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This Lazy Discussion of Islam and Extremism Is Getting Just a Little Tired

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To quote Shirley Bassey, I am what I am.

And what I am is a Muslim.

And in answer to the most common questions I get asked when people discover I'm a practicing Muslim:

Yes. Yes. Yes. No.

(Do I pray? Do I eat only halal? Do I observe Ramadan? Do I wear a head scarf?)

Oh and before I get in a car I say a du'a for a safe journey; which causes my non-Muslim friends much amusement (although I think they are secretly pleased for the additional protection, especially if I'm driving).

I live my life according to my spiritual beliefs and in accordance with my relationship with my God.

And just for clarity, I'm British.

Born and brought up in the Small Heath part of the constituency I represent, living above the cornershop that my parents ran, I went to Small Heath School, one of the 21 schools recently investigated by Ofsted. It serves one of the poorest communities in the UK and serves them supremely well; rated Outstanding in its last four inspections.

Most of the pupils at the school are Muslim, which is probably the sole reason it got dragged into the whole Trojan Horse debacle in the first place.

And it is a debacle. Ofsted have now reported but two further enquiries have yet to publish their results. What this means for Muslims in Birmingham is at least two more months where the words Muslim and extremist are lazily interchanged and where clear problems of governance get redefined as radicalisation.

And this matters.

It matters to parents and pupils and anyone who has an interest in providing excellent education to children in our schools. If we incorrectly understand the problem that has affected a small number of Birmingham schools then we won't be able to fix it.

The problems of governance identified in the reports are serious but eminently fixable. Bullying of staff or pupils is simply wrong, whereever it occurs. We need to be clear that pupils, staff and parents understand what it is when they see it and how they get it stopped if it is happening. Every school should be run according to the rules that underpin its existence. It's called good governance.

And it's not like we don't have plenty of examples of great well-governed state schools in predominately Muslim areas to turn to for advice. Here in Birmingham we have for decades run non faith schools in the state system which accommodate pupils with faith. Whether that be a classroom set aside at lunchtime for students who wish to have time for spiritual reflection or the modification of school uniform rules to allow for headscarves or turbans. We need to look closely at the schools in Birmingham - like Small Heath - that do it well and see what we can learn from them.

And it also matters because these necessary discussions and investigations could and should have been conducted through the prism of ensuring good governance. But what we have had is a national debate which has discussed the education of Muslim children through the prism of national security instead.

And this lazy discussion (practicing Muslim = extremist = on the conveyer belt to terrorism) is getting just a little tired.

And for the record, I'm tired too.

I'm tired of getting up in the morning and hearing of the latest Muslim plot to take over the school/the city/the world (delete as appropriate); tired of being told that praying five times a day at a mosque is extremist; tired of being treated like being a Muslim is like having some kind of disease (and if you go to Pizza Express you might catch it too, sorry about that).

Having a long beard or wearing a niqab may well be religiously conservative but it is not extremist. And there is no evidence that religious conservatism within Islam leads to violence and extremism.

And if there was really evidence that the central charge laid at the doors of these schools - that there was an organised and successful attempt to radicalise the children of this city - then don't you think Ofsted would have found it? 21 inspections and the central charge remains unproven.

So when Michael Gove talks about the values of Britishness, I wonder whose British values he is talking about. His own, which have led to a decision to appoint a counter terrorism expert to head up an investigation into school governance?

Or is the British values that I see, live and breathe on a daily basis?

The values that gave a chance to a Kashmiri origin working class Muslim girl brought up in one of poorest areas of her city to become an MP? The values that took me from Small Heath School to Parliament to swear my loyalty on the Quran to the Queen and serve to the best of my ability the area in which I was born, raised and live still.

I hope and pray for all our sakes that it is the latter.

Shabana Mahmood MP was born and brought up in Birmingham. She is the MP for Birmingham Ladywood and Shadow Exchequer Secretary