Letters: the catastrophic effect of the Trojan Horse Affair

Show caption Birmingham schools were damaged. Composite: Sean Pressley/ David Sillitoe/Getty Observer letters Letters: the catastrophic effect of the Trojan Horse Affair The podcast about the 2013 allegations that there was an Islamic plot to take over Birmingham state schools was misleading and wrong Sun 27 Feb 2022 06.00 GMT Share on Facebook

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I want to thank you so much for Sonia Sodha’s article (“The Trojan Horse Affair: how Serial podcast got it so wrong”, Focus). I was dismayed and depressed to listen to this New York Times podcast, which is one-sided, misleading and, in many instances, wrong.

As a senior leader in one of the schools involved, I saw first hand the damage inflicted by, in our case, several rogue members on our governing body working with others beyond the school to undermine the curriculum, the leadership team and the social cohesion the school had cultivated so carefully and successfully. What they did had a catastrophic effect on the health and career of one senior colleague, caused anxiety and division among the staff, alarm and worry to pupils and their parents and the school, previously rated “good”, was eventually put into special measures. At least it meant the governing body had to go and we could begin to recover.

Name and address supplied

Sonia Sodha seems to acknowledge, albeit grudgingly, that the Trojan Horse Affair was indeed overshadowed by a “false narrative” of violent extremism in some Birmingham schools, a narrative that was fuelled by a phantom letter and relied on false tropes of regressive Muslim attitudes The allegations stoked Islamophobia on a national scale and Muslim communities are still living with the consequences. Concerns about child protection, governance and the role religion and culture play in schools are valid and should be discussed openly. Parents, teachers, governors and education officials could have come together through mutual respect to navigate expressions of faith in our school system in an inclusive way. Instead, policymakers and the media were blinded by a moral panic about Muslims, a suspicion of their motives and sheer prejudice about their beliefs and customs. To put it simply: the Trojan Horse hoax was weaponised, compounding institutional racism.

Zara Mohammed, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain

London E1

Thank you for filling the gaps in the Trojan Horse Serial podcast. The political motives of the initial investigation and origins of the letter could have been questioned while also shining a spotlight on how the systematic implementation of a religiously conservative ideology was affecting staff and pupils, particularly girls and women. These issues, including safeguarding, continue to be downplayed or portrayed as lies in a bid to exonerate the men. I sent Serial podcast our 2014 media statement, which was ignored, even though we spoke to Muslim witnesses directly. Among other things, segregation and girls wearing hijab were portrayed as choices but they were shamed into complying, otherwise they would not be good Muslims. Shaming into silence is a running theme even now but this time character assassination of critics like me on social media.

I am glad the “old Muslim boys’ network” was dismantled but wish it had been exposed another way and not through the lens of extremism and Trojan Horse, as this conversation would have looked very different.

Shaista Gohir, executive director of the Muslim Women’s Network UK


Picasso was all man

I very much enjoyed Laura Cumming’s article on the exhibition A Century of the Artist’s Studio: 1920-2020 at the Whitechapel Gallery (“Where the magic happens”, the New Review). I was intrigued by the comment on the photo of Picasso, “his masculinity barely concealed by a toga”. Was this some prophetic take on gender by Picasso? When I visited the show yesterday I saw that it’s Picasso’s genitals that are concealed by the toga; his masculinity looked as evident as ever. Maybe a bit less euphemism next time? Still, a great show with an inspiring recommendation.

Karen Byrne

London SW17

Islands are no soft touch

Your article “Starmer: Russians hide cash in ‘soft touch’ UK” (News) does not paint a proper picture of the link between the British Virgin Islands and Russian investment in UK property.

The BVI has some of the strictest controls of any financial centre globally. We hold a beneficial ownership register for all companies in our territory that own property. Unlike many other jurisdictions, including the UK, only licensed corporate service providers can incorporate companies and by law they must conduct customer due diligence, including enhanced checks for politically exposed people. This beneficial ownership list is accessible by UK law enforcement and international agencies via our beneficial ownership secure search system.

There is no evidence of illicit use of BVI companies being used (by Russian or other nationalities) to purchase property in the UK. The BVI does not have a disproportionate number of Russian companies compared with other financial centres; only 3%of the BVI companies worldwide are owned by Russians.

The BVI is actively implementing UK-imposed sanctions on Russia. As a leading financial centre, we will continue to tackle money laundering and corruption, while making a positive economic contribution globally, in the UK and in the BVI.

Elise Donovan, chief executive officer, BVI Finance

Road Town, British Virgin Islands

Our vision for food

The food strategy white paper is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the UK government to set out a single visionary plan to transform England’s food system for our health, the economy and the planet. Recent gas and commodity price increases, CO2 shortages, tighter border controls and labour shortages have shown how important a coordinated approach to the food system is. It is only by taking an integrated, cross-government approach, building on the recommendations laid out in the National Food Strategy, that the government can lead the food system reform necessary to achieve its net zero and nature-positive commitments, tackle obesity and reduce inequalities.

To do this, the white paper must commit first and foremost to new primary legislation demonstrating the government’s ambition in this space by putting in place the food system impact targets and long-term levers that will support the cross-government action that is needed to transform the food system for future generations. Through smart investment, aligned trade policy, standards and the right targets and laws in food, the government can unlock innovation and build resilient, sustainable supply chains and progressive partnerships with the best producers.

The white paper, coming after the Cop26 climate summit, is a line in the sand moment to reduce the environmental impacts of England’s food system, increase access to and affordability of a healthy diet and support farmers, businesses and others to accelerate their transition towards more healthy, sustainable practices while providing high-quality employment in all parts of the country. With food system strategies and legislation under way in all the devolved nations, this is an excellent opportunity to consider how legislation introduced in Westminster could benefit everyone.

We are calling on the government to commit to new primary legislation and champion food system change.

Sustain; Food Foundation; WWF-UK

Hubbub, Compassion in World Farming; Eating Better; Friends of the Earth; Alexandra Rose Charity; Food Ethics Council; Food, Farming and Countryside Commission; Royal Society for the Protection of Birds; National Trust; Soil Association; The Landworkers’ Alliance; Bite Back 2030; Sustainable Food Trust; School Food Matters; Consensus Action on Salt, Sugar and Health; Real Farming Trust; Farm Wilder; CSA Network UK; PAN UK; The Food Teachers Centre; Pipers Farm; Dr Rosemary Green, associate professor in sustainability, nutrition and health, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine; Leeds City Council; Chefs in Schools; World Cancer Research Fund; Dr Rosalind Sharpe, director, Food Research Collaboration, Centre for Food Policy, City, University of London; Farms To Feed Us; Alliance to Save our Antibiotics; Trade Justice Movement; Slow Food in the UK; English Organic Forum; Farms Not Factories; Sustainable Restaurant Association; The Open Food Network; ProVeg UK; Plant-based Food Alliance UK; Dr Tara Garnett, University of Oxford; Humane Society International UK; Professor Tom MacMillan, Royal Agricultural University; SOS-UK; Black Butterfly; Forum for the Future; Wildlife and Countryside Link; Organic Farmers & Growers CIC; FOUR PAWS UK; Nature Friendly Farming Network; Diabetes UK; Wildfarmed; British Heart Foundation; Better Food Traders; Growing Communities; Changing Markets Foundation; G’s; Global Justice Now; Peas Please; Scrap Factory Farming (Humane Being); Bristol Food Producers; Feedback; Organic Research Centre; Professor Martin White, professor of population health research, University of Cambridge; Dr David Strain, chair of CMA Board of Science, British Medical Association; Bristol Food Network CIC; Professor Steven Cummins, Professor of Population Health & NIHR Senior Investigator, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine; Professor Richard Smith, Deputy Pro-Vice Chancellor and Professor of Health Economics, University of Exeter; Professor Kate Pickett, co-director, Centre for Future Health, University of York; Dr Christopher Yap, Centre For Food Policy, City, University of London; British Dental Association; Professor Peter Ball, professor of operations management, University of York Management School; UK Association for the Study of Obesity; Dr Maria Bryant, reader in public health nutrition, University of York; N8 Research Partnership; Professor Katherine Denby, Centre for Novel Agricultural Products, University of York; Professor Bob Doherty, FixOurFood, University of York Management School; Royal Academy of Culinary Arts’ Adopt a School Trust; Greenpeace UK; The Equality Trust; OmniAction.org; Quota.Media; Asylum Support & Immigration; Resource Team (ASIRT); Geoff Tansey, curator, Food Systems Academy; Hull Food Partnership; Dr Kerry Ann Brown, senior lecturer in public health nutrition, College of Life & Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter; Professor Peter Jackson, professor of human geography, University of Sheffield; Dr Rachel Loopstra, lecturer in nutrition, King’s College London; Sustainable Soils Alliance (SSA); Pasture for Life; Dr Isabel Fletcher, senior researcher, Science Technology and Innovation Studies, University of Edinburgh; Social Farms & Gardens; The Vegan Society; Dung beetles for farmers; CLEAR – The Consortium on Labelling for the Environment, Animal welfare and Regenerative farming; Aldi; Bidfood; Co-op; Compass UK & Ireland; Food4innov8ions Ltd; Greencore; Greggs; Lidl GB; M&S; Perfectly Fresh Ltd; Sainsbury’s; Sodexo; Sysco GB; Tesco; Waitrose; Young’s Seafood