Human rights activists in Britain have been subjected to intimidation by Islamists for convincing Ofsted to interview British primary school girls.
Human rights activists are fearing harassment for convincing the Office for Standard Education (Ofsted) to interview British primary school girls. The reaction speaks volumes about how deep-rooted Islamist influence has already become in society at large. Ofsted chief Amanda Spielman expressed concerns after listening to activists’ claims that making little girls wear hijab ‘could be interpreted as sexualisation’. On 17 November, Spielman held a meeting with a group of activists campaigning against the obligatory hijab in British primary schools. Islamists responded by coming together to request the names of women who met the Ofsted chief over the issue.
Those activists who participated at the meeting, however, now fear that radicals were only looking for their names to shame and harass them at their community levels. This could prove especially intimidating for activists who come from Muslim backgrounds, as they would be easy prey for extremist relatives and community members.
Yasmin Rehman, a well-known human rights activist, wrote in her article, ‘A lesson in silencing dissent’, that the controversy over veiling in schools has led to a situation in which many influential Muslim hardliners, such as Afzal Khan, MEND, and local councils of mosques in Manchester, Stockport, Bolton, Oldham, and Rochdale are trying to silence the campaigners for speaking out. She expressed concerns that the women would be alienated and accused of ‘stirring up anti-Muslim hatred’.
It is perhaps already a scandal to many secularists that the hijab is even listed as an obligatory part of school uniforms in Britain, especially since only the most conservative religious Muslims require it. Moreover, the authorities have already averted their eyes from the issue for a long time. Now, those who warned the public about extremists’ poisonous ideological tactics find themselves in the crosshairs of religious bullies.
Meanwhile, Amanda Spielman revealed shocking news that she was receiving severe threats after raising ‘concerns about the values being promoted in some of the country’s faith schools’. She thinks that threats are mostly coming from Islamists and hard left. Narrating one email text as ‘We know where you live and we can get you any time we want to’, Ms Spielman vowed not to give in to the threats and to continue her mission as an educationist. However, this incident exposes the nature of threat the civilised world is facing from these extremists of all kinds. This bullying also warns us that these extremists are not going to take no for an answer and they believe in bending democracies to their advantage through hook or crook.
The negligence on the part of authorities has only helped fuel fundamentalists, who threaten to influence ongoing inspections at any time by turning the matter to their advantage by trumpeting ‘Islamophobia’ and playing the minority card. Some 1000 academics have already sided with Islamists against Ofsted, lodging a petition against the authority and terming their interview plan a ‘kneejerk, discriminatory and institutionally racist response’.
My question to these academics is this: To what extent are they willing to compromise the principles of democracy in order to entertain somebody’s religious practices? Would they also stop eating beef if Hindus came forward and demanded that the animal be considered a god and that slaughtering cows was deeply offensive to them? Would they also compromise ‘a little bit’ on the age of a bride if she came from a Muslim or Hindu background? Appeasing religious extremists is a bottomless pit and the civilised world needs to remain on guard against archaic practices and ideologies because their proponents will not stop until all of their demands are met.
‘My question to these academics is this: To what extent they are willing to compromise the principles of democracy in order to entertain somebody’s religious practices?’
How should this challenge be met, then? Is interviewing little girls the most commendable, or even effective, means of garnering an accurate understanding of the practice, which is prevalent across United Kingdom? Veiling girls at such an early stage of development is not an independent decision taken by an autonomous adult but a practice foisted on delicate young minds vulnerable to manipulation. Young children are not yet capable of making their own independent and informed decisions about such practices.
All this fuss about piety and purity is aimed at making children believe that they have been given the best set of beliefs humanity could ever produce, irrespective of evidence or experience. Questioning little girls about whether they wear the hijab out of choice is like asking Mattel’s Barbie the same question. The brainwashing of little girls, whether through fear, conformity, or even ‘model’ dolls, is designed to normalise a certain lifestyle and encourage them to model their identities after forms of ultra-conservative religious modesty codes.
The frequent cases of abuse and harassment of which Muslim girls across the world are victims suggests the extent to which modest religious dress is a matter of ‘choice’, as extremists would pretend it is. When so many girls face threats and verbal or physical abuse for ‘immodest’ dress or behaviour, their bodies having been made into the locus of Islamic morality, it is hard to give credence to the claim that wearing the hijab is a matter of choice. The recent case of a Canadian father beating his daughter for choosing to take off her hijab after leaving home should be an eye opener.
The teenager had to endure abuse for more than a year before the case came to police attention as the torture got worse and the father assaulted his daughter with a weapon. In Bologna, Italy, a Muslim mother who learned that her 14 year-old daughter would remove her scarf as soon as she left home shaved the girl’s head as punishment. Then there was the case of the 17 year-old girl who was threatened, harassed, and forced to apologise through death threats for dancing in Birmingham city centre. She was filmed and the video was uploaded and shared widely. One comment on the video read: ‘That’s so disrespectful is you are wearing hijab you are representing Islam dignity so how to act like a fool that is big disrespect’ [sic].
The idea that veiled, Muslim women embody Islam is lethal for female autonomy. Innocent girls and their individuality are frequently co-opted and sacrificed in order to keep other peoples’ ideas alive and respected. Religious extremists are eager to prevent school girls from being asked whether they choose to wear the hijab for fear that somehow the truth about their claims would be exposed. Activists, however, including myself, are equally concerned about the proposition to quiz kids, knowing that many would answer under the influence of family pressure, or otherwise be coerced into defending their parents’ decision.
Little girls can not choose this attire as a routine dress code. It is rather awkward that Ofsted, instead of holding parents and school administration accountable for making the hijab a part of British school life, is instead shifting the responsibility onto children to say whether they want to do so. This shift in the locus of authority is itself troubling and inconsistent with the ordinary school policy-making procedure.