Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Darkness visible

Somebody I know received this note:

I work in [a place in Britain] which has a majority of Muslims ... in its population. In the state schools, the percentage is even higher and there's a very segretated school system where some schools are 90-100% Muslim while others have very few Muslim pupils.

In my job, I supply schools with resources to teach the National Curriculum and the Holocaust is taught as a topic at Key Stage 3 [of the UK secondary education curriculum] ; also in primary schools it's quite often brought up when looking at World War II. Unfortunately, it's becoming very difficult to teach the Holocaust in Muslim dominated schools because of pressure from pupils and parents who deny that the Holocaust ever took place.

I understand the reasons for this. The Holocaust is often given as a reason why the State of Israel should exist and, of course, Muslims say that Palestinians were not responsible for the Holocaust and yet they are the ones who have been ethnically cleansed from their ancestral lands to make way for Europeans fleeing persecution. It's a short step - although an illogical one - to say that the Holocaust did not take place so that there is no reason for Israel to exist.

It seems to me that this is a serious issue. Although there's no reason why people in the Middle East should know about the Holocaust, since it's not part of their history, it's quite a different matter when people living in Europe should be so ignorant.

I mentioned the gist of this note (without revealing clues to its origin) to another friend and colleague, who thought hard for a moment and suggested that a solution could be for British schools to widen the context in which these events was taught, and include something on the nakbar, as Arabs term the creation of the State of Israel.

This, said the colleague, was being suggested as part of the way forward in Israel and Palestine - a place of which the colleague had some experience. In that case, no equivalence was supposed between the Shoah and the nakbar, but it did free some space for teaching actual history.

But the problem, we agreed, is that the UK national curriculum leaves no space for adaptation and initiative of this kind.

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