Brexiting Britain, spring 2019

Remainers and leavers, republicans and democrats, older and younger, cosmopolitan and patriot, Muslim and non-Muslim, comfortable and left-behind, them and us, ingroup and outgroup, self and other.

All these binaries, all this dualism, these polarisations.

So much either/or thinking, so little both/and.

So much zero-sum, so little win-win.

Trolling, snarling, impatience, mockery, curses, rudeness.

What are the causes and exacerbating factors? What are the opposites, the alternatives? What constructive ways ahead are worth considering?

Three papers posted on the Insted website contain readings, weblinks and video clips on these questions, most of them dating from 2018. Most are from the UK but quite a few are from the United States or elsewhere.

The first paper is entitled Brexiting Britain in Troubling Times: reflections and resources. Its authors and characters include a historian, a rabbi, several journalists, a political theorist, social psychologists, members of parliament, teachers, various researchers and observers, several activists and campaigners, a poet, an orchestra, and a choral society.

The links and thoughts are clustered under 12 headings:

1) What we human beings get up to
2) The two Englands
3) Hate in the media
4) The current demeaned other
5) The denial of death
6) Wot u lookin @?
7) New positive narratives
8) Faith in us
9) Democratic renewal
10) Repairing our humanity
11) More in common
12) Joy in the public square

The second paper is entitled Post-Brexit Counselling in Middle England: notes for a programme. It contains thoughts and concerns arising from an episode in Jonathan Coe’s wonderful new novel Middle England, published in autumn 2018.

The third is a bibliography about Brexit. It is entitled Brexit Tales and contains about 40 items. Some of these are books but most are weblinks to articles published in the last 12 months. Most of the books and articles are more, or much more, sympathetic to Remain than to Leave. But a high proportion are at the same time challenging and critical regarding the ways the Remain case has all too often been advanced.

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Islamophobia – looking back, looking round, looking ahead

LECTURES, ISSUES, RESOURCES, LINKS, BLOG

A new website about Islamophobia has been launched today. Its title is Islamophobia 2017, and its subtitle is Challenges for us all. There are two aims – a) to mark the twentieth anniversary of the Runnymede Trust report published in autumn 1997, and b) to recall major issues that still need to be dealt with. The site’s address is https://www.islamophobia2017.org.uk/.

The site has five sections:

Lectures – brief details about lectures in Leeds (9 November) and London (20 November), chaired respectively by Baroness Saeeda Warsi and Baroness Julia Neuberger.

Issues – links to 60 short articles about Islamophobia that have been published online in the last two years. They are mainly but not entirely from the UK, and are to do with a) concepts and definitions b) the Prevent programme c) media imagery and coverage d) hate crime and e) education and training.

Resources – brief summary of educational materials that have been published online in recent years, including readings, videos, syllabuses, lesson plans, exercises and activities.

Links – the websites of about 25 organisations from which further information, ideas and resources are available.

Blog – articles and posts published by ReOrient: The Journal of Critical Muslim Studies based at the University of Leeds.

The Runnymede Commission on Islamophobia and British Muslims was chaired in 1996-97 by Professor Gordon Conway, at that time vice-chancellor of the University of Sussex. It was not until after the text of their report had been finalised in June 1997 that members considered the report’s title. Discussion went backwards and forwards, and round and round. Eventually someone said in exasperation ‘Look, whatever we call the report we must signal that Islamophobia is a challenge for everyone, it’s a challenge for us all’.

‘Well,’ said someone else, ‘what’s wrong with that?’

Islamophobia: a challenge for us all was published a few weeks later. It was welcomed warmly by a wide range of Muslim organisations and groups in the UK, but was by and large ignored by official bodies. Also it was by and large ignored by antiracist organisations, and by churches and interfaith bodies.

But over the last 20 years Islamophobia has not gone away. On the contrary, it has become more serious both nationally and internationally, and much more complicated. More obviously than 20 years ago it’s seen now as a complex mix of challenges – a perfect storm of troubles, not a single phenomenon. It affects everyone. Everyone, accordingly, has a part to play against it.

Muslim foster row – fears, facts and fantasy

TEN USEFUL ARTICLES

Another awful week has just ended in the shocking history of British Islamophobia. The week began with lies on the front page of The Times. It continued with the same lies, plus a few others, being recycled in most other papers. The true facts were reported by the Guardian, Independent and BBC, but not in high-profile ways. The week ended with a senior journalist on The Times claiming the paper had acted responsibly when in fact it quite clearly had not.

If you want to know what really happened you need not only to attend to the Guardian and BBC but also to various well-informed pieces in the blogosphere. This article lists 10 articles which between them show the flagrant falsehoods and simplifications which most of the press circulated, and discuss the damage that has been done.

Briefly, the coverage was a mixture of factual inaccuracy on the one hand and Islamophobic hatred, fear and fantasy on the other. As is customary with racist reporting, it was combined for good measure with attacks on local government, on social workers and on political correctness. One of its many disgusting and sinister features was its explicit and unashamed use of a new ethno-religious category – ‘white Christian’ – to refer to people who are decent, principled, rational.

THEY (Muslims and social workers) are bad. WE (White Christians, readers of British newspapers) are good. This was the unspoken but underlying assumption, the grand narrative that the episode was deemed to illustrate.

The front-page headline in The Times on 28 August was ‘Christian child forced into Muslim foster care’. The opening standfirst summary was ‘A white Christian child was taken from her family and forced to live with a niqab-wearing foster carer’. The ten articles listed below provide the truth, and begin to discuss what should be done in consequence.

How the press lied about the little girl staying with Muslim foster parents: here are the facts
by Tom Pride, Pride’s Purge, 31 August 2017
https://tompride.wordpress.com/2017/08/31/how-the-press-lied-about-the-little-girl-staying-with-muslim-foster-parents-here-are-the-facts/

Muslim foster row – the facts

by Tim Fenton, Zelo Street, 31 August 2017
https://zelo-street.blogspot.co.uk/2017/08/muslim-foster-row-facts.html?m=1

The UK’s Islamophobic press grows more damaging by the day
by Shenaz Bunglawala, The New Arab, 1 September 2017
https://www.alaraby.co.uk/english/comment/2017/9/1/the-uks-islamophobic-press-grows-more-damaging-every-day

The fostering case shows British case has problems reporting fairly on Muslims
by Miqdaad Versi, New Statesman, 31 August
http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/media/2017/08/fostering-case-shows-british-press-has-problem-reporting-fairly-muslims

So, it was all a lie
by Matthew Smith, Indigo Jo Blogs, 31 August
http://www.blogistan.co.uk/blog/mt.php/2017/08/31/so-it-was-all-a-lie

Times excuses itself – DISHONESTLY
by Tim Fenton, Zelo Street, 2 September 2017
https://zelo-street.blogspot.co.uk/2017/09/times-excuses-itself-dishonestly.html?m=1

Religious and cultural identity in foster care
By Sarah P, Transparency Project, 28 August 2017
http://www.transparencyproject.org.uk/religious-and-cultural-identity-in-foster-care/

The Other Side: my Muslim chidren were fostered by a Christian family
by Louise Butt, Amaliah, 30 August 2017
https://www.amaliah.com/post/30454/christian-girl-placed-foster-care-family-muslim

That Muslim foster carers story
by ‘Suddenly Mummy’
http://suddenlymummy.blogspot.co.uk/2017/08/that-muslim-foster-carers-story.html

Why did Andrew Norfolk lie?

by Abdul-Azim Ahmed, Medium, 2 September 2017
View at Medium.com

Charlie Hebdo, free speech, us-and-them thinking

First reflections on what is happening

Headline writers and politicians throughout the western world have been in agreement – the attack on Charlie Hebdo on 7 January was part of a war on freedom, a war on the foundations of western democracy. Anyone who does not express total solidarity with the victims by, for example, holding up a Je suis Charlie slogan, and does not declare their unwavering commitment to freedom of speech, is on the side of the terrorists. This has been the dominant narrative in virtually all the coverage so far in the mainstream media, and in the vast majority of speeches and statements by political leaders.

Only a handful of voices have so far queried this dominant narrative – only a handful have stressed that you can NOT ONLY have profound sympathy for the victims and for their families, friends, colleagues and close followers; and can NOT ONLY deplore the cruelty and callousness of the murderers; and can NOT ONLY care about freedom of expression; but can ALSO deplore the simplistic, hypocritical, racist, Islamophobic and deeply damaging us-and-them thinking that has been at the heart of the mainstream media coverage, and of most political speeches.

Here are links to 28 fine articles that query and deplore the dominant narrative, and that indicate alternative approaches to understanding what is going on. They are listed in no particular order.

__________________________________

1. Je ne suis pas Charlie Hebdo
by Jon Wilson
http://labourlist.org/2015/01/je-ne-suis-pas-charlie-hebdo/

2. The moral hysteria of Je suis Charlie
by Brian Klug
http://mondoweiss.net/2015/01/moral-hysteria-charlie

3. Charlie Hebdo and the hypocrisy of pencils
by Corey Oakley
http://redflag.org.au/node/4373

4. I am Charlie, and I guard the Master’s house
by Nadine El-Enany and Sarah Keenan
http://criticallegalthinking.com/2015/01/13/charlie-guard-masters-house/

5. Where monoculturalism leads
by Liz Fekete
http://www.irr.org.uk/news/where-monoculturalism-leads/

6. Why I am not Charlie
by Scott Long
http://paper-bird.net/2015/01/09/why-i-am-not-charlie/

7. No, we’re not all Charlie Hebdo, nor should we be
by Ben Hayes
https://www.opendemocracy.net/ben-hayes/no-we’re-not-all-charlie-hebdo-nor-should-we-be

8. Equal in Paris
by Thomas Chatterton Williams
https://nplusonemag.com/online-only/online-only/equal-in-paris/

9. Mourning the Parisian journalists, yet noticing the hypocrisy
by Michael Lerner
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rabbi-michael-lerner/mourning-the-parisian-jou_b_6442550.html

10. The danger of polarised debate
by Gary Younge
http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jan/11/charie-hebdo-danger-polarised-debate-paris-attacks

11. Smiling Muslims: leave the gun, take the cannoli
by Hamid Dabashi
http://www.alaraby.co.uk/english/comment/c7c085dd-968d-4995-8f1f-314806a0d748

12. We must not forget the responsibility that goes with free speech
by Tariq Modood
http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2015/01/12/in-remembering-the-charlie-hebdo-attack-we-must-not-forget-the-responsibility-that-goes-with-free-speech/

13. When blasphemy is bigotry
by Chloe Patton
http://mondoweiss.net/2015/01/recognise-historical-discussing

14. From the radical left towards Islamophobia
by Alain Gresh
http://www.alaraby.co.uk/english/comment/18705071-5026-49d5-9bc7-e7c2ab282941

15. Free speech does not mean freedom from criticism
by Jacob Canfield
http://www.hoodedutilitarian.com/2015/01/in-the-wake-of-charlie-hebdo-free-speech-does-not-mean-freedom-from-criticism/

16. Fed up with the hypocrisy of the free speech fundamentalists
by Mehdi Hasan
http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/mehdi-hasan/charlie-hebdo-free-speech_b_6462584.html

17. Piety or rage?
by Seyla Benhabib
http://www.hannaharendtcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Piety-or-Rage.pdf

18. Moral clarity
by Adam Shatz
http://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2015/01/09/adam-shatz/moral-clarity/

19. The Charlie Hebdo tragedy
by Christopher Page
https://inaspaciousplace.wordpress.com/2015/01/10/charlie-hebdo-tragedy/

20. Heroic but also racist
by Jordan Weissmann
http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2015/01/charlie_hebdo_the_french_satirical_magazine_is_heroic_it_is_also_racist.html

21. West’s sickening moral hijack of Paris massacre
by Finean Cunningham
http://mycatbirdseat.com/2015/01/89159wests-sickening-moral-hijack-of-paris-massacre/

22. Is the Charlie Hebdo attack really a struggle over European values?
by Myriam Francois-Cerrah
http://www.newstatesman.com/myriam-francois-cerrah

23. Free speech is not an absolute value
by Simon Dawes
https://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/simon-dawes/charlie-hebdo-free-speech-but-not-as-absolute-value

24. Is solidarity without identity possible?
by Cinzia Arruzza
http://www.publicseminar.org/2015/01/is-solidarity-without-identity-possible/#.VLLvpJIgGK0

25. Unmournable bodies
by Teju Cole
http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/unmournable-bodies

26. Four reasons why I’m tired of Islamophobia
by Khalishah Stevens
http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/01/09/4-reasons-why-je-suis-fatigue-from-islamophobia/

27. Rival sanctities
by Glen Newey
http://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2015/01/09/glen-newey/rival-sanctities/

28. Us and them
by Matt Carr
http://infernalmachine.co.uk/us-and-them/

_________________________________________
This list was compiled in partnership with Bill Bolloten, 14 January 2015. It was later expanded to contain 80 items, and the longer version was published at http://www.insted.co.uk/beyond-us-them.pdf.

 

 

 

 

Peter delivers on a Trojan horse

On Tuesday 22 July the new secretary of state for education in England, Nicky Morgan, made a statement in the House of Commons about the Trojan Horse affair and about a report by Peter Clarke that had been laid before the House earlier on the same day. ‘Mr Speaker,’ she said, ‘we are all in the debt of Peter Clarke for the rigour that he brought to his investigation and for the forensic clarity of his findings. And we are in the debt of my predecessor [Michael Gove], now the chief whip on this side of the House, for his determination in the face of criticism to invite Peter to take on this task.’

The reference to ‘Peter’ implied a close – even cosy – personal friendship between the ministers and the person appointed to report to them, and inevitably raised doubts about Clarke’s professionalism, independence, seriousness and objectivity.

Morgan then immediately proceeded to emphasise the government’s view that ‘we need to deal with the dangers posed by extremism well before it becomes violent’, adding that Clarke’s report ‘offers us important recommendations to address this challenge in schools’. She did not acknowledge that the government’s operational definition of extremism is extraordinarily vague nor that Clarke’s evidence for the existence of such extremism in Birmingham schools is extraordinarily thin.

The cumulative effect of Clarke’s report is to present the neoconservative and profoundly offensive view that Islam is ‘a swamp’ in which noisome creatures such as crocodiles and mosquitos thrive and are given nourishment and support. ‘Peter’ has delivered what his political and media friends hoped and asked for. His report is a grave disservice, however, to very many millions of others.

There is further brief comment on Clarke’s report in this week’s newsletter from the Institute of Race Relations – http://www.irr.org.uk/news/hatred-hysteria-and-a-trojan-horse/

Smear, anecdote and hoax – the Trojan Horse reports

A letter in today’s Guardian runs as follows:

The new secretary of state for education, Nicky Morgan, makes various pledges following the “Trojan horse” reports on Birmingham schools. Several of her pledges are valuable. The basis for them, however, is unsound. Peter Clarke’s report is not “forensic”, as Nicky Morgan claims (Report, 22 July), but a biased mix of uncorroborated smear, anecdote, hoax and chatroom gossip.

It reflects neoconservative assumptions about the nature of extremism; ignores significant testimony and viewpoints; implies the essential problem in Birmingham is simply the influence of certain individuals; discusses governance but not curriculum; ignores the concerns and perceptions of parents and young people; and is unlikely to bear judicial scrutiny. The Trojan horse affair has done much damage in Birmingham, both to individuals and to community cohesion.

Political leaders have key roles in the urgent process of restoration and support for curriculum renewal. Alas, they will not be much helped by the official reports of Clarke, Ian Kershaw and Ofsted.

They will, though, be helped by the unique strength and goodwill of people in Birmingham itself.

The letter is at http://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/jul/28/rights-and-wrongs-trojan-horse-birmingham. It is signed by Tim Brighouse, Gus John, Arun Kundnani, Sameena Choudry, Akram Khan-Cheema, Arzu Merali, Robin Richardson, Maurice Irfan Coles, Gill Cressey, Steph Green, Ashfaque Chowdhury, Ibrahim Hewitt, Baljeet Singh Gill, Arshad Ali, S Sayyid, Massoud Shadjareh, Abdool Karim Vakil and Tom Wylie. There is information about Nicky Morgan’s pledges at http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/jul/22/schools-face-curbs-extremism-birmingham-trojan-horse-affair.

Questioning the Trojan Horse

This morning (Wednesday 9 July 2014) the Education Select Committee at the House of Commons is interviewing three senior members of Ofsted. Next week it is interviewing the secretary of state for education. The principal subject for both interviews is extremism in schools. The interviews will show, both explicitly and tacitly, how Ofsted and the Department foe Education understand the concept of extremism. Also they will show, and similarly both explicitly and tacitly, how the Select Committee understands the concept.

Two new papers on the Insted Consultancy website this morning provide reminders of key issues. The one paper consists of extracts from recent articles about the Trojan Horse affair in Birmingham – ‘Issues requiring attention’ by Tim Brighouse, ‘The heart of inner city schooling’ by Shamim Miah, ‘An invidious position’ by Jacqueline Baxter, ‘What it means to be civilised’ by Muhammad Khan, ‘A source of deep shame’ by Lee Donaghy and ‘A compelling guide to the debate’ by Peter Oborne. The other paper lists the articles from which these extracts are taken, and also about 40 other recent articles about the Trojan Horse which similarly present an understanding of extremism which is different from, and counter to, that of the dominant narrative in the mainstream media.

The two papers can be accessed from Insted’s home page at http://www.insted.co.uk.

Trojan Horse Counter Narrative

Much media coverage today, most of it uncritical, of the Trojan Horse narrative concocted by Michael Gove and Ofsted. To remind yourself of what the counter narrative looks like, please read or re-read some of the following articles. They are listed in reverse chronological order, with the most recent first.

Is the Trojan Horse row just a witch hunt triggered by a hoax?,by Richard Adams, The Guardian, 9 June 2014

http://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/jun/08/trojan-horse-extremism-political-storm-michael-gove-ofsted

If you want to stop extremism in UK schools, try a little understanding first, by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, The Independent, 9 June 2014

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/if-you-want-to-stop-extremism-in-uk-schools-try-a-little-understanding-first-9509345.html

Birmingham has most to lose from the Gove-May extremism row, by Chris Allen, The Conversation, 7 June

http://theconversation.com/birmingham-has-most-to-lose-from-gove-may-extremism-row-27650

 Naming the narratives: the Trojan Horse affair in Birmingham, by Robin Richardson, Institute for Race Relations Bulletin, 5 June 2014

http://www.irr.org.uk/news/naming-the-narratives-the-trojan-horse-affair-in-birmingham/

When did Michael Gove become the government’s expert on Muslims or extremism?, by Mehdi Hasan, Huffington Post, 4 June 2014

http://m.huffpost.com/uk/entry/5443576?utm_hp_ref=tw

Trojan horses and policing ‘extremism’ in schools, by Gus John, Gus John Consultancy, 3 June 2014

http://www.gusjohn.com/2014/06/trojan-horses-and-policing-extremism-in-schools/

 Where lies sound truthful and murder is respectable, by Ibrahim Hewitt, Middle East Monitor, 30 May 2014 https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/europe/11778-when-lies-sound-truthful-and-murder-is-respectable

 Trojan Horse:conjuring the slave, the witch and the grand inquisitor, by MG Khan, Open Democracy, 2 May 2014

http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/mg-khan/trojan-horse-%E2%80%93-conjuring-slave-witch-and-grand-inquisitor

Ofsted’s future at stake after Trojan Horse scandal, by JacquelineBaxter, The Conversation, 1 May

http://theconversation.com/ofsteds-future-at-stake-after-trojan-horse-scandal-25936

An ideological war against Muslims in UK schools, by Assed Baig, Anadolu Agency, 25 April 2014

http://www.aa.com.tr/en/s/318232–an-ideological-war-against-uk-muslims-in-school

This war on ‘Islamism’ only fuels hatred and violence, by Seumas Milne, The Guardian, 24 April 2014

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/apr/23/war-islamism-hatred-violence-blair-cameron-toxic

 A new wave of Islamophobia: where it comes from and how to stop it, by John Rees, Stop the War Coalition, 24 April 2014

http://stopwar.org.uk/videos/a-new-wave-of-islamophobia-where-it-rsquo-s-come-from-and-how-to-stop-it#.U2vjHSO3PFp

Teachers complain about behaviour of Ofsted inspectors investigating plot by Richard Adams, The Guardian, 20 April 2014

http://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/apr/20/teachers-ofsted-inspectors-investigating-plot-birmingham

No Trojan Horse: the bishop, the chief executive and the knowledgeable journalist agree, Political Concern, 16 April 2014

http://politicalcleanup.wordpress.com/2014/04/16/no-trojan-horse-the-bishop-the-chief-executive-and-the-knowledgeable-journalist-agree/ 

Crusade against British Muslims in education, by Ibrahim Hewitt, Al Jazeera, 12 April 2014

http://m.aljazeera.com/story/201451018411814899

The Muslim plot that wasn’t by Assed Baig, Huffington Post, 7 April 2014

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/assed-baig/muslim-plot_b_5103347.html

 The inconvenience of the truth: Birmingham schools don’t need a witch hunt, by Tom Bennett, Times Educational Supplement, 9 March 2014

http://community.tes.co.uk/tom_bennett/b/weblog/archive/2014/03/09/the-inconvenience-of-the-truth-birmingham-schools-don-39-t-need-a-witch-hunt.aspx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yet another Muslim plot, new research shows

Careful research by a newspaper reveals today that Edward the Sixth, the half-brother of Elizabeth the First, popularly known as Good Queen Bess, was secretly a Muslim. He did not live long but nevertheless laid the foundations for the gradual Muslimisation of British culture during the centuries which followed his reign.

In his own lifetime (1537—1553) Edward’s great achievement was to persuade his half-sister Elizabeth, who was played by Dame Judy Dench in a recent TV series, not to demonise Muslims. Instead of demonising Muslims, he maintained, the English should demonise Catholics and, though to a lesser extent, people in Scotland.

As a result of Edward’s efforts many British Muslims in the sixteenth century were spared the embarrassment of being burnt alive in public, and Islam as a religion was not seen as a major threat to world civilisation.

But Edward’s greatest achievement was to found prestigious schools which would carry his teachings into the national consciousness over the next five centuries. It was particularly in Birmingham, though also in other cities in northern England such as Bradford and Manchester, that his ideas took hold. In due course the schools which he founded in Birmingham and other northern cities became centres of excellence for Islamic Studies, and for the hallowing of Islamic architecture, astrology, medicine, mathematics, theology and ethics.

 As a result of the far-reaching influence of the schools which Edward VI founded, Birmingham became in the late twentieth century a magnet for Muslims from all over the world. They received there a warm welcome and they for their part made magnificent contributions to the city’s education system, and to its wealth and fame.

‘Where the iron heart of England throbs beneath its sombre robe,’ wrote Edward in a youthful poem, ‘stand schools whose sons will make them great and famous round the globe’. Yes indeed, and thanks to typically painstaking research by the Sunday Times the secret of Birmingham’s greatness is now known – the moral and intellectual values of Islam.

Michael Gove is said to be interested in the findings of the Sunday Times investigation.  An official from the Department for Education confirms today (1 April 2014): ‘We are monitoring the situation very closely.’

Background

Several articles about fantasies in Birmingham have been published by the Sunday Times in recent weeks, and have been duly reprinted in various other papers. For a perceptive, passionate and up-to-date review of the saga, and of the damage it is doing to children, staff and governors in Birmingham schools, see an article by M. G. Khan in the Times Educational Supplement, Friday 28 March 2014: http://news.tes.co.uk/b/opinion/2014/03/27/the-trojan-horse-is-being-used-to-destabilise-muslim-majority-schools-by-galvanising-ofsted-39.aspx

An Islamophobic lie goes half way round the world

Famously, a lie can be half way round the world before the truth has got its boots on.  A lie travels particularly fast, without let or hindrance, when it reinforces and chimes with prejudices which already exist. The fake document known as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, for example, was widely accepted at face value in its day because it accorded with antisemitic conspiracy theories which were already prevalent.  

And now in Britain in March 2014 credence is being given to an Islamophobic lie about Muslim plotting to ‘take over’ a number of local schools in a city in the West Midlands. The story is self-evidently a hoax but is nevertheless widely believed, since it conforms with and confirms pre-existing tropes about British culture being swamped and submerged by Islam. Soon there will be so much egg on so many faces that the truth, when it emerges in the full light of day, will be even more unbelievable than the lie.

Gullibility can be amusing, as when people are taken in by spoof stories each year on April Fools Day. It is not amusing, however, when it taps into and amplifies a racist prejudice such as Islamophobia, and when people are harmed by it. In the present instance the people being harmed include large numbers of children and young people in British schools. (Yes, British, not just English, and certainly not just in one city. One of the first websites to recycle the story when it first broke on 2 March was that of the BNP in Scotland. The story has been widely recycled in the national press, not just the West Midlands press.)

 According to the clumsily constructed spoof document quoted from in various newspapers, there are two or maybe slightly more than two Muslim people in Birmingham who have won the trust of senior officials and councillors by giving the impression they are respectable and who are plotting now with these officials and councillors to take over four local schools and run them on Islamic principles (or ‘principals’, as the alleged plotters themselves put it at one stage.) They call their scheme ‘Operation Trojan Horse’; confidently assert that the Muslim concept of jihad condones and commends unethical and underhand behaviour; and congratulate themselves on having caused a lot of disruption. And they say they say their leader is someone who is a very widely respected Muslim educationist, and chair of governors at one of their city’s, and indeed one of Britain’s, most impressive and outstanding schools.

The truth will eventually emerge. Amongst other things it will hopefully cast light on the motives of whoever constructed the fake document, and those who have given credence to it for their own ends. The latter may include left-wing critics of the academies programme and right-wing critics of Ofsted. Critics of academies or of Ofsted who have helped spread the story have tacitly supported Islamophobia, even if this was not their prime purpose.

In the meanwhile, the best single source for fuller information is an item on Inayat Bunglawala’s blog, Inayat’s Corner, posted earlier today (10 March). It provides links to all the main coverage so far, and to a robust rebuttal by the chair of governors alleged to be master-minding the so-called plot. It is also fair-minded, and open to the possibility that the document underlying the story is not, or not entirely, a fake. The address is

 http://inayatscorner.wordpress.com/2014/03/10/more-developments-in-the-muslim-plot-to-take-over-schools-story/.