The events at Batley Grammar School in Yorkshire, where the showing of a cartoon of the prophet Muhammed during an RE lesson has resulted in angry demonstrations outside the school, a teacher in hiding, and a grovelling apology from the headmaster, are as depressing as they are predictable.
The reaction from local Muslims hardly needs comment. It is the cowardly reaction of the headmaster and the equivocal support offered by officialdom that really stick in one’s craw. Terrified of causing offence to Muslims, bound and gagged by the dictates of multicultural Newspeak, they dare not defend the right to cause offence, otherwise known as free speech, or the duty of teachers to foster discussion and debate in the classroom.
Instead, the headmaster has declared that the school ‘unequivocally apologises for using a totally inappropriate resource in a recent religious studies lesson’. It had ‘immediately withdrawn teaching on this part of the course’. And the member of staff concerned had been ‘suspended pending an independent formal investigation’ and had offered ‘their most sincere apologies’. But for doing what? For brandishing a sex toy, for goading Muslims in the class and ridiculing their religion – or, more likely, for engaging pupils in debate about the places of blasphemy and free speech in a secular society. We have not been told. The teacher caused offence and that is enough to get him cancelled.
The Education Secretary Gavin Williamson’s response was to brand the protests ‘completely unacceptable’ on the grounds that ‘it is never acceptable to threaten or intimidate teachers.’ But on the substance of the issue, he was decidedly ambiguous. Schools were ‘free to include a full range of issues, ideas and materials in their curriculum, including where they are challenging or controversial’, but (and here’s the rub) ‘they must balance this with the need to promote respect and tolerance between people of different faiths and beliefs, including in deciding which materials to use in the classroom.’ In other words, they are not free to address issues that are challenging or controversial – like the right to free speech and to engage in satire in a free society – because they might cause offence to fundamentalist Muslims, and this is not conducive to community relations.
The housing minister Robert Jenrick was more forthright and argued that nothing should be ‘censored’ in the classroom. He even suggested that it ‘must be right’ that a teacher can ‘appropriately’ show images of the Prophet Mohammed, so that children might question and query religions. But the submissive tone of the liberal establishment here is in marked contrast to the vigorous defence of Enlightenment values, including the right to ridicule, being mounted in France, where the beheading of Samuel Paty for the same offence as the Batley RS teacher provoked universal outrage. (Ed. Not quite; see Samuel Paty)
And there is something else in our establishment’s stock responses that deserves comment. It is the constant resort, as in all situations where enduring values are at stake, but moral decadence has rotted the possibility of any action, to the weasel words ‘unacceptable’ and ‘inappropriate’.
In post-truth deconstructive multicultural Britain, where we have abandoned our moral, religious, cultural political bearings, for fear of causing offence to the other, all statements must be value-free. Nothing can be called right or wrong, virtuous or vicious, true or false. Just as the only crime is to cause offence, the only moral or political precept is to avoid causing offence. And we react by expressing our own sense of indiscriminate offence by deploying the correspondingly bland catch-all terms ‘unacceptable’ and ‘inappropriate’. It follows that dropping litter and genocide are on a par as being deemed completely ‘unacceptable’, flirting and rape are equally ‘unacceptable’, and the delivery of an admonitory smack to a child is no more or less acceptable than beating him to death. We know of no distinctions for we have no values, and we take no action – that is, unless a minority group has been offended.
There is no need to address the root causes of the spectacle at Batley just so long as we stand united in opposition to offence. The demonstration is unacceptable. It is unacceptable to intimidate teachers. The teacher’s showing of the cartoon was unacceptable. And it is unacceptable to cause offence. There, all bases are covered.
Let the danse macabre continue.