The Finsbury Park imam and the rule of law

“I’m tired. I’m tired of feeling scared. I’m tired of trying to explain to my eight year old child what is going on.”

They were the tearful words of a Muslim mother who lives near Finsbury Park mosque speaking to a BBC reporter after the attack near there on Sunday night.

Her eight year old child is back in school this week. Now I’m wondering what (tired) teachers will be trying to explain when children ask questions and express their fears.

Of course one of the ways that teachers can legitimately respond to such events is to distract children from the fear they may be feeling – my advice would be to suspend the ordinary lessons for a day or two and take them on a nature walk in the park or to an overgrown meadow or cemetery; organize some collaborative games, team-building adventures or play some competitive sport; let them paint, draw or make-up some role-play games.

Or just teach them what you normally would do, but do it so brilliantly that they are immersed and distracted by the sheer stimulation of your content.

However, such traumatic events do provide unique opportunities to teach fundamental values. You can call them ‘fundamental British values’ if you like – though let’s not argue about that – but ‘fundamental’ they certainly are, particularly in a civilized society.

Let me give you an example of what I mean by going back to the Finsbury Park attack.

When it took place, the attacker, alleged to be a man named Darren Osborne, was pulled from the van he was driving and apprehended by the angry and traumatized worshippers. Some started beating him – perhaps understandably in the circumstances.

The imam of the nearby mosque, Mohammed Mahmoud, in an amazing demonstration of leadership, stepped in and restrained the men who were attacking Osborne – ‘like a mob’ he said. He both restrained his fellow Muslim worshippers and protected the attacker from further harm until the police arrived and took over.

This amazing scene teaches us all a fundamental value – that adhering to the rule of law not only protects us but is there to deliver justice.

If, in their rage, the ‘mob’ had torn Osborne to pieces, it would have transformed the victims of the attack in to perpetrators of another one. As understandable as that might be on the level of human frailty; two wrongs don’t make a right.

If the ‘mob’ had torn Osborne to pieces, we would not have been able to establish through the due process of law, whether he had intended to do what he did as an act of terrorism or whether the victims and bystanders had misinterpreted the actions of a man who might for example, have had a heart attack at the wheel of his vehicle and lost control of it (in the way the driver of a bin lorry did in Glasgow a couple of years ago, killing six and injuring dozens).

If the ‘mob’ had torn Osborne to pieces, the victims and their families may have felt the temporary emotion of vengeance but they would not have had the benefit of finding out exactly what happened – the motivation of the perpetrator, how the attack was planned and carried out. Moreover, they would not have received the justice of a sentence reached by the due process of a court of law.

Mohammed Mahmoud has given us all a great lesson in virtue – showing calm, mature and humane leadership – but he has also demonstrated a wonderful commitment to the fundamental value that we all need to treasure – that of adhering to the rule of law, even in the most trying of circumstances.

He has done so in such a unique way that we, as teachers, cannot afford to miss the opportunity to teach our children the value of it.

Alan Newland worked as a teacher, teacher-trainer and headteacher in London for over 20 years and then for a decade with the DfE and the GTC. He now lectures on teaching professionalism and runs the award-winning social media network newteacherstalk. You can follow him on Twitter at @newteacherstalk and book him for a talk. His book “Working in Teaching” (Crimson Publishing) was published in March 2014.

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