Former prime minister David Cameron. | Archive


Nobody can be very surprised by the fact that the former Prime Minister, David Cameron, took on a well-rewarded job (£60 million in share options, apparently) lobbying government departments on behalf of his client, the Australian financier Lex Greenills, whose company has now gone bust. My late friend Alan Watkins, the political writer, said of Cameron: “Once a PR man, always a PR man.” He may or may not have broken the Whitehall rules for ex-Ministers over this employment.

That worries me far less than the fact that Cameron joined Greenills on a desert camping jaunt with the disgraced Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, AFTER the murder and dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi, the American journalist. The CIA has now confirmed what everyone believed at the time: that it was the Crown Prince himself who sent a team of assassins to Turkey to carry out this foul deed.

Fear and Loathing in West Yorkshire

What actually happened in the religious studies lesson at Batley Grammar School, near Leeds in West Yorkshire, which has forced the teacher into hiding in fear for his life? He showed pupils the cartoon of the prophet Muhammad used in the French magazine Charlie Hebdo in 2006, resulting in the slaughter by Islamic extremists of 12 members of the publication’s staff.

According to the petition signed by 44,000 people seeking the teacher’s reinstatement, his purpose “was to explain and illustrate blasphemy in religion.” He was “not racist,” they insisted, and “did not support the Islamophobic cartoon.”

For this the headmaster, Gary Kibble, suspended the teacher pending an inquiry by the Trust that owns the school. Without waiting for the result of this inquiry, however, he apologised profusely to Muslim protesters who had effectively closed the school, describing the use of the image as “totally inappropriate.” The protesters said the use of the cartoon was “deeply offensive to the whole Muslim community.”

If the Trust’s inquiry finds against the teacher and dismisses him, it will be handing over to Muslim extremists the right to decide what is taught about Islam in British schools. This is surely unacceptable. Also unacceptable is the fact that the teacher was named and accused of being “sadistic” and motivated by hatred of Islam by the chief executive of the charity Purpose of Life, Mohammad Sajad Hussain. In a letter to the headmaster he said the teacher was guilty of “terrorism” of the kind suffered by Muslims in Myanyar. “Murder, rape and being burnt alive will increase,” he said, “if we allow this teacher’s kind of behaviour.” Note the phrase “if we allow” – the claim to have the right to decide what Muslims can be taught.

The statement – from a charity supposedly formed to improve relations between different groups in society – contains a chilling and unmistakable threat to the teacher. It is no wonder that he has taken his wife and four young children into hiding. He will be fearfully aware of the beheading of a French teacher, Samuel Paty, by a Muslim fanatic, less than six months ago, for using the same cartoon in a lesson about freedom of speech.

Freedom of speech

According to Mr Hussain, “We can’t use the expression, freedom of speech, to offend people.” The only possible answer to that is: Yes we can! Freedom of speech includes the right not to respect certain beliefs.

I have some sympathy for the headmaster. Being the non-Muslim head of a school containing a majority of Muslim pupils cannot be easy. Perhaps it would have been prudent for the teacher to have let the head know in advance of his plan to use the contentious cartoon in a lesson, if only to provide him with some forewarning of the protests it was likely to bring. Perhaps he did. We won’t know until the inquiry reports – assuming the Trust will make its findings and its reasoning public.

This storm has taken me back a number of years to a time when I sat on the Council of the Advertising Standards Authority. We had to consider a complaint from Muslims that some hoardings – I think for sexy underwear – should not be placed in the vicinity of mosques. As the discussion went on, I became increasingly restless and finally intervened, rather dramatically, to say: “We are only considering this complaint because of the fear that the Muslims might kill us if we don’t let them have their way.” The complaint was rejected, just as the Council would have rejected a similar complaint by the Mary Whitehouse type of Christian censorship.

What is worrying about the Batley dispute is that otherwise sensible people have been ready to condemn the school for allowing the cartoon to be used and thereby effectively back the Muslims’ right to censor what is taught in schools about Islam. Baroness Warsi, a former Minister of Faith and Communities in the Cameron government, for example, said it was a matter of “child protection.” Young people, she said, should not be exposed to Islamophobia. I preferred the more robust and less evasive comments of Baroness Kishwer Falkner, who was born in Pakistan and is now chair of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission. She said: “Schools are places where children learn about ideas, values, difference, and respect. This sometimes involves exposing them to contentious issues and different views and ideas.” There is nothing specific in the Koran about not showing the face of the Prophet Muhammad (570-632) though Sunni Muslims believe depictions should be banned. Among Shias, however, depictions of Muhammad are now common.

Representations of his face appear in Islamic art and in religious tracts. In fact, no fewer than 24,964 pictures of Muhammad can be found on the Getty Images website.
The extreme fervour of some Muslims on this issue in Britain has been put down to a fear, especially among the elderly, that Muslim youths will in time be contaminated, as they see it, by lax British social and sexual customs and depart the faith.

What must surely not happen in Britain is for institutions like schools and universities to be cowed by the threat of violence into treating Muslim students differently from anyone else and thereby allowing the country’s precious freedom of expression, built up over centuries, to be diluted by fear.

More Lions to roar

My predictions for the British and Irish Lions squad to tour South Africa in the summer have been challenged by three readers, one Irish, one Welsh and one Scottish. The Irishman says my omission of the Irish centres, Robbie Henshaw and Gary Ringrose, was a bad mistake. I am inclined to agree with him and regret that I didn’t put Henshaw forward as the most likely inside centre for the Tests. The Welshman argues for the inclusion of Josh Adams. I don’t disagree, though I prefer my choice of Anthony Watson, Jonny May, Liam Williams and Louis Rees-Zammit on the wings. Chief coach Warren Gatland may take Williams as a second full-back with Stuart Hogg, which would allow Adams to sneak in. The Scotsman thinks I should have included James Ritchie in the back row. Again, I think he has a good chance of making the trip, especially if Courtney Lawes isn’t fit in time.