British fear of Islamists and Saudi fears about atheists are two sides of the same coin

theguardian: by Brian Whitaker —

Young people want to know about jihadism – and it’s better that they inquire about it openly, in schools, than elsewhere


Saudi Arabia’s aim of ‘instilling the Islamic faith in the younger generation’ [is] in principle not very different from Michael Gove’s idea of instilling “British values

“Extremism in whatever form it takes has no place in our society, especially not in our schools,” the London diocesan board for schools said last week, referring to a Church of England school where sixth-formers had set up an Islamic society without approval from teachers or governors. Making use of the school’s virtual learning centre, the Islamic society had reportedly made a YouTube video and held meetings addressed by radical preachers.

In Saudi Arabia there are similar concerns about “extremist” ideas taking hold in the minds of the young. Newspaper articles agonise about this much as they do in Britain, though in Saudi Arabia the ideology they fear is atheism.

“We must fight the phenomenon of atheism with initiatives that will nip it in the bud before it takes roots in the hearts of our young men and women,” an article in al-Watan newspaper began. It went on to call for a national strategy “to protect our religion”, with participation by all sections of society. “It is easier to treat cancer in its initial stage before it seeps deep into the body cells,” the article added.

The treatment chosen by the Saudi government was to amend its anti-terrorism law to classify “calling for atheist thought in any form or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion” as a terrorist act.

British fears about Islamists and Saudi fears about atheists are two sides of the same coin. Ideas that were once alien or unknown can now leap across national borders and take root in unexpected places. Globalisation is making national cultures less monolithic and more diverse – and, thanks mainly to the internet and the ease of international travel, it is likely to happen on an ever-increasing scale.

Trying to prevent that is as futile as trying to stop wind or rain. Far better to recognise that it’s happening and adjust to it. Nor is it necessarily bad. Globalisation has the potential to enrich millions of lives by exposing people to ideas that they would never previously have encountered. It is good to see young Saudis broadening their horizons and finding out about alternatives to Wahhabism, even if they don’t accept them.

Similarly, it’s natural for British school students to want to know about jihadism, and it’s better if they explore it in a spirit of inquiry (which is the essence of education) rather than indoctrination. Jihadism is a fact of modern life and there’s no point in pretending it doesn’t exist. If it can’t be discussed openly and in an environment where it’s examined critically, such as a classroom, kids will look elsewhere to satisfy their curiosity – very likely in a closeted environment where preposterous ideas pass unchallenged.

We could also learn a thing or two from the Saudis’ mistakes in handling ideas that we consider obnoxious. One is not to suppress them. The other is not to ignore them.

The aim of education, according to Saudi Arabia’s basic law, is “instilling the Islamic faith in the younger generation”, which in principle is not very different from Michael Gove’s idea of instilling “British values” in English schools.

A very common practice in Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries is not to engage with people who start asking awkward questions. When one Saudi woman – a teacher in her 20s – attempted to discuss her religious doubts with a scholar he informed her that she was mentally sick and should seek treatment. There aremany other stories of sceptical Muslims being told that they shouldn’t question their faith. Far from deterring them, that often prompts them to look further afield for answers, and it has probably done more than anything else to set young Muslims on the road to disbelief.

Origional Post here:

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