It’s probably a good thing the Telegraph saved a headline like ‘ Toddlers at risk from extremism’ for mid-summer, when millions of Britons are cooking themselves into a state of somnolent stupefaction on Mediterranean beaches or Dordogne hideaways, or taking advantage of the exceptional weather for a chilled-out staycation and a succession of beer-drenched evening barbecues.
Because otherwise the public might actually notice that the government is preparing to roll out a proposal that even the scriptwriters of The Thick of It might think was just a little too outlandish and ridiculous even for a satirical comedy. They will discover that Michael Gove’s replacement Nicky Morgan is proposing to address the nation on the need to instil the nation’s toddlers with ‘ British values’ in order to innoculate themselves against the dangers of extremism.
‘ Extremist’ is of course a codeword for Muslim, and the decision to open up a new battleground in the war on terror in the nation’s nurseries is the first official response to the Birmingham ‘Trojan Horse’ affair, and what a response it is.
Morgan intends to ensure that nurseries teach ‘fundamental British values in an age-appropriate way’ in order to protect children from religious radicals, and the Telegraph reports breathlessly that the government has warned for the first time that ‘ children as young as two could require protection from extremists,’ even though government sources say ‘there is no concrete intelligence about individual nurseries that demands immediate action.’
Don’t you love that ‘concrete intelligence’ part? Clearly the next step after Birmingham will be to get Ofsted and/or the security services to spy on nurseries in order to collect ‘intelligence’ on what carers and nurseries might be doing to the nation’s susceptible pre-schoolers, perhaps by bugging playgrounds and playpens. Or by interviewing toddlers to try and detect incipient signs of extremism – followed by deprogramming sessions and placing their nurseries under special measures.
In the meantime we await to see how the government proposes to promote these ‘age-appropriate’ values. In my experience this will be a tough call. Toddlers are an anarchic and wilful breed, given that they’ve only been alive two years and all, and it’s difficult enough to get the little buggers to do anything. It’s safe to say that geopolitics, multiculturalism, social cohesion and the origins of the universe are not generally uppermost on their minds, but it seems that the government is already looking at creative ways to overcome these obstacles.
According to the Telegraph, Morgan will be putting forward some innovative proposals for toddlers, such as ‘ learning right from wrong, learning to take turns and share, and “challenging negative attitudes and stereotypes”.’
All this will no doubt come as a complete surprise to nursery workers across the land, who have been busy teaching toddlers how to be amoral bigots who hoard toys and food for themselves and never share anything.
Now they will learn that determining the difference between right and wrong is an intrinsically British value, and that if all toddlers can only learn it then then everyone will grow up to be British and no one will want to blow themselves up in the underground or go off to Syria to fight jihad.
To say that Morgan’s proposals fail to get to grips with ‘extremism’, ‘radicalization’ and terrorism is something of an understatement. Virtually all credible research demonstrates that the crucial factors driving young Muslims to wage jihad abroad or carry out terrorist attacks in the UK itself are rooted in British and Western foreign policy, and/or in ongoing political violence involving Muslims in various parts of the world.
These ‘conversions’ almost always take place in adulthood, and are often quite sudden, unexpected, and unpredictable. So the idea that teaching toddlers the difference between right and wrong is somehow pertinent to these issues is not only monumentally dumb, it is also entirely irrelevant to the whole process of ‘radicalization’.
According to the Telegraph, the government wants to show that it is ‘proactive’ after Birmingham, but this is proactivity without any evidence of research to support it or any sign of cerebral activity on the part of those who proposed it.
It is in fact hysterical, and dangerous, in its murky and shallow conflation of extremism and radicalization, its cretinous and barely-thought-out notion of Britishness, British citizenship and British values, and will undoubtedly be used to subject Muslims to the state’s ever more inquisitorial gaze, from which even preschoolers are not exempt. The next step should surely be to pump British values into the wombs of pregnant mothers, perhaps by forcing them listen to God Save the Queen or Churchill’s speeches on headphones so that their babies come out of the womb standing to attention and ready to salute the flag.
Of course that would be silly, but no more so than Morgan’s ridiculous endeavour. Michael Gove may have gone, but on the evidence of this first outing, his successor must try harder. A lot harder.