British authorities say they have widened their investigation into an alleged plot by Muslim fundamentalists to Islamize public schools in England and Wales.
The expanded probe now encompasses at least 25 schools in Birmingham, up from four initially. Investigators are also looking into new allegations that Muslim extremists have infiltrated schools in other British cities, including Bradford and Manchester.
The plot—dubbed Operation Trojan Horse—consists of a strategy to wrest control of schools by ousting non-Muslim head teachers and staff at secular state schools and replacing them with individuals who will run the schools according to strict Islamic principles.
A copy of a strategy document outlining the plot was sent to the Birmingham City Council in November 2013, but its existence did not become known to the public until March 2014, when it was leaked to the London-based newspaper, the Sunday Times.
Although police are still working to determine the authenticity of the document, what remains beyond dispute is that Muslim hardliners are subverting the British school system in ever greater numbers.
Since Operation Trojan Horse came to light, British authorities have been inundated with more than 200 whistleblower complaints in Birmingham alone—including emails, letters and telephone calls from parents, teachers and school leaders—about the imposition of conservative Islamic practices in primary, secondary and community schools, as well as in publicly-funded academies.
The former headmaster of Saltley School in Birmingham resigned following a plot by Islamist fanatics to oust him. (Image source: Screenshot from BBC video)
Allegations include the takeover of school governing bodies by Islamic fundamentalists, harassment and squeezing-out of non-Muslim teachers, forcing female students to cover their hair, banning sex-education classes, bullying female staff, and segregating boys and girls in classrooms.
Over the past several weeks, Ofsted, the official agency for inspecting British schools, has carried out surprise inspections of at least 18 schools in Birmingham, under orders from the British Department for Education. This is in addition to a separate investigation being conducted by the Birmingham City Council. The initial findings of these investigations are to be published in May, with full reports following in July.
But critics say the schools inspected so far represent only the tip of the iceberg. The problem of Islam in public schools has been allowed to snowball to vast proportions—not dozens, nor hundreds, they say, but thousands of British schools have come under the influence of Muslim radicals—and they accuse the British government of willful complacency driven by blind obeisance to multiculturalism.
One such critic is Michael White, a former teacher at Birmingham's Park View School, which is at the center of the controversy. White recently told the BBC that concerns of an "Islamic takeover plot" were first raised more than 20 years ago, but they were ignored by government officials obsessed with enforcing political correctness.
White said he was "forced out" after he challenged attempts by the Muslim governors of the school to ban sex education and stop the teaching of non-Islamic faiths in religious education classes.
Another critic, Birmingham's Labour MP Khalid Mahmood, says the majority of the governors at the school are Salafists and Wahhabis, Muslim hardliners who are "trying to import their views into classrooms and the day to day running of the school." In an interview with the Birmingham Mail, Mahmood said he believes British education officials have previously resisted getting involved in disputes with Muslim schools for fear of being called racist or anti-Islamic.
Ofsted is now investigating allegations that Muslim hardliners at the school are indoctrinating pupils by—among other tactics—teaching them to praise the anti-Western sermons of firebrand Muslim preachers such as the late Anwar al-Awlaki, who planned terrorist operations for the Islamist group al Qaeda. They are also accused of misusing £70,000 (€85,000; $120,000) of taxpayers' money to purchase playground loudspeakers to call pupils to Islamic prayers.
Muslim school officials insist the allegations are unfounded and motivated by Islamophobia. "There is no evidence for any of these things whatsoever," one of the governors of the school, Tahir Alam, told BBC Radio. "I believe it is a witch-hunt based on all sorts of false allegations which have been repeated over many weeks. I also believe it is motivated by anti-Muslim, anti-Islam sentiment that is also sort of feeding this frenzy," he added.
But similar allegations abound at other schools in Birmingham. The head teacher of the Saltley School was forced out after he opposed plans by the Muslim governors of the school to scrap sex education and allow only halal food.
Balwant Bains, who is of Sikh origin, was also instructed to stop teaching citizenship classes because they were deemed to be "un-Islamic," and to introduce Islamic studies into the curriculum, even though Saltley is a non-faith school.
Bains says he was "bullied and intimidated" in the months before he left Saltley School in November 2013. After Muslim governors overturned his decision to expel a Muslim pupil found with a knife, Bains was also targeted in an anonymous text message that branded him a "racist, Islamophobic head teacher."
Bains resigned after an Ofsted report concluded he had a "dysfunctional" relationship with the school's governors. In recent months, five non-Muslim governors of the Saltley School have resigned, leaving 12 Muslim governors out of a total of 14.
This is not the first time the Saltley School has been linked to Muslim extremists. Previously, an "achievement mentor" at the school was arrested for his involvement in a terror cell which planned to behead a British soldier. Zahoor Iqbal was jailed for seven years in 2008 for supplying equipment for terrorist acts and supplying money or property for use in terrorism.
Another whistleblower told the Sunday Times that the new Muslim head teacher at Ladypool Primary School in Birmingham stopped Christmas celebrations after her appointment in September 2013.
The teacher, Huda Aslam, who was recruited from an Islamic secondary school near Ladypool, told teachers organizing last year's Christmas party that Santa Claus was banned from the school and that there would be no presents and "no mention" of Jesus being the son of God.
Fresh allegations have also emerged in Manchester and Bradford. At Laisterdyke Business and Enterprise College and Carlton Bolling College, both in Bradford, there are claims that head teachers have come under pressure from Muslim governors to introduce Islamic practices.
Meanwhile, Birmingham's ten MPs have united to demand that Education Secretary Michael Gove launch a full inquiry into Operation Trojan Horse. The MPs from all three main parties presented a united front in a joint letter urging Gove to establish a cross-party review with the city council to build a "full picture" of what has happened.
Amid mounting criticism for failing to act swiftly over the crisis, Gove said on April 13 that he would send teams of inspectors into dozens of state schools and order them to fail any schools where "religious conservatism is getting in the way of learning and a balanced curriculum."
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has also backed the investigations. Schools should not be allowed to become "silos of segregation," he said.
The investigation will be carried out in phases, with a second wave of snap inspections of state and private schools taking place later in the year, once Ofsted determines the scale of the problem.
Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. He is also Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter.