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THE first and most fundamental fact of the Trojan Horse Affair is that it is a fake. Everybody involved acknowledges the letter at the centre of the “storm” is a forgery.
So when, for example, Evan Davies talks on Radio 4’s Today programme about the “Trojan Horse Affair,” he should properly say the “Fake Trojan Horse Letter Affair.”
That would be more accurate — but he doesn’t say it, because it would make his whole report sound weird.
Every reporter has the same problem, so they tuck away the fakeness of the letter with some phrase like “widely believed to be a hoax” about half-way into their story, hoping you won’t notice.
Because the oddity of a big story based on a big fake is too weird to explain, most journalists just rush past it, hoping readers won’t spot the contradiction.
It’s odd, because I always thought a journalist’s first loyalty is to the truth.
I’ll quickly explain the fakeness.
The Trojan Horse letter was sent anonymously to some Birmingham schools in December 2013.
It looks like a letter between two jihadi plotters — one extremist in Birmingham is advising another in Bradford to take over schools like he did. But the letter is obviously fake, referring for example to a recent extremist plot to oust a Birmingham headteacher who actually left school 20 years ago.
When Birmingham Council asked West Midlands Police to investigate last December, the police gave the letter back a couple of weeks later saying it was “not a matter for them.”
They could see no evidence because the document is a fake.
Michael Gove’s Department for Education itself had the letter since December 2013 but apparently did nothing much with it — presumably because it was an obvious fake.
However, when the letter resurfaced three months later in a leak to the Sunday Times it was treated as real.
Within a week its fakeness began to be uncovered again, but by then the story had too many legs to be stopped by something as simple as the truth.
Gove only called for emergency Ofsted inspections and inquiries after the press were leaked a letter that his department already had in its hands.
To his credit, Richard Kerbaj, the journalist who got the leak for the Sunday Times, does address the fakeness of the letter. He says the most likely “theory” is: “The Trojan Horse document had in fact been drawn up by people opposed to more Islamic traditions being introduced in the city’s schools. The intention of the fictitious document” was “to force the council to take more seriously what they consider to be legitimate concerns.”
This school of thought — that the fakeness of the letter doesn’t matter because Ofsted found some funny business — is widespread.
But what does that say about the informants? Kerbaj is probably right. The Trojan Horse fakers were involved in some Birmingham schools and objected to their religious trends.
But we also know that they are the kind of people who are happy to make allegations of wild plots by creating forgeries in other people’s names — by deliberately lying to create a scandal.
If you let people like that create your agenda, you’ll end up acting in an over-the-top, thoughtless and reckless way.
It is true that the Ofsted reports found that some of the schools were more religious than I would like. Too many prayers, too much sex segregation, a failure to challenge backward attitudes to gay people.
These are wrong, but they are also common faults in other, non-Muslim, religiously inclined schools.
Ofsted found no plot. And found religious conservatism, rather than “extremism.”
It would be perfectly possible to raise these issues without a fake “plot.”
But a non-plot-led discussion would involve talking about the way all schools are quite religious, and how academy schools can become more religious, and that Gove’s academy reforms mean schools are cut adrift and more likely to sail in a religious direction.
You could propose radical solutions, which I favour, of not having any religion in schools — no prayers, no assemblies, no hymns.
Or you could have a moderate solution, a negotiation about the level of acceptable religion in schools. All religions.
And you could look at the way academy and other reforms weaken local democratic control.
But with a “plot,” it is much simpler — you can pick on Muslims and leave alone Christian and other schools.
A “plot” puts a rocket up the issue and aims that rocket exclusively at Muslim schools.
You can treat it as a “security” issue and spark general hysteria.
Which is obviously Gove’s preferred solution. This is the man who sent a Bible with his name in to every British school.
A man who created a special unit staffed by ex-MI5 officers in the DfE to monitor Muslim school governors.
He does not want to reduce religion in schools. He wants to reduce Islam.
He does not want to stop schools drifting off into unstable “independence.” He just wants to be able to take out one kind of Muslim governor.
So a “plot” called “Trojan Horse” was the perfect solution. True or not.
This isn’t the first time that forged documents about plots with Islamist hardliners have been at the centre of government policy.
Fake stories about Saddam’s links with Osama bin Laden helped rush through the Iraq war.
And oddly Gove was particularly active at spreading those fake stories in 2002 when he was a journalist at the Times.
But the lesson from then is: act in haste on the basis of plot hysteria, and you’ll live to regret it.
There is a case for reform — for reducing the level of religion in schools.
For increasing the role of local education authorities and decreasing the role of God.
But throwing a school like Park View Academy — which is popular and produces outstanding exam results — into “special measures” doesn’t make this reform likely. Gove’s plan is to reduce one religion in schools but increase another.
If you start from a fake plot you’ll end up with a false solution.
Follow Solomon Hughes on Twitter @Sol–Hughes_Writer.
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