“All things vile and murderous
Bacteria great and small
Sent to plague and burden us,
The Lord God made them all.
The Covid 19 Virus
The mutant RNA
Sent to kill or mire us
The Lord God at his play?”
From The Waist Band by Bachchoo
Living in Britain all these decades, I hadn’t heard of the West Yorkshire town of Batley. It’s now very much in the news and in the public eye because in its grammar school a teacher brought cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed, first published in the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, and displayed them to his pupils in a lesson about free speech. Without referring to Google or an atlas, I can confidently say that Batley sounds to me what one may call a mill-and-mosque town.
This definition arises from the fact that after the Second World War, the textile mills of the north of England suffered a shortage of indigenous labour and imported immigrants, in very large number from Mirpur in “Pakistani” Kashmir and from what later became Bangladesh, to man the night shifts and settle in these towns. Thence the mosques and religion in these communities as a central, motivating and governing dimension.
Then came the government of “Iron Lady” Margaret Thatcher, which, in its thrust towards capitalistic globalisation, allowed international competition to shut down the British textile industry and devastate the coal mining sector. Bradford, Huddersfield and of course Batley suffered mass unemployment. But despite that disastrous setback four decades ago, this week’s news about the protests outside the school have made public two facts which I find curious, if not encouraging.
But first, gentle reader, the story as it happened. A teacher in his late twenties, teaching religious studies to the 690 pupils of the school, warned a class that he was going to pose a moral question. He would show them a cartoon which some people would certainly find offensive. He would then tell them that because of that cartoon several people associated with the drawing of it and publishing it in a French magazine were murdered. The question the pupils had to address was the moral rights and wrongs, the religious taboo on drawing pictures of the Prophet and the contrasting morality of murdering people who had perpetrated the cartoon.
This teacher was aware of the fact that Batley, just outside Bradford, had witnessed large-scale protests and book burnings in support of the Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa against Salman Rushdie’s book The Satanic Verses. Some of the 13- and 14-year-old pupils told their parents about the lesson. An irate Muslim parent expressed his objections on the phone to the teacher. Soon there was a demonstration of 50 or so people outside the school.
The headmaster immediately suspended the teacher involved. Reports said the teacher felt threatened, apologised for showing the cartoon and went into hiding to avoid being confronted or even killed.
One of the leaders of the protests, a “preacher” named Mohammed Amin Pandor, called for the dismissal of the teacher from the school and the profession. This gentleman, Pandor, is a publicity seeker. He is a graduate engineer from Dewsbury and recently issued a fatwa against the Covid-19 vaccine. He said there were “uncertain substances in the vaccines” and that “Allah has given a definite remedy for safety from every form of harm and disease”. He urged his followers to shun the vaccine and recite a certain prayer three times. In 2017, Pandor accused Ephraim Mervis, the UK’s chief rabbi, of telling Jews that it was permissible to turn Christians and Muslims into sex slaves! This year he was forced to apologise to Mervis for that offensive falsehood.
Pandor has made it known in television interviews that he opposes gay marriage and even demands that the popular TV programme Strictly Come Dancing be banned. He signed a letter to the newspapers attacking an article by a Muslim police commander which was headlined “We must reclaim Islam from the extremists” and declared himself in favour of this extremism.
While the protesters insist that they will continue to picket the school until the offending teacher is permanently dismissed and even barred from the profession, over 60,000 signatures have been collected in Batley for his immediate reinstatement.
I have no way of knowing who these signatories are, their location or their religion. Are they all non-Muslims? Or are some of them Muslims who want to reclaim Islam from the extremists?
The encouraging, if curious, fact is that of the 690 pupils of Batley Grammar, 420 or so of them are “of ethnic origin”. This means that the children and mostly grandchildren of the original, mostly Muslim, immigrants to Batley and Bradford have achieved the academic qualifications to gain competitive entry into this grammar school, that was founded in 1612. It implies that they are on their way to university and are guaranteed status in Britain’s meritocracy.
Now 600 of the school’s pupils have signed a petition in support of reinstating the offending teacher. Even if all the “non-ethnic or non-Muslim” third of the school’s pupils have all signed, it still means that 330 of the “ethnic” pupils, certainly at least 300 of them from Muslim households, have taken a “liberal” attitude to the incident and the supposed offence.
Can we conclude that this generation of Batley Muslims are moving away from the extremism that their parents or grandparents clung to?
Pandor Saheb, the tide of tolerance threatens....