Thursday, March 27, 2008

Britain's anti-military teachers are depriving their pupils

What is the moral distinction between allowing an accountant or a lawyer into a school to talk about career prospects to a class of 12-year-olds, and giving a military officer the same freedom to tell them about the Army? According to the National Union of Teachers, one is useful advice, the other is propaganda. Yesterday the NUT debated a motion that stated that: "Teachers and schools should not be conduits for either the dissemination of MoD propaganda or the recruitment of military personnel." The motion, not surprisingly, was passed. One should never underestimate the vacuous posturing of the NUT.

Strip away all the concern about "glamorising war" and it is clear from the debate that the very presence of military personnel in schools is anathema to the NUT. One delegate in a speech said: "Let's just try and imagine what that recruitment material would have to say were it not to be misleading. We would have material from the MoD saying, ?Join the Army and we will send you to carry out the imperialist occupation of other people's countries'."

If teachers cannot understand the difference between political opposition to the war in Iraq and the role of the Army in the defence of the realm, then pity the pupils they claim to teach. It is one thing to grandstand at an NUT conference about the so-called iniquity of an illegal invasion. It is quite another to undermine a profession, which is an essential pillar of the State, in front of a class of impressionable youngsters.

The timing is spectacularly inept. Barely a fortnight ago RAF servicemen in Peterborough were being advised to shed their uniforms before they went out on the streets, for fear of being exposed to insults and attacks. Recruitment is at a record low despite British troops in Afghanistan facing military action as intense as any since the Korean War. A recent poll suggested that only 23 per cent of the population is well informed about the Army and its role. One might have thought that, in these circumstances, teachers had a responsibility to redress the balance - to explain that the Army is there for society's protection, rather than as the unacceptable face of armed aggression, and to condemn the thugs who assault or insult young squaddies.

But if the teachers' role is questionable, what about political leaders? In Scotland last week, Alex Salmond chose the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq to send out an egregious message that suggested that British troops stationed in Basra do not believe they should be there at all. "Their views about the rights and wrongs of conflict are very similar to the rest of us," he claimed. There is a breathtaking arrogance about this - not only the assumption that his own views about the war are shared by the majority of the population, but that soldiers, whom he has never visited, have lost confidence in their role. It is also irresponsible. For the First Minister of Scotland to undermine the commitment of the UK's Armed Forces abroad does little to suggest that he has made the transition from left-wing gadfly to national leader.

This kind of view is, in truth, far closer to propaganda than anything that the earnest military officers who go into schools - always at the invitation of head teachers - seek to convey. They are there to explain the role of the Armed Forces, and these days, all too conscious of the delicacy of their position, they lay emphasis on issues such as citizenship and training for the future. They draw attention to the army values of courage, discipline, respect for order, loyalty and integrity; their motto is "inspire to achieve". You can see why the NUT wants to eject them.

What the Army is offering is precisely the kind of structure that is so often lacking in the lives of today's generation of young people. Just over a year ago, I spoke to a 22-year-old who had returned with the Black Watch from Basra. He had seen one of his comrades killed by a roadside bomb; he had been in a tank that had narrowly escaped being blown up after a sustained attack from insurgents; he had lived through the blazing heat of an Iraqi summer. He was about as far removed from the Salmond caricature as one can imagine - he was proud of what his regiment was doing, defended the presence of British troops in Iraq and talked convincingly about the dangerous vacuum that would be created if they were pulled out.

But it was what he told me about his personal circumstances that struck me most forcibly. I asked him whether he regretted the years he had been away from home and his friends in Fife. Certainly not, he said - his only regret was that his time in the Army would, inevitably, be limited. "What might you have done if you had not joined up?" I asked. "I'd be in jail, nae doubt," he said matter of factly. Among the kids he had grown up with, at least half, he reckoned, had dropped out of school early and taken to a life of crime. He had been saved by the Army, he said - it had given him not just an alternative, but also a way of rethinking his life.

Curiously, he was echoing a man who will certainly not be quoted by the NUT this week. The Duke of Wellington once explained how the Army introduced order into the chaos of young lives. "All the business of war, and indeed all the business of life, is to endeavour to find out what you don't know by what you do," he said. "That's what I call guessing what is on the other side of the hill'."

Most head teachers, who welcome service personnel into their schools, will know what he meant. They should make it clear that teachers have a duty of care towards their pupils, and that includes presenting them with an even-handed picture of the relationship between a society and its Armed Forces. In previous times the Army has saved the nation from destruction. It may be called upon to do so again. Guessing what is on the other side of the hill is part of our history and should be part of our education


Government schools should be forced to open their doors to Islamic preachers teaching the Koran

This shows clearly what nuts the NUT are: They say that members of Britain's own armed forces should be kept out of schools but preachers of Jihad should be given privileged access. This shows vividly what deliberate wreckers the far-Left are. They are so filled with hatred of the world around them that they just want to smash things in any way they can. Tearing down, not building up is their thinly camouflaged aim

State schools should be forced to open their doors to Islamic preachers teaching the Koran, the largest classroom union demanded yesterday. The National Union of Teachers' conference also said existing religious schools - almost all of them Christian - should have to admit pupils from other faiths. The union's general secretary Steve Sinnott said that allowing Muslim imams to preach in schools would be a way to reunite divided communities.

But the proposals prompted immediate outrage. Conservative Party backbencher Mark Pritchard said: "This is just further appeasement for Muslim militants. "We should just follow the existing laws on religious education, which state that it should be of a predominantly Christian character. All this will do is further divide many communities that are already split on religious lines."

Speaking as delegates met at the hard-Left-dominated union's annual conference, Mr Sinnott admitted that his plan would amount to religious indoctrination inside taxpayer-backed schools rather than simple teaching of what different religions believe. He said: "This is more than simple religious education, it's religious instruction."

The proposals include providing private Muslim prayer facilities in schools. But Mr Sinnott stressed that no pupils would be forced to have any religious instruction. The union, however, also called for all daily religious assemblies, which by law are supposed to have a Christian character, to be abandoned. It also said local authorities should take control of all state school admissions, removing the right of faith schools to choose which pupils they take.


No way to combat terrorism

The British government have some dangerous bedfellows in their attempt to prevent violent extremism

Should government be picking winners within Muslim communities in order to combat the threat of violent jihadism? And does it work - any more than the corporatist strategy of picking winners among big enterprises succeeded in the 1970s? This approach is a key strand of the Government's new national security strategy, launched last week. The flagship programme for delivering it is the Preventing Violent Extremism Pathfinder Fund (PVE), amounting to 45 million pounds over three years. It was created after the 7/7 bombings, reflecting Tony Blair's belief that the Muslim Council of Britain had not done enough to fight the extremists.

Blair and Ruth Kelly, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, contended that local authorities, police and communities were best positioned to identify those grassroots Muslim groups who could challenge advocates of violent Islamism.

But key local authorities are now in revolt. According to the Local Government Chronicle, many councils are refusing to adopt a target to "build resilience to violent extremism" for fear of damaging community relations. Their Muslim constituents are said not to like PVE because they think the programme stigmatises them. And non-Muslims are said to resent the fact that Muslim groups seem to be benefiting.

A more serious point is whether local government is able to choose appropriate Muslim partners. Yes, municipalities enjoy on-the-ground expertise. But what kind of grassroots expertise? Can they really discriminate between different varieties of Islamism? If even MI5 finds difficulty drawing the line, what hope for aldermanic worthies?

Earlier this year Paul Goodman, the Shadow Communities Minister, pressed Ms Kelly's successor, Hazel Blears, to confirm that money was not falling into the hands of extremists. Blears could not supply that reassurance, though she is the least blameworthy figure in all this. More than any other Cabinet minister, she "gets" radical Islamism. But it is infernally difficult, even for her, to monitor which groups are worthy recipients and which aren't. It was symptomatic that it took her department six months to answer Goodman's previous inquiries on where the funds were going. And even if they are not going to unworthy causes, are these schemes effective?

The list of grant recipients is strange. Even Conservative councils are not very rigorous in choosing partners. For example the Channel 4 Dispatches programme exposed hate preaching at the Green Lane mosque in Birmingham. A preacher, Abu Usama, urged that homosexuals be thrown from mountains. Yet the Green Lane mosque is one of the partnership organisations approved by Birmingham City Council. Indeed, the Green Lane mosque is also a well-established interlocutor of the West Midlands Police. West Midlands Police still aver that men such as Abu Usama enjoy the "street cred" to stop radicalised young Muslim men from tipping over into violent jihadism.

Kensington & Chelsea Council has turned to the Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre to deliver a "parental empowerment programme" that aims "to foster modern, inclusive and Islamically sound relationships between parents and children. Parenting techniques are imparted and discussed from an Islamic and wider social perspective by a trained Muslim NHS psychotherapist."

Why is it the duty of a council to "foster Islamically sound relationships between parents and children"? Who defines what is "Islamically sound"? How does picking a Muslim psychotherapist - apparently on sectarian grounds - help to prevent violent extremism?

Likewise, Westminster City Council relies on the Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre (which is not even in the city) to organise a "young people's leadership and debate programme" on foreign policy. Why should Tory councils turn to them, of all people? The centre's name appeared in a statement on the website of Hizb-ut-Tahrir asserting that "the Muslim community in Britain has unequivocally denounced acts of terrorism. However, the right of people anywhere in the world to resist invasion and occupation is legitimate". The statement also denounced the proscription of Hizb-ut-Tahrir - a key objective of David Cameron.

Such partnerships are reflective of the greatest weakness in PVE - and of much the Government's "contest" strategy for combating terrorism. As its name suggests, it is largely about countering violent extremism. It isn't necessarily about countering non-violent extremism.

The interplay between violent and non-violent radicalisation lay at the heart of Mr Cameron's remarkable recent address to the Community Security Trust. Cameron believes that it is not enough simply to be against jihadism on these shores. He is deeply disturbed by the sectarianism of groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and associates such as the Cordoba Foundation - which receive PVE funds.

It's as if the Government responded to a violent insurgency from the neo-Nazi terrorists of Combat 18 by turning to Nick Griffin of the BNP, on the ground that he enjoys nationalist "cred" with alienated skinheads. After all, Mr Griffin is non-violent and believes that whites should participate in the political process. Perhaps he might stop bombs from going off. But what price would he exact for it - and what kind of society would we then be living in?


Scotland: NHS admits it is failing thousands suffering chronic pain

Thousands of patients living with incurable pain are being let down by the Scottish NHS, according to a hard-hitting report by the health service's own watchdog. Despite four official investigations in the past 14 years highlighting worrying gaps in care, the research reveals there has been very little improvement.

Specialist support for people who suffer chronic pain is patchy and inadequate, patients are confused and clinicians are frustrated, say the authors. They are demanding action from the Scottish Government and health boards to ensure patients, who can wait years for the treatment they need, get faster access to the right medical help.

It is estimated that 18% of the population, 900,000 people, suffer some form of chronic pain. This is discomfort from injury or disease which persists beyond the typical healing process. One-quarter of people diagnosed are unable to continue working because of the condition, yet just 3% of sufferers are sent to the specialist clinics.

NHS Quality Improvement Scotland, which monitors standards in the health service, has published the latest report. It notes the Scottish Office first described services as patchy in 1994 and further documents published by very experienced people in 2000, 2002 and 2004 raised the same issues. "Despite all of this, very little progress has been made. Access to specialist services is poor." NHS QIS found not one health board could accurately describe the services they did offer.

Dr Pete Mackenzie, who worked on the report, said: "There are major blackspots around the country where there is almost a complete lack of service. The chances of (being told there is no hope) are much greater if you live in an area like that." Dr Mackenzie said, there was frustration about the pace of progress, adding: "It is fair to say many of us, and particularly the patients with chronic pain, feel reports come and go and nothing much happens."

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "We are considering the recommendations relating to the Scottish Government, and the Health Secretary will use her address to the national conference organised by the Pain Association Scotland on May 20 to set out her response. "We have for a number of years been encouraging the development of a managed clinical network approach to chronic pain."


Britain and France join forces on immigration

In a token sort of a way

Plans for a joint drive by Britain and France against illegal immigration could backfire by forcing "soft targets" to return to dangerous countries, refugee groups have warned. The initiative will be announced by Gordon Brown and the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, who arrives in Britain for a two-day state visit tomorrow. The leaders will also set out plans to co-operate over the crisis threatening world money markets, nuclear power and defence.

Mr Sarkozy, who will be accompanied by his new wife, Carla Bruni, will be welcomed by the Prince of Wales. The couple will stay at Windsor Castle. The immigration package is likely to be agreed by the leaders on Thursday. It includes proposals to arrange joint charter flights to return failed asylum-seekers to their home countries. Mr Sarkozy wants international co-operation over immigration to be a theme of France's European Union presidency from July and will set the tone this week. The leaders will also promise to increase numbers of officials checking lorries at Channel ports and fresh action against people-smuggling gangs.

Donna Covey, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said: "Our leaders would do better to focus on joint initiatives to make countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan safe for people to return to - rather than forcing them to go back when it is clearly not safe." Keith Best, chief executive of the Immigration Advisory Service, urged Mr Sarkozy to be sceptical of Britain's approach to deporting asylum-seekers, which often resulted in "soft targets" being singled out for removal. [That's true. Asian kitchenhands are at risk but criminals can stay as long as they like]


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