The claims from 2014, brought to light by Andrew “transcription error” Gilligan, that there was a “Trojan Horse” plot to “Islamise” schools in Birmingham, turned out, after several schools were turned over by Ofsted and some that had been rated Outstanding were suddenly placed in Special Measures, to have been largely baseless. But papers like the Sunday Times, Telegraph and Mail were not put off by this mere inconvenience.
Indeed, the Telegraph was back on the case in 2017, this time under the by-line of Henry Bodkin, claiming “Second Islamist 'Trojan Horse' scandal feared after Oldham headteacher reports death threats”. There was more. “Fears of a second wave of Islamist plots to take over schools have been raised after a teachers’ union revealed it was dealing with a ‘variety of apparent Trojan Horse issues’”. And who might be involved this time?
“A head teacher in Oldham has reportedly said she has started working at home having been subjected to a campaign of ‘death threats’ and verbal abuse by people determined to introduce an Islamic agenda … In an email to Oldham council, seen by the Sunday Times, Trish O’Donnell said she had ‘very strong reasons to believe...a “Trojan Horse” agenda is being played out’ at Clarksfield Primary School”. And the perpetrators?
“The Oldham Council document reportedly refers to the activities of Nasim Ashraf, a former parent governor and the brother of Shasta Khan, who is serving an eight-year prison sentence for her part in a plot to target Jewish targets in Manchester … The report states that Ashraf organised ‘Islamic teaching sessions’ on the school premises and that his wife, Hafizan Zaman, ‘made remarks to Asian staff members that they should, as Muslim women, be wearing a veil and covering their heads’”.
These claims pressed all the usual dog-whistle buttons - characterising Muslims as extreme, violent, threatening, conspiratorial, and even anti-Semitic. But when the story is stripped back, it’s guilt by association, someone arranging RE classes, and someone else allegedly having an opinion. In other words, a very thin brew indeed.
And although the Telegraph claimed “a counter extremism expert claimed to the Sunday Times there was a ‘significant problem’ of Islamist infiltration in Oldham”, and reminded readers “The revelations have triggered concerns of a repeat of the Birmingham scandal, where Ofsted found evidence of an organised attempt to target 21 schools by Islamists, involving efforts to force head teachers out of their jobs”, the story was total crap.
We have had this confirmed this week as the Mail has issued one of those all-too-rare “Clarifications”, telling “Our reports on 19 and 20 February last year suggested that Nasim Ashraf and Hafizan Zaman were involved in a suspected 'Trojan Horse' plot involving an Islamist campaign of intimidation to take over Clarksfield primary school in Oldham with the aim of imposing an aggressive and separatist Islamic agenda on the school. We accept that such allegations are unfounded. We apologise to Mr Ashraf and Mrs Zaman for any distress caused and have agreed to pay them substantial damages and costs”.
In other words, this was another speculative pack of lies. And what is worse, the story was live for a whole year before being taken down. That kind of shoddy journalism encourages Islamophobia and fuels ignorance. And it’s not good enough.