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The Daily Rhino
Thursday, October 27, 2005

An unholy trinity of segregation, suspicion and misplaced faith
TWO Independent columnists respectively made me smile and think today. Miles Kingston defined a selection of the latest buzzwords in his indefatigable style today (George Galloway has subliminally made me associate that word with ol' Saddam for ever more.) Some of particular note were:

Asian - A Person originating from India or Pakistan.
Blog - In the old days, when you kept a diary, the last thing you wanted was for anyone else to read it. A blog represents the complete reversal of the situation.
Feng Shui - The thing that came before Sudoku.
Karaoke - The thing that came before Feng Shui.
Multiculturalism - A refusal to integrate.
Multi-tasking - A refusal to delegate.
Sushi - The thing that came before Karaoke.

Johann Hari chose a rather more serious topic. I have, up till now, restricted my comments on the Birmingham 'race riots' to responses to Sunny's articles on Pickled Politics. But Hari happened upon a topic that I'm known to bleat on about, faith schools.
I'm sure that everyone I've ever met has probably been bored by me at some stage, subjected to my usual diatribe, full of vitriol and venom targetted at what I believe to be one of Blair's worst mistakes. His time as PM has been characterised by an overwhelming desire to create a lasting legacy. Having realised that the War in Iraq turned out to be an almighty balls-up instead of the Falklands Part II, Blair's latest legacy-creating strategy is by removing Local Education Authority's power over schools. However I believe he will leave a very different footprint in the mud of British society. We saw the first signs on the 7th of July. Johann Hari has made the same link that I made - perhaps the Birmingham riots are part of the same problem.

Multiculturalism - A refusal to integrate.

The aforementioned plans for Britain's schools contain something that filled me with dread. A massive expansion plan for Britain's FAITH SCHOOLS. Britain now has 7000 faith schools, many of which are state-run and state-funded. Hari says:

"Segregating children according to their parents' superstitions is a great way to create a volatile, violent town where ethnic groups glare at each other across a chasm of mutual incomprehension."

I'm pleased at his choice of words. Superstition. For the segregation is not caused by true religion, it's merely a strange tribalistic urge that lurks in several of the communities in the UK. The Catholics say "eugh, we don't want our kids getting corrupted by THEM", the Muslims say "eugh, we don't want our kids getting corrupted by THEM" and the sensible parent says "I'm sending my kid to the best school I can."

That's how I ended up at a Christian school. I had not been in the UK all that long, I had had an unhappy time at a primary school where religion was wholly absent, but when I arrived at Colet Court I started really enjoying school. I was cajoled into going to St. Paul's cathedral to listen to Latin, I sang Thine Be The Glory but as I looked around I was surrounded by Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus and atheists like me all happily repeating the Lord's Prayer. I think they all felt the way I did - no big deal. We were there to learn history, English, physics, maths and so on. We weren't there to be indoctrinated - the religion just washed over us. By the time I graduated to St. Paul's aged 13, religious activities became optional and I used morning assembly time to do my homework whilst the pious prayed. What's the point in this ramble? That we were all happy because we knew why we were at school. We were united by our brains, corny though it may sound. We had all passed the entrance exam, which had no box asking religious affiliation.

The reason I expound on my own background is to counter the reason always cited by Muslims keen to establish new all-Muslim schools. They say that why should they be denied Islamic schools when Christians have theirs. I am sure that I wouldn't have been able to enjoy the same integration at an Islamic school. Great Britain, secular though it is (thank God!), remains a Christian country. Hence I believe that Christian schools have some sort of right to exist - many of them are hundreds of years old.

Christian zealots starting new Christian schools with the same blustering fervour as Islamic zealots provoke the same reaction in me - a strong reluctance for their schools to exist. There is just NO reason to Balkanise Britain like this.

The main reason that I am so, so against faith schools is obvious. Think back to when you were a kid. Did you give a toss your best friend was black, Chinese, brown or white? No, all you cared about was that they were not an icky girl (or vice versa). If races and religions mix from a young age, instead of growing up surrounded by people of the same hue and beliefs (often far removed from mainstream Britain). For otherwise we will never be able to foster a true sense of Britishness. Oh gosh, I came over all BNP then. What I mean is that everyone should be like me. Oh gosh I came over all arrogant then. If I can be a fiercely proud Brit and be brown, then so can other non-white, non-British-born people. It doesn't have to mean a resounding endorsement of what the British government does, simply a pride in where you live and the country that you call home.

"David Ward, the Bradford council member responsible for education, explained that the Government's obsessive humming - "You gotta have faith/ faith/ faith" - made it impossible to build mixed schools. "You feel as if you are fighting with two hands tied behind your back," he said. "We are trying to desegregate in Bradford but we are powerless when we have schools dictating their own admissions policies.""

A report into the riots stated "There are signs that communities are fragmenting along racial, cultural and faith lines. Segregation in schools is one of the indicators of this trend. There is virtual apartheid in many secondary schools."

Hari highlights an interesting incident from one of Blair's wonderful faith schools:

"Of course, faith schools claim they promote "tolerance" - but the evidence hardly backs them up. For example, at a state-funded Muslim school on the outskirts of London, a student wrote in the school paper that "Jews and Christians" will "burn in furnaces", and another said non-Muslims are described as "doomed in this world".

But what of the mantra the government trots out every time - that faith schools do better in league tables? Unfortunately for them, this can be easily explained away by the fact that these schools use poorly-defined and easily twisted selection criteria to siphen off the students they feel are most motivated and bright. In fact Hari claims faith schools underperform.

There are yet more pitfalls to allowing religion to be the main pillar of an educational establishment. Catholic or Islamic kids may receive no sex education. Children may not learn about other faiths, or what they do learn may be hidesouly biased. Are you really free to make up your own mind if surrounded by a mono-religious environment the whole time? I came to the conclusion that God doesn't exist based on my interaction with people from many religions. If I had grown up as a Hindu surrounded by Hindus who knows what I would believe. Certainly most religions all have something to say about issues like abortion or homosexuality. These should be issues upon which neutral debate takes place. History may even be twisted, with no regulation, the Holocaust may be down-played and evolution will become the myth, replaced by abominations like Intelligent Design.

Despite widespread opposition, faith schools are going ahead at full steam. What sort of Britain will we have in a few decades' time, when the current glut of toddlers are of killing age? More riots - definitely. More hatred - without doubt. More mutual distrust - surely. More bombings and murders - probably. All I can do is pray to God that British schools lose their faith.

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Bong-Breaker: "I came to the conclusion that God doesn't exist based on my interaction with people from many religions. If I had grown up as a Hindu surrounded by Hindus who knows what I would believe."

The horror, the horror of it. Yes, who knows what you might have learned from those other wacky Hindoos ? But if one were to speculate, you might--as a Bengali Hindu among other Bengali Hindus--well have ended up like Mr. Jyoti Basu...an atheist. ;)

I guess it's obvious that I don't share in your disdain for religious belief, per se. But that's a separate argument, for another day. In any case, the 'pragmatic' arguments you make against (non-old & non-Christian) 'faith' schools, strike me as a gamble. They may well end up embittering the very folk whose faith you wish to dilute. My instinct in such cases, contra yours, is to stick to principle. And my principle--informed by an Amrikan & Indian respect for 'faith' and its practicioners--is to allow everyone into the marketplace of ideas.

The state should simply enforce a level playing field. Among other things, in England's case that means not allowing London to become a haven for expatriate zealots (of any ethnicity, religion) and insisting, perhaps informally &/or formally, that leadership of local religious institutions be fully 'indigenized' as quickly as possible.

Please don't try to portray me as some sort of whitewashed anti-Hindu dismissive. Where have I stated any derision of Hinduism? I'm marrying into a pretty religious Hindu family, so I'm hardly someone who doesn't like to be around them. What I meant by my comment was that you are shaped by your surroundings as you grow up. I don't know what I would have thought had I lived in India for longer, that's all. I'm not saying one's better or worse.

Your argument falters with this:

"insisting, perhaps informally &/or formally, that leadership of local religious institutions be fully 'indigenized' as quickly as possible"

Yes, that is the whole objective we've been struggling with. In fact the very failure of trying to integrate or 'indigenise' immigrants is what has popularised the idea of faith schools.

You miss the point of my jest about Mr. Basu. I have no interest in the sort of racial/religious gamesmanship you (rightly) decry: I am more than willing to argue for my religious beliefs. But that isn't the point of your post or my comment.

Rather, the fact that Mr. Basu could turn out a staunch atheist in the midst of other Hindus tends to undercut your fear about the dire effects of 'faith' schools. Given this possibility, so long as the playing field is neutral, I don't think 'faith' schools will turn out to be quite the bogey you fear.

I'm not quite sure why you think my argument "falters" since I explicitly included 'indigenisation' as a necessary precondition for successful 'faith' schools. No doubt it's a risky course, but so is the alternative you propose.

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