British authorities are investigating Salim Mulla, but Muslim extremists have already won battles to change British society.
British authorities seem bent on ignoring the religious conservatives’ campaign against Education Department employees and other rights activists who contested the compulsory hijab in primary schools.
At the very least, they have launched an investigation of former mayor and serving Blackburn Labour councilor Salim Mulla for reportedly being a part of the intimidation campaign against educationists that led St Stephen’s Primary school to reverse its hijab ban and forced the school’s chairman of governors to resign.
Mr. Mulla is currently under investigation for calling Ms La an “evil racist” and for expressing his determination to have her removed from the school in a humiliating manner. Mulla is known for his Islamist views and had previously been suspended from the Labour Party after accusations of anti-Semitism.
This investigation is too little, too late. Islamists have already succeeded in their harassment campaign to make a school administration reverse their decision to ban compulsory religious dress. Interestingly, liberals in Britain express full support for the view that “no one can tell women what they must wear”, which they see as a violation of women’s rights, in any situation except when telling women what to wear is religiously motivated or justified.
Religious groups, community leaders and institutions can and do tell women or girls what they must wear. The double standard would be risible if it weren’t so obviously discriminating against liberal Muslims and Muslim reformers, who are every bit as “Muslim” as ultra-conservatives, and arguably the more vulnerable minority. When it comes to issues like extremism or terrorism we are ceaselessly reminded that all Muslims are not to be grouped into a single bloc. But liberal and feminist Muslims lose their status as ‘real’ Muslims the instant they object to conservative practices like compulsory gender-based uniforms.
The ban on compulsory veiling, which was meant to protect young students from segregation and alienation, met with harsh criticism from parents and from ultra-conservative elements within the Muslim community.
Religious hardliners who believe democracy is an evil system and are adamant to impose their extreme version of Islam on Europe have managed to send a shockwave among those who dare to oppose their aggressive assaults on Britain’s liberal values.
The campaign against educationists included death threats through various means as well as vicious social propaganda and smear campaigns that named and shamed the dissenting individuals who disagree with ultra-conservative forms of mandatory gender-based religious dress.
Around 20,000 people signed an online petition as a pressure tactic to overrule the hijab ban. A video was posted online comparing the headmistress with Hitler, and countless threatening emails were received by the school administration and Ofsted chief Ms Amanda Spielman.
School board chairman Arif Qawi, in resigning from his position, warned that the government had left educationists exposed to bullying from ‘extremists’ over the hijab ban by not coming to their aid.
He had reportedly written to the Education Secretary Damian Hinds, “I am flabbergasted why you and the Department for Education have stayed silent on this subject, rather than firmly enforcing the head’s decision. This lack of support, and weak attitude, will be very detrimental to the nation’s children.”
However, all those warnings and the plight of the school administration fell on deaf ears. The authorities never contemplated the school’s decision to protect the autonomy of very young girls who were being put behind a veil by some in their communities who wish to impose even stricter hijab rules for girls in Britain, where it is not a religious requirement.
Hijab has not always been an established religious obligation for Muslim women, let alone an identity complex or badge of ‘modesty’ for little girls as young as four.
Pro-hijab or pro-veil clergy across the Muslim world defend the requirement for females to wear the guise in order to avoid male sexual predation. They see a woman without the hijab as solely responsible for sexually predatory male behavior and even compare non-veiled girls with uncovered meat that entice voracious animals.
Not only is this an insult to Muslim men, who are infantilised by the suggestion that they do not possess adult self-control and are incapable of responsible moral agency. In addition, it normalises the idea that men are sexually aroused by the body of a four year-old girl, which is perverse to the core.
Covering little girls on the pretext of identity or religiosity arguably prevents girls from developing their own identities and assigns them one without their consent before they possess sufficient maturity to make complex decisions about their own identity or religious belief. It could be argued, of course, that all parents impose rules on their children, and how children dress (or do not dress) might be down to parental discretion. But hijab is used to cover women’s body and to avoid unwanted attention, otherwise, she is considered forbidden. This idea leads to the subjugation of free will and confinement. This very concept of being ‘modest’ and ‘obedient’ is simply counterproductive for the little girls.
Given the intensity of the situation, the educationists were left in blind alley with the government refusing to intervene and showing no signs of action against the vicious propaganda directed at teachers who objected to compulsory veiling and the double standards in society. If there is disagreement over controversial practices, teachers in a tolerant modern society should be safe to debate the issue without facing a smear campaign for expressing their views.
Eventually the hijab ban was reversed to ‘normalize’ the situation. The headmistress herself apologized for making a “huge error of judgment” which implied that the matter of concern was not the imposition of the hijab on little girls but that of offending parents’ religious sensibilities.
The question of whether a school can decide on a dress code for its students or whether parents’ rights trump the authority of educational institutions was resolved in favour of parents’ rights to tell their children how to dress. The real issue at stake is whether state schools, funded by taxpayers, not private ones, can impose a gender-neutral and equal dress code that will neutralise the sometimes overwhelming influence of religion in civil institutions.
Expressing her disappointment, Ofsted Chief Ms Amanda Spielman said, “If we are going to end up with an asymmetry where people conscientiously running quite small schools can be effectively targeted and bullied in this way then I think we are in quite a worrying world.”
A known Islamist organization MEND took credit for the hijab U-turn and celebrated the reversal as a victory.
These extremists would never dare launch a similar campaign in most European countries, including those with higher Muslim populations such as Germany, France, and Netherlands because they would be facing sharp rebuttals for threatening individual liberty, the institution’s authority to govern itself and the ideological neutrality of the education system.
Yet the British government chose to acquiesce in the bullying campaign in the belief that they have avoided an escalation, while simultaneously ignoring the long-term effects of emboldening religious fundamentalists and setting a precedent that will serve as a template for other schools.
The situation brings to mind Helen Keller’s warning, when she said, “avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold.” One cannot fight extremism with selective outrage. Extremism of all hues and shades should be stamped out indiscriminately because danger cannot be averted by merely closing eyes.
Demanding head gear for little girls is just the tip of the iceberg. Religious extremists are also invested in more perilous cultural moves such as garnering popular support for Female Genital Mutilation, Halala, and Sharia courts, which give legal sanction to forms of gender inequality and have been known to foster abuse and injustice that impacts women disproportionately. It remains to be seen to what extent the UK government will compromise democratic values of inclusion and equality.
Many are disappointed at how British officials have been bent into conformity to the rules set by ideological extremists. At a time when officials have been led to fear being ‘on the wrong side of history’ many are making exactly the kind of moves that will put them there.