For the past couple of months, many of us will have been reading, watching and listening to an array of allegations and stories that appear to show Britain is witnessing the beginning of a new Shariah state. Indeed, the news is that local schools in Birmingham are being infiltrated by hard-line 'Islamist' fanatics, the Mayor of Tower Hamlets, is clandestinely throwing funds to the South Asian community and Muslim organisations and societies are forcing apartheid forms of segregation between Males and Females. More recently, the Sun newspaper revealed that Pizza Express was holding a 'Halal Secret'. So with 'Halal Meat' on the menu and dangerous 'Islamist' extremists plotting to takeover schools in Birmingham, the question is: 'Has Britain become a safe haven for extremists?' Or is there some evidence to suggest that these stories linking Muslims with acts of terrorism in local schools could actually be fuelling further suspicion and thus risk damaging the UK Governments vision for community cohesion, in places like Birmingham.
At the moment, we are currently awaiting the findings from a number of separate investigations into the 'Trojan Horse' plot, which all aim to give us the key detail and content around the allegations. However, some of the findings have already been 'leaked' and been tainted by reports that the investigations were prejudicial and biased. For example, one of the governors at the school involved in the 'Trojan Horse' plot has spoken about how inspectors had a 'narrow agenda'. Indeed, the Park View Education Trust who are at the centre of the allegations have also stated that: "We do not know where the 'leaks' and 'briefings' around these inspections are coming from" but did acknowledge that they had undermined the 'credibility' of the investigations. Moreover, we have recently heard of further 'leaked' report's that in at least one of the investigations there was no credible evidence of an alleged 'terrorist' plot by Muslim hardliners.
I have already argued here previously, that Muslims in Birmingham feel like a 'suspect' community and also believe that a number of problematic associations and links that are emerging from this case raise serious doubts about the whole process into 'Trojan Horse'. Firstly, there is as noted above, a number of serious allegations made around the Ofsted report by governors within the schools who have argued that inspectors were not truly independent. Secondly, there are serious issues around the Education Secretary's decision making process, after appointing a former head of counter-terrorism, namely, Peter Clarke to spearhead one part of the investigation. The Chief Constable of West Midlands Police, Chris Sims has also expressed his frustration at the news of the appointment. He stated that: "Peter Clarke has many qualities but people will inevitably draw unwarranted conclusions from his former role as National Co-ordinator for Counter Terrorism."
Indeed, by appointing someone with a terrorism background, this will only fuel further speculation and reinforce the notion of Muslims in Birmingham feeling like they are under official suspicion. The city council's leader, Sir Albert Bore, has stated that: "He [Mr Clarke] will have to build relationship with the community, the community of Birmingham, the Muslim community of Birmingham." And then of course there are serious questions about the neoconservative links between organisations such as the Henry Jackson Society and the Education Secretary. The organisation which aims to shed light on how we tackle extremism has been tainted by allegations from Muslim communities who have argued that it has an anti-Muslim narrative at its core. Indeed, former people from within the organisation have expressed the view that the organisation has "an abrasively right-wing forum with an anti-Muslim tinge".
In trying to decipher some normality from this complicated web of allegations, there are a number of serious implications for community cohesion in Birmingham. Clearly, there are questions about the investigations and why it appears that educational standards seem to be overlooked. Birmingham is a vibrant and multicultural city and it is important that any allegations about a plot to take over schools are taken seriously. However, this must be fair, balanced and proportionate, otherwise we risk damaging community cohesion in Birmingham and fuelling the notion of Muslims being under official suspicion. We know that public perception can often be influenced by media portrayal and news stories that often can create a sense of moral panic and hysteria which risks further alienating and marginalizing Muslim communities.
You can read about Imran Awans research in his new Book: 'Extremism, Counter-Terrorism and Policing' published by Ashgate (2013)