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Call for Abstracts: The Trojan Horse Affair

Organisers: Contemporary Islamic Studies programme, St Antony’s College, Oxford; Archbishop Desmond Tutu Centre for War and Peace Studies, Liverpool Hope University; SOAS University of London

Conference date: 30-31 August 2022

Keynote speakers: Prof John Holmwood (University of Nottingham); Dr Khadijah Elshayyal (University of Edinburgh)

Abstract deadline: 15 May 2022

The Contemporary Islamic Studies programme at St Antony’s College, Oxford, the Archbishop Desmond Tutu Centre at Liverpool Hope University, and SOAS University of London are hosting a two-day online conference on the Trojan Horse Affair (THA).

The so-called ‘Trojan Horse Affair’ gripped Britain in the mid-2010s on the basis of a fake letter that purported to show the attempted takeover of a number of Birmingham schools by ‘Islamic extremists’. The episode was used as a springboard by the British government and media establishment to justify the increased surveillance and marginalisation of the already securitised Muslim community in Britain. In particular, the government aggressively beefed up the Prevent programme, which already disproportionately affected Muslim citizens, on the basis of the so-called Trojan Horse letter. And until recently, the conventional wisdom in Britain was that Muslims had indeed been ‘up to no good’ in British schools.

This narrative has been called into serious question by the latest instalment of the New York Times Serial podcast series. In eight gripping episodes, journalists Brian Reed and Hamza Syed pick apart the accepted narrative with remarkable ease to show the Islamophobic underpinnings of the prevailing account purveyed for years by the UK political and media establishments. The podcast draws an explicit parallel with another sinister hoax from European history, The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. It also has noteworthy parallels with the Zinoviev letter in Britain and the Dreyfus Affair in France.

In this call for papers, we invite both scholars and interested community members to offer their reflections on what transpired in the wake of the emergence of the fake letter in Birmingham in late 2013, and what it says about Islamophobia, minority status, religion, secularism, securitisation, liberalism, and establishment complicity in the systematic marginalisation of Muslims in modern Britain and beyond. We would also welcome testimonies of community members from Birmingham regarding the impact of the aggressive government and media attention directed at their schools, and the aftereffects of this hostile attention on the students and communities affected. These testimonies do not have to take the form of conventional academic papers - we welcome the use of diverse writing and presentation styles including poetry, short prose, conversation/interview, illustration, and the like.

Abstracts

Abstracts pertaining to the Trojan Horse Affair can address (but need not be limited to) any of the themes below:

  • Islamophobia, racism, and their manifestation in contemporary Britain
  • Structural Islamophobia and racism as manifested in the THA
  • The depoliticisation of British Muslims due to the THA
  • The THA’s adverse consequences for British Muslims’ educational experience
  • The meaning of “undue religious influence” in the educational and other public sectors of an Anglican state
  • Gender and misogyny in the THA
  • The legitimation of the Prevent-Islamophobia complex by the political classes, think tanks, pressure groups, and/or the media
  • The impact of the THA on the future prospects of Muslim students in Britain
  • Reflecting on one’s positionality beyond the academic realm
  • Comparisons between minorities: Islamophobia and other racisms
  • Violence as a trope in Islamophobic discourse
  • Postcolonial and/or decolonial perspectives on the THA
  • ‘Fundamental British Values’ and the exclusion of minorities
  • Free speech, power, and the silencing of minorities

For consideration of your proposal, please send a roughly 400-word abstract, summarising your proposed contribution and indicating what format it will take, to cisoq@sant.ox.ac.uk along with your full name and a short bio by the 15 May 2022. Please send the email with the subject line Abstract for THA.

Select participants may be asked to send in 3000-word essays which will be published in an edited volume with an academic press. These finalised essays will be collated and prepared for submission for peer-review as soon as possible after the planned conference in late August 2022, and no later than 30 September 2022.

Conference conveners:

Dr Salman Al-Azami, Liverpool Hope University

Dr Shereen Fernandez, London School of Economics

Dr Suriyah Bi, University of Edinburgh and SOAS University of London

Dr Usaama al-Azami, University of Oxford

Advisory committee:

Prof Therese O’Toole, University of Bristol

Dr Rehana Parveen, University of Birmingham

Dr Shamim Miah, University of Huddersfield

Dr Waqas Tufail, Leeds Beckett University