Batley Grammar School: Why are people protesting over a teacher showing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad?

Conrad Duncan@theconradduncan
Friday 26 March 2021 16:51
news

Protesters have gathered outside a school in West Yorkshire for a second consecutive day after a teacher was suspended for showing a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad to pupils earlier this week.

It has been claimed that the image, which was reportedly from the controversial French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, was shown during a religious studies class at Batley Grammar School.

The incident has sparked angry debate online around freedom of speech and the right to depict Muhammad - which is considered to be prohibited in some readings of Islamic teachings.

Although the school’s headteacher has apologised and said that staff are investigating the reports, the incident remains controversial - especially on social media.

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick waded into the debate on Friday morning, telling Sky News that he thought the protests were wrong - although he noted that he did not know exactly what had happened in the class.

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Why is the incident so controversial?

Drawings of Muhammad tend to be controversial because depictions of the prophet are often considered to be insensitive within Islam.

In addition, the depictions of Muhammad published by Charlie Hebdo are especially provocative due to their mocking tone.

The French magazine is known for its satirical, and at times offensive, takes on politics and religion, and has repeatedly published images of Muhammad despite objections from Muslim groups.

In 2015, 12 people were killed in an attack on the magazine’s offices carried out by two French Muslim men who claimed to be part of the terrorist group al-Qaeda.

Muslim groups, such as the French Council of the Muslim Faith, the Muslim Council of Britain and Islamic Forum of Europe, spoke out against the attack at the time.

Critics of the decision to suspend the teacher this week have argued that they should have been allowed to show the cartoon on free speech grounds.

However, it is unclear why the teacher showed the image of Muhammad, or what exactly the image showed, so it is hard to know quite how inapprioriate their actions were.

How have people reacted?

In a letter to parents seen by the Guardian, headteacher Gary Kibble apologised over the use of the image, which he said was “completely inappropriate”.

He said: “Upon investigation, it was clear that the resource used in the lesson was completely inappropriate and had the capacity to cause great offence to members of our school community for which we would like to offer a sincere and full apology.”

Meanwhile, the Department for Education has said that it is “never acceptable to threaten or intimate teachers” but noted that there was a need “to promote respect and tolerance between people of different faiths and beliefs” in classrooms.

However, there have been warnings that the incident has been hijacked by extremist groups attempting to use it to spread division.

The Independent’s security correspondent Lizzie Dearden warned on Friday that the case had become a “cause celebre for extremists of all kinds”.

And Tory peer Baroness Warsi warned journalists and social media users against spreading divisive commentary on the incident, noting that the focus should be on respectful and appropriate teaching.

In a statement published on Friday, Tracy Brabin, Labour MP for Batley and Spen, said she condemned those who were seeking “to fan the flames of this incident” and welcomed the school’s apology:

Meanwhile, the group Humanists UK, which promotes secular humanism, has said it is “concerned” by the decision to suspend the teacher - despite noting that it did not know exactly what had happened in the classroom:

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