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When a Wakefield boy brought a Koran to school

A British schoolboy has been suspended and threatened for committing blasphemy. What century is this?

Tom Slater

Tom Slater
Editor

Topics Free Speech Identity Politics Politics UK

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Time was, being a liberal meant spending a lot of your time agitating against religious hardliners, intent on imposing their beliefs on the rest of society. Standing up for people or films or books deemed ‘blasphemous’ was part of the deal. Not any more, it seems, if the silence over the goings on at ​​ Kettlethorpe High School in Wakefield is anything to go by. Last week, four students at the West Yorkshire secondary school were suspended for ‘desecrating’ a holy book. At least one of them, the one who brought the book into school, has been sent death threats. But rather than punishing those doing the threatening, those apparently fuming with religious fury, the school – and the local police – have prioritised dealing with the students, who reportedly dropped and scuffed a copy of the Koran. Welcome to Britain in 2023, where blasphemous teens are menaced while our not-so-liberal elites look the other way.

Here’s what happened, according to a local imam, a Wakefield councillor, the school’s headteacher and a policeman. All of whom addressed a meeting at the local mosque on Friday night, and all of whom should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves. Last Wednesday, a student (who happens to be autistic) reportedly brought a copy of the Koran into school on a dare – his forfeit for losing a game of Call of Duty with his mates. On the school tennis court, they read aloud from it then walked back inside the school, where another kid knocked it out of their hands and on to the floor. For this, the four students were suspended, following a quick investigation. The police – naturally – were then called in. At the meeting on Friday, a policeman, introduced as chief inspector Andy Thornton, confirmed that the students’ treatment of the book has been recorded as a ‘hate incident’. This is despite the fact that the school has ruled that the students had ‘no malicious intent’. ‘[I]f more consequences have to be followed, that will be the case’, Tudor Griffiths, the school’s headteacher, told those gathered at the mosque – keen to reassure them that he took the issue seriously.

Unbelievably, it gets worse. While rumours swirled that the book had been burnt and spat on – in truth, it was barely damaged – the autistic boy at the centre of it all began to receive death threats. Yes, death threats – which, unlike disrespecting holy books, are actually (and legitimately) a criminal matter in the United Kingdom. But the students who issued these threats are off the hook. Akef Akbar, a councillor for Wakefield East, made this clear at the Friday meeting, sat next to the mother of the autistic student. ‘To her credit’, Akbar said, ‘she understands the situation and has advised the police that she does not want any of these children [who sent threats to her son] to be prosecuted, and she only asks that her son is not harmed’. ‘He’s absolutely petrified’, the mother, who is unnamed, told the meeting later on: ‘But I don’t want anybody to be prosecuted because of the stupidity of my son and his friends.’

This is chilling. This mother was effectively begging for her son’s safety, while the school and police were apparently more concerned about protecting religious bigots’ hurt feelings. Indeed, the response of the school and police runs the risk of contributing to the threat posed to these boys. By suspending those students and logging their behaviour as a ‘hate incident’, the school and police are effectively saying that the mob has a point – that the boys should be punished for ‘disrespecting’ Islam’s holy book. You’d be forgiven for thinking that Wakefield had become an Islamic theocracy overnight. This is blasphemy law by the backdoor – and by caving in to mob intolerance the authorities have done nothing to remove the target from these boys’ backs.

We’ve seen how this story ends far too many times now. The threat to those deemed to be blasphemers is very real. Batley Grammar School, where in 2021 a teacher was forced into hiding after he showed a cartoon of Muhammad to his religious-studies class, is a 10-mile drive from Kettlethorpe High School. That teacher is still in hiding, no doubt fearing he will meet a similar fate to Samuel Paty – the French teacher beheaded in the suburbs of Paris in 2020 for almost identical ‘crimes’. Those who refuse to believe that such a thing could happen here should Google Asad Shah, the Ahmadiyya Muslim shopkeeper from Glasgow who was stabbed to death in 2016 by a man who accused him of ‘disrespecting’ Islam. Everyone seems to have conveniently forgotten about that awful case.

Indeed, the whole point of that Wakefield meeting was to try to defuse the threat of violence – albeit in a shameful and cowardly fashion. The local imam stressed throughout that anyone who resorted to threats or violence ‘is not truly following the teaching of Islam’. Meanwhile, he made it abundantly clear that disrespect towards those teachings will not be tolerated. ‘Any Muslim in Wakefield, Halifax, where I’m from, Bradford, Dewsbury, United Kingdom, or outside the United Kingdom, will never tolerate the disrespect of the holy Koran’, he said. ‘We will sacrifice our lives for it.’ While Wakefield’s Muslim leaders decided against protesting outside the school, the imam made clear at the meeting that they would have had the Kettlethorpe case involved adults rather than children: ‘Had it been, for example, a teacher who had disrespected the holy Koran, had it been, let’s say, an adult that had thrown the holy Koran, then the matter would be different. We probably wouldn’t be sitting in the [mosque] right now. We’d probably be standing outside that school and voicing our concerns.’

Here’s the thing. The more we capitulate to religious bigotry the more we inflame it. If Britain wants to be a liberal, democratic and harmonious country we cannot have a situation where a religion – any religion – is forcefielded from criticism, where teachers or students or anyone else is intimidated and punished for defying religious diktat. Giving in to this intolerance will only sustain, not defuse, the threat of reprisals in the long-term. And even where this intolerance doesn’t spill over into threats and violence, it will still curtail free speech for everyone, including liberal Muslims and those from minority Muslim sects. Remember the cancellation of The Lady of Heaven – the supposedly blasphemous film shut down last summer by mobs of protesters? That was a Shia-made film, pulled from UK cinemas at the behest of Sunnis. Sticking up for the right to blaspheme protects everyone – including believers.

This shameful episode in Wakefield should be a wake-up call. We must face down the religious intolerance that has been curdling in our midst. Right now, we are enabling it, due to a mix of cowardice and a bizarre new conviction that it is racist to offend religious conservatives. First a teacher was hounded out of his school over blasphemous cartoons, now children are being threatened for scuffing a holy book. Now would be a great time for our supposedly liberal elites to rediscover their principles. But I fear it will take something much worse to pry their eyes open.

Tom Slater is editor of spiked. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Slater_

Picture by: Twitter / jessgill03.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Free Speech Identity Politics Politics UK

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