US Birmingham Trojan Horse podcast threatens to ‘reopen old wounds’ | race & religion

Eight years after the Trojan Horse affair, Birmingham is preparing to revisit memories of the difficult time as a new podcast examines the incident for international audiences.

The split scandal thrust the city into the national spotlight in 2014 after a fake letter claimed there was a plot to Islamise schools, leading to a crackdown on a number of teachers. The podcast, created by the New York Times and Serial, will investigate who was behind the Trojan horse letter and what their motives were for triggering the national panic.

In late 2013, a photocopy of a letter, which appeared to be correspondence between Muslims plotting to take over local schools, was sent to Birmingham City Council along with an anonymous note by someone claiming to have found the document in the their boss’ office.

The document was leaked to the press in 2014, and although the letter was quickly debunked as a forgery, the accusations took on a life of their own.

Albert Bore, leader of Birmingham City Council until 2015, said at the time of the scandal there had been serious concerns about “a weakening” of Birmingham’s Muslim community “for years to come”.

Bore, who is interviewed on the podcast, said the council “didn’t accept” the approach taken by Michael Gove, who was then education secretary.

Michael Gove in 2014, when he was education secretary. Photography: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA

Bore referred to the appointment of Peter Clarke, the Metropolitan Police’s former counter-terrorism chief, who was tasked with investigating the scandal, saying: ‘Two people have been appointed to investigate the Trojan Horse, one appointed by the City Council and one appointed by Michael Gove. The person of Michael Gove was a former counter-terrorism. So that underlines where he came from.

The letter prompted a crackdown, with more than a dozen teachers banned from teaching before most bans were overturned.

Bore said concerns about the scandal’s impact on young people persisted until the story cleared: “Throughout this period, the city council was concerned about the immediate impact on the Muslim community and especially on young people, and how harmful it could be to them. These worries continued for a few years until the story of the Trojan went dark.

Similar fears were voiced at the time of the scandal, with Labor MP Shabana Mahmood warning in 2014 that children in Birmingham risked having their futures jeopardized by allegations targeting their schools.

“There will always be children in Birmingham who will live with this stigma, day in and day out,” she said at the time.

Samira Shackle, a freelance journalist who investigated the scandal in 2017, said there were potentially two sides to reopening the topic. “Those involved feel like they’re being pushed around and want the case heard,” she said. “On the other hand, I think there’s an element of old wounds opening up. Because a lot of people in the wider community just want it to go away…the media scrutiny has been so intense.

“Regardless of the details that come out, many are still talking about already marginalized areas being talked about as part of extremism and radicalization, and in fact without much basis,” Shackle said.

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