Thursday, 15 February 2007

King Fahad Academy 'teaches hate'

This has been nagging me for some days now. I've been arguing about it on a discussion forum, but there all that is generated is heat, and little light.

Basically, the story is this: a British school, King Fahad Academy, in London, has been accused of using textbooks which contain offensive descriptions of Jews and Christians, and are derogotary towards other religions.

This is the story, reported by one British newspaper:

February 06, 2007
Saudi-backed school ‘taught racism’
Sean O’Neill

A London school that is owned, funded and run by the Government of Saudi Arabia is teaching an offensive and racist view of nonMuslims, according to a former teacher.

Colin Cook, who taught English at the King Fahad Academy for 18 years, alleged yesterday that pupils were taught from Arabic textbooks, which described Christians as “pigs” and Jews as “monkeys”.

Mr Cook, 57, claimed that when he spoke to senior staff about his concerns he was told: “This is not England, it is Saudi Arabia.”

The teacher, a British Muslim, made his allegations in documents submitted by his lawyers to an employment tribunal.

Mr Cook is taking legal action against the school alleging that he suffered racial discrimination because he was not a Saudi and that he was unfairly dismissed after blowing the whistle on systematic cheating at a GCSE exam.

The academy was established in 1985 in Acton, West London, with the aim of providing a high-quality education acceptable to the Saudi and British authorities for the children of Saudi diplomats and other Muslim families in London. Some of the children of Abu Hamza al-Masri and Abu Qatada, the jailed extremist clerics, are pupils at the school, which charges fees of up to £1,500 per year for day students.

The academy, which is registered in Britain as a charity, has more than 600 pupils. In 1998 the educational emphasis was shifted to ensure that the full Saudi state curriculum was made available to older pupils.

In his statement of claim, copies of which have been obtained by The Times, Mr Cook said: “Most of the Saudi teachers on the Saudi curriculum do not speak English fluently or at all. The Saudi curriculum courses are taught in Arabic with the exception of the English course, which I taught.”

Mr Cook said that he issued proceedings against the school when he was still employed there, alleging that he was victimised after complaining about the exam cheating.

He also complained that the academy operated a two-tier system that allowed Saudi teachers to work shorter hours and enjoy longer holidays. His statements allege that only Saudi pupils were taken on a trip to the World Cup in Germany last summer and that one English pupil was criticised for supporting the England team during the tournament. In December 2006 Mr Cook was was dismissed by Ahmad al-Dubayan, the academy’s director.

Mr Cook has submitted translations of Arabic teaching material used at the academy, which he said confirmed his belief that the school is “institutionally racist”.

He said in his statement: “The schoolbooks presently in use describe Jews as ‘monkeys’ (or apes) and Christians as ‘pigs’. The textbooks apparently state that the Jews are cursed. Pupils are asked to ‘mention some repugnant characteristics of Jews’.

“The textbooks are produced by the Saudi Government (Ministry of Education). Dr al-Dubayan is a Saudi who was appointed by the Saudi Government. He is the head of the Islamic Cultural Centre (which incorporates the London Central Mosque) . . . I understand that he has diplomatic immunity as a result of his appointment, but I do not believe that the immunity should extend to his role as trustee of the academy.”

An Ofsted report on the academy, published last year, concluded that it was “a satisfactory school” where the quality of teaching was “mostly good”.

(Source: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/education/article1336853.ece)

There is a bit more, but that is the important parts. Click the link if you don't believe me.

This was followed up by Newsnight, Britains premiere current affairs programme, which prides itself in being tough-as-nails with its targets. The Newsnight investigation consisted of two parts, a investigative report into the allegations, giving background to the case, and a atudio interview with the school's director. The interview was chaired by Jeremey Paxman, the toughest of all the tough-as-nails Newsnight team. He was particularly unpleasant towards the director of the school, who tried gamely to answer his questions when he let her. Generally, however, he preferred to cut her off and bully.

Right, so it is cut and dried. The books called Jews pigs and Christians Monkeys, or perhaps the other way around, but this is unacceptable, right?

Not so fast. The newsnight investigative report mentioned some imoportant details, though it signally failed to pursue them. There are also several key weaknesses that make it impossible to make a judgement at this stage.

First, Newsnight mentioned (but did not comment on) the fact that the passage about the Jews being monkey's and the Christians, pigs, were quotations from an ancient Islamic source: Ibn Abbas, one of Mohammed's cousins. This in itself should have been enough to set alarm bells ringing, but the Newsnight journalist, to his shame, did not see fit to comment on this. he also mentioned that the comments were included in a chpater of the book dealing with Islam's relationships with other religions. So, wow. We have a text book doing exactly what it is meant to do - that is, give information, in this case about the history of Islam's relatinoship with other religions.

Various rightwing frothers are - um - frothing about this story, some of them may be exploding as we speak, their blood pressure is so high, but it is a non-event, a nothing, at this stage at least. It is like accusing a history book about World War Two of being anti-Semetic because it quotes from Mein Kamff, to show that Hitler didn't like Jews.

Now, I don't expect the rightwing mob who inhabit discussion forums to care very much, and I amn't to surprised at the Times taking the line it did - it is a Murdoch paper, after all. But I am very disappointed that Newsnight bought into the story so readily. I can only guess that they are worried about being seen as too leftwing and politically correct, and wanted to be able to say "No, we can't be leftie and PC, we were nasty towards that Muslim school, remember?"

1 comment:

lurgee said...

This is another perspective on King Fahad Academy, courtesy of the leftie Guardian:

Tripped up by a footnote

Teacher of 'hate-filled' Islamist texts or a misunderstood, multicultural school caught in a media row? John Crace has a look at what really goes on at the King Fahad academy

Breakfast on February 5 was just about the last time Dr Sumaya Alyusuf had a moment to herself. After battling her way through the Monday morning traffic on the A40, the director of the King Fahad academy walked into her office to find the phone ringing. It was the London Evening Standard. The newspaper was running a story saying that Colin Cook, a former teacher who was already suing the Muslim independent school for wrongful dismissal, was claiming that pupils were taught from a book that labelled Jews as "apes" and Christians as "pigs". Would she care to comment?
She would. She had no idea what Cook was referring to, had not heard of the passage in question and insisted that the school was committed to multiculturalism. It didn't do her a lot of good. Within hours, the academy was outed as a "race-hate" school and, after Alyusuf made a somewhat shaky appearance on BBC2's Newsnight, the school has been in a state of semi-siege. Pupils have been abused and threatened on their way to school, and Alyusuf has received hundreds of abusive and threatening messages.

It's not hard to work out why I've been invited into the school. After 10 days of relentlessly negative publicity, the academy is desperate to have its voice heard.

Walking into the school, I'm under no illusions about what I am going to find. There will be nice multicultural artwork hanging in the corridors, the pupils are all going to be open and friendly, and the staff will be falling over themselves to make me welcome. Pretty much what you would expect of any school opening its doors to the media, in fact.

But this doesn't mean it isn't a fairly accurate picture. Yes, some things feel a bit stage-managed, but the King Fahad academy does not appear to be a fertile breeding-ground for Muslim fundamentalism. The girls are free to decide if they want to wear headscarves, all the lessons - other than Arabic, Islamic studies and French - are taught in English, and not all the teachers are Muslims.

(Story continues: http://education.guardian.co.uk/egweekly/story/0,,2016561,00.html)