As those of you know who have been following me and my and my foster son's campaign, 'Azadi', to, as one of its aims, bring an end to violence in madrassas in this country (http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/13956), these allegations of abuse come as no surprise to us. However what comes as a surprise and shock to me is the ongoing reluctance by many of those in the Muslim community to do anything about it. Its actions are echoing the decades of abuse in the Catholic church, where, for many years there, as with the madrassas now, the attitude was to sweep it under the carpet and ignore it.
There are many in the Muslim community who even perceive it as quite normal and acceptable behaviour, some parents even encourage it. When I spoke to some former students of mine who had attended madrassa, some who still do, and asked about physical abuse, the response was "yes, it happens, so what?".
There are those who argue that the Imams and teachers at these madrassas are only carrying on practices which are commonplace in such educational institutions in countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh, indeed where many of them are born and have spent their training. However, yet again, this is an example of a religious group's actions which, although may be tolerated by some or even many within its own community, is at loggerheads with the values of the system within which it now chooses to reside.
As a result of the inaction (and wide-scale acceptance) by much of the Muslim community to allegations of abuse, victims rarely report the crime. Indeed, as Fran Abrams discovered, there are even cases where victims who have reported abuse and subsequently been ostracised by the community, despsite instances where the defendant was found guilty. In other cases, victims who initially make allegations are pressured into dropping them, for fear of community reprisals and bringing dishonour onto the family and their community.
Whatever the official numbers of physical and sexual abuses in our country's madrassas, Nazir Afzal, the chief crown prosecutor for the North West of England, said he believed the BBC's figures represented "a significant underestimate".
What is happening in many British madrassas is a national disgrace and, furthermore, a disgrace to a religious community that is often the first to point its finger when, the so-called, 'morals' of others do not fit in with its own. For a religion that believes in the principle of "an eye-for-an-eye", it appears only to come into practice so long as, whatever is revealed, does not bring its own religion into disrepute.
Recently, I was publicly criticised, in the Ilford Recorder, by a parent of a former student of mine, a Dr Anwar Hussein, who stated that he is:
"very angry that my child, with hundreds of other minors at Beal High, was subject to a teacher who was engaged in working in the adult sex industry, which, as a follower of Islam, I find highly immoral, repugnant and completely unacceptable and incompatible with my religious beliefs."
Without wishing to remind Dr Hussein that this is neither a Muslim country, nor is my former employer, Beal High School, a Muslim school, it might also do him some good to hold a mirror to his own community and ask why so many of those who share his 'religious beliefs' find it acceptable to tolerate activities that go against our shared British values. He chooses to live here. I choose not to follow Islam, or any religion for that matter, thank you very much.
Personally, I believe that whatever my child's teachers do outside of the classroom is entirely a matter of their choice, but the moment that teacher beats my child with a stick or touches my child in a sexual manner at any time (not to mention within the school time!!!), then I will be pulling that child from that school and bringing forward allegations without a second thought AND not giving a stuff whatever those in the rest of my community think or care about it!
Of course, Dr Hussein is an exception to this rule. He would be one of the few within his community who would be brave enough to speak up and take a stand against the actions of some his fellow religious compatriots, of course he would, I have no doubt.
Meanwhile, yesterday my son came home and revealed to me that one of his good friends, a fellow Pakistani, is due to be 'married off' in February next year. The girl is 17 years old and, despite her parents wishes, does not want to be married. Indeed, she has other plans for herself. The parents are moving to Saudi Arabia and are insistent, prior to their move, that their oldest daughter is to be married.
It riles me to the core that so many parents, particularly, although not exclusively, within the Asian community, feel that it is their right, as a parent, to dictate the romantic and sexual lives of their children, not to mention the education and career. These are parents who, in many cases, have chosen (for whatever reason, often economic) to live in this society, to breed in this society, to bring up children in this society, knowing full-well what the values of this society are, and yet to impose, on their British-born children, values that go totally against the values that we in Britain instill in the minds of our young British citizens.
For many years, I have been a strong supporter of multi-cultural communities. I still am. I have done and will always fight racism and discrimination wherever its ugly head appears. Well over half of my friends and associates are either born elsewhere or of foreign parentage. And, believe me, there are many cases where I would rather a foreigner as a neighbour than an ignorant, insular, inbred Brit, as so many of us are.
I also share great empathy with the many ethnic communities who originate from lands that were formerly of the British Empire. I recognise how this country took advantage of your lands and peoples for its own selfish benefit; how you were made to believe that the Queen is your Queen, London your capital city and that you also are as British as a British-born man. And yet, the reality, when you arrived on these shores, has been very different. I recognise those wrongs and the mistreatment that you have been subject to for many years on these islands.
However, lets make it very clear: religion is not race. Religion is a matter of belief and choice. This choice, at times, you must have to justify and should be discriminated for.
Britain should absolutely open its arms to those who wish to live here and become proud, responsible citizens of this land. But it should also make itself very clear to new arrivals, that, while they are welcome to live freely on these isles and to choose to do, to themselves, and believe, within themselves, within the privacy of their own home, whatsoever they choose (as long as it is within the laws of the land) that there are certain values of being a resident and citizen of Britain that they should respect: those of liberalism, equality and democracy and an absolute respect for the rights of the individual (rights which extend to children too, believe it or not).
If, for whatever reason, your own values do not gel easily with those values that we hold dear in this country, well you have a choice: to either adhere to those values or to choose to reside in another society that shares your values.
At school, I regularly had a form member and member of my Religious Education class, who happened to be Muslim, tell me how he believed that homosexuality was a sin and how all homosexuals should be executed. This child's parents were born in Pakistan, lived in Holland for many years and then decided, with full knowledge of the value system in our country, to move here. My response to this student was always the same, "while I respect that is your opinion, you must recognise that this is not an opinion that is widely shared in this country. If you believe it so strongly, that it is so important to you to live in a society that shares that value, then you should choose, when you are old enough, to move yourself to a country where homosexuality is illegal and a capital offence. It is neither of those things here and nor do we wish it to be."
The only thing that inflicting your own values and beliefs on your child will do, is to bring resentment and misery into their lives and possibly a schism in your parent-child relationship that could last a lifetime. Is that what you really want?
I have seen too many families ripped apart and children disowned because they tried to flex their individual rights muscles or did something that brought dishonour onto their family or their community.
Nothing is more important to me than my child. I don't have a biological child. I have a child I am looking after because his own parents thought it was more important to have the words of the Qu'ran literally beaten into him thousands of miles away in a madrassa in Pakistan.
And where is that family now? They too have fled to Pakistan for fear of what their son may say and how this may damage their own reputation and family 'honour'.
Is this the love of a parent?
Is this a community who really cares?
Is this the sign of a community who really thinks the legal activities of teaching staff outside of school are more horrific than the beating and molestation of their children within one?
If only. We would see a lot of Imams and parents beaten black-and-blue by their students/children.
If only they would be so brave.