Scapegoating Muslims – the Birmingham witch hunt

An assembly at Park View School Birmingham

By Mark Holland

The so-called ‘Trojan Horse’ plot to take over Birmingham schools should have been treated with extreme scepticism from the start. Instead, it has been the catalyst for a new witch hunt against Muslims.

The document claimed to be a blueprint, already tried and tested, for an Islamic takeover of local schools. It pointed to ‘successes’ in which head teachers had been forced out by a campaign ‘invisible to the naked eye’. Unfortunately for the authors of this document, one of their claims was quickly shown to be patently false. They claimed an ongoing campaign was running to remove the head teacher of Springfield Primary School, who had been forced out only to be reinstated by the governors. This head teacher had left the school 20 years earlier.

Much else about the document doesn’t ring true either. But any attention to what is truth and what is falsehood has rapidly been lost as a witch hunt gathers pace.

Ofsted inspectors are apparently now criticising schools for not ‘teaching anti-terrorism’. School governors who reject the allegations are accused of complicity. Schools with glowing inspection reports now expect new judgements to damn them. And the absurdity has now reached new heights with the appointment, by Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove, of a counter-terrorism specialist to head a government inquiry.

As Salma Yaqoob says, ‘Michael Gove has managed at a stroke to increase fear and suspicion between Muslim and non-Muslim in the city’. Labour MP Shabana Mahmood called the appointment ‘quite simply shocking’. Even the Chief Constable of West Midlands Police, Chris Sims, described it as ‘desperately unfortunate’.

A petition launched in opposition to this witch hunt has already gathered approaching 2,000 signatories, and can be signed here. Concern about the grossly disproportionate response by the government is widespread and demonstrating this breadth of opposition is important if a witch hunt against Muslim school governors and school staff is to be reversed. Debates about the character of educational provision in Birmingham can and should be conducted in an atmosphere of positive support for multicultural education, in which schools serve the needs of all of their diverse communities.

Gove’s inquiry is, however, just the latest act in a long campaign to paint Muslims as a threat, to be treated with suspicion. Salma Yaqoob says ‘there is understandable frustration and despair. Increasingly Muslims feel they just can’t win. On the one hand we get told we are not integrating enough and we should engage more in civic society. On the other, when we do, we get accused of having sinister agendas’.

Racism against Muslim communities came to the fore in the wake of 9-11 and the launch of the ‘war on terror’. Hundreds of thousands of Muslims became part of the anti-war movement, joining millions of people both here and worldwide in opposition to the Iraq war. Those who spoke out against imperialism were, and still are, the subject of political attack or outright repression, aimed at silencing them or disrupting the unity of the anti-war struggle.

These latest events in Birmingham do not occur in isolation. During April alone there have been a series of disturbing examples of this method of political intimidation. The hundreds of death sentences passed against Muslim Brotherhood supporters in Egypt, including a further 683 yesterday, are not condemned; instead the British government has launched its enquiry into the Muslim Brotherhood in this country. The Chairman of the Charity Commission announced that ‘Islamic extremism’ was the most ‘deadly’ problem faced by charities. And yet another government investigation was launched into Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman – guilty only of running a progressive administration but routinely branded as ‘extremist’.

This is a ‘weapon of mass distraction’ that has been employed increasingly often as austerity bites harder, inequality deepens, and far right political forces build on anti-immigrant and xenophobic prejudices. Those on the receiving end of these attacks should not be left to stand alone. And the wider tide of racism and xenophobia that is flowing through British politics needs to be confronted and opposed.

Building opposition to the scapegoating of Muslims will be a major theme at the Stand up to racism and fascism Conference on Saturday 14 June, details below.

National Conference
Stand up to racism and fascism – No to Scapegoating Immigrants – No to Islamophobia

9.30 – 5pm Saturday 14 June

Trade Union Congress
Congress House
Great Russell Street
London WC1B 3LS
£12 / £6 (students and concs)

Themes include: ● No to Islamophobia and Islamophobic attacks ● Challenging racist scapegoating of immigrants ● Celebrating diversity ● Busting the myths on immigration ● Responding to racism and fascism in Europe ● Stand up to UKIP

Download Stand up to racism and fascism conference leaflet here.