- What does respect mean? When I visit a mosque, I show my respect by taking off my shoes. I follow the customs, just as I do in a church, synagogue or other holy place. But if a believer demands that I, as a nonbeliever, observe his taboos in the public domain, he is not asking for my respect, but for my submission. And that is incompatible with a secular democracy – Flemming Rose, culture editor of Jyllands-Posten.
The decision by a non-denominational school in Limerick to apologise to a Muslim family for having used a copy of Charlie Hebdo depicting an image of Mohammed as an educational tool in class is a retrograde one, born out of submission rather than respect.
The copy of the magazine was reportedly brought into the classroom by a pupil when the class was discussing the French Revolution and freedom of speech. The teacher who passed the magazine around told a Muslim pupil who objected that it was part of his lesson.
The mother of a Muslim child sought to deprive the class of the tool by claiming she took offence at her son being "subjected" to the image. She spoke of her “concerns and outrage,” This is the suppression of knowledge by resort to the offence clause. ‘a popular trick of totalitarian movements: Label any critique or call for debate as an insult and punish the offenders.’
The supposedly offended mother told the Limerick Leader that:
Ireland in 2015 has become more multi-cultural than ever and we as parents teach our children every day to be respectful of other people and their cultures as well as their religion. How are we supposed to achieve this respect with in our country if our educators are not mindful of the different cultures and religion in our class rooms.
This is pious rubbish. Her attitude was one of sheer contempt for the educational culture in the non-denominational classroom where religious opinion should never be prioritised over other opinion. She sought to have other children denied a wider educational discussion because of her religious opinion. Not much respect there.
How is a teacher to explain a deeply contentious issue in the world today without using the image at the heart of the ideational clash for the purpose of allowing all students to see for themselves what it is that ostensibly ignites the conflict? As the chairman of the multi-denominational Limerick School Project Richard Allen said:
... what is better - to put the facts out on the table and discuss them, or to hide them? If the information is published and is available, children need a forum in which they can discuss it.
Why then did he apologise for having merely put the facts on the table? By recanting the behaviour of the teacher rather than robustly defending it Allen made a mockery of his own claim that:
We live in a society where information flows freely, and we can’t be like we were in this country in generations past where we hid things. Children have a right to discuss these things, understand them and have a view, but also understand there’s an inherent responsibility that comes with free speech. Children take in an awful lot of information, much more than we as adults would think.
Rather than claiming that the multi denominational system "respect all religions and no one” he should have said was that it fears no religion bar one.
Were my child in the class I would have protested most strongly at the apology which implies that my children are to have their education and access to information shaped by the religious opinion of somebody else. The real transgression here was not the action of the teacher but the theology of domination practiced by the Muslim mother and the submission to such domination by the chairman of the project.