Monday, 11 January 2010

School Closures - Some Thoughts

Across the country schools have been closed due to the bad weather and a number of people have expressed their annoyance at the disruption to their lives as a result. This has highlighted a couple of interesting issues regarding schools today.

I heard someone complaining this morning that their child's school was closed while the supermarket on the same road was open and doing a roaring trade. This is actually due to the fear on the part of the school and education authority of being sued by parents if their child slips, falls and hurts themself. For the same reason, Liverpool's home match on the weekend was postponed, even though the club shop remained open. Essentially, if an organisation is seen as 'encouraging' people to attend, then they are deemed responsible for any subsequent ice-related accidents. Shops, on the other hand, are not seen as 'encouraging' visitors in the same way, and would not be held responsible for any mishaps occuring to the shoppers on their way to and from the store. If parents were not so quick to sue schools for accidents that clearly cannot be helped, then I'm sure more schools would attempt to remain open in snowy conditions.

Another reason why so many schools remain closed is that so many staff live beyond easy walking distance of their school. When I was a lad, growing up in Carmarthen in the Sixties and Seventies, practically all of my teachers lived in the town and could easily have walked to work if they had so chosen. The situation is very different now in most parts of the country. There is an inverse correlation between the 'toughness' of a school and the number of teachers who opt to reside in that school's catchment area. Here in East London, the majority of our teachers are beyond walking distance of their school and so if roads are blocked or treacherous, or if public transport is affected, they have a big problem in getting to work. Unlike offices and other businesses, schools cannot work on a skeleton staff, nor can they have a situation where staff come in in dribs and drabs throughout the morning. If a headteacher cannot be sure that he will have sufficient staff on site from the first thing in the morning, then he cannot open the school.

This also highlights another issue regarding our schools - the extent to which they are often more child-care institutions than places of learning. What irritates parents so much when schools are closed is not that their children will miss their lessons, but that they have to arrange alternative child care when both parents are in full time work. Some children are now in school for so long that they barely see their real parents during the school week. I know of small children who are dropped off well before eight in the morning for 'breakfast club' and then stay behind at the end of the day for school 'clubs' and other extra-curricular activities. In total, the little dears can be on the school site for anything up to 10 hours a day. It's not surprising I used to be called 'Dad' by mistake from time to time (unless they know something I don't!). In any case, the school day is far too long for our youngest children. In my teaching career I taught every year group from nursery through to Sixth Form and as far as the youngest children are concerned, they did all their learning in the morning. It was quite normal for many of them to nod off after lunch. I think I might have joined in with them a couple of times! But they have to be kept in school until late in the afternoon, as both parents are working and private child care is so expensive.

So, my dear friends, don't blame our schools when they close during bad weather. They have very little alternative!

Sunday, 13 December 2009

A Festive Farewell

I'm off to North America soon so I might go all quiet again. But Ho Ho Ho, hasn't it been an exciting couple of days for Muslim-related stories in Wales?! Woke me right out of my commentary coma.

Anyway, as I probably won't be writing for a while (unless Oscar joins the BNP or something) and things will no doubt be winding down for most of you towards the end of this month, I thought I'd wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year in advance.

Nadolig Llawen a Blwyddyn Newydd Dda!


And no, it's not the 'Islamification of Christmas' - these are Sikhs!

ps. Come On The Quins! Fyny Gyda'r Cwins!

Friday, 11 December 2009

Laying out the welcome MAT for Sharia in Wales?

A Sharia Court in Wales by the middle of next year provided courtesy of the MAT (Muslim Arbitration Tribunal)? Well Dragon’s Eye thinks that might be the case! But don’t panic, this is far from a foregone conclusion as Muslims in Wales might have something to say about it. Has anyone even bothered to ask Muslims here if we even want it in the first place? It rather seems like the MAT are simply trying to extend their franchise into Wales.

A non-story, I think, that has been overblown. Essentially, some bloke from England wants to bring a Sharia court to Wales but the key Muslim organisations in Wales that would be the potential partners for him have said ‘No Thanks’ making it virtually impossible for the MAT to make inroads into the Muslim communities of Wales. But let’s scare the public in Wales anyway, and just to make sure, include clips of armed Taliban in the intro to the discussion.

To help get some perspective on the issues and personalities involved in the programme I’ve arranged this blog post in a Q&A format. There will be things raised in the programme I have not addressed but if there IS interest from the blogosphere I can consider tackling some of them.

Question 1: Does Wales already have a Sharia Council?
Answer: No. A council conjures up the image of a group of scholars that gather round a table to make rulings on cases. What we DO have is an Islamic Social Services NGO that mediates and counsels, mainly in the area of relationships and particularly around marital issues and the extended family. The name ‘ISSA Wales’ can clearly be seen on the leaflets the staff/volunteers are handling in the programme. Their services are even used by couples who are not Muslims, which will give you a sense of how inclusive the service they offer is if people of other faiths or no faith are utilising them for mediation and counselling.

Question 2: Have the diverse Muslim communities within Wales been consulted as to whether or not they want a Sharia Court here?
Answer: No. From the response in the programme of a female user of the current provision in Wales there is unlikely to be any appetite for a Sharia Court from those who wish to have a faith-based resolution to issues they are facing and are utilising the legal system that we all share. At a time when Welsh Muslims are becoming more and more integrated into all aspects of our existing institutions and processes in Wales the proposed introduction of what many will regard as a parallel legal system is an unwelcome and divisive development.

Question3: Where is this proposal coming from?
Answer: Nuneaton, England

Question 4: Who is driving this?
Answer: Shaikh Faiz-ul-Aqtab Siddiqi

Question 5: Who is Shaikh Faiz-ul-Aqtab Siddiqi?
Answer: A barrister who is also a ‘pir’ or 'saint' of one of the Naqshbandi Sufi orders known as 'Hijazi' the followers of which in Wales I doubt you could count on one hand. He also led the largest (peaceful) demonstration in Western Europe against the publication of the Danish cartoons. As an aside to this, what most people do not know is that the only place in the whole of the UK where the Danish cartoons were actually published was Wales - twice! The reaction from Welsh Muslims to this was in marked contrast to a lot of other places around the world. Quiet meetings with the bodies concerned to express the offence felt; all very civil and certainly no frothing-at-the-mouth effigy burning antics and not even peaceful street protests. Sales of Lurpak didn’t reach an all-time low either. The bottom line is that Muslims have a very different way of doing things here in Wales and it would be better if OUR way was exported to other parts of the UK rather than the other way around.

Question 6: Who was the lady vigorously opposing the proposals of the gentleman from Nuneaton to bring Sharia courts to Wales?
Answer: Maryam Namazie

Question 7: Who is Maryam Namazie?
Answer: Maryam Namazie (based in London and with no connection to Wales that I'm aware of) was introduced in the programme as being from the ‘One Law for All’ organisation but of course she’s a bit more than just that. A secular fundamentalist par excellence, and central committee member of the Worker Communist Party of Iran, she is also spokesperson for the Council of ex-Muslims of Britain and opposed the Incitement to Religious Hatred Bill in the UK. Not quite the middle of the road liberal human rights activist that you might initially consider her. If we wanted to hear the other side of the debate taking her as one extreme of the spectrum we’d need to invite someone from the Taliban's Department for the Prohibition of Vice and Promotion of Virtue.

I don’t hold with the views of either the Shaikh or the Secularist, who I’m sure are both lovely people when their enthusiastic promotion of their pet hates/pet projects is not clouding their judgement, but rather support the harmonious approach adopted by my fellow Welsh Muslims in finding a happy medium in this debate that works for the Muslims of Wales. We don’t have time for the imposition of Sharia from Nuneaton-based organisations nor for the anti-religious attitudes of secular humanists from London.

Alas, it would appear none of us here in Wales are immune to unsolicited interference from England.

Toilet Humour

The latest Dragon's Eye programme both amused and disappointed (I'll blog about the disappointing bit later).

The amusing bit was the end segment in which four 'party animals' gave their perspectives on a year in politics in Wales.

Owain Jones, (the Labour animal) summed up the mood of the nation in relation to Oscar's defection when he went on to use, in his own words a 'Rhodri Morgan style metaphor', of a guy wandering into the ladies' toilets and wondering where the urinals are. Plus (a) Rolling around in tears of laughter (b) Absolutely ridiculous and (c) The joke story of the year.

Of course the only non-funny bit is in relation to the complete disregard he has shown to his staff, his former party and of course the voting public.

Anyway, I think five blog posts on Cynulliad Cymru's Chameleon is more than enough - time to flush this particular stool and exit the cubicle! Don't forget to wash your hands (of him).

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Time to Go, Mo!

Coming soon to a Tory Party conference near you...

would 26,000 disenfranchised Plaid Cymru voters from South East Wales register their disatisfaction in person?

The Dead Parrot Sketch (on Politics Cymru)

I felt like "a little parrot in a jungle" - Mohammad 'Oscar' Asghar.

Check out this gem of an interview on Politics Cymru with one of the three Dewis talking to the little parrot about his switch to the Tories, an act which quite frankly comes as no real surprise to many Muslim members within Plaid Cymru. He's very much a little parrot in a jungle when it comes to Welsh Muslims aswell and we were appalled, though not surprised, by the dishonourable manner in which he made his hasty exit.

Despite his overly optimistic assurances at the end of the interview about his political future beyond 2011, I believe Oscar is, politically, very much a 'dead parrot walking'. I've taken the trouble of transcribing the interview below to assist the viewer.

Regardless of which party the man represents this, or any other week, Wales deserves better.

Click on the link and then scroll down for the video: (Mohammad Asghar and a Dewi, Wednesday 9 December)


Dewi: Can you tell us a little bit about how it happened, the process of, you know, moving over?

Oscar: Well thing is it's my personal views uh about politics in Wales they are very close, very close mean uh very attractive to Conservative Party. That's my personal views, has always been and always will be. That's what it is.

Dewi: So it was purely, from your perspective, a policy-driven decision?

Oscar: Yes.

Dewi: Did you approach them or did they approach you?

Oscar: Well it's, we were friendly here and we discussed few things and thing grew from there on.

Dewi: Right, ok, so what was the main reason then that you left Plaid Cymru, was there a straw that broke the camel's back?

Oscar: Well I support David Cameron's views. I heard the gentleman, I hear everybody there on the television and the media and all the rest of it. As I said earlier their views are very close to my own views and I respect and I want to follow on the same track.

Dewi: So why join Plaid Cymru in the first place then if you had really similiar views to the Conservative Party all this time?

Oscar: Well the political party is a political party anywhere so, well the thing is, I thought I might be able to do some contribution to my local community, which I did. And since I'm in political one party I think the lot of Asian, ethnic minorities other people, are joining the political parties.

Dewi: Last question then. Do you feel a bit sort of bad that you announced your defection live to the cameras as it were, rather than to Ieuan Wyn Jones in person?

Oscar: No, I thought it's my prerogative and I declared it should be to the public rather than one individual. He's a gentleman. Ieuan Wyn Jones is a very good person and I respect him very much but it's my personal view as I said. I want Wales to be, to have it's own Parliament and play a stronger role in United Kingdom.

Dewi: Ok, and um so what's the future for you, what's next?

Oscar: I'm sure future for me and future for Conservative is a bright I can assure you.