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Pupils told: think as bombers

News | Published in TES Newspaper on 20 February, 2009 | By: Adi Bloom

Teaching pack invites children to see the terrorist’s point of view as part of strategy to combat extremism

Pupils are being encouraged to imagine the July 7 bombings from the perspective of the terrorists as part of the Government’s strategy to combat violent extremism.

Things Do Change, a teaching pack produced by the West Yorkshire borough of Calderdale, is recommended by officials as a way of addressing controversial issues through the curriculum.

The resource looks at life in multicultural Britain, highlighting links between communities. The first module examines how all religions, as well as most atheists, adhere to the maxim: do unto others as you would have them do to you.

But later modules deal directly with the July 7 bombings of 2005 in which 52 London commuters were killed and 700 people injured. A section entitled Community Cohesion requires pupils to “prepare a brief presentation on the 7/7 bombings from the perspective of the bombers”.

Sail Suleman, author of the pack, said: “Radicals, extremists and fundamentalists come in all different forms. We’re looking at why people become extreme. Is it right? Is it wrong? Is it justified?

“Why do young people go out and do what the bombers did? Was it pressure from individuals they were hanging out with? Hopefully, we’ll encourage pupils to stay away from those individuals.”

The resource was initially developed in Calderdale, home to three of the 7/7 bombers: Siddique Khan, Shezad Tanweer and Hasib Hussain. It has since been adopted by the Department for Children, Schools and Families as part of its online toolkit to help teachers tackle extremism.

The community cohesion module also asks pupils to imagine the bombings from the perspective of British Muslims, non-Muslim Asians and all Britons.

“Some of the impact of 7/7 has been how people stereotype individuals,” said Mr Suleman.

“Someone wearing a hijab gets comments like, ‘Watch out, she’s a suicide bomber.’ Someone with a beard is called ‘Bin Laden’.

“Do we want to live side-by-side in peace and harmony, or do we want to be at loggerheads? Our emphasis is on forgiveness. We need to be able to walk away, and not fight each other.”

But Don Rowe, of the Citizenship Foundation, believes the exercise could be controversial.

“It’s quite a complicated, ambitious question to ask,” he said. “I certainly wouldn’t expect anyone who wasn’t confident in this area to barge in with this sort of material.

“Many form tutors are asked to address some of these issues without proper training. But you need additional information about different forms of Islam, for example. Otherwise, there’s a danger that all Muslims will be bunched together.”

The teaching pack, for pupils aged 11 to 19, is being used in West Yorkshire madrassas and mosques, as well as in schools.

A number of other authorities, including Birmingham, Sandwell and Lancashire, have begun using it in their schools.

And several police forces, including the Metropolitan, Thames Valley and Greater Manchester, have taken it up.

Tahir Alam, the education spokesman of the Muslim Council of Britain, said: “This isn’t any different from any educational tool people use all the time.

“Pupils imagine they’re poets and write a poem, or imagine they’re living in the 12th century. It’s just a normal teaching technique, really.

“If children are asked what the justifications of bombings might be, they might talk about foreign policy or other grievances. But the important lesson is that these things are never morally justifiable.”

Tackling terrorism

  • There have been a number of recent government-backed initiatives to tackle extremism in schools:
  • In May last year, ministers suggested that British-born imams could be brought into schools to teach citizenship. This would enable pupils to learn about Islam in the context of a multicultural society.
  • Schools were then asked to help spot pupils who might be vulnerable to radicalisation by violent extremists.
  • Every school was sent a “toolkit” to tackle extremism, which encourages teachers to discuss terrorism and racial hatred.

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