Podcast Review: The Trojan Horse Affair

“The Trojan Horse Affair” was a scandal in Birmingham, England that occurred as a result of an anonymous letter which described a plot to radicalize students in schools to extremist Islamic beliefs. The name Trojan horse comes from the accusation that Muslim educators were slowly unleashing this plot. Following the publication of  the “Trojan Horse” letter, Islamophobia spread through the media to the entire country. Journalists Brian Reed and Hamza Syed investigate this affair in a podcast which was created by the New York Times and Serial. In the beginning of the podcast, Hamza and Reed interview the so called mastermind of the plot-Tahir Alam. With Alam’s help, they narrow down possible writers of the letter and make determinations of why it was written. This podcast is a brilliant blend between a thriller and mystery that will make you eager to find out what happens next. 

When I first heard parts of the “Trojan Horse” letter read aloud in the the podcast, I was alarmed at the seriousness of the allegations. Quickly, I learned that the letter was nothing more than a malicious smear targeting a specific Muslim school administrator: Tahir Alam. Alam was a member of the Park View Education Trust which oversaw three schools in Birmingham. From his interview with Reed and Syed, you learn about his background and how he became a successful educator. A school that had previously underachieved academically began excelling under his leadership. You will be outraged and shocked by the treatment Alam experienced as a result of people believing the ridiculous “Trojan Horse” letter. 

From clues given by Alam, Reed and Syed investigate who the writer of the letter could be. Alam discusses how had a good idea who it was but does not mention any names.  Through his tips, the hosts look into a separate scandal that preceded the “Trojan Horse Affair.” During this scandal, which also occurred in Birmingham, an anonymous person authored the resignation letters of four staff members that worked at a school in Birmingham. These staff members were in conflict with the head of the school: Rizvana Darr. Each adamantly denied that they wrote a letter but they were dismissed none the less. Birmingham school administrators investigated the matter and were closing in on a decision but then the “Trojan Horse Letter” was published. This deflected attention away from Darr (the main suspect in this podcast for writing the letter) and put it on Tahir Alam who was one of the school administrators investigating the matter. This part of the podcast is especially gripping!       

Reed and Syed interview a few government officials who investigated the Trojan Horse Affair. They refute many of the claims in the letter but never clear the name of the people mentioned or investigate potential authors of it. They also give ambiguous answers to basic questions regarding their work. What is infuriating is their silence on accusations that were obviously bogus. This lead to the media and government officials spewing Islamophobia and racism towards Muslims. As you expect, many officials involved in the Trojan Horse Affair investigation declined to be interviewed for this podcast, which actually says a lot.

The hosts of The Trojan Horse Affair tell a great story. Besides talking about their research they describe road blocks in their attempt to investigate the “Trojan Horse Affair”, travel aboard to conduct interviews and lawsuits filed against them. There is no definite conclusion in the podcast but with so many people trying to obstruct their research and declining to be interviewed, so it is to be expected. The suspense in this podcast, whether it be the revelations discovered in research by Reed and Syed or the tense encounters they have with interviewees, will have you hooked.

The Trojan Horse Affair can be heard on the Great Pods website along with apps such as Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and many others.

Mike Walsh

Adult Services Librarian-Will Branch