The Trojan Horse Affair: (full series)
February 5, 2022 7:12 AM - Subscribe

The new podcast from Serial/NYT, a mystery in eight parts: A strange letter appears on a city councillor’s desk in Birmingham, England, laying out an elaborate plot by Islamic extremists to infiltrate the city’s schools. The plot has a code name: Operation Trojan Horse. The story soon explodes in the news and kicks off a national panic. By the time it all dies down, the government has launched multiple investigations, beefed up the country’s counterterrorism policy, revamped schools and banned people from education for the rest of their lives. To Hamza Syed, who is watching the scandal unfold in his city, the whole thing seemed … off. Because through all the official inquiries and heated speeches in Parliament, no one has ever bothered to answer a basic question: Who wrote the letter? And why? The night before Hamza is to start journalism school, he has a chance meeting in Birmingham with the reporter Brian Reed, the host of the hit podcast S-Town. Together they team up to investigate: Who wrote the Trojan Horse letter? They quickly discover that it’s a question people in power do not want them asking.
posted by progosk (12 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I'm in episode 5 now -- after starting yesterday -- and I have to say I'm enjoying the hell out of this ride. It's infuriating too, and I'm an American so I assume it's worse for Brits.
posted by BlahLaLa at 2:41 PM on February 5, 2022 [1 favorite]

Okay, finished it. And yes, infuriating. Infuriating!
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:18 PM on February 6, 2022

If you’re up for some more infuriation, give the BBC’s own three-part radio “investigation” from a year ago a spin. It opts for a lit-crit approach, subtly couching the secularist dogwhistling in fine-tuned quips, while managing to skip any actual investigating altogether….
posted by progosk at 10:46 PM on February 6, 2022 [1 favorite]

Yeah, this was excellent and infuriating, on so many levels. There's a lot of insane minutia; this is at its roots the story of a primary school principal and an islamophobic teacher at a majority Muslim secondary school... But then the national press and conservatives are more than happy to pick up their mediocre bullshit and spin it into nationalistic slop, and destroy a school and countries lives in the process.

Other thoughts:

* I don't think I had ever quite imagined Richard Dawkins and the British atheists as a weird-ass rear guard islamophobic calvary, but here we are, in the worst timeline.

* The character development and relationship between Hamza and Brian was quite lovely.

* The late addition of the dentist to the team - complete with adding him to the top of the episode name check in the last episode - was great.

* It's pretty clear they're going that the reporting they've done here helps shake things loose. There's already a fair number of 'we've moved on' statements being published by key players. It'll be interesting to see if anything breaks out... Maybe there's enough here to renew the fraud investigation against Darr, which would presumably come with a bunch of new subpoenas and legal discovery. (Or whatever the British equivalents are.)
posted by kaibutsu at 11:16 PM on February 6, 2022 [4 favorites]

progosk thanks for that recommendation. It was infuriating in that it did the thing that so many people in they interviewed in the Trojan Horse podcast did--acknowledge that the letter was a fake but then let the claims of the letter inform the conversation. In the last episode the Times journalist makes reference to parents trying to remove headteachers as if was an established fact and I wanted to scream, "But no one ever did that!"
posted by nangua at 10:09 AM on February 8, 2022 [1 favorite]

some further follow-ups:

Why the Trojan Horse Affair Is a Very British Scandal, A. Sarkar interviews Syed and Reed (Novara Media, 17 Feb)

The Muslim victims of Operation Trojan Horse, interviews with three teachers on the fallout of the affair (5Pillars, 10 Feb)

Also: the transcripts for all episodes are now up here.
posted by progosk at 12:03 PM on February 17, 2022

Oh, and

The Trojan Horse Affair: The Islamophobic hoax masquerading as Home Office policy, A. Qureshi (The New Arab, 11 Feb)
posted by progosk at 12:17 PM on February 17, 2022

When it originally happened eight years ago, the affair didn't make it to Metafilter, but it registered on reddit, which now provides an interesting historical mirror/lens...

There's now a petition calling for a new independent public inquiry into the affair, as also floated by the MCB last week.
posted by progosk at 5:55 AM on February 19, 2022 [2 favorites]

This was excellent. I've been waiting, no doubt in vain, for the British media to pick up the baton in terms of coverage. Sadly, despite being #1 on Apple Podcasts in both the UK and US for two weeks running, there's barely anything other than:

Financial Times: "It’s the kind of wild conspiracy theory that should be ideal podcast fodder, but Reed and Syed find themselves faced with an insurmountable problem: trying to make the minutiae of local politics exciting." Nothing on the substance.

The Guardian: A couple of perfunctory pieces amounting to "it happened a long time ago, let's not re-open old wounds" and an awful piece today that says, essentially, journalism is pointless because the courts are always right

The Times: "I found it quite boring"

BBC, The Telegraph, The Sun, Daily Mail, Evening Standard, Daily Express, The Mirror, The Independent, Sky News: Literally nothing at all
posted by adrianhon at 5:38 AM on February 20, 2022 [3 favorites]

The Guardian: [...] an awful piece today

Here's A. Sarkar's poignant reply to Sodha's column.

In other media, Trashfuture's latest episode is an excellent conversation with the authors.
posted by progosk at 12:48 PM on February 22, 2022 [1 favorite]

It was incredibly depressing to see the British establishment using Sodha's column and tweet thread as a cudgel against the podcast's reporting. Everyone from fellow Guardian writers to Nick Timothy and Michael Gove themselves retweeted Sodha (real "are we the baddies?" energy). People were saying, "check out this forensic takedown of the podcast" when it was nothing like that – as if saying something is "forensic" makes it so.

I suppose it's not surprising that British media would rather attack the messenger than admit fault... but it also shows how long a road this is before they truly change.
posted by adrianhon at 1:24 AM on February 23, 2022 [1 favorite]

Thanks for sharing.

As an American who had no knowledge of this until listening to the podcast; I am finding this intriguing.
I've made it through the first episodes and part of the 2nd episode during a long drive but relative to other non-fiction, longform podcasts I've listened to (and the other editions to Serial), I've found it to be more in-depth with more people involved so it's been a little difficult to follow (it may have been the car's poor speakers).
Perhaps they'll talk about it more in later episodes, but I was fascinated by the multiple accusations and counter-accusations among Darr (the principal of Adderley) and the Teacher Assistants; who really caused the conflict; how much of it was informed/driven by a clash of personality types, vs. differing beliefs of culture and practicing Islam in school in the then-present day.

I'll certainly give it another listen soon and certainly more listeners would probably find it worth their while if they've listened to other Serial podcasts.
posted by fizzix at 3:15 PM on February 26, 2022

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