A week ago I wrote about a case in which the scuffing of a Quran by four Wakefield schoolboys led to their suspension from their secondary school, the logging of their hijinks as a “hate incident” and a shower of death threats.
When the mother of one of the boys decided not to press charges against the people who had threatened to burn down her home, “to avoid further inflaming the situation”, a local councillor applauded her decision and shrugged off the death threats as a case in which “passions flare”. A police officer at the same event said nothing at all about the threats and saluted the Muslim activists who had stirred up outrage. The scuffing of a Quran, it seems, was a more dramatic incident than schoolboys fearing for their lives.
Other people wrote about the obscene absurdity of the situation — and not just right-wingers. Even leftist commentators like Ash Sarkar and Aaron Bastani spoke up for the schoolboys. Suella Braverman, Home Secretary, denounced the threats, and “promised to work with education officials on new guidance for schools to make clear that teachers ‘do not have to answer to self-appointed community activists’.”
What about Labour, though?
I’m not trying to make this a partisan issue. There is plenty of blame to be levelled at the Tories when it comes to free speech and community cohesion. It has been under their watch, for example, that the police have become glorified Twitter moderators and that Islamic extremists have swanned in and out.
Trickett should be well aware of the dangers of Islamic extremism
In this case Labour has most to answer for. It was Councillor Usman Ali, representing Keir Starmer’s party, who said that the Quran had been “desecrated” and that the authorities had to act. Has he been disciplined for such an inflammatory response? If he has then I haven’t heard about it.
The local MP is Jon Trickett — a veteran Labour politician who has been in parliament since 1996. Trickett spent last week posting on Twitter about trophy hunting, corporation tax and — I’m not making this up — the possibility that his tweets are not appearing on people’s timeline because “algorithms are rigged against dissenting voices on the Left”. He has not, as far as I can tell, found time to take a stand against the persecution of four schoolboys in his constituency — unless, of course, that blasted algorithm has somehow hidden it.
Trickett should be well aware of the dangers of Islamic extremism. He was acquainted with the 7/7 bomber Mohammad Sidique Khan, who worked for his wife. To be clear, there is no indication that Trickett or his wife could have known anything about Khan’s plans (which shocked almost everybody who had ever known him). That sad experience should have helped him take events like this more seriously, however.
Simon Lightwood is the Labour MP of the neighbouring constituency in Wakefield. Yesterday, Lightwood issued a statement — one distinguished by its almost comical evasiveness. He says that the school “acted quickly to investigate the incident” without commenting on the boys’ suspension. I don’t think their speed is at issue here.
Lightwood condemns “threats of violence, online hostilities or hate speech from anyone”. Mr Lightwood, those death threats were not “from anyone”. We know who they were from and we know who they were targeted against. Denouncing “online hostilities” in such vague terms, meanwhile, feels like a doomed attempt to fudge the issue.
Mr Lightwood says, “Here in Wakefield people work together to tackle problems, celebrating our diversity and living together with tolerance, respect and mutual understanding.” Actually, in this case people have worked together to shame, alarm and exclude four random teenagers and protect the people who attempted to terrorise them. Is that “celebrating diversity” and “living together with tolerance, respect and mutual understanding”? I think we should be told.
Just to rub in his nigh on heroic evasiveness, Mr Lightwood turned off the comments underneath his post.
Again, the Conservatives have no right to do a victory lap over this issue. After all, it has taken place under a Conservative government — and a Conservative government which might have ignored the situation had there not been such a level of grassroots intrigue.
Yet the silence and weasel words of Labour politicians is a grim reflection on their values. Keir Starmer has been posturing about his seriousness compared to his far left predecessor. What does he have to say? Absolutely nothing. Yvette Cooper, Shadow Home Secretary, is another MP from West Yorkshire. What does she have to say? Absolutely nothing.
They don’t want to offend anyone who might canvas or vote for them, do they? After all — schoolboys won’t have the vote.
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