Trojan Horse Affair: When the targets are Muslims, no one cares about the truth
I’ve spent the past week listening to the Trojan Horse Affair podcast from my home in the north western suburbs of Sydney. It took me a week because there were countless moments I needed to pause, to process my visceral anger and emotions.
Even though the events took place over 17,000 kilometres away from where I live, Australia and the UK are chapters bound together in the global story of Islamophobia. From Sydney to Birmingham, the Trojan Horse affair resonated so powerfully because the power of Islamophobia is that its lies and violence are packaged and distributed as a seductive transnational epic tale of good versus evil.
Translated into multiple languages, Islamophobia is structured around historically honed folk summaries and casts of caricature heroes and villains. Its basic structure is interactive with other contexts and histories, even as the local story it tells is a situated and specific one.
"From Sydney to Birmingham, the Trojan Horse affair resonated so powerfully because the power of Islamophobia is that its lies and violence are packaged and distributed as a seductive transnational epic tale of good versus evil"
The story of Islamophobia is staged in various settings - for example, the “Muslim Grooming Gangs” of Rotherham and Rochdale, the “Muslim gang rapes” in Western Sydney or the “Muslim attackers” in Cologne, Germany, mandating the teaching of “Australian values” or “British values” in schools and so on. It draws on familiar motifs - the veil, bearded men, “Allahu Akbar”, minarets - and infamous villains.
Like a classic Choose Your Own Adventure book, the flexibility of the plot allows for the narrator to present the audience with the opportunity to “choose” alternative characters, themes and genres: for violence and gender or forced marriages, turn to page fifty; for horror and Muslim terror attacks, turn to page eighty. There is always the freedom to change scenes: you can pick between race riots on a Sydney beach or a mosque shooting in Quebec, Finsbury Park or Christchurch.
In the best-selling genre of the global so-called “War on Terror”, the Trojan Horse Affair was always going to be a blockbuster of a chapter. In the podcast, Hamza Syed and Brian Reed effortlessly expose the plot-holes, the victims and villains, implausible story-lines and hackneyed scripts.
The Trojan Horse Affair was a scandal in which the government claimed to have intercepted a Salafist plot to infiltrate Britain's education system, but a new podcast revealshow and why the plot was an Islamophobic hoax https://t.co/UfCZJ1JCOH— The New Arab (@The_NewArab) February 14, 2022
Yet for the political establishment, mainstream media and the wider public, the implausible, sensational and far-fetched only made the story more appealing. As Asim Qureshi recently wrote, “one of the things that stands out most [was] how utterly easy it was for the narrative of the enemy within to take hold.”
Political and media trafficking in Islamophobia, moral panics about Muslim extremists, securitising and policing Muslim communities in the name of national security, problematising Muslim religiosity and framing Muslim youth through a security agenda— all of this is familiar to us Muslims here in Australia, too. It has become matter-of-fact, routine, common sense.
Years of sustained ideological and political work has created maps of globally resonant common-sense meanings, ideas, suspicions about young Muslims as at-risk, Muslim schools as hotbeds of extremism, Muslims as duplicitous, conniving, scheming fifth columns. It has become common sense to treat schools with an overt Islamic ethos as pre-suspect, as could-be dangerous, could-be radicalising children.
The racial logics that animated the Trojan Horse Affair had currency here in Australia. In 2017 the story was leveraged at a time of sensationalised moral panics over “radicalisation” in Sydney’s schools with sizable Muslim student populations. One particular school with a majority Muslim student cohort, Punchbowl Boys’ High School, was at the centre of a media and political furore over an “Islamic State terror threat in schools” and the grooming of “junior jihadis”.
At the time of the Punchbowl Boys’ High School controversy, New South Wales’s Education Minister, Rob Stokes, was in the UK. Asked to comment, he said he would be seeking advice from British education officials on “Birmingham’s infamous Operation Trojan Horse scandal” but maintained that there were no parallels between Punchbowl High and Operation Trojan Horse.
The disclaimer was hollow. The fact there were no parallels was not the point. The point was the power to disregard the truth and draw a parallel anyway. If Punchbowl could-be like the schools (supposedly) targeted under Operation Trojan Horse, then it will be and therefore it is.
In the case of Operation Trojan Horse, the podcast made clear that the authenticity of the letter was not the issue. If it could be true, well then it will be treated as true.
"To be pre-suspect means one is never not suspect, and never considered innocent. In this context of guilty until proven otherwise, whether an allegation is true or false becomes irrelevant"
Could-be is the racializing logic of two decades of the war on terror and countering violent extremism (CVE) policies that have treated the Muslim community as inherently pre-suspect, ready to be caught out at any gotcha moment. To be pre-suspect means one is never not suspect, and never considered innocent. In this context of guilty until proven innocent, whether an allegation is true or false becomes irrelevant.
That “so few have been interested in uncovering the truth about the Trojan Horse Affair”, is, criminologist Waqas Tufail notes, an indictment on British journalism. In the end, it fell on a US journalist and student journalist to investigate whether the Trojan Horse Affair was hoax or truth.
But even more sobering is that their investigation makes clear that for those in power, the answer to this question makes no difference at all.
Randa Abdel-Fattah is a DECRA Research Fellow in the Department of Sociology at Macquarie University researching the generational impact of the war on terror on post 9/11 youth and the award winning author of over 11 novels.
Follow her on Twitter: @RandaAFattah
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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.