Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Whataboutery and Seamus Milne on Conservative Islamic Influence in Education.

with 6 comments

Seamus Milne Hints at Plot to Forge Trojan Horse Document.

The fallacy of relative privation, or appeal to worse problems, is an informal fallacy which attempts to suggest that the opponent’s argument should be ignored because there are more important problems in the world, despite the fact that these issues are often completely unrelated to the subject under discussion.

The word whataboutery has been used to describe this line of argument when used in protesting at inconsistent behaviour. e.g. “The British even have a term for it: whataboutery. If you are prepared to go to war to protect Libyan civilians from their government, then what about the persecuted in Bahrain?” Wikipedia.

Seamus Milne is a master of Wataboutery.

Today in the Guardian he begins an article – Michael Gove’s toxic assault on schools is based on naked discrimination – with another tactic, of ‘contextualisation’ by putting an event in terms of the worst possible context.

“The harassment of minorities on the basis of forged documents has a grim history.”

So  the official onslaught on mainly Muslim state schools in Birmingham, triggered by what has all the hallmarks of a fabricated letter outlining a supposed Islamist plot to take them over, should be cause for deep alarm.”

Left in the dark about this “history” (although we might float the words, Protocols, Elders and Zion,  around) we launch into some rhetoric before landing here,

But this extremism turns out to be a different beast from the one first trailed in lurid accusations a few months back. It is nothing to do with terrorism, or even the elastic boo-word of Islamism. The target is religious conservatism – or even just plain religiousness.

It is with interest that Milne takes so lightly criticism of Islamism (overwhelmingly from the left in countries where Islamists have murdered democrats, leftists and feminists) that he calls it a ‘boo-word’.

Milne then largely denies that there is much of a problem about the influence of conservative Islamism in schools, notes the patriotism of  Birmingham Muslims, denies that most of the reported incidents of enforcing religious norms took place, and, unable to disprove some of them admits that,

That’s not to say, of course, that there’s nothing behind the allegations, which have clearly been fed by former and current staff – or that there aren’t legitimate grievances. These are not faith schools and some have clearly pushed the schools’ religious boundaries.

He then ends with a classic whataboutery,

“There’s a powerful case for secular education. But it doesn’t exist in Britain’s schools, which are awash with religion. And unless the same rules apply to all, the result is naked discrimination.  But has Gove sent inspectors to root out anti-abortionism and homophobia in Catholic or evangelical-sponsored schools, or cultural isolation in mainly white schools where racism is rife?”

No he has not.

He has not disestablished the Church of England.

Or promoted equality and secularism.

He is a dyed-in-the-wool reactionary privatiser.

But does Milne advocate promoting the “”same rules for all”?

We await this call with interest.

This is followed by another whatabout….

But the campaign to bring to heel Birmingham’s schools and humiliate the Muslim community in the process is a wider threat in a country where war-fuelled Islamophobia is already rampant. Dog-whistling to Ukip bigotry might seem a cute electoral trick.

The problem then is not the content of the report on the schools: it’s the context in which it’s made. By this sleight of hand Milne has avoided addressing the issues

  • Is there anything wrong with the principle of religious influence in education?
  • Should the influence of conservative Islam be curtailed?
  • Should there be universal secular education?

Whatabout Iraq!

Indeed.

Written by Andrew Coates

June 12, 2014 at 3:27 pm

6 Responses

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  1. The bit that hit me in Milne’s article is this: ‘There’s a powerful case for secular education. But it doesn’t exist in Britain’s schools, which are awash with religion. And unless the same rules apply to all, the result is naked discrimination. But has Gove sent inspectors to root out anti-abortionism and homophobia in Catholic or evangelical-sponsored schools, or cultural isolation in mainly white schools where racism is rife? Not at all. Nor has he investigated the influence in schools of far-right extremists.’

    I agree that there is something suspicious about the concentration of attention upon the alleged activities of Muslim frummers in these schools whilst other religious groups’ activities in schools don’t get half the attention. He is right to point out that the same rules should apply to all schools. However, having raised the question of the need for secular education, he immediately scampers away from the question by saying that it doesn’t exist in British schools.

    Surely the matter of a secular educational approach is the key factor here, and should not be avoided by going off at a tangent. If one calls for the full secularisation of education, then one can criticise examples of Islamic frummery in schools with clean hands, as it were, as we would criticise frummery from any religious body. We would be able to put the boot in on examples of religious obscurantism as it would easily be seen that our criticisms of reactionary Islamic clerics is not based upon a narrow anti-Muslim prejudice, but upon a broad secular approach which does not discriminate against a specific religion by attacking its peculiarities whilst ignoring or justifying the peculiarities of other faiths, but rejects all manifestations of obscurantism.

    The logic of the current business in Birmingham is that if we did not permit religious bodies to run schools or to influence the running of schools, then we would not be in this pickle today. That means that the call for a thoroughly secular school system should be at the centre of any left-wing programme and statement on the subject of education.

    Dr Paul

    June 12, 2014 at 11:25 pm

  2. Of course the irony is that the modern adherents to the Protocols are those in the Iranian regime, Hamas and others who Milne shamelessly supports. He loathes conservatives unless they’re Muslim. He is a useful idiot and is worthy only of contempt.

    Chris

    June 13, 2014 at 9:42 am

  3. I’m not certain what the exact reference to forged letters was. It could have included the Zinoviev Letter (1923).

    In any case it was a bad way of introducing an argument.

    Which is, as Paul says, the need to look at the following,

    “If one calls for the full secularisation of education, then one can criticise examples of Islamic frummery in schools with clean hands, as it were, as we would criticise frummery from any religious body.”

    This seems to be getting an echo now.

    Andrew Coates

    June 13, 2014 at 11:06 am

  4. The schools in question were COMMUNIY schools not faith schools.

    Sue R

    June 13, 2014 at 8:25 pm

  5. I do know that the schools in question were ‘community’ schools, which is why I referred to conditions that ‘permit religious bodies to run schools or to influence the running of schools‘; what is alleged to have happened in Birmingham is an example of the latter case. But this is to prove my point: not only do the frummers run school, they also can get their claws into nominally non-affiliated schools. This surely makes the establishment of a fully secular education system all the more necessary.

    Dr Paul

    June 13, 2014 at 11:02 pm

  6. Trouble is that you can’t legislate against fanatics. They will always find a way of subverting things into what they want. I have some experience of ‘plotting’ to take over a school, Haringey in the early 80s where the council introduced a pro-equality agenda and anti-homophobic. (Not that I’m equating the two phenomena.). The only safeguard really is an active Labour Movement and fully conscious working class, but that’s pie in the sky at the moment. Just continually exposing what is going on is a start.

    Sue R

    June 14, 2014 at 5:56 pm


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