Getting to grips with . . .

The school row over Prophet Mohammed cartoons

West Yorkshire school closed and teacher in hiding after protests by angry parents

A government minister has waded into a row between a Yorkshire school and angry parents after pupils were shown a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed.

Pupils from Batley Grammar School in West Yorkshire were shown images of the Prophet Mohammed reportedly taken from the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo during a religious studies lesson.

Protests led by unhappy parents took place outside the school yesterday, with some parents shouting “get the head teacher”, The Times reports. No arrests were made or fines issued during the protests, which were attended by West Yorkshire Police.

The teacher behind the lesson, who is believed to be in his late twenties, has been suspended from the school pending further investigation and is “believed to be in hiding” after he was identified online, the Evening Standard reports.

Displaying the image angered some parents as a common interpretation of the Koran’s teachings states that the prophet should not be depicted by human hands.

The Department for Education (DfE) intervened in the row last night, issuing a statement condemning the “intimidation” of teachers.

“It is never acceptable to threaten or intimidate teachers,” the statement said. “We encourage dialogue between parents and schools when issues emerge. However, the nature of protest we have seen, including issuing threats and in violation of coronavirus restrictions, is completely unacceptable and must be brought to an end.”

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick also said that he was “disturbed to see scenes of people protesting outside the school”, telling Sky News that the teacher being forced into hiding is “very disturbing” and “not a road we want to go down in this country”.

Critics condemned the DfE’s statement as “alarming” and called for a “calmer” response, The Guardian reports. Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation, told the paper that the DfE had “chosen to amplify… divisions by attacking the parents and pupils”, adding “we can come together to have a respectful discussion and seek an end to this issue.

“There is still time for calmer heads amongst the department and we urge them to seek language that brings us together and address the issue without deflecting”, he added.

Yunus Lunat, from the Indian Muslim Welfare Society in Batley, told Sky News that showing pupils the image “wasn’t part of the approved curriculum”, adding that he was “absolutely shocked that we’ve arrived where we are today”.

Head teacher, Gary Kibble, said the non-selective co-educational school apologised “unequivocally” for the “totally inappropriate resource” used in the religious studies lesson.

“The member of staff has also given their most sincere apologies,” he added. “We have immediately withdrawn teaching on this part of the course and we are reviewing how we go forward with the support of all the communities represented in our school.”

However, Baroness Warsi, the former Conservative Party chair and the first Muslim woman to serve in the Cabinet, claimed that “extremists on both sides” have “hijacked” the protests. 

Speaking to the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Warsi said that the dispute is “about child safeguarding and making sure the school looks again, as should every school, to ensure that every pupil in their school is being taught in a way which creates a positive, unifying learning environment.

“Unfortunately, this matter has been hijacked by extremists on both sides to kind of create this culture war,” she added. “What we’re forgetting in all of this is the most important party in all of this, which is the kids and their learning.”

The Times adds that in 2015 the offices of the French magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris were attacked by Islamists who killed 12 people.

And in October 2020, the paper continues, a French schoolteacher, Samuel Paty, was beheaded by an Islamist after he was accused of showing students a cartoon of Mohammed.

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