophobic”, they said. Some 7000 signatures were collected within half a day.
In all of this, the fear of the public that “French conditions” could also spread in the UK, is palpable. There is no lack of a lively, aggressive extremist scene on the Brexit island, from which violence and assassinations have emerged again and again. Islamist-motivated attacks repeatedly shake the country, for example the triple knife murder in a park in Reading by a Syrian asylum seeker last year. Before that, an ex-prisoner convicted of ISIS propaganda had stabbed two people to death in South London. Before that, in December 2019, an Islamist participating in a rehabilitation program killed several people on London Bridge. In June 2017, three attackers also drove a pickup truck into passers-by on London Bridge and stabbed them with knives, they killed eight people and injured nearly fifty other people, some seriously. In spring 2017, a suicide bomber with a Libyan migrant background blew himself up and 22 people at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester. The series of Islamist attacks has been never-ending.
And all the more amazing is the equanimity with which a large part of the British population reacted to this. Many prefer to close their eyes when Islamist fundamentalism arises, which is also taught in dozens of Islamic schools in the country. Fifteen years ago, when there was a wave of protests orchestrated around the world against the Danish Mohammed caricatures of the time, the British island was the scene of absurd scenes: Muslims raged in front of Parliament in London with posters saying “Behead those who insult Islam!”. Right next to them were British police officers, in their yellow safety vests. British “tolerance” at such moments could be rightly be mistaken for cowardice.
Toby Young of the Free Speech Union pointed out that the school’s Latin motto in Batley Forte non Ignave: Courageous, not afraid. The submission to Islamic guidelines has nonetheless taken place gradually.