A Muslim in need of faith facts
The centrality of Israel in Jewish education is quite different to an extreme Anglo-Islamic desire for a global super-state
Mohammed Asif is the chief executive of Engage, a pressure group launched in September 2008 to "enable active citizenship and participation by British Muslims in furtherance of its aims to create a more inclusive and tolerant Britain".
No one could quarrel with that admirable ambition. Certainly not me. Last year, in a published anthology of my JC columns, I devoted an entire chapter to the condemnation of Islamophobia, and I want now to say again, for the record, that anything that can be done to dispel unfounded attitudes towards Islam in general and British adherents of Islam in particular has my unqualified support.
It is in that spirit of friendship that I congratulate Mr Asif for the well-constructed and meticulously footnoted letter that he lost no time in despatching (on May 14 ) to Michael Gove - scarcely 48 hours after Mr Gove had assumed office as Secretary of State for Education.
In that letter (the text of which you can read at the Engage website, www.iengage.org.uk), Mr Asif did not beat about the bush. As a reader of the JC (yes, the JC), Mohammed Asif had been surprised (to put it mildly) to learn that many state-aided Jewish schools regard Zionism as an integral part of their ethos and teaching agenda.
Michael Gove should dispel the myth that Zionism was invented by Theodor Herzl
"I am more than a little surprised, he declared, "at the mention of Zionism in relation to an educational establishment and the connotation that Judaism and Zionism are inseparable".
Claiming to understand "the Jewish nature" of these schools, Mr Asif nonetheless challenged the legitimacy of Zionism within their governing ethos, and then made an extraordinary statement: "Zionism is not part of the Jewish faith. It is a political ideology which has its roots in the works of Theodor Herzl and subsequent ideologues…" And then, drawing Mr Gove's attention to a statement that the Secretary of State had made in November, objecting to the use of public funds to support a school dedicated to the propagation of the notion of an Islamic state, Mr Asif posed the ultimate question: how could Mr Gove support the use of taxpayers' money to fund schools that promoted the virtues of a Jewish state, while opposing the use of the same money to fund schools promoting Islamic statehood?
It is a very fair question, and I applaud Mohammed Asif for asking it. Mr Gove will no doubt be pondering his response - which will have implications going far beyond the relatively parochial matter of faith schools and their funding. And being of a somewhat impertinent disposition I am going to offer Mr Gove some advice on how this rejoinder might be framed.
In his opening paragraph, he should thank Mr Asif for his letter but then venture the observation that Mr Asif has (doubtless through no fault of his own) been grievously ill-informed about the place of Zionism within the Jewish faith.
The Education Secretary might even want to draw Mr Asif's attention (perhaps in a suitably erudite footnote) to appropriate extracts from widely used Jewish prayer-books, attesting to the truth of this observation.
In the next paragraph, Mr Gove should offer a short summary of the history of modern Zionism, dispelling once and for all the myth that this movement was invented by Theodor Herzl. I can help here, by providing the Education Secretary with the names of, for example, prominent pre-Herzlian rabbis who advocated the re-establishment of the Jewish state.
Mr Gove will then need to defend the remarks he made last November. In an article in the Daily Telegraph (November 30 2009), he went out of his way to praise "Islamic faith schools across the country that do an excellent job of promoting high educational standards." But he then drew attention to an Anglo-Islamic foundation that had secured government funding to run schools in Tottenham and Slough.
The foundation has, or had, strong links with an extremist group that promotes the replacement of individual nation-states across the world with an Islamic super-state. Mr Gove should point out that the creation of a worldwide super-state has never been a Jewish or even a Zionist ambition. And he should end his reply by politely suggesting to Mr Asif that, unless he has credible evidence to the contrary, he would be well advised to keep his ill-informed opinions to himself.