Riding the Trojan Horse

20 Jun 2014
20 June 2014

Over the last two months, the news in the United Kingdom has been dominated by whether hard-line extremists are infiltrating schools by forcing girls to sit at the back of the class, blaring the call to prayer on school grounds and encouraging the stoning of homosexuals.

The debate came to a head in the last two weeks, and is a result of a letter – allegedly from Muslim radicals –claiming they will infiltrate state schools in the city of Birmingham with their own brand of extreme Islam.

A ‘concerned citizen’ sent the letter to the city council and some schools in Britain’s second largest city. It details a five-point plan on how to ‘take over’ the schools, dubbing it ‘Operation Trojan Horse’. The takeover would see state schools, which should be secular, encouraging an Islamic syllabus with completely Muslim staff, amongst other plans. The letter is now largely believed to be a hoax by a well-intentioned whistleblower, but has not been proved to be so.

The Trojan Horse letter has left destruction in its wake, causing a huge row within the Government, with two senior Ministers fighting in the press over who was to blame until they were told to stop by the Prime Minister.
Six state schools in Birmingham, which has a Muslim population of more than 20% have also been put under special measures by the watchdog Ofsted.

I moved to England over a decade ago from the inherently racist and bigoted society of South Africa. Before coming over as a teenager, the first thing I would notice about a person is their race and the second their religion, which was important in apartheid South Africa so one was aware who was friend or foe. That was also because my society, until I was 17, was made up entirely of Indian South Africans who were Muslim. That changed completely when I moved to the UK. I interacted with so many different types of people from so many different walks of life, I got involved in Liverpool’s bid to become the 2008 Capital of Culture and one day realised I didn’t know or care what their race or religion was. This is why this entire debate has affected me on a personal level. That removal of barriers is what to me makes Britain great, and this is debate is to me entirely at odds with what the country stands for.

A lot of the parents whose children attend the six schools have since admitted they were worried about the way the governors ran the facilities and would like to see a change in authority.

As a result, I’m sure many don’t object to the investigations being carried out, but if some of the parents and teachers are to be believed, the manner in which the inspectors dealt with the case is inexcusable, and a severe atrocity against pupils in the multi-cultural city of Birmingham.

The institutions in question claim inspectors had an agenda, asking leading questions of children as young as 9 on their opinion of homosexuality and whether they were forced to fast or wear the hijab.

The debate has resulted in a media frenzy, which put all Birmingham schools in the spotlight, quizzed about their agendas and lenience towards their Muslim pupils. The non- Muslim Principal of a school with 90% Muslims was grilled by the BBC over why it ‘forced’ students to attend the Islamic Friday prayers at its supposedly secular facility. It turned out the decision was only taken after talks with Ofsted for reasons of child safety as pupils had been leaving the grounds to attend prayers. Another school principal was quizzed over why his institution served halal food, something that didn’t bother anyone attending the school. These institutions have operated this way for years with the knowledge and approval of Ofsted, so why has a hoax letter been allowed to cause this ruckus, unless there was an already underlying issue?

The children of Birmingham – and other cities with a Muslim population – are the losers of this debate, which more than anything, seems to be implying that Muslims are intolerant and radical and transferring these prejudiced beliefs to their children; an accusation that I find objectionable especially in a country that I have always looked on as a beacon of tolerance.

Muslims in the UK feel like they are part of British society, whatever race they are, and most don’t even think about the term ‘integration’ because it’s quite a natural process. However the differences can become stark when you are constantly told your beliefs are not in line with British rules, despite the fact that you are a peaceful and cohesive member of society.

According to the definitions of international law, this is clearly indirect discrimination. If the six schools are indeed proved to be a conduit for extremists– why should other schools suffer being tarred with the same brush, simply because they have a majority of Muslim pupils?

Right wing groups have used Muslims to create a culture of ‘us and them’ so they can use the divisions in society to their benefit. UKIP, the anti-immigration party, which won the recent European elections in the UK, only succeeds where fear of change is highest. In multi-cultural cities like London, they struggle to attract support. Maybe when towns and cities are left to their own devices, people from all cultures get along quite well.

The UK has state schools that serve kosher food, and even vegetarian food to cater for the children they teach. Is this an agenda to promote religion or oppressive views? Of course it isn’t. This is simply meeting the needs of children who have certain beliefs. Integration needs to be promoted – not hindered and schools that do promote it should not be ostracised, nor should children be decried for their beliefs, especially if it doesn’t harm anyone.

Michael Gove has called for schools to promote ‘British Values’, without saying what he means, but when asked, the Prime Minister David Cameron said, ironically, it was about tolerance and acceptance, which is exactly what I expect of the Britain I have come to love in the past 15 years.

The fact that this debate is even being entertained is what right-wing groups want; to highlight what’s different, to frighten and to misrepresent. The Britain, of Empire and Rule Britannia has long gone. The majority of Britons believe that intolerance and racism belong in the days of the Raj and we must not let fear destroy the multi-cultural country that so many have worked so hard to build.