The Department for education (DfE) appears to have made a mess on the alleged Birmingham 'Trojan Horse' plot to take over some schools. The Education Secretary, Michael Gove, has now employed 7/7 anti-terror chief, Peter Clarke, to investigate the 'plot'.
The Chief Constable of West Midlands Police, Chris Sims, said the decision was "desperately unfortunate"."Peter Clarke has many qualities but people will inevitably draw unwarranted conclusions from his former role as national coordinator for counter terrorism," he said.
Police and Crime Commissioner, Bob Jones, criticised Michael Gove, saying "This would be at the expense of sending a completely inappropriate message to our local community."
Birmingham City Council leader, Sir Albert Bore, echoed his views and said the move would "inevitably" lead people to "draw unwarranted conclusions" about the allegations.
But Mr Gove insisted he wanted to get to the bottom of the allegations and "end the uncertainty which was interfering with children's education."
So, what is the 'Trojan Horse' story that has created a commotion not only in the world of education, but also rattled the media and political world?
The story goes back towards the end of last year when a letter, passed to the Birmingham city council and some schools in the area, outlined a plan dubbed "Operation Trojan Horse" claiming that up to four schools in the city have already been "taken over"by Islamic "extremists". Experts have said that this may just be a hoax; the alleged plotter claimed this was 'a malicious fabrication and completely untrue".
Birmingham City Council said it was now examining around 200 lines of inquiry involving 25 schools. The Ofsted also launched an investigation.
The story has been going on for some weeks and the right wing media have had an open season on the Muslim community since then. The authenticity of the document was not proven and last week MPs from Birmingham's unitedly demanded the Education Secretary to launch a full inquiry into the claims.
Britain's largest and most representative Muslim umbrella body, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), termed this a 'witch-hunt of British Muslims' and "called for an end to weeks of speculation that has smeared British Muslims involved in schools and the education system."
An education issue has now been muddled up with politics and the Muslim community is once again bearing the full brunt of it.
One thing the Muslim community has been serious about for decades and making good progress in is the field of education. Having started at the lower level-playing-field, many in the community's younger generation has come into the world of education and as part of their civic responsibility started choosing teaching as a career and becoming more involved with the education system. This has been encouraged by successive governments as well. There are now over 150 private Muslim schools across the country, albeit small in size, and some of them are state-funded. Most of them are outperforming state schools in terms of academic results.
So, in its own interests, the community would make sure that none of their and other pupils is exposed to extremist views and jeopardise their futures. And, of course, the education of all children should be kept free of any undue influence and delivered in accordance with the agreed values and protocols of governance.
Unfortunately, the continuous media headlines are producing wild accusations of an 'Islamic takeover' even in the mainstream media and Muslims are seen as perpetrators of another atrocious activity before the outcome of any formal investigations in public. The consequences are very real - hatred towards Muslims will increase and depressing perceptions are being re-enforced.
Michael Gove's appointment of Peter Clarke is being seen by the Muslim community as using a 'sledgehammer to crack a nut'. This will only re-enforce the stereotype of Muslims as a suspect community and once again the Muslim community will continue to be seen through the narrow prism of security and counter-terrorism.
The only way public trust can be regained is through an investigation that is seen to be impartial and not victimising a community. It is therefore critical that a Public Inquiry is initiated as soon as possible.
Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari is an educationalist, writer and freelance parenting consultant. He was the former Secretary General of Muslim Council of Britain (2006-10).
The views expressed in this article are the author's own.Suggest a correction