April 12, 2007

Against Hysteria

Graham on Harry's Place has posted a good article about an incident in a northern school where one teacher didn't teach the holocaust to his or her class because of fears of Muslim anti-semitism. Graham is right- if this was twenty or twenty thousand teachers it would represent what the Daily Mail has called it the end of civilisation- but we are talking about one teacher. Grahame rightly draws attention to a real problem in our contemporary discourse- even in blogs- drawing attention to one worrying incident and then assuming it represents the whole. John Derbyshire for example on the National Review site has argued that the actions of fifteen servicemen represented the end of Britain. Again a small incident becomes magnified into a vast thing which represents the conduct of all British people. Chris Dillow suggested yesterday that sometimes we unjustly assume that individuals share all the characteristics of the groups that they may belong to and that we should implicitly be aware that this isn't a useful mental habit. Equally the opposite habit, assuming that the character of the individual instance or indeed person is a just representation of the whole or a trend within the whole- one should be wary of this and recognise the difference between a single incident, a set of statistics about a group and a trendline.


Delicolor said...

I'd vaguely heard about but wasn't aware it was an isolated case.

It is typical of the tabloids do do a molehill/mountain conversion.

Gracchi said...

It is one history department in a Northern School which didn't set the holocaust for coursework ie it was probably one teacher's assessment- it doesn't even mean that the holocaust wasn't taught merely that it wasn't set for coursework. The relevant detail is in teh report here - its a PDF document and the reference is on page 15 inside section 7.

Not Saussure said...

I hadn't realised, either, it was an isolated case.

I was also pleasantly surprised that Harry's Place was publishing sane, reasoned and moderate articles on the subject. But then I read the comments...

Matthew Sinclair said...

I actually think you're pretty seriously wrong here Gracchi.

After all, combine this with the prelude to Jyllands-Posten (a children's book not being able to find an illustrator), the incident itself (no one reprinted it), the South Park episode censored (and they've not censored a LOT), the Opera that was modified in Germany, the murder of Theo van Gogh, Salman Rushdie, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, etc. etc. In this context I think that further evidence of the problem, and how far it has spread, should be alarming.

It isn't like someone just saw this story in isolation and became hysterical. In context this story is more evidence something is seriously wrong. This is what people were responding to.

It could just be a coincidence, that all this evidence is just a house of cards. It could be that you are being too cautious and fudging on an important issue.

Sorry if I've over-reacted. However, I think that since the Danish cartoons crisis we need to be on guard to a serious threat to our values. Continuing to treat such threats to freedom of expression as if they are unexpected blips seems like a bad idea.

Gracchi said...

Matt I think we are thinking about different things. I agree we face a threat from Islamic extremism and that that doesn't need hyping at all. Yes all the instances you put together are right and I think you are completely just in calling attention to that- and I would not fudge that issue.

What I think needs some thinking about is the idea that we are surrendering to it though in the education system. The Mail wasn't merely implying that there are unpleasant Muslim extremists out there, but that the educational system had capitulated to them. What they brought up was this one example from a report- but they didn't acknowledge that it was just one example and therefore cannot characterise the whole educational systme- looking back I can see why you might have misinterpreted my comment I am not denying that there are Islamic fundamentalists out there with nasty attitudes about Jews etc. I am denying that the educational system is capitulating to them on the basis of the evidence produced. Go and look at the Harry's Place article and you will see what I mean.

Not Saussure- yes the report is astonishing given what it is based upon.

Anonymous said...

Oh, well, well, 'our values', what the hell these may mean? The ever ready pusillanimous little Malvolio, pulling all the stops, and harping on about 'our values'.

1- The fragmented, dissolute, lonely, and frightened UK populace have one value, and that is; 'saving their bacon', hence citing the neocon Danes, and or Kenyan lairs come Dutch nationals, politician thereof, whom then get stripped off Dutch nationality, followed by getting kicked out of those Netherlands, finally winding up in American Enterprise Institute, ie the playpen of the cabal of rabid Zionists come pretenders to the US throne. Somehow, do not reinforce 'our values'.

2- Theo Van Gough, Salmon Rushdie, infamous characters of little talent, and great prejudice, forwarded as reasons for guarding 'our values', and our freedom of expression.

3- Troubles is freedom of expression somehow does not extend to questioning the blind obeisances to Holocaust narrative (there you go, in Germany, this would be a five year sentence, in Austria a 200 Euro fine, and if you are D. Irving a jail sentence to boot too).

4- Freedom of expression is on the subjects that are allowed, and means to keep away from others which are deemed sensitive, as the good rabid Zionist Rabbis keep telling us;'you cannot run in a theatre shouting; fire ,fire! However you can keep running in a theatre shouting; nigger, Islam-o-fascist, and or any other invective so long as it is not uttering the taboos.

The coercion, and blind acquiescence to the prescribed parameters of freedom of expression is sickening, however that is part of 'our values', to take it without a reach around and be grateful for the trouble too!!!

Either we can freely express ourselves, which means even questioning the sacred cows, and or we are forbidden from expressing ourselves, which then gives rise to what the heck is 'our values'?

What is wrong with skipping an irrelevant part of history, while the genocides in Iraq, Palestine, Rwanda, which are taking place today, and or happened just yesterday?

However, as we all know the main stream media have their own agenda, locked in a time warp that has little connection to the temporal nodes others, such as we the 'real people' live in.

On the lighter note, yesterday an informer (MIx), having visited a 'real pub' to sound out the punters, had come back aghast at the cynicism on display, in fact this stooge will have a real tough time to file his report, something is happening and his employers living in their ivory towers have no idea about it, nay they are incapable of understanding it.

Gracchi said...

Anonymous I thibk a lot of this is getting off topic. I do think its worth kids learn about the holocaust personally and I do think that some people in the Islamic world don't behave well. On Theo Van Gogh I think his murderers were stupid and would equate them with Combat 18 and those kinds of organisations.

Furthermore I don't think there is a genocide going on in Palestine- according to the International Red Crescent there have been 4,415 deaths in Palestine since September 2000 ie the second intifada caused by Israeli action. Whilst I don't think that is a good number, I do not consider that that is a genocidal number nor that the Israeli state intends to exterminate the Palestinians as a people- some far right wing Israelis might want to but the Israeli state as far as I am aware has never wished for genocide. We should be careful about our terms here. Rwanda on the other hand was genocide but no genocide is happening there now as far as I am aware though things again are not neccessarily good. In Iraq I do not think that genocide is happening either- there have been a large numebr of deaths but I see no US/UK intent to kill the entire population rather a very nasty civil war has errupted.

In terms of the discussion about the law- I don't think holocaust denial should be against the law- nor do I think saying anything included in your comment should be. Freedom of expression should be guarenteed so long as it does not incite a crime- in my view Salman Rushdie has a right to say what he wants. In my view that right also extends to Nick Griffin and to Hizb ul Tahrir- until any of the three incite something I will let them speak.

You question the use of the term IslamoFascist- so actually do I because I don't think that fascism has much in common with Islamic extremism. However I do think that Islamic extremism is repugnant. Any set of people who take to abusing women, gay people, Jews etc are ipso facto repugnant to me. Any group of people who are willing to argue in the ways that Said Qutb argued about the Islamic state are ipso facto repugnant to me. This is not because they are Muslim but because they are opposed to everything I hold dear- Muslims of the past (Averroes comes immediatly to mind), present and future are people I respect and there are people of Christian, Jewish and atheist backgrounds I have almost equal distaste for along with the current Islamic extremists (Hitler would be one, Leon Trotsky another and there are plenty more) I could go on but won't because I have to get some sleep.

As I say though this is getting off topic- the topic was a very brief one and we are moving far away from it.

ashok said...

Henry - I'd be really interested in hearing your take on the strengths and weaknesses of the educational system generally, and would love it if you touched on the question of how it molds/doesn't mold citizens.

Just a request. I know it's a large task, the idea would be that people pitch in their opinions/experiences and maybe something can be learned. I know nothing about any of this stuff.

T said...

freedom of speech = "even questioning the sacred cows"? I think I have freely expressed myself so far today yet not once felt the need to question the "sacred cows". For example I sat next to a lady on the tube this morning who shall we say had a particular aroma to her, but not once still I feel restricted in my freedom of speech just because I didn't challenge her to take better care of her personaly hygene. However, you'll be the first to hear if this situation does arise!

Matthew Sinclair said...


I did understand what you were saying. What I'm trying to suggest is that as there is a wider problem we can't be blase about individual cases anymore.

This individual story may have been an over-reaction but it was an over-reaction for a reason. Self-censorship due to fear is pernicious because it is hard to challenge and subtle. We only know about this story because the teacher was foolish enough to say why he/she wasn't teaching the holocaust.

If we make it clear how awful not teaching the holocaust out of fear of causing offence is. If we make a big deal of this case. We are making a proper response to a pernicious threat to freedom of expression.

To wait until there are lots of cases would be dangerous.

Matthew Sinclair said...

The Harry's Place article writes as if everyone is complaining about the holocaust not being taught. That's not the point. The point is that it wasn't taught "for fear of confronting anti-Semitic sentiment and Holocaust denial among some Muslim pupils". Not teaching the holocaust could be an outcome of time constraints etc. Not teaching it out of a fear of violence is an abandonment of the Western tradition of freedom of inquiry.

Matthew Sinclair said...

Actually, read the Daily Mail article:

"It found some teachers are dropping courses covering the Holocaust at the earliest opportunity over fears Muslim pupils might express anti-Semitic and anti-Israel reactions in class.

The researchers gave the example of a secondary school in an unnamed northern city, which dropped the Holocaust as a subject for GCSE coursework.

The report said teachers feared confronting 'anti-Semitic sentiment and Holocaust denial among some Muslim pupils'.

It added: "In another department, the Holocaust was taught despite anti-Semitic sentiment among some pupils.

"But the same department deliberately avoided teaching the Crusades at Key Stage 3 (11- to 14-year-olds) because their balanced treatment of the topic would have challenged what was taught in some local mosques."

A third school found itself 'strongly challenged by some Christian parents for their treatment of the Arab-Israeli conflict-and the history of the state of Israel that did not accord with the teachings of their denomination'."

It's not talking about an isolated case at all. It's talking about a number with one used as an example.

Gracchi said...

Ashok its an interesting point I will turn my thoughts to it.

T yes and there are lots of ways that freedom of speech is limited by convention and by law.

Matt having read the report you are right those cases were mentioned in the original report but I still think it is irresponsible for a newspaper not to attempt to find out how widespread they are. In the report avoiding contentious history is a small section and unwillingness to teach kids a version of history because of politics is only point 6 out of eight reasons given for teachers avoiding contentious history. If you are going to base your work on a report its worth reading the whole thing and not just one point.

As to the Mail's article yes I do think that it isn't a good idea to avoid contentious issues- though there is a question about what should be taught in the first place, I was never taught about the crusades- but I also think that it isn't worth overblowing limited examples, whose origins we don't knwo about. On consideration I think the situation is worth a comment but the Mail has gone far far over the top as has the New York Post.

Gracchi said...

Matt your first post is interesting it depends on the reasons. The report argues that it could have been through inexperience, ignorance of the subject etc that the topic wasn't taught- political disquiet was a factor that is all that they are saying. I don't think political storms are the best way to incentivise people- they seem to me to be the best way to persuade people not to go into teaching in the first place or to leave the profession, not something either of us want, internal discipline from either the head or the LEA or Department of Education would be my way to going forwards.

Matthew Sinclair said...


You're talking about this as if we have perfect knowledge of the cases and can respond to them individually. We won't know about the vast majority of these cases. In the vast majority this will be subtle and someone will make a decision to avoid a topic out of fear, justify the decision in some other way and then we'll have quietly lost free and open inquiry.

Only by making an absolute stink on the rare occassions when these things come to light can we make it clear to other teachers this is not acceptable. Public opinion is an important force for defending values and ideals. The idea that disciplinary action can substitute for these values is utopian statism at its worst.

As far as teachers leaving the profession. From talking to one teacher in an inner city school I'd say the children he's asked to teach are so much more of a problem than the staff of the Daily Mail to make the latter's impact pretty negligible.

Matthew Sinclair said...

Reading that again. "Utopian statism at its worst" is rather hyperbolic. My apologies. I mean that it's very bad

Gracchi said...

No Matt I disagree- the public are right to be worried about the principle and the policy. But the policy hasn't changed, we do teach controversial subjects to kids in the majority of the schools in the land.

This is about some schools which haven't for a variety of reasons. You don't know and I don't know the particulars of the case neither does the public- this is why we have disciplinary procedures and courts- if we don't know the particulars it is up to people that do to try and convict and I am very wary of the kind of mob rule that you are inviting upon us.

I do think that a public concern is legitimate but only if the policy had changed (it hasn't) or was being ignored in a big number of schools (you can produce three and the vague sense that there might be an unproven trend in an unspecified number of schools). Individual lapses whether there are 3 or 20 should be dealt with through disciplinary procedures not lynch mobs encouraged by newspapers.

Matthew Sinclair said...

Now you're getting hysterical. There is no lynch-mob. No lynch-mob expresses itself in terms of civilisation and hundreds of years of progress. There are newspaper editorials and articles attacking a decision as a bad, and alarming, one.

The problem here isn't public policy. You're not in the Roman Senate anymore m'boy. No one will take notes, there won't be a debate. It's about the decisions that individual teachers make. The true reasons for these decisions will often be hard to monitor. Regulation, disciplinary procedures, can only do so much. All they're likely to do is encourage teachers to make the same decisions but keep quiet about their reasons.

After all, it may well be more convenient for teachers to avoid controversial topics. It may well be more convenient that the only account a young Muslim hears of the Crusades is from his Mosque. Only public opinion conveying the important value that free inquiry is important can encourage a teacher to bear that inconvenience. In your rush to be terribly non-judgemental you're failing to appreciate the moral judgement which defends our values.

Gracchi said...

I disagree with you again Matt- hysterical is the right word for this because what you seem to be doing is taking three cases and inferring the end of civilisation from them. That's not something that I think you can safely do and I ask you why do three isolated cases, upon which we have no evidence as yet, denote the end of civilisation. I'd call that a typical university debating trick- making an individual case carry a judgement about the whole.

Alright m'lad. So you disagree with me about disciplinary procedures- but how for god's sake will a newspaper and one with such a flexible approach to the truth as the Daily Mail get to the bottom of whether this is actually happening or not in some schools. I think personally that the tone with which they have reported this shows how quite useless they are at judging these kinds of cases.

And you can't defend civilisation in lynch mobs? Please Matt you are a better historian and analyst than that of course you can beleive you are defending civilisation through a lynch mob. You are right to say that you won't be but that's because civilisation is summed up in Othello's statement in the play 'I'll see before I doubt, doubt before I'll prove but upon that proof away with love or jealousy'.

If this is happening in those schools it isn't good. My sense is that the proper way to deal with it is internally. If it is dealt with externally it will make it more not less likely that teachers will close ranks because they'll see injustices perpertrated by the tabloids (think paediatricians) and will never confess motivation at all. Who would you rather was monitoring your performance- your boss or the Daily Mail?

Not Saussure said...

It may well be more convenient that the only account a young Muslim hears of the Crusades is from his Mosque. Only public opinion conveying the important value that free inquiry is important can encourage a teacher to bear that inconvenience.

You know more about the teaching of history in schools that do I, Matt, so please help me with this one. Teacher gives lesson on the Crusades -- how much time do they get for this 200-year period comprising, I think, 9 separate ones plus assorted others like the Northern Crusade ? -- and some child says, 'Hang on, that's not what we heard at the Mosque.' Some other child may chip in with the observation that he's had a third version from his Greek relatives who're interested in history.

'Well,' says the teacher (or I assume he says), 'We've clearly got three different accounts and interpretations of the same historical events. We must bring free inquiry to bear on the topic'. What does he then tell them to go off and do in pursuit of this free inquiry?

Or does he just say that, at least for present purposes, we'll assume the version in the National Curriculum is right and the other ones are wrong and we'll leave it at that for the time being, since that's clearly more convenient?

edmund said...

I think Gracchi and Sinclair are both right. On the one hand it's bad pat of a general trend of appen of islamist aggression.

on the other hand Gracchi is obio right that by itself it doesn mean mu8ch- even about the way teaching is being done . What i thik gRACHI rember poarti givne lack of public intest is that talking like on his excellent blog will not ger the point out megaphone like- the headline "is this a worrying trend" ? is not going to raly the public

Does Gracchi lack any respe (as opposed to fundamentaly disagreeing with ) Qutb's thought the way he has for earlier islaic thankiers. What about Al-Ghazli?

Gracchi said...

Edmund your point about the visibility of this blog is well taken- however given it only gets 200 hits at the most, I doubt I'm going to change the world any time soon.

On the matter of Qutb- I disagree with him and think he is wrong. I do think that he is interesting in understanding Islamic fundamentalism today. I'm not sure what you mean by respect in this context but that's my basic view- he is wrong, but interesting if we are to understand what is happening today.

edmund said...

my point was not about the visibiolty of your blog (true though that would be!) but rather that a tablid newspaer can not work the same way-it simply has a different audience.

My point was is the respect for Avaroes in some way diffetn from any respect for people like Qutb who one may disagree with as well? Avaroes vision of sicy is not hat of modern christdom (probaly even furhter than medievial) or of Great Britain