Our country’s lack of support for the Batley schoolteacher suspended over a Mohammed cartoon stands in stark contrast to the French response.
In 2021 we see religious extremism in action on our streets, openly blockading a state school, threatening a Religious Education (RE) teacher with the loss of his livelihood. A young man with a family, who is now under police protection, and fears for his life. A teacher – a public servant, paid for by our taxes – who, as far as can be ascertained, was simply following his school’s curriculum.
Our Batley schoolteacher rightly fears for his life, following the brutal assassination of Samuel Paty in October last year. He and his family are not over-reacting. He is in hiding because he showed to his class one of the ‘Muhammed’ cartoons originally published by Jyllands-Posten in 2005, by numerous other outlets during the 2000s, then by Charlie Hebdo in 2011 and 2015; which resulted in attacks on their offices. A petition to re-instate him and two other teachers, started by pupils at the school (because the Head cravenly suspended its RE department) has reached over 60,000 signatures.
I am not alone in condemning this outrageous intimidation of teachers and students. But as a political cartoonist who has been cancelled, and had my reputation trashed by online mobs, who cannot hold reasoned debate, I feel I have a right to comment. My cancellation was mild compared to what happens to cartoonists in less democratic countries than ours. I have not allowed it to stop me standing up for others in the same position, for example:
Blasphemy is not a crime in mainland Britain. In 2008 we abolished the common law offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel in England and Wales. Scotland is only getting round to abolishing it this year – and in Northern Ireland an equivalent law is still on the statute books.
I notice that many of the commentators on the blockade of Batley School and the threat to the RE teacher, keep repeating that we are a secular country.
We are not. IF we ever abolish the Monarch (the Head of the Church and State) and the House of Lords (so Christian Bishops cannot make our Laws), which I, as a republican, sincerely hope for; THEN we will be secular. But not until then.
So what this means is that followers of Islam are carrying out this intimidation on the streets of an officially Christian country with impunity. (A country that widely approves of our own religion being mocked and satirised, by the way). And with minimal push back from our Secretary of State for Education.
An interview in the Telegraph is a poor substitute for what he should be doing – making a robust statement in the House of Commons, promising that the Government will support ALL teachers to go about their work, educating our children, without allowing this type of intimidation. Teachers who have been on the front line and applauded as as essential workers throughout the Pandemic.
The cowardice of the Teaching Unions and our politicians on this scandal is sending a very loud message to teachers and schools across Britain: “We will not stand up for you. You are on your own when the mobs gather outside YOUR school gates”.
For a real secular country, look twenty miles across the Channel.
Charlie Hebdo’s elderly, defenceless cartoonists and journalists, were assassinated at their editorial meeting on 7 January 2015 by two Muslim terrorists, allegedly in retaliation for reprinting the cartoons. In October last year, French Civics teacher Samuel Paty showed one of the cartoons to his class. And we know what happened.
But there the resemblance ends. Because the French establishment did not cower behind faux-secularism, after Paty’s brutal killing.
It pulled rank over a religion which is allowed to worship freely in their secular country, but which includes terrorists among its members, who have wreaked havoc in their country, across Europe, and in ours.
President Macron defended the right of a murdered teacher to show the Charlie Hebdo cartoons to a religious studies or civics class. At Samuel Paty’s Memorial Service, he said:
“We will defend the freedom that you taught so well, and we will uphold secularism. We will not renounce caricatures, drawings, even if others move backwards…..We will love, with all our strength, debate, reasonable argument, friendly discussion. We will continue, teacher.
And throughout their lives, hundreds of children that you have taught will use the critical spirit that you gave them. Maybe some of them will become teachers themselves…”
We can only hope and pray (those of us who are religious) that these words do not become a requiem for a British teacher.