Khan Review slams public response to Batley teacher’s plight

28 March 2024

A week ago, the government published the Khan Review on social cohesion and democracy, written by Dame Sara Khan.

Khan devotes an entire chapter to how various public bodies responded to the Religious Studies teacher from Batley Grammar School who went into hiding for fear of an Islamist mob in March 2021.

The teacher had shown an image of Muhammad alongside images of the Pope and Jesus Christ in a lesson on blasphemy and free speech.

He had taught the same lesson showing the image on four previous occasions. Two other RS teachers in the school had also shown the image in lessons. This time, the parent of a child in the class warned the teacher there would be ‘repercussions for his actions’.

The school sent a letter to all the parents apologising for the image used, thus effectively stoking the protests that started two days later.

Understanding the harm extremism does to local communities

The Khan Review is the outcome of the consultation held in 2022 by the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities on the harm done by extremism to local communities. It looked specifically at the experiences of people targeted by extremists and the work of public bodies in countering extremism and promoting social cohesion.

There were responses from 205 people, typically people working for local authorities, charities or in counter-extremism. The Khan Review also published several other pieces of research.

Freedom-restricting harassment (FRH)

The Khan Review makes a larger claim about the supposedly widespread extent of ‘freedom-restricting harassment’ of individuals “leading individuals into silence, self-censoring, or abandoning their democratic rights.”

It is defined thus:

“FRH involves but is not limited to, acts of doxing, inciting hatred and violence against individuals and their families, sending death and rape threats, and other forms of threatening behaviour.”

The plight of the Batley Religious Studies teacher

Sara Khan has met with the Religious Studies teacher from Batley Grammar School, who fled his home and the area with his family. The teacher felt completely abandoned and isolated given that he had not received any immediate support from the school, Batley Multi Academy Trust, West Yorkshire Police, Kirklees Council or the local MP Kim Leadbeater. He alleged that none of these had recognised their duty of care to him.

Three years on the teacher remains suicidal and has been given a new identity. This suggests he is deemed to be in danger for the rest of his life.

Police failed to understand seriousness of the threat

Sara Khan firmly believes that the police failed to understand the seriousness of the threat from the Islamist mob targeting the teacher from the very outset. West Yorkshire Police sought advice from the National Counter-Terrorism Police, and were told the threat was low because threats had come from ‘unknown people by unknown means’. She implies this was shortsighted.

The teacher told Khan that he was aware of the assassination of teacher Samuel Paty in France a few months earlier, but had no confidence that the police understood he faced a similar risk. Having moved to live in a different area under a different police authority, the teacher experienced great difficulty in obtaining help from them. Eventually, he was told there was a serious threat to his life.

Police failed to communicate the law to protesters

Khan criticises West Yorkshire Police for viewing the Batley case in a positive light due to nobody having been hurt. She points out that the reason for this is that the teacher fled early on.

Khan found other experienced police officers highly critical of West Yorkshire Police’s handling of the incident.

“Firstly, there was a lack of public robust messaging that made clear that any threatening, harassing or intimidatory behaviour against the RS teacher and other teaching staff would not be tolerated and individuals would experience the full force of the law. In their view, this would have been an important action to help create a climate which dissuaded people from engaging in further harassment and intimidation aimed at the RS teacher.”

Kirklees council told Khan that had the police deemed the situation to be more threatening they would have acted accordingly. She criticised the council for picking the side of the Muslim protesters in its quest to maintain social cohesion.

Batley Grammar School and Batley Multi Academy Trust failed to uphold free speech or support the teacher

Sara Khan was dissatisfied with the fact that the Trust believed the teacher should not have shown the image of Muhammad in the classroom. The Trust said this because of the potential offense the image could cause. This was despite the Trust’s own investigation having cleared him of any wrongdoing.

The teacher disputed the Trust’s claim to have offered him counselling for several months after the incident. He said the one session he did attend in August 2021 was ‘counter-productive’. He was also highly critical of the school’s senior leadership not supporting him, despite having signed off on the lesson in previous years.

The teacher strongly criticised Trust’s engagement with a Muslim activist outside the school gates who had no children at the school.

The teacher strongly criticised the school leadership for issuing an apology in a press conference for the showing of the image, this before the investigation by the Batley Multi Academy Trust had even begun. He perceived this as the school appeasing the protestors.

Finally, whilst the Trust claimed suspending the teacher was a neutral act, Khan points out that this was perceived by the protestors as giving into their demands. It is relevant that the Trust considered shielding pupils from offense more important.

Khan Review recommendations

In her review, Sara Khan recommends changes to the Victims’ Code and the work of the Victims’ Commissioner to recognise victims of freedom-restricting harassment. The hope is that this would lead to guidance for institutions on how to react to such harassment.

She also calls for police forces to have designated safety officers to deal with harassment. They would be required to have “a comprehensive understanding of apostate and intra-faith hatred, and the theological narratives employed by perpetrators that incite hatred and cause harassment.” This is because the review also looked at the experiences of those threatened for leaving a religion (mostly Islam) as well as the targeting of dissident Muslims by other Muslims.

Evidence of wider Islamic interference with schools in Batley

Sara Khan discovered through interviews that Muslim activists and ‘community leaders’ (Islamists) had been meddling more widely in schools in Batley.

“From successful attempts at banning legitimate religious books, to interfering in essays, class discussions and debates about religion or other topics, such activists seek to impose their dogmatic religious beliefs in non-faith schools and interfere in the teaching of the National Curriculum.”

I think this is one of the most important sentences in the entire Khan Review. It strongly suggests that the Batley Grammar School incident did not come out of nowhere. A history of such arrogant meddling would explain why the local authority, school, trust and police were all so quick to cave into the activists. This is one place where the Khan Review did not go far enough. It should have led to calling for an exercise in mapping Islamist harassment of teachers and interfering in schools.

Khan Review did not research drivers or perpetrators of harassment

Khan admits her team has neither researched the drivers nor those who perpetrate this type of harassment, instead calling for further research.

This is bizarre, because two weeks ago, the organisation responsible for the Batley protests was named as the Muslim Action Forum. This was done in a report on anti-blasphemy agitation by Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens for the Commission for Countering Extremism.

The public survey results

Alongside the Khan Review the results of a random survey of the public were published. It is particularly disturbing that over a quarter (27%) of adults say they have experienced ‘life altering’ freedom-restricting harassment. Twenty percent of this group came off social media. This means that nearly 6% of adults have come off social media due to harassment. A further 15% (amounting to roughly 4%) of adults had lost or changed jobs as a result of harassment. Slightly fewer had moved house. Seventeen percent of those who had experienced harassment had taken additional security measures. What was not asked, however, was who was doing the harassing. This makes it impossible to understand what is going on.

Whilst these are very concerning findings, the method used was insufficiently rigorous to give a good historical picture. There was no time limit on recalling events. We want to know whether harassment has increased in the last five, ten, fifteen years. The survey did not look for this kind of detail, nor did it cross-compare with official crime figures, or information from police forces about the number of Osman warnings handed to people at risk of murder. Khan’s Rapid Evidence Review of Harassment and Censorship acknowledged that the evidence was anecdotal, the evidence for freedom-restricting harassment in terms of extent, diffusion and trends was limited.

Batley incident as Islamic supremacism

The Khan Review is the fourth government review in just over a year to have looked at anti-blasphemy agitation. The others have been the Shawcross Review of Prevent, the Bloom Review of faith engagement, and Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens’ review on anti-blasphemy agitation. It seems that government officials are anxious to obtain as much information as possible about this kind of targeting in order to formulate effective policies to respond.

The Khan Review takes the right direction as far as the Batley teacher is concerned. However, the rest of the research on harassment has the subtle effect of assimilating the Batley incident to a wider rather nebulous picture. It isn’t plausible to assimilate it in this manner. It should be viewed and confronted for what it is, as Islamic supremacism in action, an attack on integration, not only on social cohesion.

Batley’s history of Islamic activism

Khan’s ‘discovery’ that Muslim activists had been meddling in other schools is unsurprising. Batley has a long history of Muslim educational activism. This dissertation reveals that as far back as 1982 Muslims in Batley planned to open a school for three hundred pupils. There was also a Zakaria Girls’ School in Batley in the 1980s which made an unsuccessful application for voluntary-aided status.

In 2000 the academic periodical British Muslims Monthly Survey reported on an initiative to encourage Muslim women in Batley to study. However, the example given was of an elderly woman gaining a degree in Arabic at Leeds University. This is hardly a sign of integration.

The silence of Christian leaders over the Batley incident

Taking a broad view of this incident, a huge question to be asked about the total silence of local Christian leaders in Batley and indeed at a higher level. Why didn’t they speak up about this blatant attempt to impose an Islamic blasphemy code on not only the school but effectively the whole area?

Christian leaders have mostly been completely silent on the increase in aggressive and at times life-threatening Islamic campaigning to outlaw Islamic blasphemy codes.

A spiritual vacuum exists which is now being contested by hostile Islamic supremacists. Christian leaders need to rediscover their courage in the face of this serious danger to society.

  • Share

Related articles

All content has been loaded.

Take action

Join our email list to receive the latest updates for prayer and action.

Find out more about the legal support we're giving Christians.

Help us put the hope of Jesus at the heart of society.