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Thursday, 28 June 2012

Only Christian faith schools are acceptable: Amartya Sen

LONDON: Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen has attacked the Tony Blair government for encouraging a society in which ethnic minorities were defined almost exclusively by their religion and for allegedly endorsing establishment of faith schools. He also said that faith schools, barring those run by Christians, should be scrapped. 

Christian schools "are perfectly acceptable" but other faith schools "are a big mistake and should be scrapped if the Government wants to encourage a unifying British identity," Sen said in an interview to Daily Telegraph. 

Claiming that the faith schools have been set up since the Government wanted to give them parity with Christian institutions, he said, "I am actually absolutely appalled." 

Sen, who has come from Harvard, is on a Britain tour delivering lectures on how religion is being used to pull this country apart and to encourage inter-communal violence. 

Speaking at the Nehru Centre last night, Sen praised Britain's multi-cultural society but criticised the Blair government for what he called two serious policy blunders - increasingly encouraging a society in which ethnic minorities were defined almost exclusively by their religion and endorsing the establishment of faith schools. 

In the interview, Sen said, "Christian schools have evolved and often provide a much more tolerant atmosphere than a purely religious school would. A lot of people in the Middle East or India or elsewhere have been educated in Christian schools. A lot of my friends came from St Xavier's in Kolkata- I don't think they were indoctrinated particularly in Christianity." But the new generation of faith schools "are not going to be like that," he added. 

Although he wanted mainstream British schools to broaden their curriculum to include more on the contribution of, say, Muslim mathematicians to science, Sen said faith schools "are a pretty bad thing. Educationally, it's not good for the child. 

"From the point of view of national unity, it's dreadful because, even before a child begins to think, it's being defined by its 'community', which is primarily religion. That also drowns out all other cultural things like language and literature. I am a believer in the importance of British identity." 

But he wanted the definition to be framed in such a way that allowed the evolution of a "plural multi-cultural society", rather than a "mono-cultural" one in which different groups lived side by side with little interaction. 

"We have many different identities because we belong to many differe nt groups. We are connected with our profession, occupation, class, gender, political views and language, literature, taste in music, involvement in social issues - and also religion. But just to separate out religion as one singularly important identity that has over-arching importance is a mistake. 

"One of the problems of what is happening in Britain today is that one identity, the religious identity, has been taken to represent almost everything." "Of course, this policy immediately has the effect of making some people extremely privileged - those who speak in the name of religion. There may be some moderate people but mostly they are extremists," he added. 

"Religion has been inadvertently politicised by the UK government in a way that is counter-productive. It makes the battle against terrorism so hamfisted and clumsy," he said.

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