IT IS easy to imagine a happy ending to the story of the five-year-old Christian child fostered with two conservative Muslim families. After the intervention of a family court on Tuesday, the girl was given permission to live with her mother. The judge, Khatun Sapnara, said that the decision was based on long deliberation by the social services in Tower Hamlets and not the result of media pressure. It is hard to believe, though, that a hearing would have come so promptly without the pressure caused by the Times story. Before the hearing, the council had declined to respond to the newspaper’s questions, trying, instead, to block the story. At the hearing, its legal representative said that no white British foster carers were available when the girl had been taken into care — a fact not revealed before. A council spokesperson spoke of a desire to correct “inaccuracies” in the reporting, but was legally prevented from doing so. And, of course, none of the reasons for the child’s being taken into care have been broadcast. Thus many of the details needed to form a clear understanding of the case are missing — not that that has discouraged many in the secular press or on social media from expressing a view.
In fact, this is just one small example of a council’s inability to take account of a child’s “religious persuasion, racial origin and cultural and linguistic background”. The shortage of foster carers forced a change in the rules which has allowed councils to set this requirement aside, and routinely, now, children can be placed with foster parents of a different faith and background when circumstances dictate. But the norm is that minority-ethnic or Muslim children are placed with white families. Christian foster parents would be expected to enable a Muslim child to attend mosque, or allow a secular child to refrain from attending church. There appeared to be no such accommodation in the Tower Hamlets case; nor do we know whether the five-year-old was a churchgoer or not.
The most alarming aspect of the case is that child is reported to have told her mother: “Christmas and Easter are stupid” and “European women are stupid and alcoholic.” The problem here is not that such views are being taught to a girl from a reportedly Christian background, but that they are taught at all. Baroness Warsi at the weekend lamented the common attitude that Muslims are all the same and are different from everyone else. To learn that similar prejudices are voiced by Muslims is to glimpse the forces that keep the different communities apart.
In the right direction
INCLUSIVITY is generally an aspiration rather than an achievement. The Greenbelt festival’s aspirations, however, were realised in the miles of wheelchair tracking around the site in Northamptonshire last weekend. Most impressive, though, was the prominent part played by people with disabilities in the main festival eucharist. They brought wholeness and joy to the congregation, and a clearer vision of the embodied Lord.