Saturday, 27 November 2010

Old hat, old hate

Lefthandpalm is bemused to learn of an expose, courtesy of the BBC's Panorama documentary program, of secretive pseudo-schools operating in Britain, where, according to the Daily Mail,
Children in Britain are being taught brutal Sharia law punishments, including how to hack off a criminal’s hand or foot.

So-called ‘weekend schools’ for Muslim pupils as young as six also teach that the penalty for gay sex is execution and that ‘Zionists’ are plotting to take over the world for the Jews.

One set textbook challenges youngsters to list the ‘reprehensible’ qualities of Jews.

Another for six-year-olds asks them to answer what happens to someone who dies who is not a believer in Islam. The answer being looked for is ‘hellfire’. (1)
This is old shit, reheated. The very first 'proper' post on Lefthandpalm, back in 2007, concerned a controversy around the King Fahad academy and allegations of 'dodgy textbooks,' a claim lodged by one Colin Cook, who was a disgruntled ex-staff member (2). That was drummed up by the Mail as well, and Newsnight rather cravenly got on board.

As I recall pointing out back then, I have used textbooks which asked students to list 'reprehensible' qualities of Jews. The text book in question was a social studies tome, and the exercise in question required students to identify the libels heaped on Jews over the centuries. It wasn't asking them to endorse these sentiments, just be aware of them. Without context, we can't be sure these 'Sharia' text books (bet you they are the same ones as the King Fahad academy used) are doing anything more untoward than that.

Now, that doesn't mean this is precisely the same, but nothing in the coverage I've seen suggests that it is anything more than the same preposterous crap. Children are not being taught to chop hands of thieves, kill gays and the like. They are just being taught about how Islam is practiced in Saudi Arabia. It doesn't necessarily follow that they are being encouraged to do these things, any more than children being taught about slavery are being taught to own slaves, or students learning about the Auschwitz gas chambers are being taught to kill Jews.

(In fairness the Mail does make this distinction, albeit in such a way as to give the impression that Something Really Terrible is happening.)

(And further fairness, it's quite likely that the students at these pseudo-schools are getting told that the Wahhabist interpretation of Islam is the only true way and this is how things should be done; but that's subtly different from telling them to do it.)

There's an underlying issue here, about whether we want children being taught about the reprehensible practices of Wahhabi Islam. Here, we have to be careful. A crack down on this will effectively mean granting the government the power to investigate and approve/disapprove almost any aspect of parenting. They'll be able to snoop on any interaction between individuals where 'values' may be transmitted.

It's the old liberal dilemma - to protect the liberties we all value, we have to extend that same protection to people we might not particularly like. As long as they all play with in the rules - and some of these pseudo-schools may be treading a very fine line - then we don't want to throw away all the nice protections we enjoy to satisfy some visceral desire to be Doing Something.

I don't like what is happening in these schools, but unless it can be clearly shown they've actually broken the law, then we have to accept that parents have the right to teach their children values and ideas we might not like. It would be unwise to grant the state the degree of power it would need to be able to intervene in such matters. Other states have taken it upon themselves to interfere in the private lives of their citizens and eradicate religious tendencies they dislike. They have not been good and happy places.

If we want to get rid of crap authoritarian lawmongering, which blighted the New Labour experiment, we have to accept it is going to license some things we might not personally like very much.
1 - "Sharia lessons for pupils aged six: BBC uncovers 'weekend schools' that teach pupils how to hack off thieves' hands," by James Slack. Published by The Daily Mial, 24th of November, 2010. (
2 - As described previously on lefthandpalm;

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