Business will pay the price of language teaching collapse

See also BBC NEWS | Education | Compulsory language lessons fall

Only one in three schools in England make all pupils study a foreign language at GCSE level, according to a new survey commissioned by the National Centre for Languages. 97% of independent schools keep languages until 14, but only 30% of state sector schools. This figure has dropped from 57% just one year ago.

The reason? Since September schools in England have no longer been required to teach foregin languages to children over 14. Curriculum changes have simply led to languages being squeezed out.

I have to admit that I was more or less the worst at languages in my year at school. I scraped a B at O-level in French and a C in Latin. It wasn’t until I went to live in Belgium that I learned to speak French and subsequently Flemish.

But it’s a good thing that I did. When I went to work for Lucas Automotive as a senior manager, I got the job partly because I was able to conduct half of my interview in French.

Unless we only buy from ourselves, the Australians, the Americans, and a few others, and unless we only sell to these same markets, language learning is fundamental to our commercial future. As a German business man once put it to me, ‘if you want to buy from us, you can speak English, but if you want to sell to us, you must speak German.’

Britain can simply not afford to abandon language learning. It is time that government looked to the future.

It is now for Bush to prove he has integrity

Both Bush and Kerry made significant play on their Christian credentials in the run up to the election. It is now time for George W Bush to prove that his ‘faith-based’ politics goes all the way through.

If somebody genuinely wants to use their faith as a vote-winner, then they put themselves up for very strict scrutiny in office. It is not enough for George W Bush to support all the Christian issues which also happen to be Republican issues. He must tackle seriously the aspects of Christian faith which do not comfortably sit with right wing politics.

George W needs to prove that his Bible also contains the words ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’, ‘Love your enemies’ and ‘Do not take revenge, but leave room for God’s wrath’. He needs to take seriously our responsibilities to the world God has created. The Middle East peace process, the Kyoto agreement and compassionate policy both at home and abroad are the fruits by which we should know him.

He now has the opportunity to do so.

Otherwise, after using his faith to appeal for Christian support, he should consider where he stands in the light of the third commandment: “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God.”

‘War on terror’ has only strengthened Bin Laden

See also BBC NEWS | World | Middle East | Bin Laden threatens new attacks Nobody knows the right answer to international terrorism, but we now have proof positive of what one of the wrong answers is. ‘War on terror’ has done nothing but strengthen Bin Laden – he has refined his public relations machine, and, buoyed by the example of Spain, is making a play to be seen by the Arab world as the crucial factor in the choice of US president.

He said in a video aired on al-Jazeera television today: “Despite entering the fourth year after 11 September, Bush is still deceiving you and hiding the truth from you and therefore the reasons are still there to repeat what happened.”

Bin Laden’s pronouncements may seem as off keel as ‘comical’ Ali’s to Western audiences. But to many Arabic speaking viewers, his comments make eminent sense. This difference of perception is not because Arabic speakers are naive. It is because their world view is fundamentally different from the Western secular view, and because we in the West have never bothered to try to understand it.

It was instructive that during the Gulf War, Saddam Hussein was able to put up a minister every day who could make statements in English. We were unable to put up a single elected politician from anywhere in the coalition who could speak Arabic.

‘War on terror’ has strengthened Bin Laden because it has elevated him to the status of Official Opposition to the Western world. What is more, it has enabled him to lump us in the minds of his adherents with what he describes as corrupt Arab regimes.

Nobody is so foolish as to be able to claim they have the answer to international terror. But we are clearly not working hard enough at identifying the issues, pointing the questions and working towards the answers.

We continue in this course at our peril. Genuinely, at our peril.

Why Israel is back on the right track, despite the prevailing mood

BBC NEWS | World | Middle East | Knesset votes to back Gaza plan

We don’t negotiate with terrorists. We don’t negotiate with terrorists. We don’t negotiate with terrorists… In these days of internet MPEG downloads, there has to be a new metaphore for what used to be called a broken record.

Sharon’s opponents – previously his allies – have argued forcibly that to pull out of Gaza would be to give the terrorists what they want. It would prove that Israel was weak. That Israel could be worn down.

The mood of the moment is to be tough on the terrorists. War on terror, as George W has put it.

Haven’t we been paying attention for the last two hundred years? As Buffy the Vampire Slayer put it, ‘Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them in summer school.’

We all recognise that no-one yet has the right answer to terrorism. But we should at least have learned what some of the wrong answers are. In any community that feels itself oppressed, there are a range of opinions. Some people want to make the best of the world they are in. Some want to work to improve the lot of all the oppressed. Some will want to protest peacefully. Some will resort to direct action. Some may resort to terror.

‘Getting tough on terror’ sounds fine in principle, but it usually results in getting tough on the whole population. ‘Surgical’ strikes kill more bystanders than they do terrorists. War on terror solidifies opinion. It pushes the whole population towards resistance, direct action, terror.

‘Getting tough on terrorr’ sounds fine in principle. But it is the wrong answer. And, knowing this, it is time that we realise that we need to peal off moderate elements, encourage them, negotiate with them.

This is a hard thing to do if you have taught your population to believe that they are all terrorists.

Sharon has taken a brave step. His allies – formerly his enemies – have done well to put the past behind to support him.

We can all learn from his example.

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