Birmingham City Council yesterday announced that it was freezing the recruitment of school governors while it investigated claims of an "Islamic takeover plot". As Councillor Brigid Jones stated:
"Obviously, we have to take the allegations very seriously. Since [Operation Trojan Horse] went public we have had floods of allegations coming in from different people, some about things happening today and some about things that happened 20 years ago"
Operation Trojan Horse comprised a dossier that was sent to Birmingham City Council a few weeks ago and purports to be a five-step guide that supports "hardline Islamists wanting to commit jihad by overthrowing headteachers at state schools in Birmingham and beyond" with the strategies necessary to do thus ensuring the schools are run in accordance with Islamic principles.
It is believed that five schools across Birmingham are cited in the dossier as targets for infiltration although recent allegations have suggested that the number might be significantly higher.
Understandably, there are doubts about the authenticity of the document including West Midlands Police whose officers are currently investigating claims that it is a mere hoax. Evidence for this includes the suggestion that those behind the dossier are currently working to remove a primary school headmistress who was dismissed around 20 years ago. Similarly, the dossier claims credit for removing two head teachers from Birmingham schools whilst getting their respective departure dates wrong.
As Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers has been reported as saying:
"...the idea that there was an organised plot...seemed far-fetched"
There is however the possibility that the dossier is genuine, evident one might suggest if the "floods of allegations" to have emerged since are indeed true. These include allegations made by a number of former Birmingham-based teachers and headteachers as also recent events at the city's Moseley and Saltley schools as also Washwood Heath Technology College. As one source has been quoted as saying, the strategies outlined in the document:
"echo what people have been saying for many years"
Maybe more interesting is the response of Inayat Bunglawala, media secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain. In response to the suggestion that the dossier was a fake he wrote how he was:
"sadly not so sure - I think we should wait and see"
And I wholeheartedly agree.
There is no doubt whatsoever that given the extremely serious nature of the allegations made that they have to be thoroughly investigated and that those tasked with this are given the time and space to do so without interference. The process needs to be open and transparent and if any of the allegations are found to be true, then appropriate and immediate action has to be taken and indeed supported by all concerned.
At the same time - and quite irrespective of whether such allegations are found to be true or false - we have to be realistic about the potential detrimental impacts such allegations have.
As Fraser Nelson in the Telegraph put it just last week, the allegations made in relation to Operation Trojan Horse "make the blood boil" not least because they seemingly pit a perceived set of incompatible Muslim values against an equally perceived British equivalent.
Nonetheless, we have to acknowledge that the incident will indeed infuriate and make some people very angry including many Muslims who will be as equally appalled as many non-Muslims clearly are.
But we have to differentiate what might be a more understandable anger from that being espoused by those seeking opportunities to use Operation Trojan Horse for ideological gain: as 'evidence' of Muslims trying to 'take over' Britain, of looking to irreversibly change British society and rather more insidiously, of 'creeping sharia' and the 'enemy within'. Underpinning this is the message noted by Nelson, that Muslim and British values are seemingly incompatible and that Islam and Muslims will never be able to co-exist within Britain and British society.
Worryingly, this message sits at the heart of many of the discourses of Islamophobia that have found resonance and credence over the past decade or so.
Whilst being angry and infuriated therefore, we must not allow Operation Trojan Horse to be appropriated in such ways that it is used to promote hate and bigotry or promote Islamophobia. If and when evident, we need to robustly challenge and contest that which is being said. Such is a given.
What is true however and must not be overlooked or undermined at times when incidents 'make the blood boil' is what Nelson described as one of the greatest successes of modern day Britain: the successful integration of Islam and Muslims into the British mainstream.
Let's not forget this as the investigations get underway. Let's reflect on our success as we wait and see.