In an earlier article, I mentioned Operation Trojan Horse, the plot by Muslim groups in Britain to take over Birmingham schools (see also Francis Carr Begbie’s “Britain baffled by Muslims being Muslims“) and possibly schools elsewhere. The matter has been in the news since March, when a document and an accompanying letter, written anonymously by a concerned citizen, emerged via the Birmingham City Council, which had been in possession of it for some time. The letter alerted the authorities about the existence of the plot and urged the authorities to take action. The document, discovered by the concerned citizen, provided a five point plan on how to take over schools, which the author referred to as Operation Trojan Horse.
Now that two separate government investigations have been carried out and the respective reports published, it is worth examining how the BBC has chosen to cover the issue. I focus on the BBC because its being a public service as well as a prestigious organization means it ought to provide excellent coverage.
Firstly, we must outline the plot.
Operation Trojan Horse
According to the BBC, the document
suggests targeting schools with a predominantly Muslim population, especially in poorer areas, before selecting a group of parents, which it describes as “hard liners”, to agitate at the school gate and in the playground and to raise questions about staff, the syllabus and teaching methods.
It goes on to say that after infiltrating the governing body, a policy of disruption should be carried out from within, until the leadership has been changed to one more sympathetic to the group’s religious views.
Trojan Horse, it says, is “totally invisible to the naked eye and allows us to operate under the radar. I have detailed the plan we have in Birmingham and how well it has worked and you will see how easy the whole process is to get the head teacher out and your own person in”.
It identifies four schools at which it claims Operation Trojan Horse had been successfully put into action. Saltley School, Adderley School, Regents Park Community School and Park View Academy.
A Park View governor, Tahir Alam, is named in the document as someone who was involved in the plot . . . Another school, Highfield, is mentioned as a potential target.
By the time the above lines were written in April, 200 separate complaints had already been made about 25 schools, all in parts of Birmingham with a 90% Muslim population.
The plotters, who espoused or sympathized with extreme Islamist views, sought to introduce an aggressive, anti-British, Islamist ethos into Birmingham schools.
The paragraphs excerpted above are taken from a report titled, “Operation Trojan Horse: Will We Ever Learn the Truth?”, published concurrently with the government and the Birmingham City Council launching their respective investigations.
The report is divided into five sections, titled “The ‘plot’”, “Real or fake?”, “Reaction”, “What are the inquiries looking into?” and “When will we find out the truth?”. Right off the bat, we find that the focus is kept on the different responses by the authorities, and on the various claims and counter-claims. In other words, the explosive revelations are neutralized under a blizzard of verbiage pulling in different directions, sowing doubt, and making it all seem like a wrangle between minor bureaucrats over a turbid matter. The reader is prevented from having a focused emotional response.
More importantly, the policies and conditions that made this possible—the most vital matter at hand—are not discussed.
Following the publishing of the investigation reports, the focus has been on insubstantial differences of opinion between the different authors, and the irrelevant statements of opinion between a sampling of local authorities reacting to the findings, not on the facts that no one has disputed, even though the latter are of far greater import. What’s more, news about the investigations’ findings were not prominent in the BBC News website—to find them, one had to search.
A side by side comparison of the reports by Peter Clarke (appointed by the government) and Sir Ian Kershaw (appointed by Birmingham City Council) is presented in an effort to highlight differences. Yet, a critical reading shows that on the things that matter, the reports are in agreement.
For example, one of the differences highlighted is whether or not there was a plot. Both investigation reports, however, agree that individuals acted with the common goal of promoting Islamic principles. It therefore seems preposterous to focus attention on whether or not the authors have chosen to call this a plot or individuals acting in concert. Isn’t one the definition of the other?
Another example involves a simple matter of interpretation. Clarke determined that
[w]hether the motivation reflects a political agenda, a deeply held religious conviction, personal gain or achieving influence within the communities, the effect has been to limit the life chances of the young people in their care and to render them vulnerable to more pernicious influences in the future.
On the other hand, Sir Ian determined that
[i]t appears that there is a genuine and understandable desire among these groups to improve the education and opportunities for Muslim pupils. The desire is often coupled with a belief that these children can only be served by Muslim leaders and teachers.
Again, is the emphasis here on what is really important? The Islamist conspirators would of course see their actions as being in the interest of the children’s education, their community, and their religion. The above paragraphs show concurrence, not divergence.
The concurrence is buried in the news reports, despite efforts to hide it away. We may have to go to a separate report about a minor issue, tucked at the bottom of a longer and more substantial piece, to find that Sir Ian
did find evidence that “five steps” outlined in the original letter as a means of destabilizing school leadership were “present in a large number of the schools considered part of the investigation”.
Concurrence with the essential facts does not end with the investigation reports. It is also reflected in the statements of those reacting to them, however immaterial.
They express themselves euphemistically — that there are “problems” in some schools. But for their own varied reasons, they have uniformly sought to deflect attention from the plot and shift the focus onto Birmingham City Council. The declarations of Labour MP Khalid Mahmood are emblematic. He
said he agreed with Mr Kershaw’s finding that identified the issue as a “minority problem” caused by a handful of disruptive governors, but said there was “still more to look at” and called for Birmingham City Council to be held to account.
The efforts to deflect go as far as reporting the admission by Council leader Sir Albert Bore that
the council failed to act for fear of being seen as racist or Islamophobic.
This fear, of course, is a legitimate matter for concern, and well worth reporting. Yet, in the context in which it is mentioned, which is a context of disagreement, differences of opinion, claim and counter-claim, the central issue is effectively neutralized, because it passes from being one about British schools being colonized by anti-British Islamists to one about a local authority’s ineffectiveness.
An interesting aspect of the reporting is that the BBC has been careful to record the opinion of Muslims who are on-message when it comes to promoting ideas of integration and the general moderateness of the majority of Muslims in Britain. This is another tactic for neutralizing the issue, for, as long as the British public sees Muslims exhibiting concern, calling for action, and talking about “integrated education” and community cohesion, the impression left is that, though there is certainly work to be done, now that the reports have come out the matter is at hand and the government and the authorities will eventually sort it out.
Nadeem Malik, UK Director of the Hazrat Sultan Bahu Trust, a registered charity that provides essential religious and pastoral services to Muslims in the United Kingdom, is filmed offering a reassuring statement:
We are sick of the negativity surrounding the city at the moment, the negative portrayal of Birmingham. There are issues, there are issues in every city. We want to be part of the solution now.
In the same video report, Khalid Mahmood appears talking about “taking the bad apples out of the community” and “making us all more cohesive”. He is presented as a critic of Birmingham City Council’s efforts at appeasing Muslims.
This scrupulousness by the BBC at having many different opinions represented in their reporting creates the impression of fairness and a lack of bias, when, in reality, they conceal a bias that is quite pronounced.
Consider that the policies and conditions that caused Birmingham City Council to think appeasing Muslims was preferable to taking action is not once challenged or discussed, even though in the face of a proven example of ethnic competition for power and cultural influence.
Doing so could lead to a wider and very awkward debate about multiculturalism, diversity, and immigration—all policies supported by the BBC. It could lead to tensions between communities, which nobody wants. And it could fuel support for an awkward brand of anti-establishment politics.
Taken as a whole, this is a very skillful exercise in managing the emotions of the public, when faced with an awkward incident. Hardly anyone—not even the “nationalist” political parties—have shown much excitement over the issue. We could even argue that, in this case, being boring, pedantic, overly verbal, and scrupulously fair, has been used as a weapon. The hoped-for reaction, one is tempted to speculate, is for the reader to think “yea yea blah blah blah” part-way down the main news report and navigate away to some more exciting item, such as the Malaysian Airlines jet crash, the Israeli strike on Gaza, Tulisa’s drug trial, the case of the cannibal nurse, or, even better, the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
While we can understand that there is a desire to maintain conviviality, we cannot—and should not—understand the desire to pretend that there is nothing of substance to discuss.