All religions need critical debate

22nd December 2006 at 00:00
Jack Ferguson Teaches In Greenfaulds High, Cumbernauld

The teaching profession in Scotland has for centuries been on the frontline of preserving, transmitting and developing a culture of aggressive, iconoclastic intellectualism.

Its ethos was forged by the Renaissance, the Reformation and the Scottish Enlightenment. Out of all proportion to their numbers, graduates of the Scottish education system helped create modern philosophy, economics and science - to say nothing of their contribution to world commerce and industry.

These events in European and Scottish thought were driven by economic and political developments which fed into, and perpetuated, intellectual development. Christianity, whether fighting scientific and political progress or promoting democracy and individualism, was always at the heart of these battles.

Christianity was changed by the struggle. It became an ideology that was subservient to the political process, as long as it allowed freedom of conscience.

Islam never underwent a similar transformation, so now many of its adherents aspire to a Muslim theocracy with pre-medieval cultural values.

While Muslims enjoy the full freedom of expression our forefathers fought for, the doctrine they espouse, if established, would end that very freedom and kill the intellectual dialectic upon which western material and educational progress is founded.

This ideology must be rigorously challenged, just as Christianity was, by the beneficiaries of the Enlightenment. At the forefront of those must be all educationists, including teachers. Unfortunately, to challenge the wisdom of the Prophet means exposing oneself to criticism from the "guardianistas" of the national conscience.

The recent article by Henry Maitles (TESS, "Don't blame the victims,"

October 20)) seems to brand critical discussion of Islam as "Islamophobic", and so racist.

This debasement of language distorts our ability to understand, analyse and to teach. Islam and Islamic culture must be subjected to philosophical criticism by the heirs of the Enlightenment without the critics being accused of racism.

By reclaiming the language of cultural debate, teachers can reclaim their heritage and their once prominent place in the great civil society of Scotland and Europe they did so much to create.

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