The school life of Muslim children is the battlefield in which the culture wars between traditionalist Muslims and Britain's secular culture are waged. Muslim children are taught one set of values at home, and a very different one at school: the one demands segregation of the sexes, the other claims anything goes; Muslims require halal or vegetarian food, the secular school will have pork for school dinners, and so on.
If ‘claiming anything goes’ means ‘not demanding segregation of the sexes’, then she’s right. But she doesn’t mean that at all. And if secular schools deny Muslim children a halal/veggie option, then she’s right. But they don’t.
It’s a sneaky trick that the new religious militants are playing: parents who want their children to grow up sharing their own – often intolerant – dogmas should be ‘respected’. Attempts by the state to educate their children in a more tolerant, secular setting therefore actually constitute intolerance of the parents’ views.
Odone sings the praises of Muslim state schools: “Here children are educated in the basics of their faith in an environment in which being a Muslim does not risk earning them pariah status.”
Oh, come on. Kids are bastards: they’ll grant pariah status at the drop of a hat for any of a thousand reasons. I was a swot and I was shy and I was very, very spotty at school. This exposed me to a fair amount of ridicule and unpopularity, but it would have been preposterous to set up a new sort of school for kids like me. Nasty idiots of all sorts are part of life; you learn to deal with them.
And she’s making another classic educational error: children who go to schools of type X do well, so these schools are a good idea. But what happens to the rest of the schools in the neighbourhood? Devoid of Muslim classmates, how will the attitudes of their children fare? Segregating kids and telling them everyone’s equal – with a few token inter-group meetings – cannot compare to the power of showing them, daily and hourly, that they’re separate because they’re different.
Now, going back to Odone’s comment that this issue “is the battlefield in which the culture wars between traditionalist Muslims and Britain's secular culture are waged”. No: the former editor of the Catholic Herald has broader concerns than that.
The fact is that Islam is the battlefield on which increasingly politicised Christian groups are waging their culture war against liberal secularism. Because if religious concessions can be won in the name of a poor persecuted minority (think Rowan Williams on sharia), then logically concessions to Britain’s bigger religions will follow.
Secularists have to know that this is what’s going on, and we have to stand firm to resist it.