Roshan Muhammed Salih is 5Pillars editor. You can follow him on Twitter here.
Roshan Muhammed Salih reviews the surprisingly balanced BBC documentary “The Hunt for Classroom Extremists” which focuses on the Trojan Horse Affair in Birmingham.
The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is an anonymous text first published in 1903 in Russia which describes a Jewish plan for global domination. The Protocols claim to be the minutes of a meeting where Jewish leaders discussed their goal of global hegemony by subverting the morals of non-Jews and by controlling the world’s media and economies.
Today the Protocols are widely considered to be an anti-Semitic forgery and no respectable bookshop would stock it, although proponents of them insist that despite the uncertainty over their origins the fact is that everything written in them is true.
Fast forward more than a century and the parallels with the Trojan Horse Affair, in which a sinister group of “Islamists” allegedly plotted take over Birmingham schools to advance their nefarious agenda, are self-evident.
Like the Protocols, the Trojan Horse Affair was based on an anonymous letter which is now widely considered to be a hoax. And that letter was used to smear a whole community while its proponents continue to insist that everything in it is true.
But the big difference between the Protocols and the Trojan Horse letter is that while respectable society now denounces the former they still maintain that the latter has merit.
“The Hunt for Classroom Extremists”
I mention all this because I watched a decent BBC documentary this week called “The Hunt for Classroom Extremists” which told the story of the Trojan Horse Affair and its aftermath.
To be honest I feared the worst before the documentary was broadcast and expected another BBC hit-job on Muslims; yet another film which focused on Muslims though the lens of counter-terrorism. But I was pleasantly surprised at the genuine attempt at balance that the programme made.
Many of the proponents of the Trojan Horse letter who were instrumental in removing Muslim educationalists from their posts in Birmingham schools featured in the documentary. Men like Sir Michael Wilshaw of education watchdog Ofsted and the former counter-terrorism officer Peter Clark who headed the inquiry into the affair.
They repeated their accusations that there was indeed a plot to “Islamise” state schools in Birmingham and to inculcate extremist ideas into pupils. And their most compelling evidence of this seemed to be messages circulated on a WhatsApp group which allegedly featured homophobia, intolerance, misogyny and conspiracy theory.
But, refreshingly, the documentary also prominently featured men like Tahir Alam, the former chairman of the Board of Governors at Park View Academy, and others who gave the other side of the story; a tale of an anti-Muslim witch-hunt and neo-con political crusade.
They repeatedly emphasised that they had successfully led inner city schools in Birmingham to outstanding academic achievements. All they had tried to do apart from give kids a good education, they said, was to make sure the schools catered for the religious and cultural ethos of Asian Muslim pupils who comprised 99% of the intake.
And they insisted that any isolated extreme sentiments expressed by individuals certainly weren’t part of any school policy.
The true victims
The consequences of the Trojan Horse Affair were profound: Ofsted placed outstanding schools in Special Measures after finding that there was evidence that some governors attempted to “impose and promote a narrow faith-based ideology” in secular schools; teachers were forced out of schools; and the Board of Trustees at Park View Education Trust resigned.
More profoundly, the whole affair has left a very sour taste in the mouth in the local area.
In the words of Sir Tim Brighouse, the former Chief Education Officer of Birmingham, right at the end of the documentary: “If you ask me in summary what happened – some governors behaved badly and inappropriately; some teachers behaved badly and inappropriately; Central Government behaved unwisely; and I believe that the victims are not those people, the victims are the children and the community of East Birmingham.”
As for the BBC, I just wish they had reported the Trojan Horse story as fairly when it was actually happening as they have two years after it concluded. And perhaps if they had, outstanding schools wouldn’t have been put in Special Measures and the stench of Islamophobia wouldn’t reek so much.