16 September 2021
Education, Education, Education
The importance of tolerance.
By Lynda Goetz.
There was a shocking picture in The Telegraph on Monday. No, it was not of a fleeing child on fire, nor of a plane flying into a skyscraper. It was of seven women all dressed in black, apparently at a university lecture in Afghanistan. Of the six, only one had her eyes visible. The others were entirely enveloped in black robes with black hoods over their heads and covering their eyes; even their hands were covered with black gloves. Apparently to be dressed like this is the only way women will be allowed to study under the Taliban; although it is questionable if indeed they will be able to study at all as the segregation requirements mean there will almost certainly not be enough teachers or lecture halls.
This undoubtedly represents a step backwards for women in Afghanistan. For twenty years girls and women in that country have been enjoying freedoms which have now been snatched away from them – again. When the Taliban were last in power (1996-2001) women were forced to wear the niqab or the burka. As we all know, it is not uncommon for Muslim women to wear a head covering of some sort. These two however are the most concealing[i] and with the addition of the hood, as seen in the picture referred to, the clothing represents a complete departure from the usual dress in Afghanistan, as the former acting Minister for Women’s affairs, Hasina Sufi, explained on Woman’s Hour on Tuesday morning. The word hijab, she points out, describes the act of covering up generally and ‘hijab has a specific definition for everyone, hijab is the relation with God, is your personal relation… so that is why the hijab we are observing in the last 3 days has never been a part of Afghan women’s culture’. Indeed, Instagram has apparently had an increasing number of postings (under the hashtag ‘Do not touch my clothes’) displaying colourful traditional Afghan women’s clothing, with not a head covering in sight.
Whilst not so obviously in peril, education here is clearly struggling in our ‘woke’ times. Not only do our poor little snowflake students find it hard to cope with any opinions with which they disagree, but they and their lecturers have been, for the last few years, actively casting out those who do not share their world vision. Whilst this is clearly not as extreme as the stance taken by the Taliban, it is extreme for a country which has always prided itself on its tolerance and openness. What has happened and why in a country with a (supposedly) Conservative government are we being saddled with an education system run, influenced and populated by extreme left-wingers and Communists?
The answer may lie in education itself. Those young who avow allegiance to communist ideals have not had to endure communism at close quarters. Their experience of it is not just limited, it is non-existent; nor is the history much taught. If challenged, supporters are quite likely to claim that ‘real’ socialism or ‘real’ communism has never been tried. Somehow, in spite of the historical evidence, they are able to persuade themselves that if only it had been done ’right’ then it could have worked. Knowledge and understanding of history, its meaning, its relevance and its lessons, appears to be at an all-time low in this country. Rather than find out about historical ‘greats’, local ‘heroes’ or simply those who have contributed to or created schools, colleges, foundations and museums, ‘young’ people seem determined instead to find out their apparent links to slavery or unacceptable capitalism and ensure that any image or reference to them is wiped out; revisionist rewriting of history of which the communists would be proud.
In July this year the Institute of Economic Affairs published a survey by Kristian Niemiets into the attitudes of young people towards capitalism and socialism, entitled Left Turn Ahead. The findings are interesting and confirm that the trend or drift in the under 40s (i.e the Millenials and Generation Zs) is anti-capitalist. This should perhaps serve as a wake-up call to those older generations who perhaps felt that, as has happened in the past, the young ‘will grow out of it’. If libertarian principles and the market are the best way out of our present problems, both in the UK and globally, then we really need to open the discussion and ensure the debate can be had. We should not be cavalier and view their current ‘Millenial socialism’ as something of a passing fad to be handled with a benign pat on the head.
POV21 is an online magazine run by teenagers for teenagers. It has versions in English, French, German, Spanish and Portuguese, but it is run by Romanians. One of their young contributors, Christina Dumitru, wrote an article entitled ‘Communism: why it didn’t work and why it will never work’. Her arguments are neither academic nor intellectual, but she lives in a country which, as she points out, is suffering the after-effects of communist rule and, as she concludes, ‘I do have the common sense to realize how delusional the communist supporters are’. She understands that ‘you cannot have or create a perfect regime, economy, or world because there are no ideal or perfect people’. Extinction Rebellion and their ilk seem not to understand this, nor to comprehend the subtle, complex and interconnected elements of modern society which make simplistic solutions impossible.
The Government’s proposed review of the Equality Act, passed in 2010 by Gordon Brown’s Labour government, is surely a welcome and overdue response to the behaviour we have been witnessing over the past few years. The Equality Act was designed to widen protection from discrimination in the workplace; an entirely laudable aim. Unfortunately, as with so many things, laws included, there are frequently unintended consequences. In the case of this particular piece of legislation, as the Policy Exchange think tank concluded in a report out this week, it has been used as a means of stifling freedom of expression by ‘incentivising ideological uniformity’. Discrimination has thus become not necessarily something someone intended to do, but the result of ‘unconscious or subconscious bias’, resulting in disciplinary action and even dismissal for voicing opinions showing such unintentional subliminal bias. Professor Paul Yowell, associate professor of law at Oxford and the author of the report, has suggested that actual intent should be the cause of any breach of the legislation.
If the Government were to implement the changes suggested, both to the Act and to the Public Sector Equality Duty, this would go a long way to furthering tolerance of differing political, philosophical and religious opinions and mean that the ‘cancel culture’ so prevalent in universities and educational establishments could no longer hold such sway. This would hopefully mean a return to far more freedom of opinion and speech in universities and the chance for those attending to listen, discuss and debate rather than doing the three monkeys impression which currently seems so fashionable.
[i] *The BBC’s Newsround (actually designed for children) gives very clear descriptions with illustrations of the different kinds of coverings worn by Muslim women around the world
Cover page image: Unsplash