by Ananya Rao-Middleton

Over the past couple of days, this photograph of a questionnaire/survey given to primary school children in East London has been widely circulated on social media.

“Counter Extremism” survey administered to primary school pupils in London
‘Counter Extremism’ survey administered to primary school pupils in London

Statement from the executive head teacher of Buxton school, which is one in a number of schools involved in the pilot programme funded by the European Commission (source: Twitter)

It has been described as a ‘counter-extremism’ survey, consisting of undeniably loaded questions aimed at discerning the religious, ethical and even patriotic beliefs of the children taking part. Worse still, it is evident that this survey is undoubtedly intended for Muslim children primarily, who will continue to undergo interrogation of this kind as part of the new legal obligations upheld by educational institutions, consisting of monitoring potential ‘extremists’, as dictated by the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill that recently passed in parliament. This survey and its wider implications of state-sponsored violence and Islamophobia are disturbing for a number of reasons; however, I want to first focus on what it means to categorise Muslim children as potential ‘extremists’.

To categorise children in such a way is a form of preconceived criminalisation. By categorising Muslim children as potential ‘extremists’, the government can justify violence enacted through laws that essentially treat them as criminals without having to provide any tangible evidence for doing so. In the CTS Bill, this criminalisation is determined by the exhibition of certain behaviours and values displayed by children that the government identify as ‘radical’. These so-called signifiers of ‘extremism’ amongst children appear to be based on symbols of religiousness and increased religiosity. If this is the case, is the government not conflating terrorism with Islam?

If signifiers of difference, including visual symbols of Islamic religiosity such as the hijab, are assumed to be indicators of ‘extremism’, we are essentially forcing Muslim children to conform to mainstream ‘British values‘ that demonise their religion and its followers. In other words, counter-extremism measures dictate that those who do not hold mainstream religious or political beliefs need to be monitored, where the consequence of non-compliance is being labelled a ‘radical’ or even a ‘terrorist’. Taking this type of state-sanctioned violence into schools by instructing teachers to monitor their students creates a hostile atmosphere of mistrust and suspicion, subsequently resulting in the alienation and bullying of Muslim children in schools by staff and fellow pupils.

Consent has also been flagged as an issue in terms of the implementation of counter-terrorism policies in schools. Many Muslim parents are rarely informed or consulted about policy changes within schools that may affect their children. Taking both the lack of transparency by school management and the clear outrage this survey has prompted into consideration, CageUK rightly asks:

‘Equally worrying is what happens to names and information held about individuals. Are they removed from any Police and intelligence lists if there is no threat, or are all those referred destined to be on security lists forever, considered a potential radical and threat to national security?‘ – The Prevent Strategy: A Cradle to Grave Police-State

The criminalisation of Muslim children is only one part of the larger collective punishment our government is enacting on British Muslims for the crimes of a few. The consequences of collective punishment are counterproductive: policies that allow our government to systematically alienate, demonise, detain and torture Muslims, through the War on Terror and its by-products, contribute to the marginalisation of these communities and foster resentment.

We must challenge the notion that Muslim communities are a security threat. We must resist policies that allow Muslim children as young as five to be categorised as criminals. We must examine why our government is so eager to create a ‘McCarthyite’ witch-hunt against Muslims through media hysteria and policies that systematically demonise and criminalise them. This witch-hunt is a divide-and-rule strategy, used to distract the public from the real threats to this country and its people. Namely, right-wing neoliberal governance, which through its restriction of our freedom of speech, increased state-sponsored surveillance, bid to privatise the NHS, greater austerity and welfare cuts, desire to scrap the Human Rights Act and draconian immigration laws, poses the greatest threat of all.

Letter to parents and carers from the executive head teacher of Buxton school here

29/05/2015 Buxton Primary have released a statement signed by the Executive Head Teacher and Chair of Governors, saying they will no longer be participating in the BRIT project

Follow up: Private firms are profiting from the collective-punishment and surveillance of Muslims in the UK

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Ananya is a graduate of History and Anthropology BA from Goldsmiths College, University of London. She is a part-time researcher, soon-to-be student of the MPhil Modern South Asian Studies at Cambridge and currently blogs for Her academic interests include neoliberalism, structural violence and Hindu nationalism in South Asia. She writes on intersectional feminism, resistance, issues pervading the War on Terror, capitalism and neoliberalism. Follow her on Twitter @ananya_rm

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21 thoughts on “Schools in the UK Are Now Asking Muslim Children to Fill Out “Counter-Extremism” Tests

  1. Dear Ananya
    What is wrong with collecting data?
    If there is nothing to hide or be ashamed of why object?
    You write that ” we (who is ‘we’?) must challenge the notion that Muslim communities are a terror threat.” Regrettably, they are. The London bombings were carried out by British Muslims, influenced by Friday sermons and internet material, brought up in Muslim communities. Muslim communities need to confront that issue honestly, openly and without fear of speaking out. However, the last criterion is not guaranteed, as you well know.


    1. So, by this rationale, America and Norway should start collating data on white people for the murders carried out by Dylan Roof and Anders Brevik. The white communities from these nations should also confront these issues honestly, openly, and without fear of speaking out. I’m so glad that white communities are addressing this violence in their communit… oh, wait a minute.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Shane I am afraid that ‘oh wait a minute’ is not a very illuminating comment.
        Yes, why should Norway not collect data in order to establish if there is a pattern or clue inherent as to why certain people commit such acts?
        You use the words “White people”. What does that mean, is it to distinguish ‘white people’ from ‘Muslim people’ ? If so you are a confused person.
        Assuming that by ‘white’ you actually mean “non-Muslim”, then “white” communities do confront such internal social and political issues , and without fear of speaking out. They have done so for centuries. Can you show me evidence to the contrary?
        The cold, bare fact is that the vast majority of violent acts in our time are carried out by Muslims.
        I wrote: Muslim communities need to confront that issue [radical extremism] honestly, openly and without fear of speaking out. That is a socio-political issue.
        At the same time they need to address the religious issue which fuels the actions of extremism. Discuss openly the contradictions within the Islamic scriptures; discuss the validity of the principle of Abrogation; ask, why did the Meccan verses preaching brotherly love and tolerance such as [109.6] “Unto you your religion, and unto me my religion” change suddenly to the later Medinan verses of jihad and Kafir hatred with which we are all too familiar? ask how the messages of jihad and hate can be suppressed while focussing on the messages of love and tolerance.Etcetera. There is a lot of self-examination to be done.
        ‘Oh wait a minute ‘ doesn’t help.


        1. Wielders of cold, bare facts, we see you hung up by your pants on your own lance. Pray what is a violent act? What is a minute? What is a word?


        2. Well, heaven forbid I’m unable to reach such levels of illumination as yourself. For clarity’s sake, this is extra-special-sarcasm, given how much you appeared to like me doing it last time.

          Yes, I did use the words white people to distinguish from Muslims. However, there’s no confusion as to why I evoked those two phrases. Anyone with the most basic knowledge knows that there are white Muslims. However, Islamophobia doesn’t make that same distinction. And that’s what I am referring to. The reason I’m referring to it is because it’s what underpins the piece you read that inspired you to comment in the first place.

          The vast majority of violent acts in our time are carried out by Muslims? Where are you even getting this from? There’s sadly plenty of violence committed in this world. Saying the bulk of it is caused by Muslims is not only ludicrous, but harmful. because it leads to Muslims – or anyone assumed to be Muslim – being treated as less than human. Such as the tests mentioned in the piece.

          And if you want to start scrutinising Islam for contradictory and nebulous messages, we can play that game with most religions. And that’s the problem. If we held all religions under the same microscope, your argument would have some merit. If we wanted to interrogate the causes of all violence (e.g. domestic abuse, plunder of resource rich nations), your argument would have some merit. But we’re not. It’s all about stop the scary brown people, with their dangerous customs, and their behaviour that’s not like mine. I’m sure you firmly believe you can justify your mindset, but you should really take a close look at how you arrived at that place. The type of close look you appear to reserve for what Muslims are up to.

          Liked by 1 person

        3. @Lancelot..

          You said “The cold, bare fact is that the vast majority of violent acts in our time are carried out by Muslims”

          The cold bare facts huh? That is actually very illuminating. Where are you getting your info from? Are not LEARNED people supposed to verify their facts before they spew it out???

          Well, what is clear is that you are not very wise and pretty much an idiot…like most of the others in the world who blindly follow.

          A quick google search proves you are an idiot.

          since 9/11 extremists affiliated with a variety of far-right wing ideologies, including white supremacists, anti-abortion extremists and anti-government militants, have killed more people in the United States than have extremists motivated by al Qaeda’s ideology. According to a count by the New America Foundation, right wing extremists have killed 34 people in the United States for political reasons since 9/11

          Liked by 1 person

  2. You know, I’m pretty fine with the demonization of religion. Basing your world view on a fairytale is pretty silly. And it becomes risky when you decide to interpret the fairytale litterally, and decide that your fairytale is the One True Fairytale, and those that do not agree need to be hurt. Christianity, islam, buddhism, it’s all rather silly. It’s better to find a meaning of life in modern, rational, humanistic ideals. Why should fairytales get special priveleges, when they are just that?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s not a special privilege to want to live without being harassed, have people shout abuse at you in the street, or find employment more difficult simply because of your religion – and

      If you don’t believe in Islam, Christianity, or any other religon, that’s fine (I don’t either, for the record). What’s not fine is treating Muslim people – especially children – as if they’re violent troublemakers in the making, when they’re just trying to live their lives.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Well if you choose to wear a sack with a slit over your entire body you can be pretty sure it will be harder to find employment. The same if I said I needed to permanently wear a cowboy hat or a sombrero because I believe in a fairytale.

        Or because you need to interrupt work and pray 3 times a day.

        I don’t think this questionarre treats anyone as a criminal. How the hell else are you supposed to try to get an indication of extremism in children before it’s too late?


        1. You know not every Muslim wears hijabs, niqabs or burqas? You’re just being deliberately rude. What’s it to you (or I) if someone believes in something that you don’t? They don’t deserve to live without being automatically assumed as troublemakers?

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Two words for you old son: Charlie Hebdo.

            Here’s two more: Pamella Geller.

            You’ve got a group of people in Britain who think killing somebody for drawing a cartoon is reasonable and appropriate. Maybe not all Muslims, maybe not even a majority, but many.

            I think maybe some deliberate rudness is called for at this point, if it saves blood later on.

            Today a bunch of bikers are having a “Draw Mohamed” contest out in front of a mosque in Phoenix Arizona. They’re ugly, and they will probably be armed to the f- teeth. It’s rude of them to be sure, but I’ll wager it will get the attention of the various would-be killers who attend that mosque.

            Too bad that can never happen in today’s British police state.


            1. I’ve also two words for you, old son: Andres Brevik

              Here’s three more: Craig Stephen Hicks

              Exploitation of a religion – or athiesm – for murderous ends isn’t the province of Muslims. Everyone can play that game. If you want to start using those people to justify oppressive treatment against those who are innocent, then we’ll be here a while, and I don’t especially have time to wait around for you to start frantically Googling specious examples to justify Islamophobia.

              Despite my reference of Brevik and Hicks, I’m not calling for special measures to be taken against Christians or atheists. I’m not immediately suspicious of them. I’m also not immediately suspicious or concerned by Muslims. I am, however concerned when children are being assumed as criminal, or when a pregnant woman was beaten up for wearing a hijab so severely that she lost her baby.

              A question some seem to overlook is, why are people so eager to draw Mohamed in the first place? For what ends? Because, “I don’t like what you believe in, and you must listen to me be as incendiary as I can about it”? It may not be illegal to go out of your way to deliberately anger Muslims, but why would anyone want to? I’m yet to hear anyone give a fair-minded reason for that.

              Liked by 2 people

            2. So many other incidents can be quoted in which crimes were committed by individuals who were not muslims, they committed these crimes because they were ‘instructed by god’. I am not trying criminalize any religion, but I do hope the same from you. While I have no objection to this questionaire, its perfectly fine given the situation at hand to try and figure out extremist elements.

              However you can not just generalize Muslims as being violent killers, those who kill, make individual and personal choices and not because our religion makes them do it. The bikers are hosting a draw Muhammad day, I am a believer in freedom of expression but the very fact that such an event takes place in a deliberate attempt to anger the crowd, is indeed an act conspiring aggression. Think of it this way, one young guy goes to the mosque and prays, minding his own business, another person chooses to attack the bikers(which is what they expect) so now the bikers attack back, not that one person but the whole crowd. So those minding their business also get harmed. (This is just a hypothetical example to help you understand)

              And the very fact that individuals choose to have religious beliefs is there personal choice, it shouldnt be criminalized, it ks fair for muslims to peacefully practice their religion and not be treated as potential killers just like its fair for Christians, Jews, Hindus and every other person to do the same. At one end you choose to support free expression and on the other hand you negate it for others, seems rather hypocritical.


  3. Uhm, isn’t extremism an extrem form of orthodoxy, and isn’t a hijab a sign of high orthodoxy? I definitely equate those who choose to wear a hijab or burqa to more orthodox and extremist in their religion. To the point that I think they’re pretty crazy for doing it. Doesn’t surprise me that it’s in an extremism questionnaire.


  4. These tests are given to all children in the school regardless of religion!!! Muslims are not being targeted! I know because I had to fill out one of these tests myself. They are given to all children in areas where young people have left the country to join ISIS.


  5. Wow, just wow.
    That’s targeted at primary school kids? Ages 5-10, approximately? The questions are not only racist, they are also really, really bad. Badly worded, too complicated in the wording, etc.
    Also, I’m sure that half of the answers would of course be answered the same by a white christian kid. They are taught to respect religious leaders and they are taught to mistrust other people, especially muslim looking people. Only that in their case it would be seen as positive. Good little white British children

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “Also, I’m sure that half of the answers would of course be answered the same by a white christian kid. They are taught to respect religious leaders and they are taught to mistrust other people, especially muslim looking people. Only that in their case it would be seen as positive. Good little white British children”

      Yes, my thoughts exactly. This whole thing is just sick.


  6. Even putting the stereotyping and racism of the other questions aside, Question 7 is what’s known in ethics as a ‘trolley problem’ — a thought experiment designed to flesh out our intuitions, thoughts and theories that might lead us towards different philosophical schools of thought (primarily, consequentialism or utilitarianism vs. deontology). Since the ur-thought experiment was proposed by Philippa Foot in the ’60s, the question has been so widely studied — in ethics, but also in neuroscience, psychology, and related disciplines — and spawned such a vast body of literature that it’s become known as “trolleyology”.

    So, given that high- and low-ranking academics, graduate students and professors in multiple fields have been debating more or less precisely the essence of Question 7 for the last fifty years, and still disagree about the answers (moreover, have come up with a million and one ways to say, basically, “it’s complicated”), which, exactly, is the “terrorist” answer to that question? Which child’s moral intuitions should be “flagged” for concern?

    Liked by 2 people

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