A Batley Grammar School teacher is today in hiding and under police protection. He reportedly showed the infamous Charlie Hebdo cartoon of Mohammed during a Religious Studies class, and the mob descended. They wanted him to be sacked immediately for disrespecting their prophet, so the Headteacher Gary Kibble politely but firmly reminded them that there is no sharia blasphemy code in Batley Grammar, and that teachers are permitted to use age-appropriate resources in order to explore sensitive subjects and encourage critical thinking made a statement:
The school unequivocally apologises for using a totally inappropriate image in a recent religious studies lesson. It should not have been used. The member of staff has also relayed their most sincere apologies. We have immediately withdrawn teaching on this part of the course and we are reviewing how we go forward with the support of all the communities represented in our school. The member of staff has been suspended pending an independent, formal investigation…
This is quite simply shameful. Setting aside the fact that Batley Grammar School has no religious foundation but is now apparently subject to a particular sharia blasphemy code, it is astonishing that the Headteacher did not use this opportunity to defend his teacher and to make it clear that academic freedom permits Islam to be critiqued and Mohammed to be portrayed – even as a satirical cartoon.
The context was a lesson on religious extremism and the terror attack on the office of Charlie Hebdo in Paris. The teacher asked his students who was to blame, the cartoonist or the terrorists. The lesson was designed to elicit critical thinking and philosophical inquiry. You may say he could have posed this question without showing the cartoon, but why shouldn’t he show the cartoon? Satire is legal: a picture speaks a thousands words – especially in education – and this school is in England, not Pakistan.
If the Headteacher “unequivocally apologises for using a totally inappropriate image” of Mohammed during a Religious Studies lesson, would he unequivocally apologise for using any image of Mohammed in any educational context? In the Sunni tradition, schools of sharia forbid all images of their prophet, but in the Shia tradition, he has been depicted for centuries. If a Sunni mob descended on his school protesting against such blasphemy, would Gary Kibble robustly defend a teacher for showing a depiction of Mohammed in the context of Shia art, or would he issue another grovelling apology with an assurance that the course will be reviewed and all resources made fully Sunni-sharia compliant?
A Muslim charity which supports the school has issued the following letter:
The charity not only names the teacher, but blackmails the school: all charitable support will cease unless the teacher is sacked. Forget due process, forget natural justice, forget his heartfelt apology: he has blasphemed “our beloved Prophet Muhammad”, and so must be “permanently removed”.
Gary Kibble and the Governing Body of Batley Grammar cannot give in to this sort of bullying. They are no doubt dedicated to the promotion of community cohesion, inclusion, mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs. And they also no doubt respect the values, ideas and beliefs of others whilst not imposing their own on others. Now is the time to demand, very politely, that these very ‘British values’ be reciprocated and reified by others in the Batley community, not to convey to the world that secular state education in England is now subject to an Islamic blasphemy law.