Trojan Horse: schools erect a straw man

One of the oldest tactics by wrongdoers and their allies is to ignore the actual allegations made against them and instead misrepresent the charges as ones they can truthfully deny. With grinding obviousness, that’s precisely what the “Trojan Horse” schools in Birmingham are doing now.

In a letter published in (where else) the Guardian, a group of the schools’ supporters announce the launch of the “Putting Birmingham Schoolkids First” campaign to “challenge the false and divisive allegation that [Trojan Horse] is a problem of systematic radicalisation, extremism or terrorism.”

The latter is a particularly brazen straw man. I think we can all agree that none of the schools ever taught their pupils how to make bombs and that no one in Birmingham became a terrorist as a result of a segregated biology lesson. But these were, of course, things which no one ever alleged for a second. Nor, in fact, did the Government reports which will result next month in the removal of the schools’ leadership accuse them of systematically promoting radicalisation or extremism.

The letter continues: “The central allegation, that there was an organised plot to radicalise schoolchildren in a handful of Birmingham schools, remains unproven.” Hold on – you said it was “false” only the previous sentence! And it wasn’t the “central allegation” either.

As we have documented, there is clear evidence of extremism at some of the Trojan Horse schools. According to on-the-record testimony, the man who is now (until next month, anyway) head of Park View, Mozz Hussain, described the US in assemblies as the “evil in the world” and the “cause of all famine.” The Arabic teacher at Oldknow, Asif Khan, led children in anti-Christian chanting. An al-Qaeda-sympathising preacher, Shady al-Suleiman, was invited to Park View on November 28 2013. (The school’s assistant head, Lee Donaghy, told MPs that they did not know of his extremist views, something which takes about thirty seconds to find on Google.)

But extremism is not the same as terrorism; and as we’ve also said, extremism was only one strand of what went on at Park View, Oldknow and the rest. The real central finding, in the words of Sir Michael Wilshaw, chief inspector of schools, was of an “organised campaign” targeting schools in Birmingham to impose a “narrow, faith-based ideology”, with the same people “highly influential across several of the schools”.

A “culture of fear and intimidation” had developed in several of the schools, with “headteachers, including those with a proud record of raising standards… marginalised or forced out of their jobs”. There had been a “breakdown in trust” between staff and governors, who had “sought to make changes to the curriculum on the basis of their own personal beliefs”, with girls and boys “not treated equally”, music in one school removed from the curriculum against pupils’ wishes, and the children’s experiences “restricted”, making them “vulnerable to segregation and emotional dislocation from wider society”.

No reference whatever is made to these charges in the “putting Birmingham schoolkids first” letter, presumably because they are rather harder to refute.

The campaign held a public meeting last week at which, by all accounts, a number of even sillier straw men were erected. Sir Tim Brighouse, the former Birmingham education chief on whose watch the problems started, sent a video message saying that “we are in the middle of a fever that equates being a Muslim with extremism.” Who outside the ranks of the far right has said this?

There were also the routine charges of “Islamophobia,” an “anti-Muslim agenda” and the “victimisation of the Muslim community.” This last was made by a councillor called Jess Phillips who fights for the rights of women – except, it seems, the right of women not to be made to “sit at the back of the class or round the sides” at these schools.

A number of other Birmingham councillors were at the meeting and the straw man tactic has also been much favoured by Birmingham council. Its initial response to the Trojan Horse letter was to refer it to the police anti-terrorist squad, even though it contained no allegation of terrorism – again presumably so it could be dismissed. Watch out for a similar tactic in the report of the council’s Kershaw inquiry into the affair.

“Communities across Birmingham now believe that their children’s educational potential and wellbeing is being threatened by politicians, who wish to be seen as ‘tough’ on Muslims,” says Hands off Birmingham Schools. How, I wonder, do the signatories know what “communities across Birmingham” now believe? Have they asked them – or has the assumption been made, as it was by the schools, that Muslim parents, unlike any other sorts of parents, “must” want a narrowly conservative, religious education for their children?

The more anyone has to play these kinds of games, the clearer it becomes that their cause is in deep trouble.

PS: Perhaps the most nauseating part of the meeting last week was when even a five-year-old boy called Ben was lifted up to the rostrum to read out yet another straw-man argument (see video above). “Some people come from different countries to this country, and that’s OK,” he said. “And whatever they want to eat, and whatever they want to wear, and whether they want to play or not, that’s OK as well. But it’s not OK for mean governments to stop them from doing all that stuff.” It went down a storm with the crowd – but nobody’s ever suggested stopping people from wearing or eating anything, or forcing them to play. More importantly, it risked looking like a textbook example of the kind of child manipulation that this whole saga has been about. How many 5-year-olds do you know that spontaneously talk about “mean governments?”

Get the latest comment and analysis from the Telegraph

Read more from our news and politics bloggers

//

Advertisements

Islamism in Birmingham schools: how the BBC is selectively reporting the 'Trojan horse' plot

The BBC are uncomfortable with this story

The Trojan Horse plotters and their allies on Twitter have been getting touchingly excited about a BBC report into a secret meeting on Wednesday between officials of Birmingham City Council and the heads of the 21 schools involved. Alas, their claims that it “proved” the plot was a “hoax” don’t stand up to scrutiny.

It’s true that one of the council officials at the meeting claimed they’d seen “no evidence” of extremism in the schools, a line seized on by the Beeb. That claim, however, is clearly false, the latest of many attempts by Birmingham City Council to ignore or downplay the problems and its own role in creating them. There is, in fact, clear evidence of extremism, both religious and political, in some of these schools.

One for instance, Park View, openly advertised a talk by an al-Qaeda sympathising preacher in its own newsletter (p17). The man who is now Park View’s headteacher, Mozz Hussain, preached “mind-blowing anti-American propaganda” to pupils at assemblies, according to Nigel Sloan, a former teacher who witnessed it. A senior teacher at Park View also praised the al-Qaeda ideologue Anwar al-Awlaki at assemblies, according to current and former staff who have spoken to both me and another part of the BBC.

At another school, Oldknow, the Arabic teacher, Asif Khan, led children in anti-Christian chanting in assembly, according to other staff members present and Mohammed Zabar, a parent, who witnessed him admitting it last month.

More broadly, I too was leaked the recording of Wednesday’s meeting between the heads and the council and I can only say that the BBC’s account of it, at least in the online piece I’ve linked to, was selective. As you can see from my own report, the council did concede at the meeting that there were “very significant” issues in the schools and that it expected the official reports to have “serious implications for us all, the council as well as schools.” The chief executive, Mark Rogers, predicted a “bloody firestorm” when the reports were published; his director for children’s services, Peter Hay, feared a “knockout blow.”

Mr Rogers also made the distinction, not captured by the Beeb, between problems of “radicalisation and extremism,” which he disputes, and what he described as “where Trojan Horse starts, which is whether there’s undue influence in the ethos, curriculum and practices of schools in relation to Islam.”

And for sure, as well as the evidence of extremism, there’s even more copious evidence of the latter at these schools. An official report leaked to the Telegraph (extracts here) described how girls were made to sit at the back of the class at Park View; at Golden Hillock, another school, non-Muslim pupils “had to teach themselves” in one subject; at Nansen, there is compulsory Arabic (in a primary school!) and no teaching of the arts for one entire year group.

Nansen’s deputy head, Razwan Faraz, is administrator of a group called “Educational Activists” which pursues, in Mr Faraz’s words, an “Islamising agenda” in Birmingham’s schools. Park View’s chair of governors, Tahir Alam, is co-author of a document which calls for the teaching of art, drama and dance to Muslims to be restricted and Muslim girls to be veiled in school.

Non-Muslim heads at five schools in a tiny area of Birmingham have left their jobs in the last six months. The general secretary of the headteachers’ union, Russell Hobby, says the union has found “concerted efforts” by hardliners to infiltrate Birmingham schools, is working with 30 of its members in 12 schools and has “serious concerns” about six of them. One of the schools concerned, Adderley, has released an official statement confirming that its head, a moderate Muslim, and other heads have been subjected to “malicious and targeted campaigns to remove them.” Given all this, there can’t really now be any dispute that a plot exists.

But the Beeb’s record on the story has been mixed. It has done some real reporting on it – that is, making the effort, like us, to gather actual evidence of its own. But on other occasions it’s been too ready to take at face value the obviously self-serving denials of obviously interested parties – such as governors of the schools concerned, or in this case Birmingham City Council.

 

Gove is right to fail schools for religious bias

Giving Ofsted powers to penalise extremist teaching can only benefit social cohesion (Photo: Rex)

Here are five words that liberals should say more often: thank God for Michael Gove. The Education Secretary has sent dozens of inspectors to 15 state schools in Birmingham targeted by Islamic radicals – and now, reportedly, plans to extend the idea nationwide, with new powers for Ofsted to fail schools where religious conservatism prevents balanced learning. He has acted because he knows what others have too long ignored: that schools are the key battleground against Islamism in Britain.

As poll after poll tells us, the vast majority of ordinary Muslims reject radical views. They support a mixed, plural society. They want to get on with their own lives, not interfere with anyone else’s. Successful Muslims, such as the new Culture Secretary, Sajid Javid, are making their way to the top – defining themselves by their jobs, or their politics, or the football teams they support, and not (unless they want to) by the faith they were born into.

The problem is that the leading institutions of Muslim Britain are disproportionately dominated by the small minority of Islamists. They get all the publicity. They make all the noise. Sometimes publicly, sometimes only when they think no one’s looking, key mosques, charities, TV stations, schools and university societies promote a separatist, grievance-led agenda, in which Islam is the only identity that matters, in which Muslims stand against corrupt Western values and are victimised for doing so.

For those who think this way, schools are the front line – because they are how the hardliners hope, over time, to convert more British Muslims to their cause. And in a small but significant (and growing) number of schools, a new generation of students is being raised to be much more radical than its parents.

Of these, the worst are in the private sector – such as the schools where children study anti-Semitic textbooks, or the Madani Girls’ School in Tower Hamlets, which forces all pupils to wear the full-face veil and has explicitly stated on its website that “we as Muslims oppose the lifestyle of the West”. The Association of Muslim Schools, the private schools’ trade organisation, has hosted extremist speakers at its annual conference.

Most Muslim children, however, go to state schools – so the hardliners’ efforts are moving there as well. In Birmingham, five non-Muslim head teachers in a tiny area of the city have left their posts in the past six months. Dozens of staff, former staff and parents at these supposedly secular schools have told me and others that extremist and anti-Christian views are preached at assemblies, that teaching has been Islamified and that secular heads have been hounded out.

Messages leaked to me revealed the existence of a group called Educational Activists, including many teachers and school governors, which pursues what its leader calls an “Islamising agenda” in Birmingham schools. At each of the schools concerned, links can be traced to the same small group of activists, and to the Association of Muslim Schools. The local council says it has received “hundreds” of complaints from teachers, governors and parents.

When confronted, those involved have four lines of defence. The first, inevitably, is that any criticism is an “Islamophobic witch-hunt”, which rather ignores the fact that many of those complaining are themselves Muslim parents who want a broad education for their children. Fortunately, such brazen attempts to play the race card have gained little traction.

The activists’ second defence is that they are merely seeking to improve “failing” schools. The problem, alas, is that most of the schools affected were graded “outstanding” or “good” by Ofsted. By contrast, the religious school that ties together most of the plotters has been graded “inadequate”.

It is also argued that any changes that have occurred simply reflect the dominant culture in these overwhelmingly Muslim-majority schools and Muslim-majority neighbourhoods. But if you live entirely among people of your own faith, it is even more important that you are exposed to other cultures at school, and that teachers from other backgrounds are not removed from your life.

Finally, it is sometimes said (not least on the BBC) that any extremist incidents that may have occurred were “isolated”. They weren’t – but even if they had been, can we seriously imagine that line being tenable if the position were reversed? Had there been even one teacher leading white children in anti-Muslim rhetoric, it would rightly be proclaimed a national scandal.

The same double standards used, until recently, to apply in official Britain. Many private Muslim schools have been allowed effectively to inspect themselves – using a private inspectorate co-controlled by the Association of Muslim Schools. In others, Ofsted seemed prepared to overlook bigotry, so long as the bigots were Muslim. At Madani, which openly expressed its hostility to the West, the Ofsted report claimed the school left its pupils “well-prepared for life in a multicultural society”.

Yet it is precisely because such an education leaves its pupils adrift in a multicultural society, prey to all sorts of dangerous influences, and with a negative view of their fellow citizens, that Islamist influence in schools is so desperately dangerous for social cohesion. And it is a profound relief that the authorities have finally recognised this. Let us hope that the work continues if and when Mr Gove moves on.

East London Mosque: normal service resumes

After being exposed in the Telegraph in February, the East London Mosque was on its best behaviour for a while. But now, at this favourite destination of hate and extremist preachers (18 at least since March 2009), normal service appears to have resumed.

One of the mosque’s more troublesome associations has been with Anwar al-Awlaki, the al-Qaeda-sympathising cleric named as an inspiration by many high-profile terrorists, including the 9/11 hijackers, the Fort Hood murderer, the attempted Detroit plane attacker and the would-be Times Square bomber. Awlaki last spoke at the mosque, by video link, on 1 January 2009, at an event advertised with this poster of New York under bombardment.

Ever since Fort Hood, the East London Mosque has tried to downplay its Awlaki links, at least to journalists or people who might give it some more public money. It continues to claim that it is a centre of tolerance and moderation. This Monday, however, it is hosting one Abu Adnan, an Australian Awlaki supporter who has staunchly defended the cleric as an “important figure.”

Adnan is a senior officeholder at the Global Islamic Youth Centre in Sydney, where his partner is Feiz Mohammed, described by The Australian newspaper as “on paper, Australia’s most dangerous sheikh” for his links to extremists and terrorists. Adnan is on a six-date tour of the UK, where one of his other events is subtitled “Allegiance with the people of eemaan [the true faith] and dissociation with the people of enmity [non-Muslims].” Just the boy for the East London Mosque, I’d have thought.

Islamic fundamentalism in London: the threat is not over

Rather humblingly, some of the local Bengalis who have campaigned against the fundamentalist Islamic Forum of Europe in Tower Hamlets gave me a thankyou lunch today. As I said to them, and not in any kind of faux-modest way, it is we who should be thanking them for putting their heads above the parapet in the Telegraph and my recent Channel 4 Dispatches film about the IFE.

They are extremely pleased about the election results, which saw the Islamists and their supporters comprehensively crushed. We discussed our next steps, some of which you will soon be hearing about here. In the meantime, you might be interested in this article the Guardian asked me to write, and particularly the cautionary note at the end.

As I say in the Guardian piece, “the danger in Tower Hamlets is not over. The IFE did win one victory this month – in its campaign for a directly-elected Tower Hamlets mayor, which was approved by a referendum held on polling day. The election for the new post will take place later this year.

“Part of the reason the fundamentalists did so badly on May 6 was that it was a high-turnout poll, with a general election on the same day. In a typical local-government turnout [such as the forthcoming mayoral election], roughly half what we saw this month, the IFE’s motivated activist base can have much more of an impact.”

As I also say, something else the election results do is to disprove the claims of many on the far right – including, unfortunately, some of the stupider commenters on this blog – that there is no such thing as a “moderate Muslim”. Bear that in mind when next tempted to bloviate, will you, folks?

'No place for hate?' Surely some mistake…

You could not make this up. A new film, entitled No Place For Hate, has been launched at… the London Muslim Centre, part of the East London Mosque.

Tower Hamlets council, which co-funded it, says the message of the film is that the borough is “no place for hate” in which “different religious and ethnic communities can get on.”

The London Muslim Centre, readers will remember, is the place which hosted a “Spot The Fag” contest. Then there was the preacher who called for women who use perfume to be flogged; the spiritual leader of the 9/11 hijackers; an “unindicted co-conspirator” in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing; a man who has described music as a “fake and prohibited message of love and peace;” in total, at least 18 hate or extremist preachers over the last year or so, many of them more than once.

The mosque sometimes claims that it is simply a neutral venue which welcomes all comers. But at least one of these people has been invited officially to deliver Friday prayers. And for the rest, the mosque’s hiring policy is specific: all speakers must be approved by the mosque.

One senior leader of the  fundamentalist Islamic Forum of Europe, which controls the mosque, has written on the IFE’s blog of the need to, ahem, “hate the disbelieving actions of the non-Muslims” and said he is “working his socks off” for the creation of an Islamic superstate, run by the head of Hamas.

No place for hate, indeed!

'Forgery' mosque: new developments

As we reported last month, a London mosque has been reported to the Charity Commission by one of its own trustees, a Muslim Labour MP, after he said it forged his signature on key legal documents.

In a letter obtained by The Sunday Telegraph, Khalid Mahmood said he had become “seriously concerned” about actions taken by his fellow trustees at the North London Central Mosque and called for a “full investigation” into what he called “a serious criminal offence.”

The mosque, which became notorious as the home of hate preacher Abu Hamza, was closed down by police in 2005 and reconstituted with a new board of trustees, including Mr Mahmood and another Muslim Labour MP, Mohammed Sarwar.

However, an alleged extremist and supporter of the banned terrorist group Hamas, Mohammed Sawalha, was also given a prominent place on the new board, causing tensions with moderate trustees such as Mr Mahmood and Mr Sarwar.

Mr Sawalha is described by the BBC as a former senior figure in Hamas who “is said to have masterminded much of Hamas’s political and military strategy” from his perch in London. Last year, Mr Sawalha also signed the Istanbul Declaration, which calls for attacks against the allies of Israel, which include the UK.

Conflict has come to a head over a libel action launched by the mosque against the centre-right thinktank Policy Exchange, which claimed that extremist literature was found on the premises. In his complaint to the mosque and the Charity Commission, Mr Mahmood says that the libel case was launched without his or Mr Sarwar’s knowledge or consent.

“Neither I nor Mr Sarwar have been consulted with regards to the legal action against Policy Exchange,” he said. “To spend what I apprehend to be very substantial sums of money on libel proceedings is not in accordance with the charity’s governing document.” The case was thrown out by the judge, Mr Justice Eady, who ordered the mosque to pay Policy Exchange’s costs, but the mosque is appealing.

Mr Mahmood also said that his signature on a key legal document was forged by another trustee of the mosque, not Mr Sawalha. In his letter, he says: “My signature is said to appear on that document. That signature is a forgery. I understand another trustee to claim on oath that he forged my signature but did so with my authority. I have never given any such authority. I understand his actions constitute an offence under the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act… It appears that a serious criminal offence has occurred.”

At the time a spokesman for the other trustees, Mohammed Kozdar, told us: “The decision to take legal action against Policy Exchange was recorded in the board of trustees’ minutes which we send Mr Mahmood.” Asked about the allegation of forgery, he said: “As far as we know, he asked someone to sign on his behalf. I wasn’t aware he denies that. If he does, we need to find out who’s right.”

Now the mosque has replied in similar terms to Mr Mahmood’s complaint – prompting the MP to write back a further stiff letter. “I do not believe that I was sent minutes of the trustees’ meetings,” he says. And: “I have read and re-read your explanation for my forged signature on the Trust Deed… Your letter provides no explanation as to why my signature is forged, which is a serious criminal offence.”

The Charity Commission is now investigating. Watch this space for further news.