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Andrew Brown: Tower Hamlets rebuts Times fostering story

10 November 2017


Culture clash: a veiled Muslim woman shopping in London with her child earlier this year

Culture clash: a veiled Muslim woman shopping in London with her child earlier this year

THERE has been a further development in the Tower Hamlets fostering case (News, 1 September). I had thought, and written (Press, 8 September), that The Times’s coverage of a child taken into care and placed with Muslim foster parents was a disgrace. It was slanted in every possible way to suggest that a white Christian child had been placed with fundamentalist Muslims who ignored and despised her heritage. The reasons for her being in care were glossed over by The Times, “to protect the child” — not, perish the thought, because she had been taken into care by the police as an emergency, and her mother was undergoing treatment for both cocaine and alcohol abuse, as emerged later on.

But the original Times report made a number of specific allegations, most of which were followed uncritically for the first 24 hours by the rest of the press. The child, the paper said “was unable to understand the language spoken by the family [she was placed with].

“Her first carer, with whom the girl lived for four months, is believed to have worn a niqab outside the family home. The carer at her present foster placement wears a burka, fully concealing her face, when she accompanies the child in public.

“The foster carer removed her necklace, which had a Christian cross, and also suggested that she should learn Arabic.

“The child told her mother that when she was given her favourite Italian food to take home, the foster carer would not allow her to eat it because the carbonara meal contained bacon.

“More recently, the girl is said to have told her mother that ‘Christmas and Easter are stupid’ and that ‘European women are stupid and alcoholic.’”

Tower Hamlets council has now published its findings into these allegations. These contain some real gems: “The allegation that the foster carer had made derogatory statements about European women to the child was not substantiated. Conversations between the social worker [and] the child found that the child does not know what Europe is. . .

“The social worker has talked to the child about [Christian] festivals and she expressed excitement and described having an Easter egg hunt at the foster carer’s home and receiving an Easter egg from the carer. She brought an Easter egg to contact to share with her mother.

She expressed no negative views about Christmas, Easter or any religious festival to the social worker . . . the allegation that the child was distressed as the foster carer spoke only in Arabic was . . . not correct . . . the child said they only spoke English at home and outside the home.”

As for the cross, there appear to have been two. One had been given by the mother to her own (Muslim) mother in March, and was now in the child’s bedroom in her “country of origin”. The other is a solid gold family heirloom which the carer considered inappropriate in size and value for a small child: this, too, is now in the hands of the maternal grandmother.

Needless to say, the story about spaghetti carbonara turns out to be nonsense, too.

The Times coverage of this made an interesting row-back from their original story. It points out that the Tower Hamlets investigation had not spoken to the mother, but had no room to mention that her lawyer has signed off on the results.

It is perfectly obvious, from what has been published, that this is a story where the mother and the grandmother are at odds, and that religion is not the main cause of their disagreements. But Islam supplies the prism through which the story has been presented by The Times and viewed by its readers.


IN THE same week, the Times Literary Supplement published a sensible and thought-provoking piece by its new philosophy editor, Tim Crane, on getting God wrong. “A common view of religion in atheist or humanist writers is that it is a kind of blend of cosmology — a theory of the universe — and morality. . . I am sure this picture of the essence of religion will be familiar to many. But it seems to me deeply inadequate, and its persistence frustrates the proper understanding of the phenomenon of religion and religious belief.

“What the cosmology-plus-morality picture leaves out is something that is central to most of the things we call religions: religious practice. Being a believer essentially involves doing certain things, performing certain activities, either once in one’s life (baptism, confirmation, the hajj) or on a regular, repeated basis (ritual prayers, giving alms, the Sabbath). These activities are absolutely fundamental to anything that we recognize as a religion, but they are neither matters of morality nor simply the straightforward expression of some cosmological belief.”


THE WASHINGTON POST had a good piece on the rise of Pentecostals in Brazil. If the Reformation is being re-fought there, as the article suggested, this time round it is the Protestants who are selling indulgences, in the form of the prosperity gospel: “Standing by the pool outside his $1.5 million house, Silas Malafaia, one of Brazil’s most famous prosperity preachers, insists he doesn’t live extravagantly.”

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