The Muslim Council of Britain, an umbrella body of UK Muslim organisations, recently demanded an independent probe into the ‘Trojan Horse’ affairs after around nine years. This is an explainer on what is the Trojan Horse Scandal and Why is it being called a hoax now?
The Trojan Horse scandal had a long-lasting impact in the UK. It has played a crucial role in shaping the counter-terror policy of the government which resulted in many people losing their careers, a particular community being targeted, and their children who were allegedly stigmatised.
The ‘Trojan Horse’ scandal
In November 2013, an anonymous letter describing a Muslim plot to Islamise schools in Birmingham appeared on the desk of the head of the Birmingham City Council. The four-page letter dubbed ‘Operation Trojan Horse’ was supposedly sent by a Muslim co-conspirator explaining step by step methods to takeover and running schools in the Muslim majority areas in the UK according to Salafi, an ultra-conservative idea of Islam. The Salafists claim that they practice pure form of Islam.
The letter described steps of how to take over the schools. The first step was to infiltrate the governing bodies of schools and stir up the Salafi parents and staff to lodge complaints against headteachers, to force them out and replace with the Muslim teachers to run the schools according to the Salafi ethos. The letter also named some schools where this strategy has been successfully experimented.
Since the letter was leaked in 2014, all hell broke loose in the UK. The British media held discussions on the contents for months. Divisive commentators and anchors spearheaded a campaign demonising Muslims following the explosive revelations.
Many Teaching Assistants, who either came under scrutiny or the letter indirectly pointed the finger at, lost their jobs. Following the controversy, the government came up with new counter terrorism policy that introduced ‘Prevent Duty.’ This put onus of preventing people from extremism on the teachers and other public sector workers, which has been widely criticised as discriminatory against Muslims.
A bunch of investigations were initiated including the government commissioned probe by former counter terrorism chief Peter Clarke. The Birmingham City Council conducted an independent probe along with the Education Select Committee’s investigation. Around 20 schools came under scrutiny, but it was later reduced to five schools in Birmingham.
While none of them could establish the alleged plot, nor the authenticity of the letter, the primary questions remained unresolved. Who had written the letter? How did it appear in the office of the head of the Birmingham City Council? The investigations ignored these questions.
These are not the only reasons Muslims are now demanding an independent probe into the Trojan Horse affair and calling it a hoax. The recent New York Times podcast which was aired on 3 Feb 2022, has also reignited the debate.
The NYT podcasts revelations
The revelations in the New York Times’ podcast on ‘Trojan Horse Affair’ indicate that the letter could be a hoax. Hamza Syed, and Brian Reed working on the podcast revealed a handful of compelling evidence pointing to that direction, although they could not establish the falsity of the letter conclusively.
The podcast has eight parts spanning more than seven and half hours. The investigation centered primarily on the question ‘who had written the letter?’ In other words, ‘was this letter a bogus?’ Although they could not establish it, they came up with new revelations throughout the investigation.
The story made an important revelation, that the letter may have been forged as the result of clandestine competition between some educationists. One of the main suspects in the Trojan Horse controversy was Tahir Alam, an educational activist. He was the former chairman of Park View Educational Trust, the body that runs one of the schools probed in relation to the Trojan Horse letter.
Although Alam has a great track-record as an educationist, he became a villain as the scandal broke out. According to a story The Guardian published in 2017, Alam was a towering figure in the world of education in Birmingham. Within a decade of taking charge as the governor of his alma mater, Park View school, he drastically changed the standard of the school. He changed the approach of the school by grabbing the attention of the students by imparting moral lessons based on Islamic teachings. It worked well as most of the pupils belonged to the Muslim community. He had been working to ensure diversity in the school with cooperation from the council. The Muslim teachers were given priority to ensure diversity.
In 2007, Alam was invited to 10 Downing Street to meet Tony Blair, the then UK Prime Minister, in recognition of his contribution to ensure diversity and bringing up the standard of the schools in Birmingham. It did not last for long. Since the letter was leaked, he was vilified as someone who infiltrated the governing body of the school, as the letter points out to.
The NYT podcast shed light on the clash that was happening in these schools. In a comment given to the investigative journalists, Alam said “read the letter keeping in mind the question who the letter is defending? You will arrive at the conclusion who wrote the letter?”
It pointed out to two teachers, one of them a headteacher, in one of the five schools in Birmingham that came under scrutiny. They were earlier accused of forging resignation letters of four Teachers Assistants in their school.
Another important revelation of the NYT podcast was the cynical interest of Michael Gove, the then Secretary of Education. He ordered an inquiry into the Trojan Horse Operation even after he was briefed by the Birmingham City Council and counter terrorism unit of West Midlands Police that the letter was a hoax. Gove was earlier accused of Islamophobia by his cabinet counterparts.