How a small group of people helped generate anger at ‘Islam conversion’ homework story

The flag of Guernsey

A school in Guernsey made headlines after a homework assignment about Islam went viral.

Miss Stables, a Religious Education teacher at Les Beaucamps High School  had asked students to write a letter to their parents about their choice to convert to Islam. This creative writing exercise sought to test their knowledge and argue objectively. The homework assignment asks students to focus on how their parents would react to the news. It sought to engage their emotional and critical faculties. It had little to do with proselytising Islam. But asked students to empathise with others of a different faith.

Complete the letter you started or started planning in class to your family on how you are converting to Islam.

Include: How you’re feeling, how becoming a Muslim has changed your life, how much you love your family and hope they can accept your choice.

Focus: How would it make you feel having to tell your parents this?? How would/could they react?

**Please also note this is a piece of creative writing and completely fictional YOU ARE NOT ACTUALLY CONVERTING TO ISLAM. It is purely to test your knowledge of what we have learnt this year and how well you can argue objectively!!!!

The Sun and the Daily Star called the assignment ‘controversial’ due to the reactions of parents. But there is no evidence that the comments had come from parents. To their credit, the Mirror cited them as ‘locals’. But all the comments came from a single article published on the local Guernsey press on February 18.

Guernsey’s syllabus on religious education ensures that students study the five major religions with ‘sufficient depth’. Take for example, how Year 8s recently had a homework assignment that asked them to produce a one-page report on each faith. That assignment generated no outrage.

Muslims make up less than one per cent of British Crown dependency’s island population. There are no mosques. Yet it has banned Syrian refugees from seeking asylum.

The Daily Express labelled it ‘bizarre’ and linked it to the Trojan Horse scandal.

So how did this simple homework assignment make headlines? A link to the assignment first appeared on a 4chan thread on February 16. Toni Bugle (The Matriot) then tweeted the link at 2:12pm on February 17.

Her organisation, Mothers Against Radical Islam And Sharia (MARIAS), shared a platform with Anne Marie Waters, who now sits on the leadership board of Pegida UK.

On February 18, the far-right blog Fahrenheit 211 picked up the story from Bugle. And had thanked her for ‘alerting me and others to this act of appalling Islamopandering’.

Over on – Paul Jospeh Watson framed the story as another example of ‘Islamization of western education’ on February 19. Watson’s story borrowed heavily from the Fahrenheit211 blog.

Watson and Fahrenheit211 argue that a deeper conspiracy is at work. The proof of this ‘Islamisation’ hangs on their ability to selectively cite news articles.

This story made national headlines on the whims of a manufactured outrage.

Even the Sun’s headline ”Tell your parents you’ve converted to Islam’: School sparks fury with ‘dangerous’ homework assignment” overstates the issue.

Its success as a story may owe to its ability to play on the anxieties of those who imbibe conspiracies about ‘Islamisation’.  And how a small number of connected indivdiuals helped push the levels of outrage.