Out-of-school education settings

Here is the comment I sent to the Government consultation on out-of-school education settings. Feel free to re-use, modify, distribute as you like.

I am writing to express my opposition to the government’s plans to regulate the content of out-of-school education.

I volunteer on an annual residential Christian holiday for young people which includes teaching on Christianity and the Bible. I am concerned that the work of this holiday would be regulated under these proposals. However, my concern is much wider than simply this and similar work.

I want to defend people I disagree with, as well as those with whom I agree.

I do not believe it is beneficial to society for governments to control the content of education provided outside of the state education system. In fact, I think it is a dangerous path to take, since while we may trust our current government and inspection regime, we have no reason to suppose it will always be tolerant and respectful of diverse views.

The use of terms such as “British values”, “emotional harm” and “tolerance” in the proposals is concerning since these are open to widely-varying interpretations. In recent history, it could certainly have been considered “un-British” to lobby for the legalisation of homosexuality or the enfranchisement of women, or to support a communist political party.

Personally, I interpret “British values” to mean being tolerant of views very different from my own, and keeping state interference in individual decisions to a minimum. In that context, I believe these proposals are in conflict with British values, and my own values.

I believe that the best way to counteract violent religious extremism is to practice the tolerance that we preach: to demonstrate in words and actions that we respect individual freedom of speech and action. Where children are being taught values with which we disagree, we should argue in public against those values, not ban them from being taught.

Assassination of individuals by the state

I wrote to my MP (via writetothem.com) about the British government assassinating people they suspected of planning terrorist attacks. He replied saying that the government believes the action was legal, proportional and necessary. Part of this justification was based on the fact that circumstances in Syria make it difficult to disrupt attacks in other ways. He stated the people killed were recruiting ISIL members and planning specific attacks in Britain. He also stated that this action was unconnected to general military action against ISIL in Syria.

My reply is below. Feel free to re-use and adapt it if you want to send a similar letter.

Dear Philip Hammond,

Thank you for your reply to my letter about the assassination of Junaid Hussain and Reyaad Khan.

I have 4 questions:

1. When did the British government start assassinating individuals suspected of planning terrorist attacks?

2. What standard of evidence is required to assassinate someone?

3. How imminent must a suspected attack be to warrant assassination?

4. What oversight is there of each decision to perform an assassination?

I continue to believe this practice is in conflict with British values and international law. You mention the UN Charter: I assume you are referring to Article 51 of the UN Charter, which refers to “armed attack” against a country. I do not accept that an individual suspected of planning a terrorist attack falls under the definition of an “armed attack” which was surely a reference to warfare by state-like entities, rather than plans being made by individuals to commit acts well-covered by UK criminal law.

We celebrated the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta in your constituency this year. Our reasons for celebration included the limitation of the state’s power over the individual. When the state executes individuals without trial or even publication of evidence, is there any practical limit to its power?

Yours sincerely,

Andy Balaam

Letter to my MP on UK government assassination of British Citizens in Syria

Below is a copy of the letter I sent to my MP this morning (via writetothem.com). Feel free to re-use and adapt it if you want to send a similar letter.

Update: follow-up letter.

Dear Philip Hammond,

I was extremely concerned to hear of the assassination of two British citizens by the UK armed forces [1].

The Prime Minister and Defence Secretary justified the attack on the basis of self-defence, which I believe is a reference to Article 51 of the UN Charter [2]. I consider the use of this article to cover action against individuals who are suspected of planning domestic terrorism to be wholly inappropriate. I support those who are calling for a legal challenge against this action.

Please pass on my concerns to the Prime Minister and Defence Secretary, and use your considerable influence in this area to make government policy focus on the use of criminal law to prevent domestic terrorism.

Please work to ensure the government abides by the decision of the UK parliament not to participate in military action in Syria, and thus not to treat this situation as a war in which the UK is participating. As you said on 2nd September 2013, “The House of Commons has ruled out military participation in any such response” (referring to our response to the use of chemical weapons).

Yours sincerely,

Andy Balaam

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-34181475
[2] https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Charter_of_the_United_Nations#Article_51
[3] http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmhansrd/cm130902/debtext/130902-0001.htm#1309025000394