Tory think tank compared to “madrasa”

Today the Guardian carried a front-page story about how various Tory MPs and activists are being given training by an offshoot of the party’s youth wing, Conservative Future, named the Young Britons’ Foundation ([1], [2]). The group’s leadership regards the NHS as a waste of money, disbelieves global warming and condones waterboarding on the grounds that it “doesn’t do the prisoner any permanent physical harm although he may be reluctant to shower or use a flannel again in the future when/if he is freed”. A number of senior figures in the party have spoken at its events, including Michael Gove, John Redwood, David Davis and Ed Vaizey, and its president is Daniel Hannan, who denounced the NHS to American right-wing television.

The group’s chief executive, one Donal Blaney, has said, “we have been described as a Conservative madrasa, so we bring the next generation out to the States and bring them back radicalised”. Whether this is said by the group’s enemies or its leaders, I find the comparison to Muslim madrasas offensive. Madrasa is simply Arabic for school, and as used outside the Arabic-speaking world, it means any place of Islamic religious education, regardless of the political or sectarian stripe of the people running it. It does not usually mean an extremist training camp of the sort found in some parts of Pakistan; it usually just means a Sunday school where children (or adults, for that matter) are taught to recite the Qur’an and how to pray.

They are using this term in a similar way to how gangsters use al-Qa’ida imagery to make themselves look hard, but they are appropriate a term which scares others but is neutral or positive to us. If they want to call themselves a Tory radicals’ training camp, much as one offshoot of the Countryside Alliance, formed to defend fox-hunting, called itself the “Real CA” (as in Real IRA), that’s their business, but let them use a term which means what they are trying to say.

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