“You need to free yourself from the influence of Satan”, said the schoolteacher.

“You need to free yourself from the influence of Satan”, said the schoolteacher. June 17, 2015

The Bridge Schools Inspectorate (BSI), which allowed some private Christian and Muslim schools to choose their own inspectors, has ceased to be. It is an ex-inspectorate. The writing was on the wall after Ofsted’s chief inspector totally slated it at the end of last year, although I’d written about it before.

Reporting on the demise of the Britain’s most obviously indefensible inspectorate, the Telegraph includes some quotes that undercover reporters had recorded teachers saying in schools inspected by the BSI. This is the one that stuck out to me:

“You need to free yourself from the influence of Satan and the society. They’re controlling your minds,” the teacher said.

Apparently people find it shocking that a teacher said this. I read that and I’m like, “Oh yeah, that’s something normal people would find surprising, isn’t it?” They’re getting rarer these days, but I still have moments where I had to recalibrate my sense of what is considered normal. I forget that most people don’t hear stuff like this in school.

Of course the teacher said that. Since we only usually remember things that are in some way unusual, I’m willing to bet the teacher in question doesn’t even remember saying it. I certainly can’t recall many specific moments where a teacher talked about Satan or hell in my education. Satan was just something we took for granted, an organising principle in the way we made sense of the world. When a teacher told us we need to avoid the works of Satan, and the society which was influenced by him (which was most of mainstream society), it was mundane, commonplace, unmemorable.

Of course, the big difference between my school and Deobandi School in Birmingham, where this statement was recorded, is that my school was Christian, and Deobandi school is Islamic.

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Students of Madarasa Bhalwal. Photo by Rizwan Sagar. Creative Commons.

Other quotes that are apparently only sufficiently shocking to make the news if a Muslim teacher says them include:

A second teacher warned pupils not to “emulate … these Jews, these Christians, these atheists”.

You’d have to swap some religions around, but that could otherwise be a statement from an evangelical school.

Undercover reporters filmed a senior teacher telling pupils in assembly that they must choose between “the way of the Prophet” or “the way of the kuffar,” an insulting term for non-Muslims.

In the Christian school, it would be “the way of the Lord” vs “the way of the World” (or “the sinner”, “the lost”, or the “the heathen”), but the sentiment would remain the same.

So what?

I’m not here to defend the Muslim schools. This is indoctrination, it doesn’t belong in schools, and I’m glad it’s being addressed. I just think it should be addressed equally everywhere it happens, and it happens at least as much in Christian schools. You might object that I’m like one of those assholes who changes #BlackLivesMatter to #AllLivesMatter, like someone who runs through a cancer benefit yelling THERE ARE OTHER DISEASES TOO.

I don’t think I am, for a couple of reasons:

  1. Muslims already suffer a great deal of bigotry. It’s not a secret that a lot of people criticising Islam are actually just racists (sometimes to be heard shielding themselves behind cries of “BUT ISLAM ISN’T A RACE!!!”). It’s possible to stand up to both anti-Muslim bigotry and the oppressive aspects of Islam. And one way to do that is to stand up to religious oppression by white Christians with the same vehemence. I suspect the reason that the Telegraph article went on about Muslims for 19 paragraphs before it even mentioned Christian schools is part of a general anti-Muslim bias.
  2. The Christian Schools Trust was inspected by same inspectorate as the Association of Muslim Schools. This is part of the same problem. Pointing this out is not derailing. It’s showing that we are need to be looking at this more broadly.

Not only did the Telegraph take 20 paragraphs to mention Christian schools, when it did, it only mentioned that they teach young-Earth creationism. See: While Islamic fundamentalism is sinister and alien, Christian fundamentalism is cute and amusing. They believe in dinosaurs with saddles. The Telegraph neglected to mention that these Muslims are also creationists, and these Christians are also homophobes who reject the values of mainstream British society.

At some point, when I have time, I’ll get round to reviewing the book about the Christian Schools Trust written by its founders, Sylvia Baker and David Freeman. It’s fair to say the rhetoric in these Christian schools is not substantially different from what the Telegraph has reported in Muslim schools. They are not shy about it. But these overwhelmingly white Christians can’t be painted as part of some foreign, demonic Other. In fact, they’re uncomfortably similar to us.

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