Long time contributor Raf ponders the media response to the Trojan Horse Affair New York Times podcast and once again finds British journalism standards to be lacking

The Trojan Hoax podcast is giving me farce, high drama, soap opera and comedy characters on a par with Four Lions the film by Chris Morris. It has White Saviours claiming to want to save a Muslim woman who categorically denies needing saving. It has Michael Gove a couple years removed from his virulently Islamophobic screed Celsius 7/7 and who as Baroness Warsi claims, radicalised then Prime minister David Cameron into taking a hard stance against British Muslims. It has Nick Timothy the pound shop Rasputin like figure advisor to Home Secretary Theresa May phoning a local community centre in Birmingham to shutdown a discussion being held about the ‘Islamist’ plot.

In short, Trojan Hoax Affair, is an eight part investigation into who wrote that infamous letter and its subsequent fallout and impact on British Muslim communities. There’s even a Bridget Jones (no, not that one) What more do you want from a podcast series?

Hi if you’ve read this far, then you have been duped, led on, lied to by me in much the same way all the characters involved in the whole story were. This is not a review of The Trojan Horse Affair podcast in any traditional sense. This is an examination of the total failure of the UK journalism industry. A review on why no editor in the UK asked questions of those involved and why no journalist employed by the major British newspapers submitted a freedom of information requests like the two ‘Serial’ podcasters.

“Islamophobia really hit its zenith around the time of the Trojan hoax letter, who remembers Cathy Newman and her retracted assertion that she was ushered out of a Mosque? Or The Sun’s claim that 1 in 5 Muslims support ISIS or Trevor Phillips’ documentary on British Muslims?”

We were hardly in Woodward and Bernstein territory, yet the whole of British journalism acted like stenographers, instead of the investigative journalists they are supposed to be. Why in Jahanam did nobody from our fearless “nobody tells us what to write” press ask why would Islamists spend twenty years plotting to take over a school in Alum Rock and what was their end goal outside of declaring a Caliphate during term time only?

At its heart the podcast is about how the whole of society became radicalised. How the everyman and woman were groomed into viewing Muslims only through the lens of suspicion, securitisation and ‘civilising’ them (looking at you Humanist UK)

It’s the story of how people were duped into believing Steve and Sue Packer’s version of events at the school in question – without any corroboration of their story.

Islamophobia really hit its zenith around the time of the Trojan hoax letter. Who remembers Cathy Newman and her retracted assertion that she was ushered out of a Mosque? Or The Sun’s claim that 1 in 5 Muslims support ISIS or Trevor Phillips’ documentary on British Muslims? It seemed like everyone had something to say about British Muslims – even BAFTA winning actors and edgelord comedians.

There was a moral panic during and directly after that had severe consequences for every single Muslim family whether they lived in Birmigham or not.

As Asim Qureshi in his piece on the Trojan Horse Affair podcast argues, the UK government supercharged its Prevent strategy and introduced a raft of new laws and regulations in The Counter Terrorism and Security Act of 2015. He says Doctors, Nurses and Teachers are now compelled by legislation to report Muslim children if they show signs of radicalisation with hilarious and tragic consequences. Such as:

“Are we really to believe that the podcast would have gained so much traction if it was solely produced and presented by Muslims? There is a reason why Hamza waited around after a talk by a White American to approach him about covering the whole story. This admission in my view is a damning indictment on British journalism.”

What does this say about our newsrooms that the only Muslims allowed to talk about the hoax letter at the time were parroting “Islamists taking over Birmingham schools” talking points and going on to front astroturf organisations purporting to tackle extremism or leading the government’s anti-extremism programmes?

Why were Muslims speaking out at the time about The Trojan Hoax and the creeping securitisation of Muslim children because of this panic, smeared as Jihadists?

Are we really to believe that the podcast would have gained so much traction if it was solely produced and presented by Muslims?

There is a reason why Hamza waited around after a talk by a White American to approach him about covering the story. This admission in my view is a damning indictment of British journalism. Hamza felt he wouldn’t get anywhere with them because it is a closed Islamophobic shop.

Muslims make up 5% of the UK population but 0.4% of journalists in the UK are Muslim. Out of the 0.4% of Muslim journalists how many are from a working class background like the area in Birmingham? And because someone has to say it, how many of the most prominent Muslim journalists are just Brown faces for Islamophobia and increasing securitisation of Muslims?

That’s why I can’t stand diversity for diversity’s sake in British Journalism. One would imagine a working class journalist could have pointed out at the time that historically, this school was failing its pupils, in a catchment area with a significant proportion of students with English as a second language, but little was made of the turnaround in students’ academic outcomes. In fact Ofsted’s head, Sir Michael Wilshaw and his inspectors, commended the school at the centre of the fake Islamist takeover plot, for achieving academic results above the national average in a school where pupils where 70% of pupils were eligible for free school meals.

Nor was there any self reflection on how a school went from being above average to failing its pupils after the subsequent fall out from the Trojan Hoax affair. Instead we got the unedifying sight of white middle class journalists running around trying to interview students at the school gates about their thoughts on Shariah Law for national TV without a parent or guardian in sight.

So what is the lesson of the Trojan Hoax Affair now that we’ve pulled out of Afghanistan and turned our attention to Russia, China and bureaucrats in Brussels?. We have been left needing a domestic enemy and up stepped the GRT community.

The thing is, Trojan Hoax wouldn’t have become a national story without mood music. All of the main players of Trojan Hoax are still in government and our media is still majority white middle class men educated at Oxford or Cambridge. There’s still a people’s army of witchfinders and it’s important to understand that they’ll come for GRT communities. Editors right now will be looking for sensationalist stories and frame them as a threat to wider society. Funding for astroturf organisations purporting to represent marginalised communities will be given to push the increased secularisation of GRT people.

Self appointed leaders of the community will be given Op-Eds in The Times, Telegraph and The Guardian along the lines of ‘the GRT community should evolve or change’ – their way of life right down to where they live will become a matter of national security and as always both main parties will collude together just as they did in Birmingham.

Which brings us to the weekly recipient of ‘Not All Skinfolk Are Kinfolk’ award, Sonia Sodha and her ill-researched comment piece contrasting starkly with the long form investigative journalism contained within the Trojan Hoax Affair podcast – which has proved beyond the skillset of the entirety of British Journalism during the height of the Hoax and in the preceding years. Sonia is the former Head of the Capabilities Programme at Demos. Before that she was low woman on the totem pole at the Race Equality Unit at the Home Office.

Media Diversified founder Samantha’s attempts to engage with Sonia Sodha did not go well

If at this point, you are expecting a review of Sonia Sodha’s review of Trojan Hoax Affair, well you’ll be disappointed. Her CV speaks for itself.

More important to understand is that just at the time of The Trojan Hoax Affair we only read from and heard from Brown faces who pushed the counter terrorism narrative and weaponised their Muslimness to push Islamophobic narratives. This lead to putting British Muslim kids into the purview of security services.

Sonia Sodha weaponised her South Asianess because the intent is not to debunk any findings of the Trojan Hoax Affair which doesn’t show her fellow peers in the best of lights. Sonia Sodha spins it so that the simple act of pointing a mic in front of Steve and Sue Packer and them soiling themselves with White Saviourism and Islamophobic tropes, is the real terrorism and misogyny, not the terrorism the Muslim kids faced at the school in the preceding years as it once again started failing them academically.

If Sonia Sodha cared to listen to the podcast, she would have heard Amina’s powerful email saying not only had she never been contacted by anyone, including journalists (from Sue Packer’s claim that she was doing it for Amina), but that she resented the fact that she apparently needed a white woman to save her.

There’s been a circling of Wagons by British Journalists and taking pop shots at the “Failing New York Times” and there’s also the unedifying sight of some columnists questioning the impartiality of the Muslim host Hamza, but funnily enough these same accusations are not levelled at the white co-host Brian. Now why could that be?

Could it be that deep down they too know that the Trojan Hoax affair was an abject failure of British journalism?

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One thought on “Trojan Horse: A failure of British journalism

  1. I also thought Sonia’s article in the Guardian deeply misrepresented what was actually said in the podcast to launch an attack on the podcasters. It had the effect of smearing them as misogynist, when actually they go to lengths to get the testimony of Muslim women and also document the misogyny that some of the teachers were spreading.

    Either she just didn’t understand what the podcast was about, or she wanted to write a hit-piece and ignored some facts in order to fit her narrative.


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