Today's Scotsman reports that almost a third of the children due to take part in a primary school field trip to Edinburgh Central mosque were pulled out by their parents. Regrettably, the paper has covered this important story in a way that seems calculated to fuel community tension and has paid no heed to the efforts being made to build understanding and harmony.
The Scotsman says that out of a group of 90 pupils from Newtongrange Primary School, in Midlothian, for whom the mosque visit had been arranged, 28 were withdrawn. But of the three parents quoted in the article, all were opposed to the mosque visit. The quoted opinions plainly could not have been representative of the school community. Bizarrely, the paper chose to help the BNP promote its Nazi message by including a quote from Kenny MacDonald, Scottish regional organiser of the party.
Newtongrange Primary has so far failed to respond to the report with the firmness that is required. They have not provided a quote to the Scotsman and would not comment when contacted earlier today by a SACC member. The Communications Officer at Midlothians Council told the Scotsman that "an alternative lesson on Islam in class" was "offered" to pupils who were withdrawn from the mosque visit. When contacted, the officer did not appear to recognize that the council response was inadequate.
The school and the council should have given a clear statement to the Scotsman that visits to places of worship are part of the Curriculum for Excellence and that pupils are encouraged to attend. They should also have pointed out that the views of parents quoted in the paper are not representative of their school community or the work done to promote racial harmony. Newtongrange Primary now needs to urgently evaluate its practices.
The picture painted in the Scotsman is almost certainly not typical of community relations in schools across Edinburgh and the Lothians. Nevertheless, there is no room for complacency, especially in view of the arson attack on a London mosque earlier today. We do not need newspapers that are more interested in creating a thrilling story than in researching the reality of community relations in our region. And we do not need council and education officials who lack the guts or the knowledge to challenge sensationalist journalism.