Sarfraz Manzoor, who wrote last year about his own family’s objections to his marriage to a “white non-Muslim” woman and the aftermath, this week provides a rather less personal write-up of a scheme run in Luton, exposing no less a cutting example of racial divide.
In the scheme, religiously and ethnically segregated children from different schools were brought together… for one afternoon. Half the children came from a Catholic school and were petty much entirely white, the other half from predominantly Muslim families and were all Asian, bar one black pupil. The second school is a community school, not a Muslim ‘faith’ school, but of course when pupils sharing some characteristics pool in one school in an area then there are always going to be corresponding effects on the remaining community schools, regardless of their admissions policies or “ethos”.
Manzoor accepts that “the very fact that Luton felt it needed this project suggests that the town has a real, and not only perceived, challenge on its hands”. But the overall tone is irony-free. Manzoor seems pleased with the “pioneering initiative” and talks about how the children quickly overcome fear and suspicion across a racial and religious divide by playing simple games (the article’s title is “Catholic and Muslim pupils find they have a lot in common”). That the massive town-wide segregation of children by ethnicity and religion mandates something like the “Schools Linking Network initiative” in the first place seems to go entirely under the radar. There’s no explicit criticism of the fact that the school system itself is pulling the town’s children into perceptibly tribal camps from the outset.
Luton has become media shorthand for the failures of multiculturalism, having been both home to the Muslim extremists who jeered at British soldiers returning from Iraq and the birthplace for the extreme right English Defence League, which recently marched through the town. St Joseph’s, a faith school that is 49% white British, and William Austin, which is only 2.4% white British, are one of 10 pairs of contrasting schools that have been linked up.
… Hassan from William Austin admits he was a bit nervous at the start of the day because he has “never really met any Christians”. He is surprised to learn the children from St Joseph’s are more similar to him than he imagined. “I thought they’d be totally different – like a different kind of person, but actually they like the same football teams and the same food.”
The overall impression from the article itself is hopeful, in that the children are able to overcome divides that many adults wilfully allow to fester for generation after generation, but the impression from the wider context is tragic, in that these ten pairs of “contrasting” schools are ingraining such notions of alien people in the first place. How much harder will it be to bridge the gap between the same children again when they are teenagers, or later as suspicious adults, after years of their minds being narrowed by the social filters built into their very education?
If you’re going to cut something, why not abolish religious admissions criteria altogether, then you wouldn’t have to pay for sticking plaster “Linking” initiatives down the line after years of social disharmony.