Socialist Worker

Tories use Trojan Horse report to step up attacks on Muslims

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2413

Birmingham demonstration against the scapegoating of Muslims in June

Birmingham demonstration against the scapegoating of Muslims in June (Pic: Pete Jackson)


Two reports into allegations of a “Muslim plot” to take over a group of Birmingham schools have been published. They contradict each other.

 An inquiry commissioned by the government was undertaken by former counter-terrorism chief Peter Clarke.  He concluded, “There has been a determined effort to gain control of governing bodies at a small number of schools by people who are associated with each other.

 “They have sought to introduce a distinct set of Islamic behaviours and religious practices.”

Clarke claimed to have found evidence of governors who “espouse, endorse or fail to challenge extremist views”. Some examples of “extremism” cited include governors being hostile to Israel or to British military operations.

Some governors appear to be criticised for being Muslim and standing up for other Muslims. Take Tahir Alam, a governor at Park View school. Clarke warns that Tahir exerted “influence” at several schools. His report complains that, “Tahir Alam promoted the concept that schools can (and should) be changed to accommodate the faith needs of Muslim pupils.”

Clarke focuses heavily on one group of governors having conversations on social media. Some of the comments are homophobic. Others discuss segregating children by sex – with some stressing the importance of boys and girls interacting together.

As Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary of the NUT union, pointed out, the aim of the investigations was to “look into claims of an Islamic plot to take over some schools in Birmingham and develop an extremist agenda”.

“This has been proved not to be the case,” he said.

Clarke’s report contracts itself. For instance it claims that “Christmas was banned” by governors at Nansen primary school last December. It goes on to describe a nativity play going ahead.

It also includes claims that have already been refuted by teachers. One is that boys were seated near the front in maths lessons because girls were seen as less important. Teachers have pointed out that boys were seated near the front in some lessons because they needed more help.

Evidence

A separate report by Birmingham City Council reached very different conclusions. It found “little express evidence of a systematic plot or coordinated plan”.

It said Muslim parents and governors had a “genuine and understandable desire to improve the education and opportunities for Muslim pupils”. In some cases, the methods for doing this were “improper” and even went as far as “breaking the law”.

But the report stressed, “There is no evidence of a conspiracy to promote an anti-British agenda, violent extremism or radicalisation of schools in East Birmingham”. Yet new Tory education secretary Nicky Morgan wasted no time in unveiling new attacks in the wake of the reports. In a speech to parliament she announced a review into governance at Birmingham City Council.

Morgan said the government would consider strengthening the definition of misconduct for teachers. Misconduct could mean a failure to protect children and promote British values.

She said no-notice Ofsted inspections could be rolled out for all schools. And “other parts of the country” will be examined to see if they are “vulnerable” to extremism.

Morgan also confirmed that the government would continue its programme of promoting unaccountable academies and free schools. Labour shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt seized on this to denounce the government’s policies as “bust”.

He’s right that academies and free schools aren’t in the best interests of children. But Labour began the academies programme in the first place.

Hunt made no complaint about the torrent of racism that the investigations in Birmingham have unleashed. Instead he complained that the Tories’ education policies had “increased the risks of radicalisation in English schools”.

The investigations were sparked after Birmingham City Council received an anonymous letter in November 2013. It described a “Trojan Horse” plot to take over schools and run them on strict Islamic principles.

There is still no evidence for this. There is evidence that some people who knew each other became governors and tried to make changes. They happen to be Muslim.

That doesn’t mean that there are no problems in schools, in Birmingham or elsewhere. But the Trojan Horse furore is an Islamophobic witchhunt that treats all Muslims as a threat.


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