It’s been a while since John Ware last produced a documentary containing allegations of extremism. Given the disaster of the last one, that is not surprising. The genesis of that was Israeli military and security service sources. This time there seems to be a collaboration with a discredited London thinktank.
It may be pure coincidence that the same day that Ware’s documentary on Muslim schools aired, Policy Exchange’s released a report on the same topic. It would be good to get clarity on the relationship between the documentary maker and the think tank. Readers may recall that PX were the outfit that forged receipts to show that they purchased extremist literature from Muslim bookshops. To date, no explanation has been offered as to why they would feel the need to do such a thing.
Their latest report doesn’t engage or spend money on such extensive fieldwork this time. Instead, they appear to have left that to Ware and the BBC. The broadcast included interviews with Neal Robinson and John Bald, both authors of the PX report. It also extensively featured Michael Gove, currently Education secretary, who was formerly chairman of PX.
My wish here is not to whitewash the state of Muslim education. There were serious as well as superfluous issues raised by Ware. Textbooks shouldn’t contain details about amputations and speak in derogatory and discriminatory terms about other faiths. It is scarcely believable that this is happening, that so many parents aren’t bothered about it, and that even after so many years of scathing public scrutiny there are still people running Muslim institutions that haven’t got their house in order. It is high time that they joined the real world.
My disappointment is that he didn’t get to the heart of the issues and instead engaged in sensationalism. This isn’t surprising as Ware and PX are obsessed with extremism and presenting stories of it to the public. Witness the time devoted to a preacher who appeared at a school fundraiser who said something objectionable separately somewhere else. Ware and PX do not have the welfare of young Muslims anywhere on their minds, and therefore actually effectively dealing with the problems that exist.
It wasn’t mentioned by Ware, but young Muslims are more likely to leave school without qualifications, more likely to be unemployed, less likely to go onto higher education, more likely to be unemployed and more likely to be in prison than the general population. Educationalists say that the stress of additional evening and weekend Islamic schools does not help and may make things worse. After coming home from school, attending the mosque for hours in an often repetitive and uninspiring environment adds stress and leaves little time for homework or play.
I once heard a Glasgow imam openly speak about the effect of the madrassahs. He said that if you totalled up the two hours a day, this amounted to ten hours a week, 500 hours a year and over the course of ten years 5,000 hours. If you saw a product of this system though, then they wouldn’t be any better off than someone who hadn’t done it.
The system is crying out for a radical overhaul. Currently they are run largely by unqualified teachers operating off a poor or non-existent syllabus. Arguably most Muslim boys attend these madrassahs. There is then a real opportunity to lift attainment by investing in these institutions. Let’s make these classes a more rounded experience, including assisting with mainstream education. Add in a little sport and citizenship and you have real wholesome and beneficial proposition.
None of these big issues were addressed in Ware’s documentary. Ironically, earlier this year he accused the controller of BBC1 of being as “shallow as a paddling pool” upon hearing more “depth” was asked for from Panorama.