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The invite seemed innocuous. Tomorrow evening, at a community centre in Birmingham, parents, teachers and others would gather to discuss the future of schools in Britain’s second city. One pictures a scene from David Cameron’s Big Society: local people pulling together with experts to improve the education of their children.
Sadly, the meeting was no such thing. It was instead a shocking attempt to deny the Trojan Horse scandal of 2014 in plain sight of the public and authorities.
When The Daily Telegraph discovered this, and contacted the owners of the venue, they rightly cancelled it. It may still be held elsewhere. But even if it is not, that is unlikely to be the end of this plot.
Behind the event was a campaigning group called Mend, or Muslim Engagement and Development. It is frequently accused of promoting extremism. One of its directors, Azad Ali, openly calls himself an Islamist and says “no one agrees” with democracy if it comes “at the expense of not implementing the sharia”.
Activists were caught on school grounds handing flyers for the event to parents. The flyers show they are trying to reopen the wounds of the “Trojan Horse” plot that was exposed almost four years ago when Ofsted discovered an “organised campaign” to target schools “to alter their character and ethos”. Headteachers were forced out as governors imposed “a narrow faith-based ideology in what are non-faith schools”.
What happened in the schools caught up in the Trojan Horse plot is clearly established. Yet Mend’s flyer for tomorrow’s cancelled event promised to tell parents “the facts”. We know from what Mend says that those “facts” will be a grotesque distortion of the truth.
The flyer complains about “the stigmatisation of a community”, but as Clarke’s report found, the only stigmatisation was that orchestrated by the plotters. They targeted non-Muslims, Muslims who do not adhere to hardline Sunni Islam, and minorities including gay people. Mend warns of “discrimination against outstanding teachers”, yet the Trojan Horse plotters hounded successful teachers and heads out of their jobs. On their watch, there was nepotism and “inappropriate recruitment and promotion procedures”.
So Mend’s propaganda is false from start to finish. Yet nobody would have been at tomorrow’s event to contradict them. Among the listed speakers was Tahir Alam, the chairman of governors at Park View at the time of Trojan Horse. He has been banned from involvement in schools since 2015 after the Government concluded that he had tried to “undermine the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths or beliefs”.
Clarke found that he was “the key person determining the policies and activities at Park View School” and that under him Park View “sought to export its Islamising blueprint” to other schools.
Alam was due to speak alongside an academic called John Holmwood. He believes that official accounts of Trojan Horse give a “false narrative”, comparable with what happened after the Hillsborough disaster, and are used to “criticise multiculturalism”. Another academic, Shamim Miah, was also to speak. He claims Britain’s counter-terrorism policies “de-humanise” Muslims. Joining them were Salma Yaqoob, a former Respect Party politician who claimed Trojan Horse was used to “stigmatise Muslims”, and – incredibly – Kevin Courtney of the National Union of Teachers.
After the pain caused by Trojan Horse, it is appalling that Mend and Tahir Alam were plotting to mislead the local community again. Alam has been banned from schools for good reasons: the city council should tell parents the truth. Courtney should have refused to give the event the legitimacy that his attendance implied. And it should not have taken the attention of a newspaper for the authorities to ask the venue to cancel this event. They would not hesitate if they were dealing with racists or fascists; nor should they in this case. The people behind Trojan Horse are trying to do it all over again, and right under our noses. Now, at least, we know.