The aftershocks of the Trojan Horse affair nearly a decade ago still resonate today. It boosted Islamophobia. It helped shape new attacks on Muslims and entrenched the idea of a suspect section of the population.
It began in late 2013 with a photocopy of a letter sent to Birmingham council. The letter looked to be a secret correspondence between Muslims who had been infiltrating the city’s schools in a plot called Operation Trojan Horse.
But it was a fake—as a podcast series launched by the New York Times and Serial Production last week confirms in great detail. What’s more, it shows the Tories and education authorities knew this.
It’s not news that the letter was a lie. Socialist Worker, which opposed the witch hunt from the start, reported on a parents’ mass meeting in 2014.
There, councillor Barry Henley who described himself as a “middle aged, middle class, boring, white man”, said that as soon as he read the letter he knew it was a fake.
But what’s new is the evidence of the deliberate way the Tories and education authorities used the letter, even though they knew it was bogus. After details of the letter were leaked to the media, it led to headlines about a “school jihad plot”.
Birmingham City Council and the Department for Education launched investigations. But officials and police had by then determined that the letter was a hoax. The podcast cites notes taken by a Birmingham council official at a meeting with the then education secretary Michael Gove in February 2014.
“The police recommendation is that the letter was bogus,” the notes said. “There is a serious credibility gap. The document contains serious factual inaccuracies and, in a number of areas, contradictions.”
That didn’t stop Gove from pressing ahead with an inquiry headed by Peter Clarke, former head of the Metropolitan Police counter‑terrorism unit. The implication of Clarke’s appointment was obvious—Muslims were taking over the schools as part of a wider conspiracy to subvert democracy.
They had opposed British imperialism during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and they were undermining the state again. Park View Academy was allegedly at the centre of the scandal. Children entered Park View with attainments “well below the national average”.
Yet by 2012 it was one of the top 14 percent of schools in the country in terms of academic achievement. The Department for Education encouraged Park View to become an academy and sponsor two other schools.
This is the “takeover” much maligned in the press. Clarke’s report into the allegations thundered, “Park View sought to export its Islamising blueprint.” It was all based on lies. But that didn’t halt the Islamophobic tirade.
The Tories cited Trojan Horse as they told schools “to promote fundamental British values”. A year later it was used as an example of “extremist entryism” that would be guarded against by a new “counter-extremism strategy”.
Many of the schools caught up in the affair were placed under new management, with governors and teachers dismissed or forced to step down.
But professional misconduct cases brought against a number of teachers had to be dropped because government lawyers withheld hundreds of pages of documents.
Nobody at the top cared that the affair had helped to ratchet up racist attacks and spread the idea of Muslims as the enemy within. That’s because they wanted that to happen to divert attention from austerity and divide people who should have united against the Tories and imperialism.
John Holmwood, co-author of a book examining the hoax, has now called for a fresh inquiry into how officials handled the case.
“In the interest of teachers falsely accused of misconduct and of a community falsely accused of ‘un-British’ values, there must be an urgent inquiry into the handling of the matter by the Department for Education and Birmingham City Council,” Holmwood told the Middle East Eye website.
Remember Trojan Horse the next time the government whips up some racist furore.
Listen to the podcast at nyti.ms/3rusaHj
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