myriam head onlyA reader sent news of Myriam Francois-Cerrah; described as a Franco-Euro-British writer and journalist, Myriam currently works as a freelance, with her articles featured in many outlets, including the Guardian, Huffington Post and New Statesman. She is no casual observer – currently a post-graduate researcher (DPhil) at Oxford University, focussing on Islamic movements in Morocco, following an MA in Arab Studies (Honours), specialising in Middle East politics.

In June, after making a film on the subject which was discussed on a BBC Daily Politics Show, she pointed out that the parents and governors in the so-called Trojan Horse controversy in Birmingham schools were “simply old-fashioned social conservatives”, not extremists. The video may be seen here:

myriam daily politicsAndrew Neil, Myriam Francois-Cerrah and Toby Young

She set out her views in a New Statesman article

As teachers know, there are ‘problems’ in all schools – and Myriam Francois-Cerrah agrees that those at the centre of the so-called “Trojan horse” debacle are no exception. As we noted earlier, segregation of the sexes is a feature of the most expensive private schools.

Myriam has spoken at length with various members of the community in Birmingham, and finds “there are undeniable concerns among certain – yes, including Muslim – students and parents pertaining to a narrow interpretation of Islam being enforced within some schools. There are also allegations of mismanagement, nepotism and of the misuse of funds. The detail of these issues is likely to emerge in upcoming reports . . . I have no interest in defending some of the practices reported in these schools. I think music and drama should remain on the curriculum. I think trips abroad cannot implicitly exclude any students. And I think vetting speakers who address children is essential”.

An expansion of the flawed counter-terrorism agenda

myriam brennan center justice ny logoShe moves on to stress that the problem is not an issue of radicalisation, alleging that such a linkage reflects an expansion of the flawed counter-terrorism agenda, which assumes that socially conservative views can represent the first step on a broader path to terrorism. In fact, studies suggest that a strong religious identity is an important bulwark against the risk of radicalisation. Rethinking Radicalization, a report from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, finds that empirical studies largely debunk the claim that religiosity is linked to a propensity for terrorism. It also warns of the alienating effect of the ‘interplay between the “religious conveyor belt” model and coun­terterrorism policy’.

A ‘stigmatising view of Muslim identity

After deploring Michael Gove’s use of ‘dehumanising imagery’ in his criticism of Charles Farr, a senior government counter-terrorism official for refusing to “drain the swamp“ of extremists, aka crocodiles – a ‘stigmatising view of Muslim identity’ – she addresses the assumption that socially conservative views can represent the first step on a broader path to terrorism:

“The profile of the 7/7 bombers, politically radicalised by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but otherwise not particularly devout, alleged to have been smoking cannabis and drinking alcohol – suggests a far more complex understanding of radicalisation is required . . . Ultimately the journey to terrorism is a complex one which cannot be easily situated on a neat continuum”.

In pressing for a crackdown on nonviolent, as well as violent, “extremists”, Gove has adopted a strategy which is in danger of encompassing entire communities, “alienating and stigmatising whole sections of society in the process”.

Ms Francois-Cerrah concludes:

“The actions of zealous governors, who advocate a socially conservative view of Islam in their schools, are no threat to national security . . .The real tragedy is the damage done to community relations, to trust and to the willingness of Muslims to engage in a system which seemingly paints the participation of the devout as a part of a stealth takeover.

“After years of telling Muslims to engage in public institutions, the damage caused by the government’s hawkish mis-characterisation of this issue will reverberate in years to come”.