Government withdraws teaching pack on understanding terror

By staff writers
February 20, 2009

The government has withdrawn a widely used education pack from its teachernet website after complaints that helping children to understand what motivates terror attacks is 'dangerous'.

The pack, entitled "Things do Change", is intended as a way of addressing tough issues such as conflict, terror and suicide bombing through the national curriculum.

At one point, dealing with the 7/7 London bombings, it asks pupils to think themselves into different roles - different sections of the public, including those directly affected, and also those who committed the atrocities.

It is the latter that has proved controversial. The children are asked to try to think why people would get involved in doing such terrible things as planting bombs.

Schools and police authorities have been using the material, but now relatives of the victims of 7/7, newspapers and Khalid Mahmood, the Labour MP for Birmingham Perry Bar, have suggested the pack risks "encouraging the sort of belief we're trying to work against".

But its creators strongly deny this. They say that understanding something educationally does not automatically mean agreeing-with or justifying it, in any controversial area of life.

Sail Suleman, the author of the pack, told the Times Educational Supplement: "We're looking at why people become extreme. Why do young people go out and do what the bombers did? Was it pressure from individuals they were hanging out with? Hopefully, we'll encourage pupils to stay away from those individuals."

Other groups are asked to imagine the bombings from the perspectives of Muslims in Britain, non-Muslim Asians and British people in general.

A number of other authorities, including Birmingham, Sandwell in the West Midlands and Lancashire, have begun using the pack in schools and several police forces, including the Metropolitan, West Yorkshire, Thames Valley and Greater Manchester, have adopted it.

Tahir Alam, the education spokesperson for the Muslim Council of Britain, said the teaching approach was a standard one: "This isn't any different from any educational tool people use all the time... The important lesson is that these things are never morally justifiable."

And Jonathan Bartley of the religion and society thinktank Ekklesia said: “It is a shame that the Government appears to be distancing itself from exactly the kind of initiative with which children, and indeed many others, need to engage."

He added: “Conversation should not be confused with consent. It easy to pontificate on the 'causes' of events like the London bombings, but it is much more difficult to face up to the complex intertwining of factors which are behind them. But this is what needs to happen, if we are to develop a generation of people who effectively address and respond to terror."

“We need a generation that can understand what motivates 'the other'... They need to ask what breeds the anger that in turn produces an unaccountable minority willing to use terror tactics. They must also gain an understanding of the undeniably religious dimension of terror, albeit of a variety not held by the overwhelming majority of religious people around the world."

It has been suggested that the government is concerned that in thinking though why people become involved in committing atrocities, children will make a link between terrorism and the wars fought by Western governments, which are keen to deny any such link.

Others argue that there is a clear link, and it is important to acknowledge this, though it in no way justifies the killing of civilians or suicide bombings.

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