When politically correct impulses collide, the result can be as disturbing as it is comical. Evidence of the “Trojan Horse” plot to Islamise schools from Birmingham to Tower Hamlets has sparked urgent investigations by the Department for Education, Ofsted and the former head of counterterrorist police, Peter Clarke.
Such concern is wholly warranted. Hardline Muslims on governing bodies are said to have hounded out secular head teachers. Five non-Muslim heads have left schools in one area of Birmingham alone since October. There are claims that Muslim girls are made to sit at the back of the class, subjects such as biology are being censored to comply with Islamic teaching and extremist preachers have been invited to address pupils.
However, in an apparently unrelated incident, Ofsted was forced to abandon its inspection of the Olive Tree independent Muslim primary school in Luton after parents protested that their nine and ten-year-old children had been questioned about their attitudes to homosexuality. One father said that his ten-year-old son had been panicked and intimidated by being asked: “What do you know about gays?” The chairman of the school’s trust said that such questioning was “sexualising young children”. Inspectors reportedly asked similar questions of Muslim pupils and possibly “homophobic” teachers during their investigation into Trojan Horse.
What a telling snapshot of the confusions of contemporary British society. Trying to protect gay sensibilities, Ofsted offends a religious minority; conversely, to avoid offending Muslims entails outraging gay people.
In their defence, the hapless Olive Tree inspectors said that the law requires them to root out all discriminatory or derogatory language in the classroom. Be that as it may, to label primary school children as bigots is wildly inappropriate. Many non-Muslim parents would probably agree that children of this age are too young to be asked about sexuality. Traditionally minded non-Muslim parents might also object to their children being taught to approve of gay lifestyles, intruding as it does into their right to transmit their own morality and values to their children.
Andrew Moffat, the gay assistant head teacher at Chilwell Croft school in Birmingham, resigned after some parents at the mostly Muslim school objected to their children learning from him that “it’s OK to be gay”. Mr Moffat is the author of Challenging Homophobia in Primary Schools, which begins by saying that five-year-olds need to be taught that gay men and lesbians exist.
The problem here is at root a terrible confusion between public and private. Traditional, tolerant Britain may have disapproved of homosexuality but believed that sexual behaviour was a private matter; as long as it didn’t bother anyone else, few cared. No such tolerance exists in the traditional Islamic world, where religious belief allows no space between public and private behaviour and where gay people go in fear of their lives.
Britain now makes no distinction between the two. It regards all disapproval of homosexuality as evidence of “homophobia”. This simultaneously demonises unthreatening conservative social values — held by Muslim and non-Muslim alike — while failing to acknowledge the true bigotry of radical Islamic belief.
That threat derives from its negation of core western values, such as its active persecution and killing of gay people, women or “infidels”. But what about the many of all denominations and none who believe that marriage can only ever be between a man and a woman? Or private Christian schools that may teach that homosexuality is wrong? Deeming them to be equally beyond the pale reveals a chronic loss of cultural balance.
There are plenty of perfectly liberal people (not to mention a number of gay people themselves) who think the gay rights agenda has gone too far in seeking to overturn fundamental social values. Faced with the very real danger of Islamic radicalisation, there is now a profound confusion over where tolerance ends and oppression starts.
An attempt to defend our fundamental principles from attack seems to be resting on an ideology that itself seeks to erode those principles. Looking to Ofsted and the law to defend us against Islamic zealotry, we find that both are in thrall to a form of secular zealotry.
The place where the national interest resides is neither of these but on the centre ground. Unfortunately, no one seems to be very sure any more quite where that is.