Stellar play exposes the reality behind the Trojan horse affair
Categories: Latest News
Monday December 02 2019
In March 2014, the so-called “Trojan Horse Affair” hit the headlines. It has since come to be understood by many observers to have been “the product of a climate in which all British Muslims are viewed with suspicion, and complex questions about faith and integration are reduced by politicians and the media to hysterical debates about terrorism”. Peter Oborne describes the ‘scandal’ as “a lurid figment of the neo-Conservative imagination… an anti-Muslim ideological concoction, driven by Michael Gove, backed by David Cameron’s Downing Street, and aided and abetted by a group of well-placed media henchmen. It is also an episode which has done enormous harm to community relations, unfairly wrecked the career of teachers and, above all, set back the life chances of thousands of mainly Muslim Birmingham students, whose school careers have been gravely disrupted.”
An acclaimed theatre production, written by Helen Monks and Matt Woodhead and performed by the LUNG theatre company, powerfully unpicks the reality behind the claims that there had been an alleged plot to impose Islamist agendas in Birmingham schools. Set in Park View school, the institute at the centre of the allegations, the production deconstructs the methods, political motivations and factors that led to a situation wherein a baseless accusation was transformed into the subject of national outrage.
Based on more than 200 hours of interviews from those involved, the play uses verbatim quotes to offer a voice to those relentlessly stifled by media and political rhetoric. Amongst the many successes of the play lies in the way in which the narrative cleverly balances both sides of the argument, while simultaneously maintaining a sombre tone of indictment against the Department of Education’s crusade, and the subsequent impacts of this crusade on the local community.
The play explores the heavy-handed approach of the then Secretary or Education, Michael Gove, in dealing with the inquiry. Gove’s influence as a driving force behind the hysteria is well documented and perhaps exemplified by the Department of Education’s appointment of Peter Clarke to lead an investigation into the supposed ‘plot’. Gove’s choice of Clarke, a man with no experience of school inspections but a background in counter-terror, is highly significant. The play suggests that this strategic appointment is indicative of politicised concerns surrounding British values and integration strategies that were used as justification for the implementation of an intrusive counter-extremism agenda.
The inquiry is, therefore, a clear example of Michael Gove’s role as a driving force behind a neo-conservative world-view of a clash of civilisations and the “failure of multi-culturalism” that was to characterise the progression of the Government’s approach to Muslim communities. Within this framework, Muslims are too often viewed through a pre-criminalised lens, and normative practices of the Islamic faith become potential indicators of extremism.
The play also highlights the intimate relationship between the Government and media, underlining the role of the media in whipping up hysteria surrounding a supposed Islamist threat, demonising Muslim communities, and wreaking havoc on the personal and professional lives of teachers, parents, and students. That the scandal reduced an Ofsted acclaimed “Outstanding” school to one with declining results is indicative of the damaging impacts of stigmatisation incurred to the education of thousands of mostly Muslim children.
Although the story paints the stark reality of Government injustices and institutional Islamophobia, the play offers a sense of respite to the victims of the inquiry. The aim of the play is not to disenchant, but to empower the audience to question the encroachment of the Government’s divisive counter-terrorism agenda. It is a powerful and emotional example of the counterproductive nature of the tripartite relationship between Government counter-terror strategies, political machinations, and media manipulation.
MEND has recently released a report outlining Michael Gove’s role in the case within the context of the need for an investigation into Islamophobia within the Conservative Party. Our report, From “Letterboxes” to “Ragheads”, analyses over 120 instances of Islamophobia emanating from Conservative Members of Parliament, councillors, and party candidates over the past five years. Many of those included in the report are members of the Cabinet and many continue to run as candidates in the upcoming election.
In the coming weeks, we will also be releasing a report detailing the failures of the PREVENT strategy in light of the ongoing Independent Review of PREVENT. Although MEND welcomes the independent review as the first step in scrapping the PREVENT strategy, there are signs that this review may not be truly independent nor wide enough in its scope to examine all of the factors that may lead someone to be drawn into acts of politically motivated violence, including the role of foreign policy in such a trajectory. It is interesting to note that with the announcement of Lord Carlile as the Independent Reviewer, questions have already been raised about his own independence, given his previous support for PREVENT. Similarly, in examining the terms of reference that have recently been published, it is striking to see an absence of the key question as to whether the PREVENT strategy is even required, as well as a neglect of its past application and theoretical underpinning. Indeed, it appears that the starting point for the review is that the PREVENT strategy will remain in place, with the review’s primary focus being concentrated on future improvements.