More Developments in the “Muslim Plot to Take-over Schools” story

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The past twenty-four hours have seen additional developments in the story involving the alleged plot involving a leaked document purportedly describing how some Muslims are planning to take-over schools in heavily Muslim populated areas using some highly unethical methods.

Tahir Alam – whose name is mentioned in the leaked document – gave a statement to the Guardian on Saturday describing the letter as “a malicious fabrication and completely untrue.”

He has now issued a much longer press statement  reiterating why he believes the document to be a hoax. It is worth reading in full.

Meanwhile, the Birmingham Mail yesterday published a story featuring Balwant Singh Bains, a former head of Saltley School who resigned last November. The Birmingham Mail story claims that he was “bullied and intimidated” by some governors after opposing their plans to ban sex education.

And the Daily Mail (inevitably) today publishes another story featuring yet more claims that other headteachers  in the Birmingham area have been targeted by some Muslims – including a Muslim lady almost twenty years ago – because she says she was seen as “too moderate”.

Where lies the truth? Two good friends of mine who have long worked to challenge Islamophobia have written to me to say they are convinced that the leaked document is a forgery.

My view? I am sadly not so sure – I think we should wait and see. Overall, I pretty much agree with this editorial that the Birmingham Mail published on Friday:

The claim that Islamic fundamentalists are seeking to take over the running of several city schools, imposing their primitive world-view, will cause massive alarm.

We make no judgment on the truth – or otherwise – of these very serious allegations.

But it is clear that they need thorough investigation, that the inquiry must be transparent and that appropriate action must be taken if the claims are proved.

However, it is also clear that this situation shines a spotlight on the risks of giving our schools greater independence.

By doing so, they are potentially at the mercy of all sorts of groups with hidden agendas.

Are there adequate safeguards against this?

Update:  The Times published a story on Tuesday March 11 2014 raising questions regarding the authenticity of the leaked document. This is all the more interesting because the original story was published in its sister paper, the Sunday Times. Interesting Times! We await further developments…

Update 2: The Guardian has also now published a story in today’s paper saying that the police are ” investigating whether a document outlining an alleged Islamic fundamentalist plot to “take over” schools in the city was a hoax connected to an employment tribunal involving one of the schools named in the plot.”

Update 3: The Guardian has also published an accompanying story featuring quotes from headteachers saying they recognise the tactics described in the leaked document as having been employed against them.

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“Muslim Plot” to “Take-over” Schools

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There is a huge amount of coverage today about an alleged plot by what on the face of it appears to be a tiny but highly committed group of Muslim activists in Birmingham to takeover state schools in Muslim areas.

The story is covered today in the Guardian, the Daily Mail (inevitably), the Birmingham Mail, and the Independent.

Could it be true?

The actual contents of the leaked letter can be read here.

I am told by some friends on the ground in Birmingham that there really has been a campaign to cause disruption in some schools with a view to imposing a more conservative (and inevitably bleak) Islamic ethos on certain schools.

No doubt we will discover more in the coming days.

I really can’t stand narrow minded religious bigots. They are so joyless and miserable. And they always seem so eager to want to make the rest of us miserable too!

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Hamja Ahsan on How the British State Has Terrorised His Family

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“Trigger Happy”: Amnesty’s New Report Upsets UK’s Jewish Establishment

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A new report published by the human rights organisation Amnesty International about Israel’s actions in the Occupied West Bank has caused anger amongst the UK’s most senior Jewish establishment.

In its report entitled “Trigger Happy: Israel’s Use of Excessive Force in the West Bank”, Amnesty says:

“Israeli forces have displayed a callous disregard for human life by killing dozens of Palestinian civilians, including children, in the occupied West Bank over the past three years with near total impunity….[The report] describes mounting bloodshed and human rights abuses in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) as a result of the Israeli forces’ use of unnecessary, arbitrary and brutal force against Palestinians since January 2011.

“In all cases examined by Amnesty International, Palestinians killed by Israeli soldiers did not appear to be posing a direct and immediate threat to life. In some, there is evidence that they were victims of wilful killings, which would amount to war crimes.

“The report presents a body of evidence that shows a harrowing pattern of unlawful killings and unwarranted injuries of Palestinian civilians by Israeli forces in the West Bank,” said Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International.

“The frequency and persistence of arbitrary and abusive force against peaceful protesters in the West Bank by Israeli soldiers and police officers – and the impunity enjoyed by perpetrators – suggests that it is carried out as a matter of policy.”

A leader column published on the website of the Jewish Chronicle,  ridicules Amnesty’s report as allegedly discrediting “only the organisation which has published it” without actually responding to any of Amnesty’s detailed observations about actual human rights abuses by Israeli soldiers.

How regrettable that the UK’s premier Jewish newspaper would seek to try and sully the reputation of a human rights organisation rather than look at the many and systematic abuses Amnesty reports against the occupied Palestinian population and then consider whether it’s support for such a racist and murderous state is helping promote good community relations in the UK between Muslims and Jews.

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President Obama’s Speech at the Nelson Mandela Memorial

Just a magnificent speech from President Obama – there is just so much to ponder over and learn from.

Around the world today, men and women are still imprisoned for their political beliefs; and are still persecuted for what they look like, or how they worship, or who they love.

We, too, must act on behalf of justice. We, too, must act on behalf of peace.  There are too many of us who happily embrace Madiba’s legacy of racial reconciliation, but passionately resist even modest reforms that would challenge chronic poverty and growing inequality.  There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people.  And there are too many of us who stand on the sidelines, comfortable in complacency or cynicism when our voices must be heard.

Just awesome. You can read President Obama’s speech in full here.

Update: Seumas Milne in the Guardian on how ‘Mandela has been sanitised by hypocrites and apologists’

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TV Review: Light and Dark

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Professor Jim al-Khalili’s new two-part science series Light and Dark began to be broadcast on Monday on BBC4 – you can still catch it for another two weeks on BBC’s I-Player here.

Khalili began by taking us back to the 3rd century BC when the Greek mathematician Euclid discovered that light travels in straight lines. This was crucially important because it meant that if we could manipulate light and change its path then we could alter the way we look at the world. Khalili took us to Italy where at the beginning of the 1600′s Galileo did precisely that by building a telescope that had an eight times magnification. Galileo was now able to observe far more of our solar system than had ever previously been seen. And in the UK, the scientist Robert Hooke manipulated lenses to look at the world of the very small using one of the first ever microscopes.

Scientists in the coming years would build on these achievements and discover ever more of the universe. There was a very funny bit where Khalili wrote out James Clerk Maxwell’s four famous equations and his subsequent derivation of the “wave equation”. Now this was definitely way above my head and I am pretty sure would have similarly confounded the vast majority of the viewers. However, it was great to see Khalili refusing to dumb this down - it certainly added to my sense of utter awe at Maxwell’s amazing achievement of deriving the speed of light (300,000 Km/second since you ask).

Khalili ended the programme by saying that just when scientists thought that by understanding the properties of light they were coming closer to a fuller understanding of the universe and the Big Bang, the rug appears to have been pulled from under their feet. Starting around thirty years ago, scientists began to suspect that the vast majority of the universe – perhaps 99% of it – is made up of dark matter and dark energy – and we have no idea at present what that really is.

That was a brilliant end to the first part of Light and Dark. A true cliff-hanger if ever there was one. Can’t wait for the second part.

A couple of weeks ago I visited the Royal Observatory in Greenwich and I took a picture of two quotes from our greatest scientific giants, one from Sir Isaac Newton and the other from Albert Einstein. Both quotes sum up for me the wonderful outlook of science and why it has been – and continues to be – so incredibly successful at helping us better understand the world around us.

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Exhibition Review: World Press Photo Exhibition 2013

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The Royal Festival Hall in London’s Southbank is currently hosting the World Press Photo Exhibition 2013. The best news and culture photos from around the world have been selected from over 100,000 entries that were submitted by photographers.

The above photograph by Paul Hansen was voted the overall 2013 winner. It shows the bodies of two-year-old Suhaib Hijazi and his elder brother Muhammad, almost four, being carried by their uncles to a mosque for their funeral, in Gaza City. The children were killed when their house was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike on 19 November 2012. The strike also killed their father, Fouad, and severely injured their mother and four other siblings.

The exhibition has a very wide mixture of photographs and the overall tone is incredibly uplifting and humane. Each photograph is accompanied by a caption from the actual photographer who explains why s/he took the photograph and what they trying to convey. But be warned: some of the photographs are extremely explicit and distressing and may not be suitable for young children. The harrowing photograph below is an example of this.

Somayeh Mehri (29) and Rana Afghanipour (3) are a mother and daughter living in Bam, southern Iran. They were attacked with acid by Somayeh’s husband Amir. Since their disfigurement in an acid attack, they say, others don’t like to kiss them. In this photograph, mother and daughter console one another.

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The World Press Photograph Exhibition 2013 will be on display at the Riyal Festival Hall until November 26th 2013. Entry is free.

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