Why we Need a Public Inquiry into the ‘Trojan Horse Affair’

Published in the Liverpool Hope University’s website on 9 March 2022. url: https://www.hope.ac.uk/news/allnews/why-we-need-a-public-inquiry-into-the-trojan-horse-affair.html?fbclid=IwAR0P7NilReAGsyfLXcHuoj4NL5rHyJnxX-kyEKmd5MLchx-yByiPA3kiwkE

For the last few days I have been immersed into the recently released ‘Trojan Horse Affair’ podcast produced by Serial Productions and The New York Times.

This eight-part series is presented by an American journalist Brian Reed and a British medical doctor turned journalist Hamza Syed to unravel the mystery of a fake letter that triggered huge hysteria among politicians and the media in 2014 about an alleged ‘Islamist’ plot in Birmingham to take over state schools in Britain.

All investigations proved that the letter was a hoax, yet the government completely transformed their approach to schools based on that letter and brought in new policies that would lead to catastrophic consequences for British Muslims.

Many would say that Islamophobia in the British government and the media became somewhat institutionalised through their handling of this case.

In 2014, the government initiated an investigation into this matter initially on 21  schools in Birmingham on the allegation that these schools were trying to “Islamicise” children, which later confined to only four schools associated with one education trust in a predominantly Muslim area in Birmingham.

This investigation, conducted by a former counter-terrorism chief, brought charges of extremism leading to a new Government Counter Extremism Strategy.

However, in actuality, only professional misconduct cases were brought against just 12 teachers in these four schools and the charges were not ‘extremism’, but ‘undue religious influence’. Interestingly, the case later collapsed due to ‘serious improprieties’ by lawyers representing the Department for Education.

I was in the middle of collecting data for my book Religion in the Media: A Linguistic Analysis in 2014 and as part of my focus group, I met a group of Muslims in Birmingham near the school at the centre of the Trojan Horse controversy a few weeks after the news broke out.

By that time, the Muslims in Birmingham were in the spotlight in such a way that they refused to say anything about this scandal despite my requests. On the other hand, a significant portion of time in my focus group with Christian participants in Birmingham was spent on the Trojan Horse affair with majority participants demonstrably accepting the overwhelming negative news about Muslims in Birmingham to be true.

I could clearly feel the effect of this incident on community cohesion during that time. There were very few counterarguments against the massive propaganda machinery that was operative against a poor deprived minority community in the centre of a massive scandal at that time.

As I was too busy working on my own book project, I had little time to research on this matter, though I took this coverage with scepticism right from the start as I knew very well how these things work – the powerful creating a narrative against the powerless who are too weak to defend themselves.

Apart from knowing that the letter on the basis of which the government witch-hunt was being carried out was a fake, I didn’t know much about the levels of injustice and the blatant Islamophobia that underpinned the whole story.

After the release of the podcast series, I dedicated some time listening to all its episodes and subsequently going through many more videos, podcasts, articles, and academic works on the Tojan Horse Affair. All this helped me develop some insights into this controversial matter.

The podcast is a brilliant piece of investigative journalism that has all the ingredients of a spy-thriller. The two journalists, feeling bewildered how the fake ‘Trojan Horse’ letter could have been taken so seriously, left no stone unturned to find out who actually wrote it embarking on a two-year mission to unravel this mystery, but eventually failed to prove a plausible theory they had developed.

They encountered many hurdles including non- cooperation, cover-ups, and even threats from different people involved in this scandal.

However, many astonishing facts came to light that provided ample evidences to suggest that the whole affair was nothing but an ideological agenda of Islamophobia and othering. They may have failed to get the ultimate answer they were looking for, but what they found provides sufficient evidence to suggest that democracy, rule of law, respect & tolerance and individual liberty – the four pillars of the government’s ‘Britishness’ mantra are being
applied selectively in this country with minorities, particularly Muslims becoming increasingly securitised, ostracised, and othered.

Professor John Holmwood of the University of Nottingham, who co-authored a book on this scandal says: “The affair represents a serious injustice upon teachers and governors, as well as parents and pupils linked with the schools. It has also had a profound effect on public policies that have created anxieties about the integration of British Muslims”

The Trojan Horse Affair’ podcast had the highest podcast audience in the UK and the USA, yet apart from some critical reviews trying to undermine its credibility in some newspapers that actually had played central roles in the media hysteria it created, very few politicians and media institutions took this up and showed any concerns at the injustices that were carried out due to the events of 2014.

Anyone with a minimum sense of fairness and justice would want to know the real truth. This podcast has shown that investigative journalism can unravel many things, but they can’t always bring out the facts as no one is bound to tell the truth to journalists.

Therefore, only a public inquiry into the Trojan Horse scandal can solve this mystery and inform what actually happened. It took 27 years for the victims and families of Hillsborough to get justice. Eight years on from the Trojan Horse affair, I hope that it doesn’t take that many years to right the wrongs that was done to individuals and communities in Birmingham in 2014 and the serious consequences it had on British Muslims in general.

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