Free speech, religious tolerance, an understanding of the dignity of others, the liberty of the individual, the freedom to make the most of one’s talents, and respect for the institutions of our democracy are what make Britain great
Given all the facts, it is now impossible to deny that Britain has a problem with fundamentalist Islam. This is not an indictment of the venerable faith of Islam, or of the millions of law-abiding, patriotic Muslims who live in this country. But it is a challenge that we ignore at our peril. A challenge that should be met with a positive restatement of British values.
On the one hand, there is the example of the Birmingham schools that became dominated by ultra-conservative Islam, a scandal that this newspaper has fearlessly exposed. As Ofsted’s report stated, governors and teachers failed to prepare their pupils for life in a multicultural, multi-faith society – leaving them isolated from their British peers. Raffles and tombolas were banned from one primary school on the grounds of being “un-Islamic”; Christmas activities were discouraged, yet subsidised trips to Mecca occurred. The phrase “white prostitutes” was allegedly used in assembly, and classes were segregated by gender: boys at the front, girls at the back.
On the other hand, there are troubling accounts of radicalised Britons travelling abroad to fight in jihadist wars. Last week the Isis forces fighting for a Sunni caliphate in Iraq released a video that featured young British men encouraging others to come to the Middle East and martyr themselves for Allah. Rooz Bahjat, one of the Kurdish Regional Government’s most senior security officials, told The Telegraph that Isis’s troops include some 400 to 450 Britons. He said: “They will not stay here. In six months, one year, you will see bombings in London, Birmingham, Paris, Stockholm and elsewhere.”
Fundamentalism, then, poses a threat both to Britain’s social fabric and to its security. There are no easy answers to dealing with it. But education is surely the key to winning over hearts and minds at as young an age as possible.
Britain has changed a great deal in the past few decades. It has become more diverse and a little less religious, and it is not as easy as it once was clearly to define the cultural tropes of Britishness. Given that the country is less homogenous, it is necessary to restate the principles that make Britain not just a free society, but also a moral enterprise: free speech, religious tolerance, an understanding of the dignity of others, the liberty of the individual, the freedom to make the most of one’s talents, and respect for the institutions of our democracy. In short, what makes Britain great – what makes so many people want to work and live here.