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.

Religion and belief in public life

Here’s a handful of media headlines from the first few months of 2014: ‘Religious difference, not ideology, will fuel this century’s epic battles’ (January), ‘Culture, not faith, is the key to continuity’ (February) ‘Is British Christianity under threat from aggressive secularism?’ (April), ‘The British Muslim is truly one among us – and proud to be so’, (April), ‘UK among most sceptical in world about religion’ (April), ‘All schools must promote “British values”, says Michael Gove’ (June).

To consider the issues raised by headlines such as these, a national consultation was launched earlier this week at the House of Lords. It is an activity of the Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life,  chaired by the Rt Hon Baroness Butler-Sloss of Marsh Green GBE, formerly president of the Family Division of the High Court. It has 20 members drawn from a wide range of professional, ethnic and religious backgrounds. The topics for consideration include law, education, the media, social action and  dialogue.

Questions for consultation include the following. Do you feel at ease with the diversity of modern British society in terms of religion and belief? Are the current systems of civil and criminal law in the UK satisfactory in relation to issues of religion and belief, and to the overlap between these and issues of race and ethnicity?  Do the media accurately and helpfully portray issues of religion and belief, and communities and groups identified by religion or belief?

 Are issues of religion and belief well handled in the curricula of the UK’s systems of education at primary, secondary and tertiary levels, and in relevant systems of training and continuing development? Should faith-based organisations be involved in social and political action and, if so, in what ways and to what extent? How should disagreements be handled between and within different traditions and communities, and between these and other interests in public life and wider society?

 There is full information at http://www.corab.org.uk/national-consultation#top.

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

Birmingham’s Trojan Horse Hoax — brief update

Birmingham’s Trojan Horse Hoax – brief update

At some stage last year someone created a document that purported to be a letter written by someone in Birmingham to someone in Bradford. The supposed letter apparently showed that some Muslims in Birmingham were plotting, in close liaison and cooperation with the city’s director of education, and with her warm approval and encouragement, to ‘take over’ a number of local schools. They had a tried and tested strategy, the letter said, which they named as Operation Trojan Horse. This involved substantial use, the letter cheerfully acknowledged, of dirty tricks, deceit and deception.

The document was riddled with factual errors and howlers and for this reason alone was clearly not written by someone familiar with the matters being referred to. Also it contained a number of phrases which reflected Islamophobic fantasies and stereotypes, and for this reason too it was clearly a fake, for no Muslim could conceivably have written it, unless as an April Fools-type practical joke designed to expose the gullibility, ignorance and deep-seated prejudice of many non-Muslims.

But alas the document was taken at face value when it somehow fell recently into the hands of two reporters on the Sunday Times. Their specialism was security, not education or religion, and it apparently did not occur to them to make elementary checks about the document’s authenticity. Nor were elementary checks made by editorial staff at the Sunday Times before the article was approved for publication. The story appeared on Sunday 2 March and in the course of the following few days was widely recycled by other national papers, and by many regional ones, and by the BBC. No one in these papers or at the BBC apparently bothered to check whether the document was genuine. Some papers, on the contrary, invented further details, for example that the supposed authors of the document were Salafis, and all made extensive use of stereotypes and tropes about fundamentalists, Islamists, extremists and jihadists.

Investigations will hopefully establish who concocted the hoax document, and for what specific purposes. Also there will hopefully be clarity in due course about why Birmingham City Council did not kill the story dead when it first surfaced. But people who were fooled by the hoax are already beginning to change their ground. The spoof document, they are ready to concede, is indeed a hoax. But nevertheless it could have been true, they tell you, for it accords with experiences they themselves have had, or that friends or acquaintances of theirs have had, or friends of friends and acquaintances of acquaintances, over the years.  

In consequence there is a danger that entirely legitimate concerns and grievances about the academic achievement of Pakistani heritage pupils in Birmingham schools will be sidelined, and that valuable and much needed measures to increase the involvement of Pakistani heritage teachers in school management and leadership, and of Pakistani people in school governance generally, will be slowed down.

These dangers are compounded by the declining influence and capacity, since 2010, of local education authorities, and by their loss of expertise, professionalism and wisdom. Also they are compounded by consequent increases in uncertainty and anxiety. It is when human beings are anxious, and are uncertain about the role, nature and capacity of legitimate authority, that they are prone to give credence to stories which, in happier and more secure times, they would laugh out of court.

 For fuller information

The best single source for fuller information is an item on Inayat Bunglawala’s blog, Inayat’s Corner. It provides links to much of the main media coverage so far, and to a robust rebuttal by the chair of governors alleged to be master-minding the so-called plot. The address is http://inayatscorner.wordpress.com/2014/03/10/more-developments-in-the-muslim-plot-to-take-over-schools-story/.

Factual errors and howlers in the spoof document were described by the sister paper of the Sunday Times in an article on Tuesday 11 March. This can be read in full at http://www.islamophobiawatch.co.uk/times-discovers-that-trojan-horse-letter-is-a-crude-forgery/

Factual errors are also itemised in an article in today’s Guardian, though under a misleading headline, since it refers to a ’possible’ hoax rather than to a blatant and self-evident one: http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/mar/13/alleged-islamic-plot-birmingham-schools-possible-hoax?CMP=twt_fd

Relevant blog posts by Karamat Iqbal about the situation of Pakistani pupils in Birmingham schools include the following:

http://forwardpartnership.org.uk/2014/02/11/character-and-resilience-are-essential-to-becoming-educated-but-so-is-their-religious-education-for-pakistani-children/

http://forwardpartnership.org.uk/2013/10/14/pakistani-boys-education-school-important-but-so-is-their-religion-for-muslim-pupils/

 

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/.

 

 

Islamophobia 10 – Theme Parks 0

A day out at a theme park or amusement park, usually with your family but sometimes with your school or a youth organisation, is a happy experience for millions of children throughout the world. Developed from the travelling and seasonal fairs of a previous age, theme parks dramatise the features of a relaxed society – people of all ages are there together, and so are people from all walks of life and all ethnicities, and there’s a vast choice of enjoyable and educational activities in which to share. You enjoy your own life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, and you’re relaxed and pleased that lots of other people are enjoying their lives and freedoms too. Everyone’s ’Us’, no one’s ‘Them’.

Recently the Muslim Research and Development Foundation (MRDF), based in East London, announced plans for a families day out at Legoland, the famous theme park near Windsor. What? A Muslim organisation wanting its children to enter and enjoy public space? In the eyes of the Daily Mail, that would never do. The Mail requested its columnist Richard Littlejohn to rubbish the whole idea. Littlejohn’s article was entitled ‘Jolly Jihadi Boy’s Outing to Legoland’ and appeared on 18 February. It was illustrated with large pictures of Abu Hamza and Omar Bakti Mohammed, allegedly respected and extolled by the MRDF, and it consisted of a spoof timetable for the day as a whole.

The timetable contained one vile Islamophobic trope or stereotype after another. In a nutshell, the day would consist essentially of instruction in the ways and methods of terrorism and would, for example, teach children how to disguise Semtex as Lego bricks and to chant in unison ‘Death to America, Death to Jews’. It would culminate in a fireworks display featuring remote-controlled planes made of Lego being flown into a scale model of the TwinTowers, similarly made of Lego. Interweaving with such glorifications of terrorism there would be times of prayer, to remind the children that terrorism has God’s blessing.

There are reports in the media today (27 February) that MRDF’s day at Legoland has been cancelled. A statement from Legoland explains that this follows from advice given by Thames Valley Police in the light of threatening phone calls, emails and social media posts. ‘These alone have led us to conclude that we can no longer guarantee the happy fun family event which was envisaged, or the safety of our guests and employees on that day,’ says the statement, ‘which is always our number one priority.’

There have been protests against the Mail’s outrageous behaviour, but so far these have been almost entirely from Muslims. Barely a whisper has yet been heard from opinion leaders in other faith communities, or from society more generally. But hopefully the voices of non-Muslims will be raised, and hopefully Legoland and Thames Valley Police will change their minds about caving in to the criminal phone-calls which have been made. But will the Mail apologise for the damage it has done and will it pledge not to do anything similar again? Judging by its coverage of the cancellation, no. It writes about the cancellation as if it has nothing at all to do with its own obnoxious and unethical behaviour.

 For more information

Littlejohn’s vile article is at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2561686/LITTLEJOHN-Jolly-Jihadi-Boys-Outing-Legoland.html

Muslim responses to the article are outlined at http://tellmamauk.org/tag/richard-littlejohn/.

There’s an article by Roy Greenslade about the episode at http://www.theguardian.com/media/greenslade/2014/feb/21/islam-dailymail.

There’s coverage of Thames Valley Police’s claim it cannot guarantee people’s safety from Islamophobic extremists at, for example, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-berkshire-26351500.

The Mail’s own coverage of the cancellation, making no reference to its own part in inciting criminal phone calls, is at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-berkshire-26351500.

There are general discussions of Islamophobia in the media at http://www.insted.co.uk/islam.html.

Teachers, your countries need you

History, nation and world war, 2014-18

In the last four years of his life the Swiss artist Eugène Burnand (1850–1921) created 104 portraits of people who had taken part, or were still taking part, in the first world war. The portraits depicted an immense diversity in terms of ethnicity, race, geographical origin, age, physical appearance, military rank and religious tradition. They vividly recorded that the war was indeed a world war, not just confined to Europe.

When published in a book in 1922 each portrait was accompanied by a short meditation by Burnand’s nephew, a military historian. The portraits and meditations are all now available at http://www.eugene-burnand.com/ and there are English translations of the original French. Amongst other things, they are an unusual and fascinating resource for teachers of history and citizenship in schools.

The portraits are introduced in an article at http://www.insted.co.uk/teachers-needed.pdf. Entitled ‘Teachers, your countries need you’, and sub-titled ‘History, Nation and World War, 2014-18’, the article begins by recalling key points about the first world war made by Professor Lord Bhikhu Parekh in a House of Lords debate in December 2013. It continues with notes on some of the controversies about history teaching which have arisen in relation to a provocative article in the Daily Mail in January 2014 by Michael Gove. It concludes by introducing two new educational resources – a project based at the Institute of Education, London, and the website featuring the work of Eugène Burnand.

‘The Truth about Immigration’

 

‘The Truth about Immigration’ was a documentary broadcast by the BBC on Tuesday 7 January. It was presented by the BBC’s political editor and had been trailed in advance both widely and deeply. Viewers were promised it would be full of new clarity and insight, based on new and powerful facts and figures. Further, it would be imbued with unusual honesty from politicians and senior civil servants, and – even – from the BBC itself.

In the event the programme was a shoddy and shameful shambles. Visually, technically, conceptually, ethically, politically and emotionally, it was the very worst kind of tabloid TV, an hour of bias against understanding, totally unworthy to be described as public service broadcasting.

There is a critical review of the programme at http://leftcentral.org.uk/2014/01/15/truth-immigration-and-the-bbc/#more-3896. The review lists the programme’s flaws and faults, and closes by suggesting some broad principles for responsible journalism about immigration and related topics. The principles are relevant for all media, but particularly for public service broadcasting. They include a reference to a fine and sensitive documentary that the BBC broadcast on the day following ‘The Truth about Immigration’. Entitled ‘The Hidden World of Britain’s Immigrants’, and presented by Fergal Keane, it reflected compassion, humanity and respect, but was not merely soft-hearted.