One of John Cleese’s finest moments came in his Fawlty Towers episode on “The Germans,” in which, as concussed hotel owner Basil Fawlty, he practices his people skills on a party of visiting Germans. Eager to avoid offense, his rule is “Don’t mention the war!” Being Basil, he mentions it relentlessly, and ends a screaming tirade with the inevitable “Who won the bloody war anyway??” It just goes to show that a desperate desire to please, coupled with a determination to avoid saying what’s on your mind, can have perverse consequences.
The Times Literary Supplement reports a remarkable example of this perversity in its latest issue. The headline sums it up: “Pupils told: think as bombers.” Yes, a local authority — in West Yorkshire — has produced a teaching aid on “life in multicultural Britain, highlighting links between communities.” Those links include the violent ones: the section on the 7/7 bombings, which killed 52 and injured 700, tells students to “prepare a brief presentation on the 7/7 bombings from the perspective of the bombers.”
And what was that perspective? Well, needless to say, it’s got nothing to do with jihadism. Indeed, as the resource’s author explained, “fundamentalists come in all different forms.” That’s the multicultural left’s coded way of creating equivalence between jihadists and democrats who believe that human rights are basic and non-negotiable. Except, of course, it’s not even equivalence: the big problem is that “the impact of 7/7 has been how people stereotype individuals,” and the essential need is to ask honestly whether extremism is right, wrong, or “justified.”
The aid has been a huge success: police forces have adopted it, and the Department for Children, Schools and Families has put it online to “help teachers tackle extremism.” And inevitably, the Muslim Council of Britain has weighed in, with the helpful reminder that, while bombings are not morally justified, students who are asked to fantasize about themselves as terrorists should “talk about foreign policy or other grievances.” So we arrive at the normal conclusion of the community cohesionists: terror is not right, exactly, but it’s a natural result of grievances provoked by British racism and foreign policy.
Here’s a novel idea: Why not, instead of requiring students to fantasize about the motivations of Islamists, assign materials terrorists actually read, or show videos they actually watch? Instead of defining violent deviancy down with the relativist mantra that extremism comes in many forms, why not state, forthrightly, that Britain is a democracy, that it is the homeland of religious toleration, and that anyone who uses violence to subvert it will be met with overwhelming force? The answer, regrettably, is that the will to say such things is entirely lacking: polite euphemisms are easier, though more dangerous in anything but the short and cowering run.