A few days before she was to commence her Australia/New Zealand tour, Ayaan Hirsi Ali called for all Islamic schools to be shut down. Sharri Markson, now at The Daily Telegraph, conducted the “exclusive interview” with Hirsi Ali.
Markson made the startling claim that, at Islamic schools, “the science curriculum is censored and music and art classes are banned”. The example of only one school, linked to a Saudi financier, was given. Naturally Hirsi Ali’s response was quite tame: “It is child abuse pure and simple. Muslim schools should not be allowed in liberal society.” The story showed two graphics featuring Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL) just to provide more balance.
Still, it isn’t just nasty pro-IS, government-funded schools that are a problem. News Corp has been running hot on a story about Punchbowl High School. The school has had an interesting run of principals. One principal, Jihad Dib, is now the state member for Lakemba. Before entering the Macquarie Street bear pit, Dib was credited with having turned the school around both discipline-wise and also in academic performance. He is now opposition spokesman for education.
The Australian carried a similarly sensational report about the subsequent principal and his deputy who were stood down in early March “in a move that has led to the airing of allegations around sexism and violence, including claims teachers were assaulted and threatened by Muslim students who professed to be terrorism sympathisers”. Its tabloid siblings have made a huge issue about the said principal, Chris Griffiths, changing his religion from rock ‘n’ roll to the dreaded Islam.
Perhaps the most troubling issue in all this is that the school is apparently one of 19 schools in NSW where “radicalisation” is a problem. One report cites Indonesia expert Greg Barton on the issue, getting his university affiliation totally wrong.
The same report described a deradicalisation program in these terms: “The Schools Working Together Program would include monitoring of religious activities at schools, vetting of any volunteers coming into contact with students and measures to ensure non-religious students weren’t pressured to convert.” If this is what the program is really about, it clearly isn’t targeted at white supremacists or the far right. It is targeted only at Muslim kids.
Griffiths was apparently resisting this program coming into his school. He would not have been the only one. I’ve spoken to a number of (non-Muslim) state high school teachers who see the program as purely aimed at Muslim kids. They tell me the program would be counterproductive and lead to resentment from many of the kids.
Similar and more extensive programs have been implemented in the United Kingdom. The problem with radicalisation is that we still don’t know exactly how the process works. One UK criminologist named Kris Christmann has identified eight models of the radicalisation process and 10 theoretical approaches to radicalisation in scholarly literature. Deradicalisation and counterterrorism strategies typically involve looking out for religious symbols and terminology familiar to and resonating with Muslims. This effectively mimics a deliberate strategy of al-Qaeda and similar groups. By understanding the process and trajectory of “radicalisation” as a process, “experts and officials” believe they more meaningfully understand “what goes on before the bomb goes off”. What a way to see high school kids.
So deradicalisation programs are theoretically unsound and ideologically charged. And now they will be implemented at Punchbowl Boys High School by a new principal whose last job was working at a juvenile detention facility.