Perhaps the most predictable thing to emerge from Richard Dawkins' fascinating documentary, Faith Schools Menace?, has been the subsequent bleating and hand-wringing from the faithful at his 'militant atheism': the name given to opposition to the spread of schools which have considerable scope to promote sinister falsehoods and which receive state subsidies while doing so.
The documentary aired on Wednesday evening highlighted the proliferation of faith schools and the resulting blurring of the line between the teaching of science and ideas based upon 'belief': followers of the latter increasingly using the moral relativist argument that all ideas have equal merit to push religious views on to impressionable schoolchildren and into new areas of the curriculum. This was in full view in last night's program when Mr Dawkins visited an Islamic school only to be told that, while the school taught National Curriculum science, it coexisted side by side with non-regulated theology lessons in which children were taught scripture and then allegedly free to 'make up their own minds' as to which was true. During an ensuing interview with a group of female pupils at the school, it came to light that none of the girls believed in evolution; and a few even went as far as to make ludicrous and unscientific Koranically sanctioned assertions about the formation of mountains and the 'non-mixing of salt and fresh water in the sea'.
In a Comment is Free piece in the Guardian by Erfana Bora, herself a teacher, entitled: Dawkins is Wrong: faith schools don't blinker children, she says: 'I make sure pupils are fully aware of the big bang theory, the age of the Earth and the theory of evolution by natural selection...'
Yet she represents the problem herself, by going on to say:
'In my current teaching post at an Islamic faith school, pupils are concurrently taught in Islamic theology lessons that the universe and its contents originate from an omnipotent creator – and the mechanisms for this creative feat are described in some detail in the Qur'an.'
Without intending to specifically pick on Islam, inherent in these two passages is the concept that both science and Islamic creationism are compatible ideas that can be taught side by side and children left to make up their own minds as to which they believe. This of course brings in to play the term much-loved by the faithful that scientific evolution is 'just a theory', and can therefore be spoken of in the same breath as creationism as if both were equally competing ideas. The irony in this is that the concept of something as 'just a theory' stems from the non-arrogance of science in declining to proclaim itself in possession of absolute truth. Where science is filled with doubt, scepticism, and a willingness to learn, faith deals in certainty and divine truth based upon a single holy book.
Despite what we now know about the universe and the origin of our species from the arduous and heroic empirical efforts of science over the years, it is us secularists who are expected to back off when it comes to the education of our children. Not only that, but we are expected to continue subsidising faith schools at a time of swingeing government cuts in every area of the economy.
At an impressionable young age children are being encouraged to believe evident falsehoods with the full complicity of the state. In the name of multiculturalism, rather than abolish the subsidy given to Christian schools, the last government encouraged a proliferation of faith schools of every stripe in order for parents to pass their religious beliefs on to their offspring.
If schools were found to be indoctrinating pupils in the political ideologies of their parents this would not be tolerated.
Why, as so often, is religion deserving of special treatment?
Thursday, 19 August 2010
Tuesday, 10 August 2010
Imagine the Daily Mail headline: "Burglars in uproar over new government tax on the underclass!" In reality of course there is a greater chance of a Daily Express editorial sounding off about the benefits (no, not those benefits) of asylum seekers and French cuisine than the Mail doing anything other than sticking to the script and trying to appear "tough" on crime. Or so you mistakenly thought, for not all crimes are equal, or, as those who deem speed cameras "Orwellian" might say: four wheels good, one leg bad.
Not only have the right-wing press, Top Gear, and the usual groups with the word "alliance" in their names, unleashed their righteous brand of invective upon speed cameras during the past decade, but now the coalition government have joined in the hostilities, with the road safety minister, Mike Penning, declaring: "In the coalition agreement the government made clear it would end central funding for fixed speed cameras...This is another example of this government delivering on its pledge to end the war on the motorist."
Many of you will probably have realised that we have entered the age of the deserving and undeserving poor, but what some of you were perhaps unprepared for was the age of the deserving and undeserving crime: a time when the penalty levied for a crime committed by the middle classes at least as much as other social groups becomes a "war" and a "persecution" rather than a justified punishment for something that accounts for around *1,200 deaths as well 20,000 serious injuries every year - the last time I checked, considerably more than caused by either Robert Thompson or "Khat".
As Julie Spence, outgoing head of Cambridgeshire police has said: “Speeding is middle-class anti-social behaviour...People think we should be able to get away with it. They wouldn’t tolerate lawbreaking by somebody else but they do it themselves without thinking...It all seems OK until something tragic happens, like their child dies because of a road traffic accident.”
The argument that speed cameras prevent accidents is a fairly convincing one: considering speed is the cause of around one third of all traffic accidents, and considering a person is less likely to speed at the site of a camera, logic would dictate that fewer accidents would occur the more speed cameras there are. The statistics appear to back this up: figures from the Thames Valley Safer Roads Partnership show that at the 212 fixed camera sites across the wider Thames Valley region - which also includes Buckinghamshire and Berkshire - there was a 38% drop in vehicle collisions when you compare the three years before each camera was put in place with the most recent three years. The argument trotted out by those opposed to cameras is that they cause erratic driving, which occurs when drivers slam on the brakes upon seeing a camera, potentially losing control of their vehicle in the process. What goes unmentioned of course is that cameras are highly visible and painted yellow precisely because of the lobbying of drivers organisations who wish to help their members avoid getting caught speeding. The problem then does not appear to be the existence of the cameras but their visibility.
Considering I have as yet to come across published Taxpayer's Alliance or Daily Mail figures for the "revenue generated" by fines levied upon convicted burglars or cannabis smokers - two far more victimless crimes if we wish to talk about actual fatalities, the most important indicator of all one would think, - I can only assume that the hostility to speed cameras is an attempt to eat one's cake as well as to have it: to call for "toughness" over the crimes that others commit while simultaneously risking lives and carping on about a "war on the motorist".
What a shame the coalition government has added its name to this populist rabble.
*Source JMW Solicitors
Monday, 2 August 2010
After initially making clear my dislike for all things burka and hijab related, which, as it happens, I stand by, I have decided in hindsight that I was somewhat guilty of jumping upon the "ban the burka" bandwagon in my assumption that all women who do wear such garments are by default forced into doing so. That is not to say that there isn't a great deal of merit in that position: there are, undoubtedly, a number of women who are forced into the burka (with the threat of Koranically sanctioned violence should they refuse); and it is also at least as important to frame the debate in terms of a lifting of an already existing ban on women leaving the home uncovered - a ban imposed by male family members and gruesome elderly clerics - as it is to simply view the debate as about the freedom to wear what one wishes. However, it has became apparent to me that those often shouting the loudest for a burka ban were never really those for whom women's rights had figured as an overly important issue in the past. I became aware in my periphery of those who only saw fit to adopt the mantra of women's rights when the perpetrators of abuse became Muslim men. The company one finds one's self keeping is not a reason in itself to dismiss an argument, but it does give one grounds to question the logic behind the the wish to ban what, however repulsive, is in the end merely an item of clothing.
The Conservative MP, Philip Hollobone, has recently been calling for a ban on the burka after coming to the realisation that, in his words, "We are not a Muslim country...to many people [the burka is] both intimidating and offensive." The problem with Mr Hollobone's argument is thus: he may indeed have a point; the burka is somewhat "offensive". The notion that I, as a man, might be "tempted" to attack a women because she is not adequately covered, is one of the ideological tenets behind the burka: the vile notion espoused by clerics with a penchant for comparing women with uncovered meat. I don't think I am stretching the boundaries of self-pity too far to say that yes, I am offended by that. However, lots of things are offensive. One might claim that the point of free expression is the right, as Orwell put it, "to tell people what they do not want to hear", or, as he might have added for good measure (if it had sounded half as good), to wear what people do not wish to see worn.
Are we to start legislating for those "offended" by transvestites? And judging by Mr Hollobone's House of Commons voting record, (he voted very strongly against equal gay rights,) maybe he's closer in some of his ideas to the religious ideologues who promote the burka than he may think.
No Mr Hollobone, we are not "a Muslim country", and fortunately, barely any longer a Christian one; fortunate that is for those who you wish to deny the right not be discriminated against on the basis of their sexuality.
That is not to say that those defending the burka come away from the debate looking any better. It takes only a little time browsing the blog comment boxes before one comes across a view held by many on the opposing side of the argument that women are "liberated" when wearing a burka because they no longer feel "pressured" into donning make-up and mini skirts; "forced" into doing so as they are by "social conditioning" and "peer pressure". Aside from the astoundingly patronising tone of such arguments, from the (mostly) men that come out with such garbage, one senses a profound insecurity around the idea of women as sexual beings. It is hard not to be reminded of those who carry with them like an over-sized chip on their shoulders an inflated Madonna/whore complex, ready to manifest itself at any time in a hatred of attractive women who they will impassionately crow look "generic", "fake" or are "bitches", all the while attempting to repress the secret desire they harbour to sleep with those same women, resulting in creepy outbursts and casual misogyny.
Aside from the quite obvious fallacy that women are somehow "forced" into making themselves attractive, add to that the missing of the point on an impressive scale by the total ignorance shown towards those women who really do know what force is - those who's husbands and boyfriends regularly use physical force in order to prevent them leaving the house in "revealing" clothing. I am unaware that the tactic of the insecure and jealous man has ever been to force a woman into going out with her friends in smaller outfits.
It would seem that just as it is not possible to patronisingly view all women as "forced" into make-up and mini skirts, it is perhaps necessary to admit that some women do indeed wish to cape themselves in black bags and live as chattel, however unpleasant and alien that may seem. Criminalising those who do so will unlikely affect the men that force women into the burka (they will probably resort to preventing "their" women leaving the home entirely), nor will it do anything to protect British culture, a tenet of which is and should be, the freedom of expression through what one wears - however offensive the result may be.
Ban the burka in public buildings by all means, but no more.