The South African Human Rights Commission (HRC) ruled last month that a Muslim schoolgirl, Layla Cassim, who was suspended for writing an essay about Palestine had had her rights violated by her school, Crawford College.
The school immediately appealed against the ruling, and took out an interim edict preventing Layla, her parents or the HRC from publicising the case. It also threatened legal action against the Star newspaper of Johannesburg for writing a story about the case, even though it clearly stated that it had obtained the report before the edict had been taken out and from sources other than Layla or her parents.
The episode occurred in October last year, when Layla wrote an essay about Palestine and posted it on the school notice board in response to the posting of an article about zionism. The school sent the essay to the Jewish Board of Deputies, which called it anti-semitic. Layla was then suspended from school.
The Jewish Defence League (JDL), a notoriously right-wing zionist group, then contacted Layla’s father, saying that she should withdraw the essay otherwise the JDL “would act”.
The HRC’s findings, reported in the Star despite the interim edict taken out by the school, were that Layla’s rights to proper administrative action before suspension had been violated, her right to a basic education had been violated, and her right to freedom of expression had been violated. It also concluded that the college had failed to respect her right to dignity, and that Layla had been emotionally abused and degraded.
The commission also ruled that Layla’s essay was not racist, anti-white, or anti-semetic. It also criticised the former director of Crawford College, George Crawford. In a radio interview with the well-known broadcaster John Robble, Crawford had said that Layla was “anti-white, anti-jewish, she’s fundamental and she will make a good terrorist one day.”
Layla was also decribed as being diffcult and “manifesting pathological behaviour”, calling her mental health into question.
In an editorial on September 23, after it had been threatened with legal action, the Star severely criticised the school in an editorial entitled ‘Intolerant Crawford’. The editorial said that “this intolerance is a throw-back to a past long gone in this country.”
The interim edict is part of an appeal process by which the school hopes to get the HRC’s verdict put aside on the grounds that it had not had the chance to puiut its case to the commission. The HRC evidently felt that the evidence was such that there could be no defence. The appeal process was continuing as Crescent went to press.
The ruling has been welcomed by Muslim groups. However, Iqbal Jassat, in an article published by the Media Review Network, highlighted the sophistication of the school’s two-pronged strategy of political and personal attacks.
He also pointed out that the South African media had contributed and added to Layla’s problems by their coverage of the case, which tended to reflect the school’s views.
The media also never published Layla’s essay so people could see for themselves exactly what had so angered South Africa’s powerful zionist lobby.
Muslimedia: October 1-15, 1999