St. Stephen's School in East London recently imposed a ban on hijabs (Islamic headscarves), but reversed its decision after administrators received hundreds of threats from enraged Muslims.
Among the targeted officials from the primary school was the head of governors, Arif Qawi, who had supported the ban on the grounds that the girls wearing hijabs were less likely to integrate socially with their peers. As a result of the outcry, Qawi submitted his resignation, saying that members of the staff were afraid to come to the school.
Head teacher Neena Lall, whose educational philosophy has turned St. Stephen's into one of the best secular primary schools in Britain's capital -- in spite of its being in Newham, a poor neighborhood where English is spoken predominantly as a second language -- was bombarded with e-mails calling her a "pedophile" who "deserved what she had coming." Lall, of Punjabi origin, was even compared to Hitler in a video uploaded to YouTube.
It is not the first time that British educators have been intimidated by Muslim extremists. The head of Anderton Park School in Birmingham, Ms. Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson, received similar threats on social media.
Anderton Park School was inspected as part of the "Trojan Horse" scandal, in which the British government discovered that Muslim extremists had been trying to take over Britain's secular school system.
One death threat to Hewitt-Clarkson read: "Any head teacher who teaches my children it's alright to be gay will be at the end of my shotgun."
Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Education, Children's Services, as well as Chief Inspector of the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted), Amanda Spielman, was also targeted when she expressed public support for Lall. School principals, she said, "must have the right to set school uniform policies as they see fit, in order to promote cohesion." Spielman was also subjected to anti-Semitic abuse, apparently based merely on the sound of her name.
Spielman was already the recipient of what she called "nasty tweets" and threatening messages -- such as, "We know where you live and we can get you anytime we want to" -- from a mixture of "Islamic extremists and the hard left," after an Ofsted report critical of conservative faith schools that were apparently "spreading beliefs that clash with British values."
The unprecedented scale of this harassment -- even against the government -- indicates the alarming degree to which extremist elements have penetrated British society and threaten the careers of anyone who would speak against Islamic extremism.
Activists who had lobbied for the banning of hijabs in the British primary schools were apparently crestfallen. One British activist, Amina Lone, tweeted:
"This is an important step in promoting religious extremism, mob rule and refusing to give #Muslim young girls equal gender equality rights.... So much for choice and individual liberty. Terribly sad day for a secular democracy."
While secular British values need to be upheld to provide equal opportunities to everyone, regardless of caste, creed, gender or color, Islamists seem to be influencing the British school system with ease: there is simply no solid opposition to them. The government even stays silent about the harassment and intimidation.
Was St. Stephen's forced to succumb to the pressure of ignorant zealots, who either do not know or choose to ignore that under Islamic law (Sharia), girls are not required to cover their heads until they reach puberty? Ignorance also seems not to have prevented them from accusing anyone who says or acts otherwise of "Islamophobia." It is a form of political blackmail used by Muslim extremists against the Western institutions, the values of which they abhor.
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the School System, Lord Agnew of Oulton, pledged to support the schools that are trying to ban hijabs as well as obligatory fasting: in Islam, young children are not subject to either.
Lord Agnew said that the government should support head teachers in making difficult and "sensitive" decisions in the face of vitriolic opposition. We have yet to see the effects of his statement. Supporting head teachers is one thing, but there is also a dire need to confront these extremists on all levels, including law enforcement, if they try to harass or intimidate anyone.
Someone please needs to back up Lord Agnew: there are only a few such policy-makers left willing to offer rational help during such crises.
Islamists in Britain seem to be intent on establishing regressive requirements, such as the hijab for young girls, wife-beating, halala rituals in divorce, making homosexuality illegal, death for apostates, and the exploitation of women and children through Sharia courts as part and parcel with British culture.
Instead of making statements, the British government needs to take concrete steps to stop the further infiltration of these practices into Britain's social fabric, the warping of children's minds, and the harassment of whoever disagrees with those plans.
That St. Stephen's allowed itself to be blackmailed in this way bodes ill for both Britain and its education system.
Khadija Khan is a Pakistani journalist and commentator, currently based in Germany.