The Politics of ...

The Politics of ...

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Fear of Islam

The climate of fear generated by the current government, the coalition and, sadly, the last Labour administration has finally begun to eat itself. There will still be Daily Mail readers who will quiver with fear at the mention of immigrants, Muslims, communist Labour leaders, or, if they're Express readers the fear will probably be apocalyptic weather, foreign spiders and the ghost of Diana coming to haunt us all... I said this before (it's a famous quote): the only thing we have to fear is fear itself and politicians and newspapers have this tied up like an ebola-infused Christmas turkey complete with ISIS chef hats and a semtex stuffing.

The latest example of our (non) Nanny State was the interrogation of a 12-year-old Muslim lad for using the term 'eco-terrorism', in a French lesson (so he said it in French - that's more impressive than I could have managed), when talking about protecting the planet from global warming. The boy was taken out of class a few days later, questioned about terrorism, about ISIS and naturally his parents went incandescent with rage. Sadly, this didn't surprise me in the slightest...

A few years ago I worked for one of those Academy schools - the kind that essentially are run as businesses and not as benevolent educational centres. The school was results driven, behaviour intolerant and was run by a former businesswoman with less educational experience than the average schoolkid - she cosseted her teachers, abused her support staff (treating them in many ways worse than students) and began a form of ethnic cleansing to ensure her school was never ever regarded as a Special Measures place, ever again.

Regardless of that, this school has a good Ofsted rating, good examination results and a good reputation throughout the town (not too good locally, though). I was employed to work with the 'problem' kids - the disruptive, the non-conformists and the poor and disenfranchised that were needed to be alienated and oppressed so they perpetuated the situation into future generations (but not at this school...). I was taken on by the new deputy head of behaviour; he had a brief to change the way the school worked and looked at problem students, and I got the job because of the diversity I brought to it and the fact that I am a reformer and not a disciplinarian. This school was not addressing issues in a proactive way and therefore the problem was not going away - I was the antidote.

But this isn't about that, because with all the best intentions some things won't change if you get too much opposition from people who don't understand how this new, progressive way of dealing with young people works and want immediate, gratifying, punishment. 50% of the teachers at that school were simply not interested in why, they just wanted blood and therefore my boss continually had to justify my methods - even with the evidence of it working staring them in their collective faces. But, this really isn't about that and I have a gagging order to prove it. What this is about was one of the things that happened that probably just ensured the school enforced said gagging order on me.

I'd been doing the job about a year when I met 'Mohammed'. He was the least likely occupant of my 'bad kids' class - an extremely intelligent young British Pakistani Muslim from an exceptionally good and well-respected family. Mo (as we shall call him) was placed in isolation because he'd hacked the school's computer system and altered all of his mates' exam results. I have to admit to having more than just a bit of sneaky admiration for this. The school employed six IT specialists and this kid turned them inside out and was punished. I argued that we were doing the wrong thing; that the kind of punishment this kid needed was education not being placed with the 'usual suspects'. I also argued that the school should embrace such a precocious talent and get him working with the IT department to devise a way to stop future Mohammeds from hacking their system. This suggestion was treated in the same way as suggesting we made a child porn movie with the pupils - what made it worse was no one, not even my boss, could see the sense in doing something Microsoft and Apple did wholesale in the 1990s - employ the enemy.

Mo spent a week with me and there was nothing I could do with him; a Class A student who was now a cult hero in the school and that was the school's fault - they did nothing the way it should have been done and as a result this extremely intelligent kid was banned from using a computer or mobile devices while on the premises - a school with pretty much a net book for every pupil, limited net access and a progressive learning policy that embraced the future of technology; so they treated a potential child prodigy like a criminal.

Fast forward six months...

My job had changed; a new school year and a new role, one that took me all over the school dealing with unacceptable behaviour as it happened rather than dealing with it in a retro way. It was one of the few progressive suggestions I made that was treated seriously - although the senior members of staff who wanted us to go back to the cane were always challenging my role with my boss. It was hard work dealing with the staff because unlike the kids many of them were set in their ways. I had spent six years working with young offenders and seriously disenfranchised young people - I was actually in a far better position than half of these archaic dinosaurs to understand the whys and wherefores - so I was obviously ignored with gusto.

I got a call on my radio; it was lunch and I was asked to go and check a commotion in the boys toilets. On arrival I found Mo in a seriously bad way. He had had some kind of seizure, and was flailing around saying he couldn't see and my gut feeling was I was witnessing something very very bad. I cleared the toilets, radioed reception and ordered them to call an ambulance. this was initially refused because I wasn't the school nurse. When she arrived and radioed reception to tell them to call the bloody ambulance you would have thought they would have done that, but no, reception informed the headmistress and her deputy and they 'took over'.

Forty minutes of this poor boy fitting, having a seizure and being in complete and utter hysterics because he couldn't see and he had a headache that he said felt like his head was trying to split into two and the school finally called for an ambulance. I was a mixture of horrified and angry, but I had a job to do, as it was made clear to me, bluntly. Mo's family were informed and as his parents arrived at the school, so did the ambulance. Fortunately the paramedics took over, leaving all the staff who were involved to stand around and pontificate about things like Mo's dad and his reaction to his son's potentially serious seizure; how mum didn't seem upset about it and worse than anything else, the suggestion that these Muslims don't think about their kids the same way as us decent British people.

I was appalled and at the end of the day approached my boss and pointed out that I'd worked with Mo for less than a week, but I was aware his father was an Imam and his reaction was perfectly normal, and that because of the diversity training I had had throughout my work with young people, I was aware that the behaviour of the parents was cultural and had nothing to do with how they may or may not have felt about their children, especially in a stressful place surrounded by non-Muslims. He suggested I speak to the designated 'diversity' rep in the school.

I did and she agreed with my complaints and said she's take it to the staff meeting that evening. The following day I was rudely spoken to by the head, in front of my boss, who later tried to say it had nothing to do with me, but it was clear that my criticism of the way the staff treated the boy and the remarks made after had really pissed her off. The school dismissed my call for some diversity training out of hand, claiming it wasn't needed and that I should concentrate on my job and not others. It was an utterly appalling treatment that was made worse by suggestions from senior members of staff that Mo was actually play-acting and was doing it to get attention.

Unsurprisingly over the next couple of months my job was put under tremendous scrutiny; it was clear that I'd upset some people by speaking the truth and the school didn't like that.

The rest is attached to the gagging order - one made, you have to argue to prevent me from talking about the circumstances by which I eventually 'left by mutual consent' and they gave me money too. They didn't want me there, probably because I questioned the way they did things. I even harbour feelings that I might have been set up. I expect nothing has changed at this school; I expect it's still run as a business; culture and cultural deviations are not even taken into consideration and the way the school's CPO goes about her job I'm amazed that we haven't had more anti-terrorist assault squads descend on the school as it has at least a 15% Muslim content and must be regarded as a perfect breeding ground for anti-British, pro-extremist Islam beliefs. The fact that most of these 15% will end up as lawyers, doctors. or successful businessmen is immaterial.

There have been a number of headlines in the press over the last few years about schools and extremism; my guess is the climate of fear has gripped the educational system like someone has laced the chips at school dinners with antibiotic resistant gonorrhoea. If the marginalised see themselves as being targeted by 'authority' then it easily becomes a fait accompli. Having read a number of reports that completely overreacted - therefore inadvertently sowed a seed - and been a witness to cultural ignorance and general disregard by teachers, I'm grateful for some of the kids - whether they're good or bad - because whether you're gay, Muslim, disabled or SEN, most of the kids I have ever worked with have no problem with any of these things. Teachers, on the other hand...


I mentioned 'sowing the seed' and back in 2005, I witnessed something that absolutely disgusted me. I was working at Bassett's Court, doing a night shift and I was standing out the back smoking a fag when a young black lad on a push bike came riding towards me aiming for the alley that ran down the side of the hostel. He looked like any normal 12-year-old kid out, after school, riding his bike. Suddenly a police car came racing along the road to Bassett's (a dead end) and a young copper jumped out of the car and shouted at the kid on the bike; who stopped in his tracks and put his bike down - an obvious sign he was guilty if ever I saw one.

The copper searched the kid and asked him a load of questions. The kid did everything he was asked politely despite the heavy-handed casual racism he was being subjected to and all the time the copper was aware I was standing there watching. The kid finally got on his bike and rode off looking shell shocked and upset, while the copper looked at me. I said nothing, but the young fascist obviously read my mind, "He fitted the description of a shoplifter in town," he said to me like this was all I needed to think he was protecting society from dangerous threats.
"Wasn't him though was it?" I asked. The young copper waved his hand at me, like I didn't understand.
"Just doing my job, sir." He said and I couldn't help but reply...
"Just ensuring that that black lad has just lost any respect he might have had for the police, eh?" I walked back inside the building, I had no interest in arguing with a racist wearing a policeman's uniform.

10 years later and we're actually regressing. That's what fear does. Fear also starts wars and I get the feeling that some people in higher politics view a war as the easiest way to solve the wave after wave of crises we keep being warned about, by the government and the neo-liberal press.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Hollow Victory?

The votes have been irrevocably cast. The losers lost more severely than anyone ever contemplated and that makes it difficult for the other losers. It was a comprehensive decision that could not be questioned legitimately, yet some are and by doing so they have made a calculated risk, which flies in the face of the members - who vote for them in general elections.

Jeremy Corbyn won; whether some people like it or not, Labour is going to be radically different for at least the next few years. The politicians - cross party - are oddly unified by their combined opposition for a man whose politics are being labelled 'left-wing' but are actually far more moderate than any true 'Trotskyite' would have hoped for. Yet, the likes of Cooper, Kendal, Ummana, Reed and Hunt have all resigned from jobs they, probably, wouldn't have kept, in what can be seen as them positioning themselves for the 'inevitable' fall and fallout and therefore not seen as part of this 'folly'. They will all feel they will have a chance of serving under the next Labour leader, or maybe even be that heir apparent, once this idiotic decision is seen for the foolhardy move it was.

The ex-ministers/shadow ministers are all young enough to spend a few years, maybe 10, in the political wilderness and will step up when needed to reposition the party closer to the Tories and in their minds become far more electable.

It's probably more mindless than electing a 66-year-old rebel as your leader. These 'well off' Labour new backbenchers are oblivious to the damage they and the Tories have done - the centre right and right wing MPs who look at balance sheets and profit margins before they look at people, circumstances and things that can never be planned or hoped for which cripple families who then need the help of a benevolent government and are discarded in the same uncaring way as we describe refugees wanting to escape a war. These 'Labour' MPs will be prepared to take a risk for their own purposes and to hell with everyone else and if you challenged them on this and they admitted it was an option, they would also say that following Corbyn would amount to the same thing and being part of his fiasco would mean there wouldn't be any sensible heads the public could identify with. It's appalling that these people are even allowed to be politicians considering the actual regard they have for the voters. The fact many think what they're doing is positive and will end up as a fait accompli are those 'others' mentioned earlier.

Corbyn won on so many fronts that the dislike of his victory has made everyone speak out against him sound like they both fear and loathe him in equal measure. Never have I seen such scaremongering tactics as employed by all parts of the media while completely ignoring the fact that he was the only candidate with ideas, the only candidate that filled hustings halls, the only candidate that didn't resort to bellow-the-belt tactics, the only candidate who appeared to have any dignity, self-conviction and belief in what he was talking about. That cannot be allowed in a world where it is important that you fear everything and know that the government - whatever colour - is there for you, sorting it out in a way that's best for the country (even if they all talk about decentralising government).

The new man will have many problems, but I believe he will rise above it and by doing so will impress people, in a similar way to how Farage rejuvenated disaffected Labour and centre ground Tories. UKIP might have only got one seat, but had the LibDems got their PR wish they would have ended up with considerably less than Nigel and his Purple helmets. People didn't vote for the UKIP candidate, they voted for Nigel. UKIP are a marginal loony party; imagine what a figurehead like Farage could do for a major party? Well, Jeremy Corbyn is as far removed from good old Nige, but in terms of their appeal to the public, they're cut from the same kind of cloth, but maybe from different ends. They talk - people listen. There are a lot more Labour people than UKIPpers; there are a lot of Liberals who will like many - not all - of this new look Labour, and there will be young, old, disaffected and disillusioned people energised by this man who doesn't talk in political double speak, but talks about things that people want their politicians talking about and, more importantly, opposing the Tories, not abstaining or voting with them on anything that isn't in the utmost public interest - and even then depending on the morality of what is being asked.

The self-exiled Labour MPs have made arses of themselves by petulantly walking away from the party at a time when they could have influenced or moderated some of the more extreme ideas and recreated Labour as the socialist party that works with business, Europe and the middle class people who don't trust them simply because of their name. These MPs should be asked to either support the party or walk across the floor to another party or resign and allow a by-election. I appreciate this is what some of the Blairites probably said of Corbyn or Skinner or Benn, but the left wing of the party after the schisms of the 1980s never undermined the way the party changed - they didn't like it, but like Tories, accepted the change to stay a united front. The self-serving Tories had enough foresight to let things happen for the good or the bad of the party because unity is what holds a lot of their vote together - there are so many light blue Labour MPs you would have thought they could see this. The left wing of Labour pretty much hated Blair and co, but having a pinkish blue government was always a better idea than a dark blue one and they retreated to the grass roots of the party and did good constituency work and quietly complained from the depths, albeit not too quietly. Neither do some Tories, to the left or right of Cameron because they have unity - whatever happens.

Corbyn energised a campaign so well he won it by a mile. His words appealed not just to Labour supporters but to many others; he inspired people to rejoin the party (me and several of my friends included) and that shouldn't be ignored - however small the overall percentage of the voting population it transpires to be. He's talking in a way that has made some people both extremely happy and scared. He's talking about politics and the consequences of politics rather than talking in political speak designed to bamboozle the average Joe into not being that bothered. Jeremy Corbyn has an opportunity to make politics cool again; the Labour party have a massive opportunity to make themselves electable by being honest, straight talking and realistic and it will all be for nowt if the sore losers go against the groundswell of support for their own selfish purposes. Politics should be about the people MPs serve not about their own petty ambitions.