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Lamentable lack of British values

15 August 2014

Apocalyptic: coverage of Iraq in The Times last Friday

Apocalyptic: coverage of Iraq in The Times last Friday

IT IS one of the great ironies of history that the criminal folly of the invasion of Iraq should have produced, 12 years on, a crisis that actually fulfils all the conditions for a just war - at the moment when the Western powers are so weakened and demoralised by their earlier, unjust war that there is really nothing they can do.

The armies went into Iraq at a time when most journalists did not know that there were different kinds of Muslims, except possibly that there were the fundamentalists and the moderates. Now we all know that the distinction between Shia and Sunni matters. The war in Iraq is now described in religious terms at least as much as it is in ethnic ones. Last Friday, almost the whole of the front page of The Times was taken up with a banner headline "Wars of religion".

Hence the rush of stories about the Yazidi, in whom the world took no interest at all until this month. When I look at the graph of Google searches for the term since 2007, it is almost completely flat for seven years, with tiny lumps around stories of massacres, pootling ones by present standards. Then, in August 2014, it takes off like a scared cat up a curtain.

This quite dwarfs the recent interest shown in "Iraqi Christians", although that may be a measure of novelty rather than concern. People do Google searches to find out things they don't already know, or don't know they already know; and they think that they know about the Iraqi Christians.

It is a noteworthy sidelight here that almost all the searches on "Iraqi Christians" come from the US.

Now, Google searches aren't a good way of measuring political engagement, but these graphs should still be rather grim reading to anyone who thinks that there is widespread popular sympathy or interest in the plight of the victims of the war out there.

Failing that, there are always the front pages of the popular papers - the Daily Mirror's "Please Save us" balanced against the Daily Express's "Migrants clamour to reach Britain". This last sits rather oddly under a much smaller headline: "New pressure on Cameron to halt horror deaths in Iraq".

Of all the fantasies to adorn the Express front page, the idea that David Cameron can "halt horror deaths in Iraq" is one of the wildest, if least noxious.

THE previous day, the Express had explained on its front page: "Why Britain must wake up to the Jihadist evil in our midst", while the Mail warned against foreign convicts - so much more evil than home-grown ones. But the oddest story about the enemy within was the one on the top of the front page from Nicky Morgan, the new Secretary of State for Education, who succeeded Michael Gove. "Nurseries are at risk of being taken over by religious extremists, the Education Secretary will warn as she announces that toddlers are to be taught 'fundamental British values'.

"In her first major policy announcement, Nicky Morgan will say that local authorities will be obliged to use new powers to strip nurseries of their funding if they are found to 'promote extremist views'.

"She will also say that toddlers should be taught fundamental British values in an 'age-appropriate way' as part of a drive to protect children from religious radicals."

Yes, it's August, and nobody's heard of her; so she has to say something to be noticed. But this still seems totally barmy. What are the distinctively British values that you can teach a two-year-old?

It emerges later in the story that, for toddlers, the teaching of such values is likely to include "learning right from wrong, learning to take turns and share, and challenging negative attitudes and stereotypes".

If it were really the fact that the values that a two-year-old needs to learn are "fundamentally British" ones, then the world would be doomed once the foreigners broke out of their boiling sea of selfishness and flooded our lovely country, where all the children play nicely with their toys and never bite one another . . . unless they are football players, of course.

FINALLY, an excellent piece of mischief from CNN, which returned to the palaces in which Roman Catholic bishops live in the United Stated.

Cardinal Dolan, the Archbishop of New York, lives on Madison Avenue, in a mansion that has been valued at $35 million. His brother of Chicago has only 1.7 acres, and a house valued at $14 million. And he has to share it with two other bishops and a priest - their nun-servants have a separate coach house to live in, presumably for the avoidance of scandal.

But the real prize, I think, would be Miami, where the Archbishop has a house on the shore of Biscayne Bay with six bedrooms, six bathrooms, a swimming pool, and a tiki hut, whatever that may be. I hope it eases the burdens of celibacy.

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