‘Not on Our Watch!’- a collective stand against creeping villainy.

This week, a teacher, accompanying children on a school trip to the US, was asked to leave the plane in Reykjavik.

What does that make you feel? What questions does it raise?

He wasn’t given an explanation regarding why he was taken off the plane, but rather just given some hotel vouchers in order spend 24 hours in a country he hadn’t intended on spending any time in.

What does that make you feel? What questions does it raise?

This teacher was Muslim.

What does that make you feel? What questions does it raise?

Throughout my first week back after half term, I have spent many a moment thinking about my colleague, Juhel- the young, Welsh maths teacher who was sadly removed from a plane and not allowed to travel to the US with his pupils . Empathy has been often discussed on Twitter (and other social media platforms) recently, be it as a key leadership trait or in terms of teaching empathy through quality texts. In fact, during my half term break, I won a radio competition (via Facebook) which involved completing this opener ‘The only way to true peace is…’ and my response centered upon cultivating empathy that is truly global.

So, I look at Juhel and I see myself. I too, am a teacher. I too am a Muslim. As we often say to our pupils when engaged in shared reading of books, ‘Put yourself in his/her shoes, how would you feel?’ That’s what I’ve been doing, all week.

In the adult world, ‘How would you feel?’ seems to be a phrase that has entered the cliche hall of fame. As adults, we seem to have to have replaced empathy with opinion. A trawl through social media threads will show you that when a story breaks, opinions come flying in (and sympathy of course- but sympathy is not empathy) and everyone is an expert. When  I shared Juhel’s story on Twitter and mentioned Islamophobia, someone (not one of my followers or not someone I follow) tweeted back words to this effect: ‘Only one Muslim state supports Israel.’ The tweet has since disappeared but its effect was lasting.

I began to unpick this. Here I was, showing my support (along with others) for my colleague who had been wronged and someone, somewhere, decided to put that.

I don’t ‘blame’ him/her.

It’s testimony to the state of disconnect we find ourselves in. Someone put on Twitter: ‘Why isn’t there more outrage regarding our colleague Juhel’s story?’ I’m sure it is there. Outrage can manifest within, where people disagree in their hearts and minds, often because they feel helpless regarding what else they could actually do.

However, as the HT at the school Juhel works at put it: We might be getting weary of hearing about the Trump administration – or other stories anti-Muslim rhetoric -but that is not to say we should get used to what it does or what it appears to stand for.’

‘What it does, and what it stands for’. In my opinion, as collective members of this noble profession, we need to let that outrage out! No, not in a wild way but in a way that says, ‘Not on our watch!’

Juhel’s HT also happens to be a historian, who cited 1930’s Germany and asked to think about the ‘drip-drip effect of Nazi propaganda’. Is it hyperbole? No. He is warning us. He is warning us of a creeping villainy.

‘Not on our watch!’ Say it with me: ‘NOT ON OUR WATCH!’

@brogan_mr (Tim Brogan) in one of his wonderful blog posts, discussed the best way to react to something. You react with the words ‘What now?’ These two powerful words encompass strength, positivism and drive.

So, what now? What should we do to ensure a generation of pupils have the tools to internally and externally counteract this creeping villainy?

Here are my suggestions:

  • Set up links with local mosques with a view to visiting. Seeing and sharing are powerful.
  • It is time to recognise Islamophobia and discuss it in schools- it exists.
  • Ensure RE lessons on Islam contain activities such as ‘when you hear Muslim, you think…’ and provide a safe space to have open discussions
  • Talk about the nonsensical use of phrases such as ‘Islamic terrorism’- terrorism and Islam (in its reality) cannot ever be put together 
  • Use PSHE (or reading lessons) to discuss cases of Islamophobia, antisemitism and other forms of discrimination.
  • Take a headline, put it in the middle of large sugar paper and ask pupils to brainstorm what facts would be needed (and what questions need to be answered) for the headline to be true. Then read the related article to see if it contains those facts or if one’s questions are answered
  • Ensure pupils get the opportunity to meet those who they wouldn’t normally meet. This is the most powerful way to learn about what one may perceive as the ‘other’
  • As a profession, let’s continue to celebrate diversity by supporting #BAMEed

Of course, we stand against all forms of discrimination. Our stance, from our position of standing, is to educate against hate, which is, in essence, to say “Not on our watch”.


6 thoughts on “‘Not on Our Watch!’- a collective stand against creeping villainy.

      1. Thanks Fahan! Yes your name is on the letter that is now winging its way to the Right Hon Justine Greeening.

        I think your post is exactly right about the importance of empathy.

        Some years ago I challenged some UKIP politicians over some hateful, untrue & racist comments they made at a local meeting. Even though I had said or tweeted NOTHING wrong one of the UKIP politicians tried to get me sacked. He put in several vexatious complaints about me saying I was unfit to be a teacher. I was completely exonerated but it wasn’t til someone that I didn’t know wrote a letter to the newspaper supporting me did I feel confident that they wouldn’t prevail.

        That experience brought home the importance of speaking out for others & the power we actually have, if we did but know it!

        Solidarity xxx


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