Why schools need to think hard about what they tell their kids after terror attacks


School teaches you all kinds of things besides how to spell photosynthesis. The recent terror attacks in Turkey and Belgium instantly became a global event. As kids across the globe return to their classrooms, teachers are no doubt biting their nails thinking of the difficult conversations that are bound to come up.


#1 Teachers are in a position of power.

Contrary to popular belief, kids do listen to their teachers. OK we can’t back that up, but the point is that many kids will have questions about why all their parents suddenly got very quiet on Friday night, what they’re supposed to be thinking during this minute of silence, and why terror attacks happen.

This will weigh heavily on a lot of teachers, some of whom spend more time with students than their parents do, and who know that the way they handle this situation may have have a lasting impact. Judith A. Myers-Walls, professor emerita at Purdue University USA who has studied the impact of political violence on children, told the Independent: “The quality of the response depends a lot on the person who is responding. A teacher can do this very sensitively or very insensitively and some pretend it’s not happening at all.” What the kid actually takes away from a classroom conversation on terror attacks all depends on how the teacher handles it, no pressure.


#2 There is no easy explanation for terror attacks.

You’d have to be both a wizard and a scholar to really understand what led to the recent terror attacks and what they mean for the future. The situation is hard enough for adults to understand, let alone children.

Source: The Sun. Terror Attacks. Mourners lay candles at sites of attacks in Paris

Source: The Sun

It’s important to get the facts right, and there are lots of good resources for this: like this response to questions about whether Islam is to blame for the violence of a group like ISIS, or a back to basics explainer on what ISIS is. One middle school teacher in the US got in an expert to give a lesson to teachers on ISIS and the Middle East. What not to say: “Our religion Christianity teaches love, their religion teaches hate”. Don’t say that. This is what our friend’s cousin’s headmaster told the school assembly.

It’s also important to know how to communicate ideas to children of any age. Helpfully, there is a whole bunch of advice on this, like talking about bad actions as opposed to bad people, and ensuring kids have the space to talk through what they know and how they’re feeling before the adults jump in. You could see it as a problem that these methods aren’t rolled out across the whole country.


#3 Some kids already have the answers, sort of…

Classrooms are filled with kids with all sorts of views about the world. This is very often picked up at home or from other friends, and is normally what makes going to school so valuable. It can also lead to upset, and sometimes painful and lasting upset if students feel directly targeted for who they are by what other kids have to say.  

Kids need to feel safe and heard in school. This pamphlet from National Union of Teachers gives some pointers on how to teach controversial issues like terror attacks in an inclusive way:

– organise classroom discussion in ways which enable every pupil to participate in that discussion;

– ensure that the views of everyone in the class are properly heard;

– moderate negative opinions and strong emotions;

– focus on evidence and valid information;

– represent the different points of view as accurately and fairly as possible;

– where possible, use a variety of outside and community sources; and

– demonstrate respect for different opinions.

All we’ll say is it’s a damned fine skill to have.


#4 Discrimination is totally wrong, and also illegal.

It is illegal for an educational body to discriminate against children on grounds of their race or religion (or disability, sexuality, nationality, gender… just don’t). Things get a little more blurred when it comes to faith schools, and the fact that according to the Citizens’ Advice for England “In a community or foundation school, acts of collective worship, such as assemblies, must be of a general Christian nature.” For the most part, however, UK schools are attended by people of varied or no faith.

Islamophobic and anti-Semitic hate crime has increased in the last year, meaning teaching around this topic can be particularly important. The National Association of Standing Advisory Councils on Religious Education has a resource dedicated to teaching Islam following Islamist extremist terror attacks.


#5 Feeling marginalised can have serious long term consequences.

Recent research from Connect Justice suggests that feeling discriminated against at a young age can play a big role in encouraging people to join groups advocating violent political goals and terror attacks, whether these are far-right groups or Islamist extremist groups. Being told your religion teaches hate might be the very thing that makes you feel disaffected. The majority of people would probably agree that discrimination on grounds of race or religion is a bad thing in itself, but it turns out that there might be a very practical argument against it.

However, some would argue that this sits uncomfortably alongside the UK government’s current policy of tackling homegrown extremism. As of 2015, places of education from nurseries to universities are bound by law to actively counter extremism and radicalisation, though the Home Office have had a tough job explaining what exactly they mean by these words.

Theresa May terror attacks

Home Secretary Theresa May

The government’s suggested strategy for tackling extremism is to keep a close eye on anyone who appears to be being radicalised and to promote what are being called “British values.” The problem is, if someone feels unfairly singled out for their beliefs, this might be counterproductive to say the least. This legislation was created to counter violence and terror attacks, but some say it gets tricky as teachers are in a legal bind to fight a poorly-defined concept of extremism, meaning you could end up targeting people’s beliefs rather than their actions. What would be a better way?

That all just got very real very fast, if you enjoy impartial realness, subscribe to our newsletter and Like and Follow for regular decoded news.

Islamophobia, anti-Semitism: Why the rise in hate crime?

Reports of hate crimes have been rising in the UK for the past three years. Anti-Muslim crimes will now be recorded as a separate category of hate crime, like anti-Semitic (anti-Jewish) crimes have been for a good while. So what actually is a hate crime, and why does it seem to be increasing? Scenes of Reason had a look-see to find out.


What is a hate crime?


It does what it says on the tin. It’s a crime which is perceived by the victim or anyone else to be motivated by hate – that’s the UK Home Office definition.

Hate: Hostility towards someone based on a personal characteristic. The five types of personal characteristics hate crimes can be recorded under are (1) race or ethnicity (2) religion or beliefs (3) sexual orientation (4) disability and (5) transgender identity.

Crime: A criminal offence. Specifically assault, harassment, causing public alarm and criminal damage.


What does a hate crime look like?


A woman was arrested October 2015 after she aired her views on a London bus.



Just days later, this ever worse video came out.


Are people getting more hateful and crimeful?


Home Office stats tell us that nearly 53,000 hate crimes were recorded by the police between 2014 and 2015. That’s an 18% increase from the year before. 82% of these were race hate crimes. 11% were against sexual orientation, 6% against religion, 5% against disability and 1% against transgender identity.

Hate crimes can be motivated by more than one kind of hatred. Haters got a lot of hate in their hearts. This is why these stats add up to more than 100%. Just in case you thought we couldn’t add up 😉

The number of Anti-Semitic hate crimes and Islamophobic hate crimes – like the ones in the videos above – are getting scary high.

The London Met police reported that hate crimes against Jewish people increased by 138% in 2014 – from 208 to 495.

Doing research for this we found there are A LOT of stock photos of Orthodox Jews and Met Police. We thought it was just women laughing alone with salad..

Doing research for this we found there are A LOT of stock photos of Orthodox Jews and Met Police. We thought it was just women laughing alone with salad..

In the same period, Islamophobic hate crimes increased by over 47%, from 529 to 778.

So anti-Semitic crimes have increased by the most, and Islamophobic crimes were higher to begin with and remain higher now. FYI This is obviously not a competition! We just wanted you to know what’s actually going on.

This is not just a London thing either. UK police have reported that anti-Semitic crimes have increased UK-wide by around 50%. In the year following the attack on Lee Rigby – a British soldier murdered by two men “because Muslims are dying daily by British soldiers” – government-backed Islamic group Tell Mama report that Islamophobic incidents have increased by 20%.

Islamophobia – Islamo-NO-bia

The most recent Home Office statistics don’t only show that Muslim adults are the most likely to be a victim of religious hate crime, but also that Muslim adults are among those most likely to be a victim of a racist hate crime.

Anti-Semitic hate crimes have for a good while been recorded as a separate category of hate crime. The same goes for anti-Muslim and Islamophobic hate crimes for the London Met police. PM David Cameron is now encouraging all UK police to record anti-Muslim crime as its own separate category.

Some newspapers are reporting it as anti-Muslim crimes to be “taken as seriously” as anti-Semitic crimes — is that not how it was before?


Why? Just why all the hate?


Stats don’t tell you everything. These are the numbers of crimes being reported to the police, and the police and government reckon that the number of crimes being reported is increasing literally because more people are reporting them, not because there are more crimes than there were before. Yay?

We can’t break out the belly dancing and the oom-pah band to celebrate though. The London Met police also reckon that the anti-Semitic and Islamophobic crime is on the up because of the Israel’s attack on Gaza in the summer of 2014 and the rise of so-called Islamic State.

These are classic cases of large and seriously diverse communities of people getting a bad reputation from small but high-profile minorities within that community. By minorities we mean ISIS and extremist terror groups in the case of the Muslim faith. In terms of the Jewish faith we mean the policies of the Jewish-state of Israel, about which many people counting themselves among the Jewish community have numerous diverse, complex and deeply-considered views. Problem is, these details, disagreements and diverse views often get lost within media representation of the world’s ongoing conflicts.  

This video explores the impact of the media representation of Muslims. Has ‘Muslim’ become unfairly synonymous with ‘terrorist’ in many people’s minds?



Here is a list of ways in which people who want to publicly criticise Israel’s violence against Palestine can end up bad-mouthing the entire Jewish faith. Bit of a leap there.

Want to dig deeper? Watch Mehdi Hassan’s eyes flicker with the flame of eternal knowledge in this debate on Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, then come back to us with more questions for us to answer.



Stay tuned: subscribe to our weekly newsletter for the latest on Israel and Palestine. Like us on Facebook and follow @scenesofreason.

Is Russia really racist, homophobic and extremist?

The news tells us: Russia is racist and homophobic. Is this true – or is the Western media portraying Russia in a certain way?





Is Russia racist?

Racism is prejudice and/or discrimination against someone of a different race. It’s the belief that your own race is superior to others. A study by the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, Russia found that around 70% of Russians hold negative feelings about people of another ethnicity.

Back in 2009 research by the Sova Centre for Information and Analysis found that the number of victims of racist attacks had actually dropped for the first time in six years. However, the centre stated that “xenophobic violence remains alarming in its scope and extends over most of the Russian regions, affecting hundreds of people.”

In recent years many articles in the media have expressed concern about an increase in racist activity in Russia. The most recent example gaining a lot of media attention related to a football game. Emmanuel Frimpong is a footballer from Ghana in Africa, who plays for Arsenal. Frimpong claims he heard racist chants and monkey noises when playing against the Russian team Spartak Moscow. Not cool.

This isn’t just an isolated incident. Anti-discrimination group the Fare Network released a report on racist activity in Russian football. They list 99 racist displays in Russian football from 2012 to 2014, and 21 incidents of violence linked to racism. The Fare Network say these figures are “far from exhaustive”. It adds that they can “only be indicative of a wider problem”. Meaning that in reality things are probably a lot worse.

Many people believe Russia should not be allowed to host the football World Cup in 2018 due to this recent racist behaviour. The obvious question: why are things so bad?


Russia is all “united” now, but against who?

Russia - Extremist, Homophobic and Racist. President Vladimir Putin with a gun

Russian nationalism: President Putin’s “macho” image is all about portraying a strong Russia

Russia’s President Putin leads the United Russia political party. When he came into power in 2000, the country was not in the best of places. It had suffered a financial crisis in 1998 when the Russian stock market collapsed. The Washington Post describes how Putin, facing opposition from other parties, needed “an ideology of power” to inspire the country.

This new ideology included the values of nationalism and patriotism. Basically: Russia is the best, and we are becoming stronger.

Patriot Park is a good example of this “pro-Russia” approach. It’s a “military Disney-land” where families can explore military vehicles and weapons. Yes, a theme park for Russian military strength. You can’t make this stuff up.

Extreme nationalism is sometimes described as a far-right ideology. Extreme racist views are also described this way. The Fare Network believes that the rise in racism can be linked to the spread of a new far-right ideology, found in Russian football supporters in the late 1990s. It’s worth saying that not all far-right ideas lead to racist activity.

According to the Fare Network “the situation inside [football] stadiums reflects societal developments coinciding in certain periods with rise in nationalist rhetoric of the government.”

What this means: racist behaviour is on the rise and this could have a link to increases in patriotic and nationalist language used by the government.

Putin’s nationalist language seems to be working. The Pew Research Centre reports that the percentage of Russians with a very favourable image of their own country has risen from 29% in 2013 to 63% today.

However, Putin’s nationalism may not be to blame for an intolerance of diversity. Historian and journalist James Pearce believes racist attacks across Russia could simply be a response to what Russians see as a failure to integrate into their society. “Russians are also still ‘adjusting’ to foreigners, many have never even met one.”



Is Russia homophobic?

LGBT activists were attacked during an action "Day of Kisses" against a homophobic bill that would prevent "non-traditional sexual relations propaganda among minors", aka the "gay propaganda ban" in front of the State Duma in Moscow, Russia.   Москва. Акция активистов ЛГБТ сообщества "День Поцелуев" против приниятия гомофобного закона у ГосДумы в Москве закончилась избиениями активистов и задержаниями.

Is Russia homophobic? LGBT activists under attack in Moscow

Homophobia is the hatred or fear of homosexuals.

Homosexuality is not illegal in Russia, yet many gay Russians hide their true sexuality. They fear what might happen if they’re discovered.

Polling company Levada Center discovered 37% percent of Russians think homosexuality is a disease which needs to be cured.

An article in GQ is just one of many which details violent attacks on members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community. Gay pride rallies are often hijacked by extreme homophobic groups. It has also been reported that homophobic groups trick gay men into meeting for a date then film the torture of their victim and post the footage online.

When many people celebrated the legalisation of gay marriage in America by changing their online profile pictures to a rainbow flag, many Russian users changed their picture to the Russian national flag. The Russian version of SIRI, the iPhone personal assistant, got caught making homophobic comments. The “system error” which led to this was corrected.

The Fare Network report points out that “although the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community are not the primary target of discriminatory abuse inside [football] stadiums, these spaces remain ‘no-go’ areas for them.”

Again, this isn’t just about football. This video seems to make a point in evidencing that even basic public displays of affection between a gay couple could be problematic;


Further evidence

New laws are making it more and more difficult for Russians to express their sexuality.

Is Russia homophobic? Gay activist Kirill Kalugin has been arrested several times for protesting for gay rights

Is Russia homophobic? Gay activist Kirill Kalugin has been arrested several times

In 2012 the city of Moscow banned gay pride events. Was this ban for the year? No, it was for the next ONE HUNDRED years. The government said Pride events would spread disorder and that people living in the city didn’t want it. It’s not clear what they plan to do when the 100 year ban expires.

Then a 2014 law banned educational material about homosexuality for under 18s. The exact wording of the new law was:

“Propaganda is the act of distributing information among minors that 1) is aimed at the creating nontraditional sexual attitudes, 2) makes nontraditional sexual relations attractive, 3) equates the social value of traditional and nontraditional sexual relations, or 4) creates an interest in nontraditional sexual relations.”

Educating kids about homosexuality would mean you are guilty of breaking the law. Russians who break the law face a 5,000 rouble fine (£50). The penalty is even worse for schools at 500,000 roubles (£5000). Foreigners can also face a fine, jail time for up to 15 days, and even get kicked out of the country. Way to kill the mood, Russia.


Religious Values?

Is Russia Homophobic? Group shot of the band Pussy Riot

Feminist punk rock band “Pussy Riot” were arrested after protesting against President Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church

The Russian Orthodox Church is Russia’s largest religion. 90% of Russians say they are Orthodox (though 75% admit only attending church only once a year, or not at all).

Writer Andrew Kornbluth comments that Russian homophobia is “a psychological coping strategy”. It’s a response to “a distinct trauma: the long-ago disintegration of the same ‘traditional values’ that the homophobes profess to be defending.”

As we mentioned above, President Putin is attempting to revive traditional values of nationalism across Russia. Forbes Magazine describes how Putin noticed how the Russian Orthodox Church played a “useful role in boosting nationalism and the fact that it shared his view of Russia’s role in the world”.

Putin strengthened the Church’s role in Russian society. The Church now teaches religion in Russian schools and is able to review legislation going before the Russian parliament. So, what are they teaching?

Is Russia homophobic? Protesters from the Russian Orthodox Church at a Gay Pride event in Moscow, 2010

Protesters from the Russian Orthodox Church at a Gay Pride event in Moscow, 2010

Recently Putin praised the Russian Orthodox Church for inspiring a “spirit of patriotism” in young Russians and for preserving Russia’s “rich cultural and historical heritage and in reviving eternal moral values”.

These moral values don’t seem to include homosexuality. The head of the Russian Orthodox Church says that gay marriage is “a very dangerous apocalyptic symptom” and that every effort should be taken to make sure “sin is never sanctioned in Russia by state law.”

President Putin’s push for a patriotic Russia isn’t to blame for Russian homophobia, but the power of the Russian Orthodox Church over Russia probably isn’t helping matters. As for the church, they believe they are protecting traditional moral values.

Speaking out against Putin and the Church will get you into trouble. Feminist punk rock band Pussy Riot often incorporate LGBT themes into their work. In 2012 they performed a song “Punk Prayer – Mother of God, Chase Putin Away!” This act of protest against President Putin was performed in a Russian Orthodox cathedral.  Members of the band were arrested; the head of the Church said they were doing the work of the devil. Not exactly constructive criticism.


2) The flip side: Does Russia have a problem, or is the media wrong?


Whose side are you on?

Screenshot of the Guardian asking "Is Western media biased towards Russia?"

Is Western media biased towards Russia?

Western media has got a little fixated with Russia. But is the media biased against Russia? This year the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies launched a “mass media hostility index”. Sounds ominous; it’s actually quite clever. It measures the anti-Russia bias in the media, and aims to identify which countries are bad-mouthing Russia.

According to the study, throughout 2014 Western media increased its “anti-Russian propaganda”. The brains behind the study called this the start of an “information war” against Russia.

Of course, 2014 was the year Russia nicked a patch of land called the Crimea from Ukraine. Western countries especially, were not impressed by this. So, it might be no surprise that our media started bashing Russia for what it considers an illegal takeover. But, there are always two sides to every story.


Extreme Russia?

This year the British presenter and DJ Reggie Yates traveled to Russia to film a documentary series: Extreme Russia. It covered the rise in Russian nationalism, homophobia and the modelling industry.


The documentary was praised for exploring the rise of extremism in Russia. Not everyone was a fan, though. Journalist and historian James Pearce wrote an article claiming that the documentary series only showed one side of the story.

Pearce wrote, “in simple terms, what Reggie Yates has done, is play on an existing prejudice and told a British audience ‘this is Russia’; a country full of neo-Nazi’s, homophobes and child models.”

According to Pearce the documentary showed off “the worst sides of some extremist groups” and did not explore why these groups have grown in popularity.

We asked him where he thinks the current racist and homophobic stereotypes come from. He believes it stems from small truths being blown out of proportion. “In Russia, it is not a crime to be homosexual – in India it is and seven African nations have the death penalty for it, yet people don’t seem to be discussing this… Moscow has gay clubs, as does St Petersburg. This isn’t to say homophobia is non-existent but by and large, Russia remains a conservative society.”

According to Forbes Magazine, Russia sees itself as “neither Western nor Asian, but rather a unique society representing a unique set of values which are believed to be divinely inspired.”

Pearce quotes Russian filmmaker Andron Konchalovskiy who said “It’s too bad we’re not blue, green or purple. That way they’d [the West] get off our backs… The West expects us to act like they act. They go after us all the time. Do you know why? It’s because we look like them. If we looked different they’d get off our backs.”

Pearce also argues that countries like China, Saudi Arabia and Qatar do not receive as much criticism for being undemocratic or living up to western standards. Do we think Russia should act like a Western country, because the Russians look like us? “Many Russians believe this is the problem too. Russians look like Westerners but in fact they’re not. They’re different.”

So, what we see in the media could be biased against Russia. It just confirms stereotypes we already have. If we’re hating on Russia for being “backwards” what about all the other countries that could be accused of the same thing?


What’s next for Russia?

We contacted the Russian embassy to find out their views on the report into racist activity; but so far haven’t heard back.

Yuri Boychenko (chief of anti-discrimination at the United Nations) believes that to stop racist behaviour the Russian government must understand how bad the problem is. “First comes recognition; that authorities here should recognise that there is a problem and I believe that the recognition is coming.”

But for the moment it seems Russia needs some positive press, to allow people to move past the stereotypes.



Is Russia racist and homophobic? Extreme Russia with Reggie Yates can be viewed on the BBC iPlayer.


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How Same-Sex Marriage Became Legal In ALL American States

I thought America already had gay marriage?

In 2004, the state of Massachusetts became the first American state to legalise same-sex marriages. More and more eventually legalised until 37 out of the 50 American states allowed same-sex marriage. Go progress!

Which states allowed same-sex marriage?


Why was Same-Sex Marriage legal in some states and not others?

America is divided into different states – and each state has its own state government. The USA also has a federal government, which is the national government for the whole of the United States.

Power is shared between the two – which is why different states have different laws.

The United States Presidential System Explained


Why did the Supreme Court get involved?

The Supreme Court is the highest court in America. There are nine judges in the Supreme Court, and each one will have been nominated by the President, and then confirmed by the Senate. They rule on the biggest decisions that affect laws over all of the country.

Until 2013, there was a federal law: The Defence of Marriage Act. This allowed states to refuse to recognise same-sex marriages that had been granted in other states as legal. In other words, even though federal law should technically be obeyed by every single state, the Defence of Marriage Act meant that some states could abide and others not. Talk about big sister vs little sister syndrome.

BUT THEN…The Supreme Court went “HELL NO!”, and destroyed the Defence of the Marriage Act.

Removing the act was a big win for the gay rights movement, but it has not meant that other states automatically have to recognise same-sex marriage….UNTIL NOW.

Check out Vox.com’s awesome video showing how same-sex marriage has been legalised across states over time:



Not all states were happy with the law being removed. People dissatisfied with the decision of the Courts lodged an appeal with the Federal Appeals Court (so many courts, so little time). The Appeals Court couldn’t agree on a decision so the Supreme Court had to sort it out once and for all.


What did the Supreme Court say?

Same Sex Marriage

Same Sex Marriage supporters rally in America

Out of the Nine justices of the Supreme Court, Five voted in favour of gay marriage. This ruling strikes down same-sex marriage bans across the whole of the USA. It also means states have to accept sex-sex marriages performed in other states.

All eyes were on Justice Anthony Kennedy: he was the swing vote who could have gone either way (no pun intended). Kennedy and four other judges rejected claims that marriage was just for pro-creation and for creating a family.

They ruled that prohibiting same-sex marriage is discriminatory and against the United States Constitution.

The what?

The 14th Amendment of the Constitution says that states must provide equal protection under all laws to all groups of people. Therefore, you can’t ban same-sex marriages as that would mean they have fewer rights than heterosexuals.

This argument was successfully used in 1967 to rule that states were NOT allowed to ban inter-racial couples from marrying. It was part of the case in 2013 that removed the Defence of the Marriage Act.


Twitter went mad;

Reaction to the Same-Sex Marriage ruling on Twitter


What we learned today: America’s legal system is crazy complicated.

Get involved in the conversation; #lovewins

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