Good­but­mis­guided­in­ten­tions

The Jewish Chronicle - - COMMENT - Ge­of­frey Al­der­man

WHEN, LAST YEAR, it emerged that, in the wake of the “Tro­jan Horse” scan­dal, Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary Nicky Mor­gan was minded to com­pel teenagers tak­ing GCSE Re­li­gious Stud­ies to study at least one re­li­gious faith other than their own, there was a sharp dif­fer­ence of opin­ion within An­glo-Jewish clergy.

While di­vines from the so-called “Pro­gres­sive” wing gave the pro­posal the warm­est of wel­comes, those of a more tra­di­tional bent did not. Re­form rabbi Laura Jan­ner-Klaus­ner felt it “vi­tal that, in a mul­ti­cul­tural so­ci­ety, chil­dren learn about other re­li­gions.” But United Syn­a­gogue Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, while ex­press­ing his en­thu­si­asm for “re­spect… and un­der­stand­ing of other faiths,” warned that “forced changes to the GCSE… is not the right way to achieve th­ese shared goals.”

In re­spond­ing to Mrs Mor­gan’s pro­posal, both Mirvis and the Board of Deputies were re­ported as hav­ing been “par­tic­u­larly heated in their anger”.

Now, faced with the in­evitabil­ity of Mrs Mor­gan’s dik­tat, Mirvis has done a u-turn. He has rec­om­mended that Jewish schools un­der his aegis choose Is­lam as the sec­ond faith their pupils study. Be­cause (said his spokesper­son) Is­lam is “a faith which is widely dis­cussed but of­ten poorly un­der­stood in pub­lic dis­course.”

This is unadul­ter­ated non­sense. I wel­comed Mrs Mor­gan’s ini­tia­tive as “a heaven-sent op­por­tu­nity,” whereby Jewish young­sters might learn some­thing about, for ex­am­ple, Chris­tian­ity’s anti-Jewish ori­gins or Is­lam’s am­biva­lent at­ti­tude (to put it mildly) to­wards both Ju­daism as a re­li­gion and Jews as a peo­ple wor­thy of — at most — a for­mal, sec­ond-class sta­tus. Alas, I spoke too soon. A col­league has drawn my at­ten­tion to a draft GCSE Re­li­gious Stud­ies syl­labus pro­duced last Au­gust by Pear­son Edex­cel and in­tended (sub­ject to ap­proval by Ofqual, the ex­ams watch­dog) to be taught from Septem­ber. The sec­tion on Is­lam makes de­press­ing read­ing.

Al­though both Sunni and Shi’a tra­di­tions are cov­ered, the syl­labus is silent on the more ex­treme forms of Sunni ide­ol­ogy, and makes no men­tion of Wah­habism, the rel­a­tively mod­ern branch of Is­lam prac­tised in Saudi Ara­bia that forms the ide­o­log­i­cal (that’s to say, theo­cratic) mo­tor of Is­lamic State and all its hideously sav­age works. I should add that nowhere in the sec­tions on Chris­tian­ity is there men­tion of Je­sus as the Jew he un­doubt­edly was; in­deed, the Jewish roots of both Chris­tian­ity and Is­lam fea­ture only im­plic­itly in the Pear­son draft that I have seen.

Read­ing through the draft, it’s dif­fi­cult to avoid the con­clu­sion that its au­thors have been driven by po­lit­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions: pupils fol­low­ing the syl­labus are to be fed a sani­tised version of the truth to suit the anti-ex­trem­ism ini­tia­tive en­cap­su­lated in the well-in­ten­tioned but acutely in­ju­di­cious “Pre­vent” agenda so elo­quently cri­tiqued by Pro­fes­sor Julius Wein­berg (vice-chan­cel­lor of Kingston Univer­sity and deputy chair of the Ofqual Board) in last month’s JC.

It’s not the chief rabbi who will have the last word on this great mat­ter. And it’s not even the schools on which the re­spon­si­bil­ity for­mally rests to de­cide in prin­ci­ple which sec­ond re­li­gious faith to teach. It’s the teach­ers. They will teach the syl­labus, and we can as­sume they will be pro­vided with all man­ner of study notes and what have been de­scribed to me as “scripts” to as­sist them.

That be­ing the case, it must be within the ca­pa­bil­ity of one or more of our communal agen­cies to pro­duce sup­ple­men­tary guidance on how Is­lam is to be taught and to dis­trib­ute it free of charge to schools that are pre­pared to re­ceive it.

I am far from say­ing that all Mus­lims are an­ti­semitic. They aren’t. But it’s equally true — and I be­lieve well un­der­stood by the pub­lic — that Is­lam is grounded in part in an ex­plicit anti-Jewish dis­course, just as it’s true that the Holo­caust had its ori­gins — in part — in Chris­tian pro­pa­ganda.

It is im­por­tant that, in mod­ern mul­ti­eth­nic Bri­tain, our Jewish chil­dren are taught some­thing about other re­li­gious groups with whom they will have to in­ter­act. But for God’s sake let them be taught the truth, the whole truth and (of course) noth­ing but the truth.

Our chil­dren should learn the truth about other re­li­gions

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