Batley Grammar: Free Speech at Threat | Wasiq Wasiq

Another week and another case of free speech hitting the news. This time, a teacher at Batley Grammar School is alleged to have shown a caricature of the Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) in a religious studies lesson. This caused protests outside the school by ‘elders’ and other interested parties. The teacher – who I will not name, unlike a charity that did – is now in hiding fearing for his life. Batley Grammar School is not in Iran, it is in a small West Yorkshire town of Batley – so why is freedom of speech seemingly at threat, again? Let’s take a look.

Schools are tasked with teaching their students. They are expected to develop them into well rounded British citizens ready to take on the complexities of the real world. As part of that, they decide on the content of their lessons and how to teach it. So, is there any wisdom in showing a caricature of the Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) in a religious studies lesson? Well, that is for the individual teacher and the school to decide. If they believe it is appropriate, that should be the end of the matter. However, when nonstudents take issue with it, freedom of speech is at threat and so too is the life of the teacher.

Since we’re talking of wisdom, I am not entirely convinced bringing in ‘elders’ – to ease tensions – is particularly helpful. Who are these unelected individuals? How can they be good faith mediators when their position is not neutral? Take a look at this video of these statements and make up your own minds.

But what is a neutral position you may ask? Well, it is one that holds freedom of speech – within the law — obviously – as a right that should be afforded to all citizens within the U.K. It would be dishonest of me to say that there are no implications to this. Of course, there is. It means that some people will be hurt if another utters words that offends them, or if they show pictures that have the same impact. But taking offence is a small price to pay to live in a liberal free democracy. If you wish to complain about free speech, perhaps you should speak to some of the persecuted minorities in oppressive regimes like Iran that force their own citizens underground if they do not subscribe to its theocratic laws and Islamist views.

But there is hope. There is a pushback against the ‘hurt feelings’ of these Muslims, some of whom are not even parents of students at the school and others that are not even from the area. The pushback is coming directly from the students themselves. They have started a petition to reinstate the teacher. Our next generation is inspiring, and this is an example of it. We must support them to have their say. Afterall, this should ultimately be about them.  

Social cohesion is about being able to live together – the good and the bad. It is about accepting that there will be times when your patience will be tested and to be able to navigate your strength to deal with these emotions. Of course, there will be times where we all behave out of character, but unfortunately, if one questions anything about the Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) we tend to see reports of groups of Muslims always acting out of character – or perhaps that is their character? This certainly shouldn’t be the case.

The Muslim community is diverse in its makeup, it is also diverse in its views. Not all Muslims get easily offended because of a caricature of the Prophet Muhammed (pbuh), but there is a tendency to portray them like that because it is those with the loudest voices that are being heard.

British Muslim writer and columnist for the Mallard Rakib Ehsan puts it succinctly: “Before some Muslims demand the same (anti-blasphemy statute) in England, they should understand that this country has been remarkably successful in welcoming newcomers of non-Christian faiths. A recent survey found that 76 per cent of British Muslims feel free to practise their religion.”

The point here is this; for many Muslims Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) is considered to be dearer to them than their own mothers. That is fine. But freedom of speech does not threaten that. If anything, freedom of speech allows Muslims to propagate their religion in the U.K. which is a [Christian] secular nation. Can the same be said for countries like Iran? Doubt it. So, when groups of Muslims are protesting because their feelings are hurt, just remember it is freedom of speech that allows you to do that, something minorities persecuted by oppressive regimes do not enjoy.

Photo Credit.

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