Saturday, 8 March 2008

Education or indoctrination?

Over on Stephen Law’s blog, the debate with Ibrahim Lawson, the headmaster of an Islamic school, continues. I have previously referred to this three-month-long marathon in my 17 February post Islam in the West. It all started with a critical post by Stephen on 27 November [“Is religion dangerous?”], following Ibrahim’s assertion in a BBC broadcast that, in his view, it is OK to teach his pupils that the truth of Islam is a ‘given’ and must not be questioned. The discussion has since ranged far and wide over philosophical, religious, and mystical territory, and we are indebted to Ibrahim for his patience and stamina in returning time and again to rebut others’ criticisms and state his own position.


In his latest contribution he explains the rationale behind his decision to become a Muslim, and defends of his teaching methods. As regards his conversion to Islam, it turns out that there is no rationale – as Ibrahim says, “there is no why. ..my decision was rather an ‘acte gratuite’; but not in the negative sense of an irresponsible action.” It was “a pure act of will, undetermined by any external conditions”, and not based on any kind of evidence or argument. He quotes a Muslim scholar as saying “the man of Allah does not say ‘how?’ or ‘why?; he says ‘yes’.


As I pointed out to Ibrahim, there is a world of difference between a mature, highly educated man such as himself making this act of will, and instructing his young immature pupils with all the authority of an adult teacher that they must accept Islam as “the truth”. I asked him if he felt comfortable telling them this?


He made a long response, saying inter alia that “there is of course a huge difference between someone who chooses to be a Muslim following a long period of search and someone who is born to Muslim parents. We can’t do anything about that.” To which I retorted: “Oh, yes we can! We can ensure that they grow up with the awareness that although their parents are Muslim, there is nothing inevitable about them being Muslim, and they have a choice. It should be the business of educators – as distinct from indoctrinators – to provide them with the breadth of knowledge necessary for making an informed choice when they reach maturity.”


Ibrahim then said: “I grew up in a more or less permanent state of alienation from the society around me, as did many of my 60’s generation; born Muslims today will have their own version of this alienation. I was then, and remain, utterly convinced that ‘western’ society has serious problems, which are not solvable by tinkering but only by re-writing the whole paradigm” – presumably in the image of Islam.


Ibrahim continued: “So having decided that Islam is the answer, what are the implications for a school teacher?..…My view of the education of children is that it must, first and foremost, contribute to their individual ‘quest for the fullness of selfhood’ and that this is a subversive activity….In order to achieve this we must have questions that are worth asking, questions that demand a response.


“Teaching in the state system for 10 years, I observed that western liberal secular culture fails to provide children with such questions; the overwhelming sense is one of ennui. Muslim children, on the other hand, have in front of them all the time the enormous question: what does it mean to me to be a Muslim? This is why, for example, visitors to Muslim schools are frequently impressed by the degree of engagement demonstrated by many pupils in fundamental questions of self and society.


“So voila, my justification for ‘imposing’ my beliefs on my pupils: it is really more a challenge to them to face up to their own situation as ‘born’ Muslims as authentically as possible. Faith as a heuristic, if you like….


“I don’t know what you imagine goes on in our schools under the name of ‘indoctrination’. It could be made to sound very oppressive and tyrannical; we imagine Vietnamese communists brainwashing American POWs or scenes from Orwell’s 1984 [How many fingers am I holding up?] It’s rather that the specific question ‘Is Islam true?’ just doesn’t come up. It is taken for granted as the position from which we start….


“I can see that, yes, children are defenceless, they do not and cannot question what adults tell them at first; this only starts around adolescence. At this point we begin to introduce the skills of critical questioning about religion [quite different from critical questioning in other areas of the curriculum] and this continues into adulthood…..


“My point is that adults have to tell children something” [my italics], “and for Muslims that has to be Islam. I am comfortable with that, especially having seen the alternatives.”


Having considered this, I asked Ibrahim what the actual difference is between what he had just described and brainwashing? I await his answer with interest.


And a further pertinent question I intend to put to him: Does such an education properly equip those subjected to it to play a constructive role in our wider, largely non-Islamic, British society?

30 comments:

bwook said...

I became muslim as a consequence of dreaming in my upper twenties that I lifted Jesus from the cross and he smiled at me. So my "yes" to the unity of reality was, as well, a /no/ to the exhausted & cryptic sadomasochistic christian images, of a hopeless and brutal world of agonising horrors for which there is no remedy in the end and from which death is the only way out, even whilst we hare after environmentally ruinous quick fixes to "everything." Every human society sooner or later approaches this selfsame point where the accumulated deficits outweigh the dwindling possibilities /within/ any such 'future'. Hence, in this case, Islam is the doorway to a load of creative possibilities over the next five hundred years or so. And of course the form these take will have /nothing/ to do with the panickey self-constrictions and moral constipation of the present 'fundamentalism'. No more han the bullying anti-religious ranting of the quacking fraud Dawkins has anything to do with actual science. As I say, I becamne muslim in the 1970s -- and, then, the public religion cascaded into the horror of wahhabite bullying and bomb-murder. For that I have no answer to justly outraged friends and neighbours, and I regret deeply that the secret sodomy and pork-eating and dope-taking of these murder-fanatics causes people throughout the World in need of a real Renascence to reject all-unknowing the actual treasues of the religion....

anticant said...

That's a profoundly moving personal statement, Emmett - and much more comprehensible than Ibrahim's!

But before being so insulting, have you actually READ Dawkins? Maybe you should - not to be deconvinced about your personal faith, but to form a fairer picture of the man and his views.

bwook said...

That's a fair go, Aunty -- I'll most certainly dig into the gentleman a bit later. I have run rather into people using his thoughts to 'bully with', and have /not/ read any of his stuff in its entirety, and I am indeed therefore pretty dishonestly conflating him with others in a kind of crooked shorthand which polemic invites, I fear.

Jose said...

Religious faith is exclusively inherent to the individual. I am always reluctant to discuss religion and its facets with anybody because I am always very much afraid to upset my correspondent(s), but I can give here my experience in this connection.

I was brought up in the Catholic Faith. As a child I was indoctrinated in that faith and I think I believed what I was taught as a child. Circumstances of my life made me abandon the school I was attending to study to get an employment rapidly as my father had died when I was 10. At 13 I started working and little by little my experience of life weakened that faith I "learnt" at school until it disappeared almost totally.

When children grow and start thinking in earnest they also start discovering that everything is not the colour they had been taught it was.

Another question is acquiring that faith once one is an adult, a thinking grown-up person.

I personally believe there exists a Supreme Entity that we simple mortals have named God, a Creator.
Because this universe in my opinion is the result of a creation.

To my simple mind there cannot be any other explanation.

anticant said...

Emmett: Dawkins is by profession a biologist, with a very readable knack of making modern developments in evolution understandable to non-scientists like me. He has recently published a revised edition of his first book, "The Selfish Gene", and if you look at this you will realise that he is not a bigot but is prepared to acknowledge and correct his own earlier errors.

So far as religion is concerned, yes - he is angry, but it is because he considers that the horde of fanatically dogmatic believers in all faiths do a lot of damage to humanity by their aggressive hostility and violence against not only non-theists, but also adherents of other religions than their own chosen one.

I think all of us posting here would agree about that!

anticant said...

Jose and Emmett: I am increasingly coming to realise that the sterile dispute between theists and non-theists is a futile one, because we never shall be able to prove conclusively that a Creator Jehovah, God, Allah, or whoever exists or does not exist. So what really matters is the EFFECT that such beliefs have on the behaviour of people who undoubtedly do exist.

I am unconvinced that the concept of a Creator explains anything - because who or what created the Creator? If you reply "Nothing - he was always there", why does not the same apply to the universe? If I am any kind of a theist, I suppose I am a pantheist.

Religion as a personal quest for inner peace, harmony, lovingkindness, and a more peaceful world is a benign enterprise and there are many different paths - theistic and non-theistic - to spiritual enlightenment.

Public, organised religion is quite another matter. It is essentially tribal and divisive, and - whatever its priests and mullahs say - breeds exclusiveness, divisiveness, hatred, and violence because it operates on the principle of "our lot is better than your lot, and we know this indisputably, because Jehovah/God/Allah/Odin/Zeus etc. etc. has told us so."

I'm sure we all agree that the less of this kind of religion there is in the world, the better.

Incidentally, no-one has yet said what they think about Ibrahim's notion of education.

Richard W. Symonds said...

I really don't have a problem with the idea of a Creator - and that has less to do with my Faith, and more to do with my Reason :

We are Created Beings which implies a Creator.

Richard W. Symonds said...

As regards Bwook Emmett's comment about the "bullying anti-religious ranting of the quacking fraud Dawkins"....I wouldn't use the word "fraud".

Richard Dawkins is very sincere & passionate in his beliefs about religious believers, but I happen to believe he is sincerely & passionately wrong...

And I've read him.

anticant said...

My concern in posting this thread remains with the propriety of a teacher telling young children that Islam [or Christianity, or evolution, or capitalism, or belief in witchcraft, fairies, or anything else] is "THE truth", and not to be questioned.

Ibrahim Lawson thinks this is legitimate. I think it is brainwashing.

There is all the difference in the world between telling children that evolution is "THE truth" and telling them - as a competent science teacher would do - that evolution is currently regarded by most people who have studied the subject as being the most likely explanation of 'how things happen', pending further developments in knowledge.

But this is not what religious teachers do. They tell children that their brand of religion is "THE truth". If it is really the case that any religion is "THE truth", it can only be one of many competing versions, and who is to judge which is the correct one?

Surely, in these days religion should be taught as a matter of history and culture, and the differences in religious beliefs explained without claiming that one of them is "THE truth".

But that is not what happens in 'faith schools' such as Ibrahim's, and therefore I do not believe that they should receive State funding as they are producing people whose ingrained unquestioned religious beliefs are going to perpetuate socially divisive attitudes and the potential for - possibly violent - conflict in the future.

If we really do want to live in a 'multi-faith' society - and what is the alternative? - children should be taught to respect other faiths as well as their own. But is this happening in 'faith schools'?

anticant said...

Richard - "We are Created Beings which implies a Creator" is an assertion of faith. It has nothing to do with reason.

Jose said...

"Religion as a personal quest for inner peace, harmony, lovingkindness, and a more peaceful world is a benign enterprise and there are many different paths - theistic and non-theistic - to spiritual enlightenment", Anticant says.

I cannot be more in agreement.

He also says: "Incidentally, no-one has yet said what they think about Ibrahim's notion of education."

I think I gave my impression on education/indoctrination in my previous comment.

anticant said...

Jose - your life experience emancipated you from the religious indoctrination you received as a child. But for many people, that does not happen. Do you think it right that children should be religiously indoctrinated in the first place?

Maybe in the past this did not matter so much, when most societies were overwhelmingly of one religion which provided a unifying historical and cultural foundation. But now that increasing numbers of people of different religions and none are living alongside one another in many countries, religion needs to be taught in a different fashion if social harmony is to be preserved and strengthened.

Jose said...

In my opinion religion should never be taught at childhood. Ethics, however, should.

A person with a profound sense of ethics may along her/his life decide if she/he wishes to choose a religion that suits her/his way of thinking.

But, I insist, Ethics is paramount, and Religion is in my view only inherent to the individual who as she/he matures is the one to decide which way to go.

anticant said...

I agree with you entirely, Jose. But the clergy - rabbis, priests, mullahs, whatever - will all say "Oh no! There can't be any ethics without religion. If you don't believe in OUR god, you are an immoral person, and beyond redemption." This is one of the key confidence tricks they play to secure their own power and authority.

I am currently reading "Double Cross: The Code of the Catholic Church", by David Ranan. I would be interested to know what you think of it. I find it not merely depressing, but distressing.

Yankee Doodle said...

It was “a pure act of will, undetermined by any external conditions”, and not based on any kind of evidence or argument. He quotes a Muslim scholar as saying “the man of Allah does not say ‘how?’ or ‘why?; he says ‘yes’.

My view of the education of children is that it must, first and foremost, contribute to their individual ‘quest for the fullness of selfhood’ and that this is a subversive activity….In order to achieve this we must have questions that are worth asking, questions that demand a response.

Inevitably, these two concepts will collide full force. It will be interesting to see what happens.

“I can see that, yes, children are defenceless, they do not and cannot question what adults tell them at first; this only starts around adolescence."

Obviously, he has never interacted with kids younger than that. One of the first words a kid learns is "Why?" -- and it drives parents crazy!

And a further pertinent question I intend to put to him: Does such an education properly equip those subjected to it to play a constructive role in our wider, largely non-Islamic, British society?

Yes. It prepares them to propagate the faith to the infidels.


You have a keen discernment, Anticant, and although we at times disagree, I hereby take back my words about your "venomous anti-American" remarks. ;)

anticant said...

Ibrahim says: "having decided that Islam is the answer, what are the implications for a school teacher?...adults have to tell children something, and for Muslims that has to be Islam. I am comfortable with that, especially having seen the alternatives.”

All teachers, of whatever faith or nationality, have to face this issue: "What do we tell the children?" If they tell them that their faith or their country or their race is not only preferable to others, but is the only "right" one, and that all the others are "wrong" and inferior, they are sowing the seeds of endless hatred and conflict around the world. They are indoctrinators - not educators.Their message is anti-human.

If, however, they say "we believe our faith, our country, our society, our ideas, are the best for such and such reasons", they are teaching the children to think for themselves, to learn more about other faiths, societies, and ideas as well as their own, and to have good reasons for their own preferences without despising others.

This is obviously the kind of education Ibrahim Lawson received. He says: "“I grew up in a more or less permanent state of alienation from the society around me, as did many of my 60’s generation...I was then, and remain, utterly convinced that ‘western’ society has serious problems, which are not solvable by tinkering but only by re-writing the whole paradigm.” On due reflection, he decided that for him, Islam is the answer. That is fair enough - but now he is a devout Muslim he isn't willing to give the same luxury of choice to his own pupils.

YD: No country is perfect. You are proud to be an American - justifiably in many respects. But America too has its 'dark side', which is often more apparent to its candid friends than to its own citizens. This does make some Europeans, and British, 'viscerally anti-American' but I am not one of them. I believe that the great majority of people of all nations, races, and creeds are good-hearted and have an innate sense of justice which, when it is outraged, leads to hatred, bitterness, and war. It is the job of those of us who are concerned about humanity's future to stir that good majority out of their ignorance and laziness,and to mobilise them to see off the crooked, greedy, dishonest hate-mongers who we - the public - have allowed to seize too much power in the world.

Our immediate problem is that in recent years far too many peoples' moral compass has slipped, and that what they say often bears little relation to what they do. They are hypocrites, and as La Rochefoucauld said, hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

anticant said...

Eliot Spitzer, for example!

Jose said...

Is the Vatican giving Ibrahim more food to chew?

Intentions to make more aspects of our lives sins are on the way:

"VATICAN CITY - In olden days, the deadly sins included lust, gluttony and greed. Now, the Catholic Church says pollution, mind-damaging drugs and genetic experiments are on its updated thou-shalt-not list. Also receiving fresh attention by the Vatican was social injustice, along the lines of the age-old maxim: "The rich get richer while the poor get poorer." "

The rich finding it "easier to go through the eye of a needle", along with advances in sciences and something that does not necessarily mean being nasty to others - as is the case of drug consuming - come on to the stage. I wonder whether a simple confession would do away with these sins - which is a hypocrisy in itself - or should very rich give their excess wealth to the Church to ensure a smooth path to heavens?

I insist ethics from the earliest years of our life is "the" only solution to our problems of coexistence. Which are, indeed, the only "sins" to be corrected.

Jose said...

This is the link to the news I transcribed above:

Here

anticant said...

In another post on Stephen Law's blog, someone made the comment that "at least the monotheistic religions regard all people as equal, really (before God as they would put it)."

My response was: "What an extraordinary statement! All the religious people I've known - and I've known some very good ones - believe that their faith makes them 'special' in the eyes of God, Allah, or whoever they worship, and that unbelievers - or believers of other faiths - are benighted lost souls.

"I'm not terribly interested in the details of what religious people believe, or whether what they believe is 'true' or not. What concerns me is their ACTIONS, many of which are prompted by their religious beliefs.

"All three Abrahamic monotheistic religions have a serious charge sheet to answer. At present I'm reading, with mounting horror and disgust, "Double Cross: The Code of the Catholic Church" by David Ranan. It's solidly researched, and cannot be dismissed as mere anti-Catholic propaganda.

"What appals me most is the Catholic Church's role in stoking the flames of anti-semitism down the ages, and particularly its despicable fawning on the Nazis not just in the 1930s and during the War, when it turned a blind eye to the Holocaust, but its role afterwards in helping many mass-murderers to escape justice.

"'All people are regarded as equal before God' forsooth!"

The Catholic Church, like the Devil,looks after its own.

zola a social thing said...

Alienation is the word for all this methinks.

anticant said...

I'm not sure. Ibrahim says it was alienation that made him convert to Islam [see body of post].

zola a social thing said...

Indeed.
In some times and places alienation is a lack of God.
In other times and places alienation is the belief in God.
I rest my point.

anticant said...

Do any of us ever feel truly at home in this world?

In his wonderful book "The Waning of the Middle Ages", Huizinga talks a lot about "accidie" - a sense of spiritual and emotional isolation which preoccupied lots of people in those days, apparently,

Maybe we are passing through a period of acute accidie in these latter times?

anticant said...

Oh the folly of quoting from memory! Taking Huizinga off the shelf after many years [I bought it in the 1950s], I find he doesn't mention accidie as such at all. What he does say, though, in his first chapter - "The Violent Tenor of Life" - rings of deja vu: "A general feeling of impending calamity hangs over all. Perpetual danger prevails everywhere. ...Is it surprising that the people could see their fate and that of the world only as an endless succession of evils?...The feeling of general insecurity which was caused by the chronic form wars were apt to take, by the constant menace of the dangerous classes, by the mistrust of justice, was further aggravated by the obsession of the coming end of the world, and by the fear of hell, of sorcerers and of devils. The background of all life in the world seems black. Everywhere the flames of hatred arise and injustice reigns...."

Very 21st century!

bwook said...

AS A muslim, I just wish to Jinna (!) that the chaps would calm down and be able to say what is actually so, to non-muslims: namely that this way of being is here and it is available to you when everything else has clapped out -- but until that time, well Hell, we AIN'T going to bomb yer arses off about it. This untranslatable /Allah/ is above all merciful and COMPASSIONATE, so where do WE get off, shitting in other people's momentary illusions and distractions? That is no way to win people over to a wider viewpoint....

AS To that, of course, I also just wish to-day in the post-contemporary atmosphere of smut and dogging, that just one of these males-not-men caught with their unislamic thingies in the receptionist's pie-hole would for once-and-for-all have the post-religious guts to /own/ their activities. What the whole fornicating World longs for is for Mr Spitzer to /have/ said (in American):

"LISTEN Up, you lot of p-ss-drinking shits, I f-ck, you f-ck, we all f-ck together. And if any of you repressed neurotic b-st-rds don't, then there's something wrong with YOU! I AM the governor, I REMAIN the governor -- and YOU moral morons are just sick with envy, can't get it up and can all go to Hell! Plus the B-tch Here [nudges wife with a leer] just thinks I'M hotter than a pistol and wouldn't lay any of YOU jerks, even if you was the last love-wiener on Earth!"

W J Clinton couldn't manage to stand up for his man's lust twelve years ago, and now this jerk steps on his own dick.... "Sexula revolution' my arse. Lot's of these people still get their main fun out of hypocrisy and shaming others. If you only snarl at these cunodens, though, they will all slink away.

anticant said...

Emmett, your musings confirm that much if not nearly all religious zealotry is about unhealthy obsession and discomfort with sex.

If ALL religions gave up their guilt-ridden attempts to control peoples' sex lives, the world would become a much kinder and healthier place.

Richard W. Symonds said...

If ALL media gave up their greed-driven attempts to exploit their readers (& viewers/listeners) unhealthy obsession with sex, the world would become a much kinder and healthier place.

Page Three-Brained Murdoch readers (3 million+) take first prize for an unhealthy obsession with sex - and most of them probably couldn't spell "religion", let alone practise it.

charleschaplin said...

Sex is good.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for recommending "Double Cross: The Code of the Catholic Church".

David Ranan's book is a true eyeopener.