“Fascinating Twitter exchange between @MoAnsar and @Adrian_Hilton on education,” tweeted the BBC’s Nicky Campbell during a rather disheartening dialogue I was having with everyone’s favourite Muslim social commentator.
And fascinating entertainment it may very well have been for the steadily-swelling Twitter crowds who were gathering to RT, ‘favourite’ and butt in on the commotion. But educationally enlightening it was not. And I wouldn’t be writing about it now but for the peculiar fact that Mo Ansar hastily deleted a whole string of his tweets when he realised that he was being monitored not only by his adoring fans, but also by the eminent historian and author Tom Holland.
I guess Mo had a great amount of face to save, in particular the one framed between his cream-crocheted taqiyah and the hair of his wajib beard. That’s his agreeable TV face: his Twitter face is rather rude, terse, obfuscational and incoherent. That’s the one that needs to be made a bit better known. I was so stunned by the tweet-cleansing that I publicised my bewilderment. “OMG. You are right. But why?” gasped Nicky Campbell, clearly equally stupefied. I viewed this sanitisation as the wanton destruction of evidence; the redaction of crucial testimony. And when Mo later tweeted a “Prayer call” up to Allah for “tackling the hate (again) for this day”, and beseeching the brotherhood for a divine shield to guard against all the insults, harassment and abuse that was coming his way, I was stirred to reconstruct our dialogue to establish the veracity and authenticity of the encounter (which I was able to do with the grateful assistance of Tweetbot and screenshots taken by the most beneficent assembled crowd).
He had been railing for a few days against the largely media-fed frenzy of the “Islamic takeover of schools”, and I have some sympathy for his objections. Even the Telegraph referred to “Muslim infiltration”, seemingly oblivious to the fact that it is perfectly legal for Muslims to establish and run state schools, so no covert “infiltration” is necessary. While there are undoubtedly a few local concerns about aspects of curricula, gender equality and school governance, any attempt at a “takeover” would be confronted by a series of rigorous checks which Michael Gove has put in place, not least of which is a unit specifically charged with inspecting and investigating such concerns. But instead of acknowledging this, Mo turned his righteous fire on the Education Secretary himself: “As an educationalist working in schools, governance and select committees for years, I’m appalled at Gove’s witch hunt against Muslims,” he tweeted.
I politely responded, “as an educationalist”, that there is no more a DfE witch hunt against Muslims than there is an “Islamic takeover of schools”. Indeed, through the introduction of the Academies Act 2010, Michael Gove has done more than any education secretary since 1944 to the facilitate the state proliferation of faith schools to serve their local communities. And in this more pluralised and multi-faith era, he is doing so equally for all religious communities. There is no longer the presumption of Judæo-Christian privilege: Muslim parents who want their children to be educated by the state in accordance with the precepts of Islam owe a very great deal indeed to Michael Gove, whose overriding concern is the ‘common good’; that all faith-school curricula should conform to the enlightened traditions of liberal democracy, and citizenship classes instil awareness of ‘British values’.
But instead of reassessing his inconsistency or apparent hypocrisy, Mo began wallowing in victimhood and frantically RT-ing some of the irrational abuse that was coming his way. I found it a bit odd, “as an educationalist”, that instead of engaging intelligently with another academic perspective, he preferred to promote his obdurate persecutors and promulgate the hate. He then lamented: “For years, Muslim, and other religious and atheist children, have been forced to take part in activities of a largely Christian character”. I pointed out to him that the law requires no such thing; that the 1944 ‘Butler’ Education Act gives parents the right to withdraw their children from the ‘daily act of collective worship’ (aka ‘assembly’), and, moreover, since Labour’s Education and Inspections Act 2006, sixth-formers have had the legal right to recuse themselves from religious inculcation irrespective of parental consent. No Muslim child has been or is being forced to take part in a school’s Christian “activities” without tacit parental approval; nor is any Jew, Jehovah’s Witness or Jedi.
“Rubbish,” decreed Ayatollah Ansar. “I’ve been working in education for years. You?” he demanded to know, in monosyllabic inquisition. And then he patiently instructed me: “Learn what ‘wholly of a Christian character’ means.”
Now, I’m not into willy-waving: I don’t believe that longevity of service or experience in office offer any particular guarantee of superior knowledge or surpassing expertise. I know many teachers and academics with 20 or 30 years behind them who are oblivious to their own ineptitude; and equally teachers of just a few years’ practical experience whose pedagogical skills, wisdom and insight tower above Oxford professors. Talking of which, I know of one such don who possesses no doctorate but is more than qualified by experience to lecture and supervise DPhil research students, which he does with great mastery. So, cardboard certification is no definitive test of value, and “working in education for years” is a facile boast: he might have been the janitor, for all I know. I simply wasn’t prepared to play his “my experience/qualification is bigger than yours” puerile matchup.
But he introduced something into the conversation that, “as an educationalist”, I happen to know a bit about. His exhortation to “Learn what ‘wholly of a Christian character’ means” is a reference to legislation relating to the statutory daily act of collective worship. Except that Mo has got it wrong, or, more likely, is purposely misrepresenting the legislation in order to incite the brotherhood and vindicate his own jihad against the state. The statutory requirement upon state schools, set out in Section 386(2) of the Education Act 1996 (reiterated in the School Standards and Framework Act 1998), is to provide compulsory collective worship which is “wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character”.
Did you see what the self-declared theologian-educationalist did there? By omitting “mainly” and “broadly” he propagates the narrow “wholly” as a coercive lie. Theologians can and do argue over what may constitute “mainly” or “broadly” in the context of Christian belief, but school governors have long been at liberty to interpret this in terms of institutional ethos, cultural values and character virtues, or, indeed, to ignore it altogether. In the vast majority of secular schools (ie those which are not voluntary-aided or controlled), the assembly is more a daily act of collective self-worthship than worship. And Ofsted have no interest at all in ensuring that headteachers oblige children to recite the Lord’s Prayer, sing ‘Kumbaya’ or give credence to the doctrine that salvation is to be found in Christ alone.
But all this is “Rubbish” to Mo, who has been “working in education for years”. Which is odd, because whenever he’s interviewed he seems to boast about the years he’s spent as an eminent sharia jurist, theologian, academic, human rights advocate, diversity officer, equality expert, LGBT authority, business director, banking guru and government advisor. Some of these may, of course, have been concurrent. But he seems awfully fresh-faced (the telly one) to have so much proficiency in so many competences. Where he finds the time to be a community leader and social commentator as well I have no idea. I get the impression that if some dispute were to arise tomorrow over the provision of ritually-slaughtered meat, he’d claim direct lineal descent from a halal butcher, and invitations to tour the TV studios would flood in.
He went on to accuse me rather boorishly of wanting to “compare appendage size”. You will recall that he was the one who boasted about his manly proportions, laying down the challenge for me to drop my own pants and compare members, which, being a modest and humble Christian, I resisted. A tweeting observer subsequently politely enquired of us both, and I gave him a glimpse of my potency. But nothing came from Mo by way of response to the numerous enquiries into his own qualifications and the precise nature of his educational expertise. Tom Holland agitated for a while, but Mo was as mute as a tongueless dog who had dared to mock sharia.
He did respond to Nicky Campbell, though, probably vying for another promo-invite onto The Big Questions: “Do you not get bored of advertising people picking fights, abusing or harassing me, Nicky? Bit uncool, mate.”
Not as uncool as crass slander and deception, considering that, far from picking a fight, I had been nothing but polite, respectful and reasonable toward him throughout our dialogue. But here I was, being accused (behind my back) of abuse and harassment – the sort of thing Mo has been known to report to the police. Nicky Campbell responded: “@MoAnsar where was he abusing you love? It was 2 educational experts having an interesting exchange about marginalisation”.
And indeed it was. Or at least I think it was, because Mo had still not disclosed to the Twitter hordes the basis of his claimed expertise as an educationalist. He told me that he had written papers, which I then politely asked to see. Being based in the Department of Education at Oxford University, I could easily fish out the most obscure monograph if the author would obligingly point me in the right direction. I even said ‘please’. Mo responded: “Bark all you want, Adrian. Here’s the final word on the matter..”, and he linked to one of his previous tweets alleging some inside information from “a very senior government source, that Gove does not consider Tommy Robinson an extremist”.
I don’t know how many hate-filled hounds bark ‘please’, so I asked him again, just in case he’d mistaken me for an islamophobic troll. But the theologian-educationalist’s final word wasn’t evidence of his qualifications, experience, or even a pointer to his written papers. It was a tidbit of gossip from some anonymous government source – albeit “a very senior one” – that the Education Secretary doesn’t think Tommy Robinson is an extremist.
I’ll stop there, just in case he tweets more slander, spouts more disinformation, or reports me to the police for hate and harassment.