Fear of Facts

Published April 20, 2007, issue of April 20, 2007.

Earlier this month, just in time for Holocaust Remembrance Day, the British government’s education department released a study reporting that classroom teachers were quietly ignoring the mandatory Holocaust education curriculum, fearful of offending their students’ cultural norms.

According to the BBC, “some schools avoid teaching the Holocaust and other controversial” — yes, “controversial” — “history subjects as they do not want to cause offence.” The network quoted the government study as reporting that “teachers fear meeting anti-Semitic sentiment, particularly from Muslim students.”

If antisemitism is so widespread among Britain’s 1.6 million Muslims as to force changes in what’s taught in the schools, that’s a fact that ought to cause deep alarm on many levels of British society. It’s to the credit of the education department that it brought the situation to light. Hardly less alarming, however, is the suggestion that teachers are responding to the students’ prejudices by accommodating them and ignoring their duty to teach essential truths of modern humanity. The job of teachers is to teach facts, not to cower before bigots and bullies. If they cannot or will not, then Britain has an urgent problem to address. We hope that the sturdy organs of British parliamentary democracy — from a transparent government and a disinterested civil service to a robust, free press — will hold the schools to account.

Then again, maybe not. Barely a week after the school report was released, Britain’s National Union of Journalists betrayed its own prejudices by calling for a nationwide boycott of Israeli goods. The resolution, passed by a 66-54 margin at the union’s annual delegate meeting, compares Israel to apartheid-era South Africa and calls for other unions to join in the boycott effort. The vote followed an earlier resolution, passed by a wider margin, that condemned Israel’s “savage, pre-planned attack on Lebanon” last year and “the slaughter of civilians by Israeli troops in Gaza.”

An independent, honest and objective press is one of the foundations of democracy. The latest action of the journalists’ union, therefore, is an assault not just on truth and decency but on British democracy itself.



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