Common sense, stupid

By Stephen Pollard (THE TIMES, 04/09/06):

I’m fed up with the way that politicians ignore the obvious. Why won’t those dunderheads use common sense? Take crime. I don’t know the precise facts, but I know what’s common sense: many hardened criminals are brought up in families of other hardened criminals. Their bad habits are passed down through the generations. So abolish the family and the problem is dealt with.

Bring on the common sense revolution. Since so many patients acquire MRSA in hospital, the solution is equally obvious: abolish hospitals.

Then there’s that Muslim school — Jameah Islamiyah, in East Sussex. You know, the one whose grounds the police are now crawling all over, after arresting 14 people last week. Well, it’s obvious. If it wasn’t for faith schools, the extremists wouldn’t have a captive audience and there’d be no British Muslim suicide bombers. Abolish faith schools.

More often than not, two other words would better replace “common sense”: non and sequitur.

The regularly deployed arguments against Muslim faith schools are a perfect example. The schools are, apparently, a breeding ground for extremism and, indeed, for terrorism. Does the fact that no Jewish school has produced a Jewish terrorist not point to a flaw in that argument?

Since when has the religion of one’s maths teacher been a cause of terrorism? What matters is not religion, but the content of the teaching and the school’s atmosphere. If there is extremism in a particular school, the problem lies not with the school being Muslim, but with its governance.

When bad chemistry teaching is discovered in a secular school, it does not lead to calls for the abolition of chemistry teaching. It leads to action being taken to make sure that chemistry is properly taught in the school where it hasn’t been.

It is legitimate — albeit wrong — to argue that all schools should be secular, that no parents should have the right to educate their children in a manner fitting their religion and that pupils should be bussed to schools to create a social mix.

It is, however, wholly illegitimate to extrapolate from the existence of a Muslim school that may be breeding extremism the idea that all faith schools are a threat to the cohesion of society. That is not merely a non sequitur, it is also stupidity.