Is the latest “Muslim terror plot” just another distraction from more serious issues?
It’s been a few weeks since ‘Operation Trojan Horse’ hit the headlines, sparking an ongoing frenzy over the possibility of terrorists radicalising students nationwide. The online document reportedly outlined ‘extremist’ plans to infiltrate schools in mainly Muslim areas by overthrowing headteachers and governing bodies before enforcing strict Islamic principles on pupils in the city of Birmingham as well as in Manchester and Bradford.
However the fact the document was anonymous, riddled with errors and likely a hoax appears to have been lost on major newspapers and more worryingly Government officials who in their stated desire to combat the spread of divisive ideologies – may themselves be doing so more effectively than any terrorist in UK ever could.
As the story broke and false reports of segregated classes, radical assemblies and the cancelling of Christmas swirled across the tabloids, politicians stoked tensions further.
Michael Gove, the Education secretary ordered three enquires in response to the report and hired Peter Clarke, the former Metropolitan Police anti-terrorism chief to investigate.
Suddenly 21 Birmingham schools, many of which were previously praised for high academic achievement and building community relations, faced allegations of indoctrination.
Mr Gove also unveiled a plan, backed by David Cameron, for “British values” to be promoted in all UK schools to combat the assumed threat and Tristham Hunt, the shadow education secretary, warned “divisive religious extremism” was a danger to Britain’s much heralded “multi-cultural society.”
Local Councils have also requested greater powers to monitor schools and protect pupils from extremist ideologies.
Even former Prime Minister Tony Blair got in on the action, claiming the alleged plot was driven by the same Islamic extremism which fuels Boko Haram in Nigeria.
This sensationalised response to an unproven threat is the latest in a long line of incidents which continue to fuel the flames of islamophobia nationwide.In recent years, Politicians appear to have largely abandoned the notion of “political correctness” when speaking into so-called Islamic extremism.
For instance, the Woolwich attack which resulted in the death of British soldier Lee Rigby last year, was portrayed not as the isolated actions of two men but an ‘attack on the British way of life’ by David Cameron. 
Writing in the telegraph newspaper last year – Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, called for “tougher” monitoring of Islamic societies in universities and earlier this year appeared to claim children should be taken from Muslim parents and into social care if they were in danger of ‘radicalisation.’
Popular newspapers often go further, publishing divisive and sometimes completely false stories about “Muslim hate mobs” and plots to “kill the pope.”
As a result, an irrational fear and/or hatred of Muslims has developed across the UK as evidenced by a 2011 report into Muslim and Western tensions which found;
- 52% of Britons believe Muslims create problems
- 47% see Muslims as a threat
- 45% think there are “too many” Muslims in Britain and
- 58% associate Islam with extremism.
Tellingly 64% of people surveyed claimed all they knew of Islam was acquired from the media.
Further, the number of recorded Islamophobic hate crimes increased 20% last year and recently a student from Saudi Arabia was stabbed to death whilst on her way to University in a suspected Islamophobic attack.
However Muslims are not the only social group to be stigmatised in a damaging way.
Over the past year, immigrants have been in the scope of politicians and the press alike. From the now infamous Government sanctioned “Go home” advertising campaign which threatened illegal immigrants with forced deportations to false claims of health tourism and the non-existent threat of Romanians flooding the country and taking ‘our jobs’ – immigrants have been a source of countless stories for newspapers to print and politicians to debate and win voters with.
Prior to immigrants it was the benefit cheats who were the target of choice – these “shirkers” we were led to believe were robbing the tax-paying “strivers” of their due. Cue a number of sensationalist tabloid reports about parrot hoarding families living in 8 bedroom mansions and single mothers siphoning off thousands of pounds a year for grand shopping schemes on state hand-outs. The fact that more benefits are underpaid than overpaid was casually omitted from the news reports and official speeches – but why should the truth stand in the way of a captivating side-show?
In addition to dividing the general public against itself by scapegoating particular groups, these stories serve as red-herrings every bit as entrancing as those seen in Alfred Hitchcock’s films.
They distract from the real issues – such as the Government’s push to start “fracking” for shale gas despite widespread fears it could cause serious long term environmental damage including water contamination. Not to mention rising inequality and poverty, the failing education system, Government corruption, the housing crisis or the GCHQ/NSA state surveillance programs.
The latter is of particular concern. Essentially the state have without the permission or consultation of the public or their elected representatives decided to invade the privacy of millions of British citizens. The heads of GCHQ, MI5 and MI6 claim such procedures as necessary for the prevention of terrorist attacks but the official definition of “terrorist” or “extremist” has been proven to vary widely.
Last year, the Guardian newspaper revealed the national domestic extremism unit was actively monitoring almost 9,000 individuals. These included environmentalists, union leaders, anti-capitalist activists and animal rights protestors among others.
Could it be that all who exhibit views outside of the status quo are considered “extremist” or “terrorist”? How does this fit with the notions of democracy and freedom we are so often told we enjoy here in the UK?
The real Trojan Horse is the bevy of manufactured distractions which keep us from recognising and focusing on the big issues and consequently starving off the possibility of tangible social and political changes. For all the talk of protecting children from extremism in schools – it could be the general public who are in greater need of protecting from the sleep inducing pill of misinformation and misdirection as prescribed by those who claim to have our best interests at heart.