I Tried to Teach My Pupils British Values of Respect, Tolerance and Peace. but These Saudi Textbooks Preached the Exact Opposite; the Teacher at the Centre of the Storm over Saudi Schools in London Tells How He Uncovered Intolerance and Racism in the Classroom - and Why It Cost Him His Job

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), February 11, 2007 | Go to article overview

I Tried to Teach My Pupils British Values of Respect, Tolerance and Peace. but These Saudi Textbooks Preached the Exact Opposite; the Teacher at the Centre of the Storm over Saudi Schools in London Tells How He Uncovered Intolerance and Racism in the Classroom - and Why It Cost Him His Job


Byline: ELIZABETH DAY

Colin Cook was a teacher who only wanted the best for his pupils. As a British Muslim convert teaching at an Islamic school, he tried, above all else, to instil in his young charges the values of peace, tolerance and respect embodied by both his faith and his country.

So when he discovered that staff at the Saudi-funded King Fahad Academy in Acton, West London, were teaching children from the age of five with textbooks that described Jews as 'apes' and Christians as 'pigs', he was left with a feeling of disgust.

'I felt betrayed,' says Mr Cook, speaking exclusively to The Mail on Sunday.

'I'd been there for the best part of 20 years, trying to teach my pupils the British values of tolerance, respect and peace, and I felt that what was in these Saudi textbooks suggested the complete opposite of that.

I don't think I've seen a clearer example of racism in my life.' Last week, it emerged that Mr Cook, 57, is bringing a tribunal claim against the school for unfair dismissal on the grounds of race discrimination. Mr Cook, a father of three, was earning [pounds sterling]35,000 a year and is seeking [pounds sterling]100,000 in compensation.

As part of his claim, Mr Cook, who grew up in Catford, South-East London, quoted a series of disturbing extracts from textbooks used at the school.

Pupils were being asked to name 'some of the repugnant characteristics of the Jews' and to 'give examples of worthless religions, such as Judaism, Christianity, idol worship and others'.

When a few of the extraordinary details of the case were revealed, it seemed especially shocking that such hate-filled messages were being taught with impunity in the heart of multicultural Britain.

But The King Fahad Academy, an independent school established in 1985 for the children of Saudi diplomats in London, has effectively become a small but potent fiefdom. It is run from Riyadh by the Saudi Ministry of Education, which lays down the curriculum and provides teaching materials.

Its head teachers are appointed by the Saudi ambassador to London and it is funded by a multimillion-pound educational trust registered as a charity in Britain.

Similar schools have been established in Washington, Moscow, Bonn and Bosnia.

All the academies subscribe to the strict Wahhabist interpretation of Islam promoted by the Saudi regime. In 2003, German intelligence agencies singled out the Bonn school as a meeting place for activists linked to terrorist activities.

'These schools exist all over the world,' says Mr Cook. 'This is potentially the tip of the iceberg.' Until 1999, the curriculum had been based on the British system, with additional Arabic and Islamic studies. Then a Saudi curriculum was introduced and the British system was gradually phased out, despite the school expanding and relying on local British Muslims for pupils.

Six in every ten pupils are British, with devout parents paying up to [pounds sterling]1,500 a year to have their sons and daughters educated under the strict regime. But it was not always like this. Indeed, when Mr Cook joined The King Fahad Academy in 1988, he found it a model of tolerance.

A sincere, mild-mannered man from an Anglican working-class family, Mr Cook dresses like an archetypal Englishman from a bygone age - corduroy jackets with leather elbow patches and washed-out chinos. Though softly-spoken, he can be vociferous on issues - such as this - which he feels strongly about.

As a young man, he travelled and fell in love with the cultures of the Middle East and Asia. Then, at the age of 32 and while a mature student at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, he was inspired to convert to Islam by a speech by Yusuf Islam, formally the pop singer Cat Stevens.

Mr Cook married Fariddah, a Muslim student from Malaysia, and moved to Kuala Lumpur. …

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I Tried to Teach My Pupils British Values of Respect, Tolerance and Peace. but These Saudi Textbooks Preached the Exact Opposite; the Teacher at the Centre of the Storm over Saudi Schools in London Tells How He Uncovered Intolerance and Racism in the Classroom - and Why It Cost Him His Job
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