The philosophical issues thrown up by Re M, and Not the Nine O’clock news.
There are some things that my dad had views about that had no influence on my own belief systems. I don’t for example, believe that Freddie Mercury was “straight as a die”, that Roy Orbison was only pretending to be blind, that the moon landings were faked (and that REM know about it and their song “Man on the Moon” is not about Andy Kaufman but is really about exposing the fake moon landings). I don’t feel the need to stand during the Queen’s Speech, or even to watch it.
But there are some things where I know that my dad’s views and philosophies stayed with me to this day – that you should always tip cabbies and hairdressers well, that West Ham are dear to my heart, that it is better to pretend to play the drums when listening to music than play air guitar, and his sense of antipathy towards Unions and Union bosses.
I’ve never had a Union treat me badly or double-cross me, or let me down, but I do have a hostility towards them, an innate, programmed hostility that comes not from my own experience but the beliefs my dad instilled in me about what a bad lot they were. Why, even this week, when I heard that Bob Crow had died, my initial gut reaction was the one my dad would have had, and not one bourne out of any personal antipathy towards a man who had no adverse impact on my life at all.
Listening to politicians suddenly speak out about what a great man Bob Crow was reminded me of this classic Not the Nine O’Clock news sketch
Anyway, the point of this long rambling intro is that in Re M, the High Court were preparing themselves to tackle the issue of the influence that a father could have on his children, for good or for ill.
The father in this case is a Libyan man, with seven children. He came to England and married an English woman and started that family. The marriage ended when the mother began to drift back to her earlier Christian beliefs, the father being Muslim. There were problems about the children being returned from an arranged holiday in Libya and a dispute between the parents as to whether this was an attempt by the father to move the family lock stock and barrel to Libya. There were allegations made by the mother about the way that the father treated her and the children – those allegations are not proven or tested and were to be the subject of a fact finding hearing in private law.
The Local Authority had been asked to undertake an investigation and they reported that the children were fine and happy with mother and they had no concerns.
“The children are happy and content in the care of their mother, having gone through a period of instability since last year. They are attending school and many other activities. The behaviour of [the eldest two sons] has calmed significantly and [the second son] has become very close to his mother. [The mother] is providing a physically and emotionally safe environment for the children.”
The report commented also upon the relationship between the children and their father that had been observed during occasions of contact. It said at paragraph 6.6,
“[The father] was observed during contact with the children. He was very warm and affectionate towards the children. His interaction with the children was age-appropriate during the contact and the children found it a positive experience. However, all children apart from [the eldest son] requested for future contact to be supervised.”
It was therefore something of a surprise to Holman J, when the day before the fact-finding was to begin, he received a communication from the Local Authority that they intended to commence care proceedings.
On further enquiry, it emerged that fresh allegations had been made to the Local Authority, who were greatly concerned about them. The substance of those allegations were that the father was “radicalising the children” and promoting radical fundamentalist thoughts associated with terrorism, that he was not simply promoting and advocating Islam as a faith but insisting to the children that anyone who was not following the Islamic faith was an ‘infidel’
This was something that had not been raised as a specific allegation or that the Court had been asked to deal with at the fact-finding hearing, although there was this reference to it in mother’s statement
“Immediately following my return, both children were extremely hostile and rude to me and used concerning language which includes calling me a ‘fucking bitch’, a ‘Christian witch’, and [the second son] told me that I am evil and going to hell. When I asked the children where they had got these ideas from, they said that their father had told them …
On 22 May 2013 I spoke to [the eldest son] about his behaviour and he told me that he cannot love me because I am going to ‘hell fire’. He was crying and said that I was going to hell because I am not a Muslim. I comforted him and his behaviour gradually improved from this time on. [The second son] however, continued to be extremely angry and volatile. [The eldest two sons] are showing signs of radicalised behaviour and have said that they want to be a jihadist when they grow up since a young age, and that they hate England and Christians …”
The Judge made it plain that no findings had been made against the father and these allegations were both untested and strenuously denied
- The father himself very strongly denies nearly all of the allegations that have been made against him and which were intended to be the subject of the fact finding hearing this week. I understand from his counsel today that he also very strongly denies that he has said, or done, anything to any of the children which might lead any of them to say the things or behave in the ways described by their mother in the passage that I have just read.
The Judge felt that it would be unfair to start the finding of fact hearing when father had had no notice or warning of these allegations and that the detail of what was alleged was not available to him, nor had he had the opportunity to respond. The case was therefore adjourned to gather that evidence, let father have the proper chance to respond and for the allegations to be tested. It is, of course, the mother (or the Local Authority) who have to prove these allegations – it isn’t for father to disprove them.
It will be an interesting judgment to read when the finding of fact hearing is concluded – I don’t want to comment particularly on this individual family as the allegations are yet to be tested and no real detail is available for anyone to form any view as to their truth or not – the whole thing might be a misunderstanding, an exagerration or even outright falsehood.
I do think though that the case raises interesting debates about whether there is a bright line between sharing your beliefs and values – even if those might not be the cultural norms of the UK – and emotional harm to children. Is this a Hedley J Re L case, where society ought to tolerate a broad spectrum of behaviour and views and values, or a Supreme Court Re B case where the behaviour of the adults was held to cross the line into significant harm?
The Judge captures this very elegantly
“Radicalising” is a vague and non-specific word which different people may use to mean different things. There is quite a lot of material in this case to the effect that the elder of these children are committed Muslims who like to attend, and do attend, at a mosque and wish to display religious observance. This nation and our culture are tolerant of religious diversity, and there can be no objection whatsoever to any child being exposed, often quite intensively, to the religious practices and observance of the child’s parent or parents. If and insofar as what is meant in this case by “radicalising” means no more than that a set of Muslim beliefs and practices is being strongly instilled in these children, that cannot be regarded as in any way objectionable or inappropriate. On the other hand, if by “radicalising” is meant, as appears in paragraph 12 of the draft addendum report that I have already quoted, “negatively influencing [a child] with radical fundamentalist thought, which is associated with terrorism” then clearly that is a very different matter altogether. If any child is being indoctrinated or infected with thoughts involving the possibility of “terrorism” or, indeed, hatred for their native country, which is England, or another religion, such as Christianity which is the religion of their grandparents and now, again, their mother, then that is potentially very abusive indeed and of the utmost gravity.
It is very difficult, when you start thinking of concrete situations, to see where that bright line would be.
For example – a man says to his fourteen year old son
1. Islam is a faith with many followers throughout the world, it is something that I firmly believe in. I also believe that there are substantial elements of Western society that are decadent and not in keeping with my faith and tradition and the world would be a better place if more people followed Islamic traditions.
seems fine to me
2. There are those in the Western world that are threatened by Islam, and are frightened that their time of dominance based on greed and capitalism will come to an end. As a result, they oppress Islam, they stir up fear and hatred of Muslims, they scapegoat us for the ills of the world and start wars against Islamic countries using lies and deceit.
Now let’s add
3. There are Muslims who fight back, who resist this oppression. They risk their lives for what they believe in. They stand up for what is right, and they are honourable men to do so. We cannot fight against the West with tanks and planes because we do not have their resources and might – instead we rely on brave men who sacrifice their life to do what they must to bring the West to realise that what they do to Muslims is wrong. Being a martyr for something you believe in is better than tolerating oppression.
[For the avoidance of any doubt, I do not suggest at all that these views are in any way representative of mainstream Islamic thought or belief – it is just laying out a trail of how one might move away from mainstream Islamic thought and justifiable feelings of wanting to share your faith with your children towards the very tiny proportion of radical fundamentalist viewpoints]
Even that third one still seems to me to be an expression of faith and values – it might be edging towards stuff that might make people uncomfortable, but if you live in a free society you don’t just defend the right of people to say things that you agree with – sometimes people need to be free to say unpalatable things, unpopular things.
Almost certainly before you get anywhere near the point where the child is going to start hating the West or wanting to take action, you’ve got many many more steps than that – but how many? How far down that route do you go before what is happening is not an expression of views but emotionally abuse and indoctrination or radicalisation? But putting your finger on where that point is that crosses the line between expressing your faith and views and saying what you believe and becomes harmful is not easy.
Even if the Judge has a verbatim account of what was said to a child, fixing that the bright line has been crossed might prove to be a difficult task.