Friday, December 31, 2010

Ham and Other Troublesome Topics in Class

by David J. Rusin

Muslims are free not to eat pork products, but must they be protected from hearing about them? Yes, according to one high school student in Spain who was distressed by a geography lesson:

The teacher was lecturing normally on the different climates of the planet and used the Granada town of Trevélez as an example of a cold, dry climate. As an anecdote, the teacher recounted that just such a climate was conducive to the curing of hams. Then the student asked the teacher not to speak of hams since the subject offended him as a Muslim.

In a bizarre video, the student explains how talk of ham so traumatized him that he cannot get out of bed. He also accuses the teacher of telling him to leave Spain, which the educator denies. The family went so far as to lodge a complaint with police, but a clear-minded prosecutor quickly shelved it. "There is not even the minimal indication of any type of crime," he said, describing the teen's attitude as "abusive, sectarian, capricious, and inadmissible."

Regardless, one can add ham to the list of topics known to upset some Muslims in Western classrooms, sparking demands either to change the syllabus or to exempt adherents of Islam from certain academic requirements. Among the subjects causing strife through mere discussion:

  • The Holocaust. Muslim resistance has led to capitulations. In the Netherlands, "a fifth of history teachers in the four major Dutch cities have had to deal with not being able to or rarely bringing up the Holocaust because Muslim students in particular have difficulties with it." In Germany, "out of fear of the students' reactions, many of the teachers avoid teaching this chapter of history." Similar claims have emerged from the UK.

  • Mideast history. A new study has found that teachers in French public schools face pressure from students and parents who object to lessons on France's war in Algeria, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and U.S. military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.

  • Evolution. While Darwin inspires objections in French classrooms, British teachers have been accused of "bending over backwards" to placate Muslim pupils.

  • Select medical topics. A 2007 article reports that in the UK, "some Muslim medical students are refusing to attend lectures or answer exam questions on alcohol-related or sexually transmitted diseases because they claim it offends their religious beliefs."

Of course, these problems are only compounded in "un-Islamic" classes such as music and swimming, which move beyond discourse and mandate the active participation of students.

The prescription? Enforce equal rights and responsibilities for all, but grant no group special privileges. José Reyes Fernández, the Spanish boy's teacher, puts it this way: if "there are 30 students … one of them must adapt to the 29 others, and not the 29 others to the one."

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David J. Rusin

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