Monday 9 June 2014

Politicians try to herd us into their version of 'us'

One of the complicated things about governments targeting minorities is that on the surface it is about 'the other'. It's about what's wrong with 'the other'. 'The other' is a bin into which a set of objections are put. These objections are always 'common sense' as with Farage saying that this or that is 'natural'. He says he finds it problematic that people on a train are talking in a foreign language - even though his wife seems to talk to their children in a foreign language! But of course he was trying to hit a button, 'the other' is doing 'other-ish' sorts of things and 'we' all agree, don't 'we'? When we discover that in other circumstances he tolerates people 'talking foreign' we realise that his objection is empty, it has no meaning. What he really means to do with the statement is define his version of 'we' and 'us'. He is putting his arm round an imaginary 'us' and defining it as 'we who don't like foreigners, eh?' This is much more important than any 'content' to the objection itself.

This is what's happening with the Birmingham schools. The 'other' has been defined as 'Muslim' and Gove et al are trying to recruit non-Muslims to an 'us'. Because these are politicians, they are hoping that this act of saying there is a 'we' who are against this Muslim stuff, this 'we' will also vote for them, thanking them for defining 'us' like that. They hope that we won't read what the governors and teachers are saying. They just hope that they will be able to create a big enough 'we' to be glad that 'we' have got a Tory Party to fight for 'us' and our 'right' to be different from the Muslim 'them'. 

Today's statements by David Hughes and others in and around the schools is a big snag for them. They have said they are not Muslims but clearly are saying that they are in a 'we' or 'us' with Muslims. This is very awkward for the government. Not impossible to overcome. They will vilify and sneer. They will recruit willing servants to 'express anxieties' about the 'them'. And above all they will be highly selective in their objections. That is to say, that many of their objections to what they say that Muslims say and do, can be found in other institutions with Christian and Jewish emphasis. For example, some Academies are not 'faith' schools but have e.g. a 'Christian ethos'. 

I am an atheist. I am in favour of all schools being secular. For the time being, this battle has been lost. In the meantime, any attempt to single one religion out from the others as specially problematic, needs to be looked at very carefully. Is any kind of selectivity going on? Gove et al appear to have undergone some kind of conversion in relation to these schools: one year they are stunningly brilliant and should expand…a couple of years later they are failing schools….Is the approaching General Election a factor? Are we about to be flung into a great bog of politicians trying to herd people into their version of 'us'?