| 20 April 2024, Saturday |

UK politicians, religious leaders urge calm in Prophet Muhammad cartoon row

British politicians and religious leaders have called for calm as a row over a teacher showing cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad threatens to grow into a culture war.
For the second day, protesters gathered outside Batley grammar school in West Yorkshire on Friday, after the school announced it would be closed following the incident.
Former Conservative Cabinet minister Baroness Warsi told the BBC: “Unfortunately, this matter has been hijacked by extremists on both sides to kind of create this culture war. What we’re forgetting is the most important party in all of this, which is the kids and their learning.”
Warsi added: “It’s obvious that many pupils were left distressed because of what happened.”
London-based advocacy group the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) asked Education Secretary Gavin Williamson to retract his statements after he condemned the protests, arguing that he “effectively accuses concerned parents of violence against the school and making threats.”
“Neither of these claims seems substantiated by video footage of the parents’ protest outside the school,” the IHRC said, adding: “These claims firstly distract from the core issue — what appears to be a deliberate racist and humiliating provocation by a teacher against Muslim pupils. Secondly, they demonize Muslim parents, students and the community in general.”
Williamson has come under fire after adding his name to a statement from the Department for Education, which said: “It is never acceptable to threaten or intimidate teachers … the nature of protest we have seen, including issuing threats and in violation of coronavirus restrictions are completely unacceptable and must be brought to an end.”
Some of the gathered protesters have insisted they will continue to demonstrate until the school’s religious studies teacher is sacked.
The Guardian newspaper has reported that the image shown by the teacher depicted the Prophet wearing a turban in the shape of a bomb.
The school and the teacher have apologized to parents. The year nine teacher has been suspended since the controversy emerged on Thursday.
The protests have been peaceful, with no action carried out by West Yorkshire police officers in attendance.
Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green praised the school’s reaction to the protests, adding that the priority was the wellbeing of the children.
“I welcome the school’s swift response to this and now appeal to everyone to work together and calm the situation,” Green said, adding: “I’m pleased conversations are taking place so in future teaching of these subjects can be done in a respectful manner.”
Qari Asim, imam at Makkah Mosque in Leeds and chair of the mosques and imams national advisory board, said the protests should end, adding: “We do not want to fan the flames of Islamophobia in all of this.”
Tracy Brabin, Labour MP for Batley and Spen, said: “Those who seek to fan the flames of this incident will only provoke hate and division in our community and I would encourage all involved to work together and calm the situation.”