June 15: Infamy of teenage suicide bomber

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PERHAPS the most pressing question, as the bewildered parents of A-level student Talha Asma come to terms with reports that their 17-year-old son has become Britain’s youngest ever suicide bomber, is how this teenager – born and bred in Yorkshire - came to be fighting for the so-called Islamic State in Iraq where he is said to have detonated a car bomb?

On the eve of the 10th anniversary of the July 7 terrorist outrage in London, the need to find new – and effective – ways to stop the radicalisation of impressionable young people by Islamist fanatics remains as great as ever judging by the latest disturbing developments in the Middle East. For, while the number of young Muslims fleeing this country to join Isis forces is relatively small, this should not preclude questions from being asked about what is driving young people – often from comfortable backgrounds – into the hands of a terrorist organisation which shows no humanity towards those who dare to stand in its way?

Among those seeking answers are the teenager’s parents who cannot comprehend how their son, who came from “a close-knit, hard-working, peace-loving and law-abiding British Muslim family” in Dewsbury, should fall under the spell of Isis handlers “too cowardly to do their own dirty work”. Though there will be no sympathy for their son’s actions, the family – it should be pointed out – are also victims of this tragedy and deserve credit for condemning the atrocity in the most unequivocal of language. They say they are “no longer prepared to allow a barbaric group like ‘Isis’ to hijack our faith”.

Having spoken out, Muslim faith and community leaders now need to respond in kind before more young people are radicalised by those hate preachers whose views are a perversion of Islam. The liberty and safety of all now depends on this.

Role models for all: politicians must respect teachers

IT is striking, when listening to the great and good talk about their accomplishments, how many credit the influence of a specific teacher with shaping their lives for the better. Despite people from walks of life having no hesitation in recognising the importance of tutors as role models, there is still a tendency for politicians to denigrate the teaching profession. Indeed the default position of successive governments – Tory and Labour – can be succinctly summed up as ‘blame the teachers’.

Yet, as leading academics pointed out at an education conference in Leeds, this approach is actually counter-productive because the political rhetoric – and military terminology like the current ‘war on mediocrity’ – is driving teachers out of schools while also failing to attract talented new recruits to the profession in sufficient numbers. Of course it is right for the teaching unions to challenge the Government of the day – and vice-versa. The need to improve school standards, and make the curriculum more relevant to the challenges of an internet-led global economy in the 21st century, could not be more critical to the future prosperity of this country.

However, it might help if politicians started to value teachers and appreciated the work that they are already doing in difficult circumstances, commitment that was exemplified by the award-winning Educating Yorkshire television series that shone a revealing light on the classrooms of today. For, without inspirational teachers, the Government’s hopes and expectations on aspiration will simply not come to pass. It’s that elementary.

Landmark in time: Magna Carta’s continuing relevance

ON the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, signed on sheepskin by King John and the foundation of the United Kingdom’s legal and constitutional framework, Britain should take great pride in how this medieval document – written in Latin – has passed the test of time and is still relevant today. It should be a source of pride that Britain is one of the world’s greatest – and most respected – democracies with a Monarchy supported by an effective Parliamentary system of government, in spite of its imperfections and irritations.

Yet, as the Queen leads commemorations to mark this landmark in history, it is perhaps worth reflecting on the fact that the House of Commons – and local authorities for that matter – are only as good as the people who are prepared to stand for election because of the values that they hold. For, thanks to Magna Carta and its evolution, Britain remains a standard-bearer for democratic debate. This should never be taken for granted.