In the wake of allegations in 2014 that Islamists were plotting to Islamicize schools in Birmingham, England, public concern about Islamic influence on British education has been at an all-time high. It’s a concern that reflects larger anxieties over the place of Islam in the British cultural and political landscape, anxieties exacerbated by terrorist attacks and the rise of the English Defence League and the British National Party.
Damian Breen, a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at De Montfort University in Leicester, has written a book that addresses some of these anxieties through the lens of critical race theory (CRT) and its bearing on Islamic faith schooling in Britain. Relying on ethnographic research and empathetic interviews with stakeholders at Muslim schools, Breen offers a counter-narrative to the master narrative of British Muslims that dominates public and political discourse. Included in this master narrative are assumptions about Muslims as foreign and “Other,” Muslims as a community whose influence in the public sphere must be curtailed, and Muslims as securitized citizens who must be surveilled to protect the nation from terrorism.
Contrary to these prevailing views of Muslims in Britain, and by extension Muslim schools, Breen argues that Muslim schools both provide Muslim children with an opportunity to develop their religious identities and serve as a platform for their political enfranchisement. This is important because Muslims, as a CRT perspective maintains, are a racialized, marginalized community within a society that continues to privilege, if even implicitly, whiteness and white power structures. To address systemic discrimination against Muslims, educational institutions are needed that positively embrace religious values and identities and that view Islam as a vehicle for constructive civic engagement.
Breen’s conclusion is that the number of Muslim schools with state support should be expanded, in spite of the anxiety over the issue, because doing so promotes the political equity of Muslims and makes them greater stakeholders in the state. Muslim schools, far from functioning as parallel societies, “represent perfectly nuanced models of what particular British Muslim communities want for the educational enfranchisement of their children” (176). These schools offer pathways for Muslim political engagement “from the ground up” (176), and this is what is needed to build bridges between Muslim communities and the non-Muslim majority, including the nation state, in such contentious times.
The book succeeds with its larger argument because of the strong theoretical lens Breen brings to the subject along with the many new voices he includes through ethnographic research and interviews. In part because the book was developed out of Breen’s PhD thesis, it is a dense read with heavy doses of theory and method. It will be most accessible to specialists in Islamophobia and CRT. Even so, its ideas are of great import for public discourse about Islam and Islamophobia in Britain, and that alone makes the book worth the effort for non-specialists.
Todd Green is Associate Professor of Religion at Luther College, a former advisor on Islamophobia at the US State Department, and author of Presumed Guilty: Why We Should Ask Muslims to Condemn Terrorism (Fortress Press, 2018).
Date Of Review:
October 9, 2018
Damian Breen is Senior Lecturer in Sociology at De Montfort University, Leicester, UK. His research interests are primarily focused on faith schooling; Muslim communities; Critical Race Theory; and political, educational and civic equity among marginalised groups.
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