In what became known as ‘the t-shirt case’, an eight-year-old was referred to Prevent and social services for wearing a t-shirt in year 4 on a primary school outing in London.
On a school outing, MK wore a t-shirt which read “when I grow up I want to be like…” on the front and on the back: “Abu Bakr as-Siddique 1”. He had worn this t-shirt on a number of occasions before.
However, MK happened to have worn this t-shirt on the anniversary of the 7/7 bombings while on a school trip to the Princess Diana Memorial Park in central London.
Forced to remove t-shirt
The Deputy Head Teacher was quoted as saying the t-shirt was “inappropriate” to wear and MK was requested to take the t-shirt off. As a result, he wore his hoodie throughout the day, which was hot.
The mother of MK recalls how the incident was realised:
Later that afternoon after school I noticed my son in this hooded cardigan and told him to take it off as it was so hot. I then noticed he only had his vest underneath and asked him why he didn’t have his t-shirt on [as it would make sense to have his t-shirt on and not the hooded cardigan].
He then explained what had happened. To my shock I realised what had happened; I had had no idea that it was the anniversary day nor did I realize the t-shirt he had worn, which – to be honest – had nothing controversial about it unless you chose to make something out of nothing.
The mother went to the school on the same day to talk to his teacher about the t-shirt. She explained that the t-shirt was not supposed to be provocative.
She told them that MK chooses his own clothing and it was a coincidence that he had worn this t-shirt on the anniversary of 7/7.
Referred to social services
MK’s questioning under the PREVENT duty by his teacher led to a referral to social services.
In mid-February 2016, a person from the local authority’s child protection unit visited MK at his home and asked the following questions:
- “What is [your] goal?”
- “What do you have to do to go to paradise?”
- “What about people of other religions: do they go to paradise?”
- “What about Christians: do they go to hell fire?”
MK’s parents did not understand the value of these questions or what they had to do with terrorism or being drawn to violence, since their were questions related to belief.
Most of all, she felt it was inappropriate to pose such questions to a primary school student.
What was more alarming was that social services reported to MK’s mother that the reporting school teacher had asked MK about the t shirt: “Who is Abu Bakr?” the teacher asked.
“Abu Bakr was the Prophet’s (pbuh) friend,” MK allegedly replied. “He won lots of battles and is the leader of Isis.”
MK’s mother said her “jaws dropped” when she heard this, as she could not and would not believe nor accept that her son would make such a statement.
Upon further investigation, the school’s head teacher confirmed to MK’s mother that such a conversation regarding ISIS was not included in their referral.
Social services later confirmed that this was an error on their part. However, they would not reveal any details concerning how an allegation such as this surfaced in the first place.
Why the t-shirt case is still relevant
This case displays a number of worrying concerns.
Firstly, neither teachers nor social services were able to differentiate between Abu Bakr As-Siddique, a well known figure accepted within Islam and Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS.
Front line personnel are supposed to be able to ascertain the difference between a normative Islamic view and “extremism” based on their training.
Secondly, MK’s parents were asked about their political and theological philosophy.
But if social services and the school could not understand who Abu Bakr As-Siddique is, then how could they possibly understand Islamic theology enough to correctly understand their responses?
This goes to the inherent flaw with PREVENT, which is a focus on a reporting a perceived ideology.
Thirdly, the school and social services were asked which extremism risk factors MK had fulfilled in order for a referral to be considered.
Both the school and social services did not provide MK’s parents with an answer to this question.
They are still unsure as to why their family has been treated as suspect.
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