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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 December 2018

Controversial 'Islamist plot' meeting goes ahead in UK despite ban calls

Group accused of extremism holds meeting challenging official view of hardline Islamist plot in schools

Michael Gove, a former UK education minister who ordered the 'Trojan Horse' inquiry in 2014. Simon Dawson/Bloomberg
Michael Gove, a former UK education minister who ordered the 'Trojan Horse' inquiry in 2014. Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

A controversial event featuring an official banned from British schools for promoting hardline Islamist teaching went ahead on Friday despite calls for a boycott following allegations of extremism against the organisers.

The meeting featured school director Tahir Alam, identified as a central figure in the so-called Trojan Horse affair, an alleged attempt to oust headteachers in the UK’s second city of Birmingham and introduce a curriculum based on intolerant Islamic values.

The meeting “Trojan Horse: The Facts” was organised by a grassroots organisation Muslim Engagement and Development (MEND) which was this week accused of fostering extremism in a report published by a right-wing thinktank.

The Henry Jackson Society claimed members of the group downplayed the terrorist nature of attacks, promoted conspiracy theories, suggested that those returning from fighting in Syria should not be prosecuted and sought to legitimise the killing of British troops in Iraq.

The publication of the report prompted several MPs to pull out of an event at Westminster hosted by the organisation marking the start of Islamophobia awareness month. Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour opposition party, attended the event, along with other MPs and a representative of London’s police force.

Nick Timothy, a former senior adviser of Prime Minister Theresa May, called on officials to ban Friday’s event that was featured a teaching union official and activists as well as Mr Alam to discuss the Trojan Horse affair.

“Tahir Alam is banned from schools. He is the main speaker. It is arranged by MEND. Nothing more needs to be said,” Mr Timothy said in a tweet.

Mr Alam lost his appeal earlier this year against the ban from a management position at any independent school after the government found that he had undermined “fundamental British values”.

Mr Alam, a former director of Park View Educational Trust which ran three schools in the city, was held responsible for inviting extremist speakers to address pupils, the use of unacceptable teaching materials and promoting intolerance, according to the government.

Two official inquiries in 2014 criticised the management of schools in the city with one finding that a number of people with positions of influence in schools “espouse, sympathise with, or fail to challenge extremist views.”

The findings were contested by MPs who found little evidence of extremism or radicalisation in schools in Birmingham or across the country. Mr Alam claimed he was the victim of a politically-motivated “witch hunt”.

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Mr Alam was only the second person to face lasting sanctions as a result of the inquiry. Five senior teachers who faced accusations of professional misconduct had the cases against them dropped because of flaws in the process earlier this year.

In a statement, the authorities in Birmingham said Friday that it was concerned there were no misleading messages given about “what really happened during Trojan Horse, and to make it clear that the city council in no way endorses the planned event”.

It added: “What happened in the schools caught up in Trojan Horse in 2014 is clearly established and we must not shy away from challenging those who seek to deny there was a serious problem at that time.”

MEND official Azad Ali said the event went ahead before a packed audience on Friday, and concluded there was no plot and lives had been destroyed of the Trojan Horse affair.

MEND separately Friday denied the allegations levelled against the group by the Henry Jackson Society and rejected accusations of homophobia, anti-Semitism and said it has never supported calls to kill members of the British armed forces.

Mr Ali, however, lost a legal case in 2010 after bringing legal action against a newspaper which claimed that he had backed a call to kill British troops in Iraq. A judge concluded that Mr Ali was “taking the position that the killing of American and British troops in Iraq…. would be justified by his middle or “balanced” interpretation of jihad,” according to court documents.

Dr Shazad Amin, the chief executive of MEND, said that the group had repeatedly spoken out about terrorism and had raised £38,000 for the victims of the Manchester Arena suicide bomb attack in May which left 22 people dead. “The idea we support or promote terrorism is complete nonsense if you look at what we do on the ground,” he told The National.