Sunday, October 15, 2006

Calls for Aisha Azmi to be sacked.

Phil Woolas says that Aisha Azmi should be sacked. The BBC report it here and Mr Woolas's discussion with the Mirror is here .

The most interesting thing is the video of the interview with Ms Azmi. She admits after much blustering that she was interviewed with her face uncovered by a male governor; and although she is quite cagey, it seems to me that she did not make it clear at her interview that she would be unwilling to work unveiled at the school. Throughout the TV clip she insists she is perfectly able to communicate but the footage clearly disproves that - we are unable to see whether she is genuinely confused by the TV interviewer (Peter Sissons?), intimidated, or completely aware that this admission is about to hole her case below the waterline. Deprived of her facial expressions, her voice sounds strident and unpersuasive, which is a pity.

It's very interesting that Sissons takes the line that Azmi should have made certain assumptions because it was a Church of England school. Azmi then takes the line that she made other assumptions because it was a 'mainly Muslim school'. Surely neither of these factors are at all relevant if this is an argument about whether she could do her job or not. So what if the kids are used to seeing veiled women? The issue is their needs in the classroom. If they are receiving bilingual support they are already at a disadvantage in our school system and they deserve the best help they can get. However, it's also arguable that a bilingual support worker from one's own community is the best possible resource in this situation, so this advantage outweighs any disadvantage such as the hindrance of the veil.

The other thing that is starting to worry me is how impossible it would be to run a school where some of the staff are effectively refusing to work with some others. Whoever line manages Ms Azmi will have to deploy other staff so that any male teachers in the school don't come into contact with her while she is working unveiled. In most small schools there just isn't that much flexibility.

So I think, overall, I am becoming fixed in my views, and less and less sympathetic to the case... which is slightly worrying. Because behind all this remains a nagging worry that the press is happily exploiting the more strident voices within Islam; because it is a very juicy story - dissent in the classroom, alienation within a primary school, radical Islam, children, the mystery of the veil.... Should we be pleased or distressed watching a woman in a veil getting a public drubbing by a pompous middle aged white guy?

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