Friday 20 February 2009

Lessons in terror

'Now children, for today's lesson on the Holocaust, I'd like you to put yourself in the position of a Nazi concentration camp guard and imagine his feelings as he sets off for another day's work in the gas chambers...'

Unthinkable? In the worst possible taste? I made it up, of course: but it's not much different from this, reported in today's Guardian:

Pupils are being asked to put themselves inside the minds of the 7/7 bombers to understand the motives of terrorists.

A government-endorsed teaching pack suggests the secondary schools ask pupils to do a presentation on the 7 July London terror attacks from the bombers' perspective.

The teaching pack, put together by the borough of Calderdale in West Yorkshire and displayed on the website of the Department for Children, Schools and Families, has now been withdrawn, thankfully. But what were they thinking?

Of course schools should encourage students to examine why historical events occur, but this exercise assumes that the 7/7 terrorists had motives that are susceptible to rational analysis. It seems designed to lead to the conclusion that there were 'understandable' reasons - whether poverty, discrimination or British foreign policy - behind their actions. It makes no allowance for the influence of irrational elements, such as fanatical devotion to a fundamentalist faith, or personal pathology, which will be outside the knowledge and understanding of most pupils.

The best response to being asked to 'understand' the feelings of fascists and terrorists remains that of air stewardess Gabriele von Lutzau (whom I quoted here), when asked if she would like to meet one of her former Baader-Meinhof captors:

I'm not interested in the background, in her history or in understanding her. This woman acted without a single moment of humanity. Her attitude was 'we are better than you. We're going the righteous way against Western imperialism.' Her distorted view of reality is not one I ever want to face again.

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