Press Complaints Commission
London EC1N 2JD
27th March 2007
Re: Daily Express, 'Muslims Tell Us How To Run Our Schools', 21st Feb 2007
I am writing to make a complaint about the above story by Gabriel Milland which was printed on the front-page of the Daily Express on 21 Feb 2007 (the full copy of the article is attached as an appendix to this letter). The complaint centres on the utter failure of the Daily Express to give accurate coverage of the MCB's education report, 'Towards Greater Understanding: Meeting the needs of Muslim pupils in state schools'. Indeed, upon reading the Express story it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that it was deliberately and mischievously designed to foster increased resentment and hatred towards British Muslims and the Muslim Council of Britain.
1. The very first two paragraphs of the story say:
'Demands for a ban on "unIslamic" activities in schools will be set out by the Muslim Council of Britain today. Targets include playground games, swimming lessons, school plays, parents' evenings and even vaccinations.'
Contrary to the impression given by the Daily Express, the word 'ban' does not appear anywhere in the MCB's education report. The report is about seeking to spread existing good practices in our schools and the report gives recommendations and guidelines. That is all.
2. In addition, the word 'UnIslamic' only occurs once in the entire 72-page report and that is in connection with objectionable lyrics in songs. I quote from the report:
All forms of music that may include the use of obscene and blasphemous language, encourage or promote immoral behaviour, arouse lustful feelings, encourage the consumption of intoxicants and drugs or contain unethical and un-Islamic lyrics would be considered objectionable. For this reason some Muslim parents may express concerns in the way music is taught in school and the extent to which their children may participate in it. Some Muslims may hold a very conservative attitude towards music and may seek to avoid it altogether, not wishing their children to participate in school music lessons. In such cases the school can show great understanding by providing alternative musical learning opportunities. (Towards Greater Understanding: Meeting the needs of Muslim pupils in state schools', p52)
You will notice that there is no question of a ban on musical learning mentioned in the MCB document.
3. Nowhere does the MCB report call for a ban on 'playground games, swimming lessons, school plays, parents' evenings and even vaccinations'. This is inaccurate and misleading. Take for example, the passage in the MCB document about parents' evenings:
During Ramadan, the evenings can be a very busy period for Muslim families, particularly if the breaking of the fast (Iftar) falls in the early evening. Furthermore, some adults will spend their time observing additional religious activities, like the special evening prayers (Taraweeh) at the mosque. This may make it difficult for parents to attend meetings or other functions in the evening during the month of Ramadan. The scheduling of parent evenings before or after the month of Ramadan would be appreciated by parents and is likely to ensure better attendance. (Towards Greater Understanding: Meeting the needs of Muslim pupils in state schools', p30)
You will see that the MCB report merely urges that schools take into consideration that Ramadan is a busy time for Muslim families and that scheduling of parents' evenings during that month may affect attendance by Muslim parents.
4. 'And the calls for all children to be taught in Taliban-style conditions will be launched with the help of a senior Government education adviser.'
It is quite clear that by referring to the MCB guidelines as imposing 'Taliban-style conditions', the reporter Gabriel Milland, is offering his own highly subjective interpretation of the MCB document, instead of reporting about it in an objective manner. This kind of editorialising belongs to the comment pages where we are daily fed a diet of Islamophobic and bigoted opinion pieces by Melanie Phillips, Richard Littlejohn, Daniel Finkelstein, Nick Cohen etc, it should not be in the news pages.
5. 'When swimming is allowed, boys should wear clothing covering their bodies "from the navel to the neck"'
A moment's thought is all that is required to show that this is clearly nonsense and reportage at its most inept. The MCB document says that:
'One important aspect of modesty in Islam relates to the covering of the body. In principle the dress for both boys and girls should be modest and neither tight-fitting nor transparent and not accentuate the body shape. In practice this means a wide variety of styles are acceptable. In public boys should always be covered between the navel and knee' (p20)
In truth, I could go on and on for several pages listing the inaccuracies - and frankly lies contained in the Daily Express story, but I simply don't have the time.
I hope that the PCC will take this complaint seriously knowing full well the damage the original front page story will have done to both community relations and also the public perception of the MCB.
Mr Inayat Bunglawala,
The Muslim Council of Britain
PO Box 57330,