Thursday, September 15, 2005

# Posted 11:36 AM by Patrick Belton  

JOHN LENNON IN REVERSE: Thus Michael Axworthy in the ever-excellent Prospect; imagine:
a country in which no women have the vote and few are employed outside the home. A country in which, through conviction or social pressure most people attend religious gatherings once a week, in which the state religion and the law ban homosexuality, where there are powerful religious movements urging abstinence from alcohol, where it is normal for women over 30 to wear black and where they only appear in public if their bodies are completely covered, in which married women have only recently acquired property rights, and there is a strong social stigma against divorce, illegitimacy and sex outside marriage.

Saudi Arabia? Pakistan? Iran? No-this is a picture of Britain in 1900 (in modern Iran and Pakistan at least, many of the above are not true).

In France it is considered important to educate children about the Enlightenment, its thinkers and its values. In the US they salute the flag in schools and explain the constitution. In Britain, whose institutions largely inspired the thinkers and the revolutions in both the US and France, we teach children about the spinning jenny.

Recent initiatives to teach citizenship have run into the arid sand of educationalist jargon. The right way to do it, as David Starkey and Simon Schama have demonstrated in their popular television series, is to learn once again how to tell the stories in which our national history is so rich. We should teach how values of tolerance, justice, freedom and democracy struggled to prominence in the political system of this country. No myths, no jingoism, no pretence that at the time of Magna Carta or subsequently anyone had a blueprint to bring those things about, but just how and with what false turns and setbacks it did come about, and how those ideas were spread around the world.

The young Muslims that carried bombs on to the tube did not reject western values in favour of extremist Islam. They, like the rest of our young people, were never taught about western values. Did we think they would somehow just pick them up?
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