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March 20, 2007



Good catch, although I think you slightly misrepresented what Johnson said - the phrase was "on safety, security and teaching grounds". I think 'and teaching' explains a lot - you could parse the whole phrase as

"on grounds of
[something completely spurious but persuasive, inasmuch as people are accustomed to treating 'health and safety' arguments as self-justifying and unappealable]
[something no less spurious but just as persuasive, inasmuch as invoking 'security' (particularly where Muslims are involved) tends to scare people into uncritical acceptance of whatever you're arguing for]
[the real reason, which is that some teachers and pupils don't like it - but since we don't do universalism we can't argue for this on grounds of principle, so we need something else to trump the inevitable multi-culturalist comeback]

Will Davies

Phil - I think you're right, but then if it's an issue about ease of teaching, why not say so? Teachers are reasonably popular figures in society, in fact they may offer a far better political tool for imposing general behavioural standards upon us than the police. Could Johnson not have stood up there, perhaps with a high profile teacher (maybe even a Muslim) by his side, and said that British education was being impeded by people having their faces covered?

Instead he has taken half a step - but no more - into dangerous political territory, and left it unclear what he means. Say what you like about John Reid, but if he believes that a Mosque is enciting terrorism, he comes out and says so. What did Johnson mean?

Naadir Jeewa

Thanks for the correction Will. As a soon-to-be-ex trainee teacher and ex-Muslim, I don't have a problem with the veil as a teaching impediment, but do as far as what it represents.


The problem is that education isn't a master frame strong enough to override liberal multiculturalism - rather the opposite; the education system is just one of the agencies expected to inculcate respect for cultural diversity. If Johnson had made his case on educational grounds alone, he would have invited counter-arguments - what kind of education is it that requires suppressing people's right to express their beliefs? In this risk-averse society, safety and security are much more powerful arguments - even though it might make more sense for safety-vs-religious-freedom to be debatable and education-vs-religious-freedom to be a no-brainer.

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