Just last week I overheard three colleagues discussing the evils of the British empire. “I despise it,” one snarled. “Me too! Look at Amritsar, what we did to the Native American Indians and our involvement in the Middle East,” another opined, shaking his head in disapproval. “I really can’t think of anything positive to say about it,” a third lamented.
I work in an academy with a large Muslim population. To be more precise, over 80 per cent of the school’s children are Islamic. Some, of course, more devout than others, all from varying traditions.
Now, one might be forgiven for thinking that this very demographic is the one most susceptible to radicalisation. That doesn’t mean they’re all potential terrorists. Of course not. But let’s be honest with ourselves: they are more at risk of being radicalised than pupils in, say, a Church of England school.
So surely, as teachers, we should be aware of this fact and act accordingly, as the Government’s Prevent strategy urges us to do through the promotion of British values.
But in my school, as demonstrated in my opening paragraph, many of my colleagues – particularly in the history department – are actively encouraging our most vulnerable children to hate their own country.
They were discussing a unit provocatively entitled “Should we be proud of the British empire?” As you can probably gauge from their rather one-sided conversation – and the simplistic, reductive scheme of work that supports it – it is a loaded question devised with only one answer in mind: No! We should be ashamed of it.
They have irresponsibly and outrageously sacrificed neutrality, historical accuracy and considered objectivity on the high altar of unthinking subjectivism and banal sentimentalism driven by feelings of post-colonial guilt.
How on earth can these dangerous individuals, so willing to do ISIS’s work for them, be allowed to teach our children?
That is not to say that we shouldn’t make our pupils aware of the misdeeds committed by ‘Perfidious Albion’ in its quest for world domination. But we should also be encouraging the children to explore the benign gifts bestowed upon the world by Britain’s two-hundred-year hegemony.
The spread of capitalism, the world’s first and only lingua franca, parliamentary democracy and the rule of law; the propagation of ideas, literature, technological and medical advances; the abolition of the slave trade and its global enforcement by British naval power during the period known as Pax Britannica; and finally, its assault upon the forces of fascism and militarism during the Second World War.
Now how can my colleagues not think of any positive consequences of Britain’s imperial domination? They are either grossly ignorant, blinded by their own bias or being deliberately deceitful.
Even the concept of empire – a concept that we rightly reject wholesale today – should be contextualised. From the Umayyad dynasty to the Ottomans, the Romans to the great seaborne empires of France and Britain, until recently, imperialism and colonialism were staple features of global geopolitics, as was slavery. You cannot therefore properly analyse and evaluate the British empire without placing it within this contextual framework.
In fact, bearing this in mind, the question of whether it was a force for good is far too simplistic. But that’s another story.
Again, though, I must reiterate that I am not calling for a sanitized account of Britain’s imperial past, just a balanced one, firmly rooted in reality.
At the moment, in my school at least, predominantly Muslim children are being force-fed a diet of anti-British propaganda – a diet both inaccurate and, more importantly, one which plays into the hands of those who wish to do us harm.
With the recent attacks in Paris being committed by mainly home grown terrorists, this ought to give us pause for thought.