US Muslim students face high levels of Islamophobic bullying: Report
‘I was constantly called Osama bin Laden,’ says California high school student
Islamophobia in US public schools is a prevalent and ongoing problem, according to a recent report by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
Interviews with 700 Muslim students in schools in the state of California found high levels of Islamophobic bullying, harassment, and discrimination by peers and adults, including teachers.
“Muslim students of all ages have been ostracized and mistreated in the past because of their faith and perceived, yet clearly false, association with 9/11 and other acts of terrorism,” said Amr Shabaik, the civil rights managing attorney for CAIR’s California chapter, which conducted the study.
“Often, such events manifest in the form of bullying by other students, lack of preventative and reporting measures by school officials, and insufficient training for educators as to how to mediate or de-escalate religious, racial and ethnically-charged bullying,” Shabaik told Anadolu Agency.
The report said nearly half of the students, 47.1%, reported being bullied for being Muslim. That is more than twice the reported national average of 20%.
“I was constantly called Osama bin Laden by the same guy who would tell me that I looked Bomb with a big emphasis on the word bomb,” said an 18-year-old female student from Brentwood who was interviewed for the survey, referring to the ringleader behind the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
More than half of respondents, 55.73%, reported feeling unsafe, unwelcome, or uncomfortable at school due to their Muslim identity, the highest reported level since CAIR-California began doing the survey in 2013.
Harassment over headscarves, bullying by teachers
The report goes on to document that nearly one in three students, 30.12%, who wear a hijab or headscarf reported that it was tugged at, pulled, or offensively touched.
“People have verbally abused me for being Muslim,” a young woman, 18, from Redwood City told the survey. “(They) mocked me and Islam and I have had my hijab pulled off by a classmate for no reason.”
The report also found approximately one-third of students experienced or witnessed some form of cyberbullying.
One of the more disturbing findings indicates that nearly one in four respondents, 23.50%, reported that a teacher, administrator, or other adult at their school made offensive comments about Islam or Muslims.
“A 16-year-old female public school student from Orange County reported that her ‘teacher attacked [her] in front of [her] class’,” said Shabaik. “Saying things like ‘terrorist’ and ‘you don’t belong here’.”
Islamophobia ‘mainstreamed’ in wake of 9/11
“Islamophobia has been in existence for centuries,” said Professor Zahra Jamal, the associate director of Rice University’s Boniuk Institute for Religious Tolerance.
She told Anadolu Agency that discrimination against Muslims rose to more extreme levels after the 2001 attacks in the US.
“After 9/11 and the rise of the Islamophobia industry, negative portrayals of Islam and of Muslims became more mainstream and codified in media, law, politics, education, and pop culture,” said Jamal. “This has undoubtedly played a role in Muslim students’ experiences with bias and discrimination.”
Jamal said the survey’s findings are consistent with a nationwide poll taken in 2020 that found 51% of Muslim students in kindergarten through 12th grade public schools faced religious bullying.
“Children face verbal abuse including name-calling, such as being called a raghead, sand N-word, terrorist, or child of bin Laden,” said Jamal. “Some deal with insults against the faith of Islam often linked to 9/11 or ISIS [Daesh] and are subject to rumors that they are bombmakers.”
Psychological scars, early education
Jamal explained that bullying and racism have far-reaching effects including emotional, physical, and even social consequences.
“Some young Muslims experience anxiety, depression, insomnia, and low esteem, while others feel they must choose between being American or Muslim at school,” she said, citing the survey. “Sadly, 55% feel unsafe at school because of their faith … 32% hide their Muslim identity, and 20% skip school because they feel unsafe and unwelcome at school.”
To reverse the negative trend of Islamophobia in schools, Jamal stressed that the culture of stereotyping Muslims as terrorists needs to change.
“It is factually and ethically wrong because it perpetuates a ‘clash of ignorance’ between Muslim and Western societies,” she said. “Rather than learning from, respecting and engaging our God-given differences, people are increasingly divided over them. We desperately need to fill these knowledge deficits.”
Jamal believes the only way to change the outdated stereotypes is through education, which starts in schools, where children are supposed to learn about cultural diversity and acceptance.
“As a world, we are diverse but divided,” she said. “We need to recognize that discrimination against Muslim school children is part of broader national and global trends.”
“We know that pluralism education promotes peace, prosperity, progress, and innovation,” said Jamal. “We also know that quality pluralism education is most effective on every individual and societal indicator when delivered in early childhood development years from conception to age 6.”
In a perfect world, there would be no discrimination, no bullying, no hate. Jamal said the only way to move in the right direction is for all facets of society to work together to try and achieve that goal.
“It would be amazing if governments, corporations, philanthropists, grassroots organizations, and civic groups could collectively work toward massive investments in quality early childhood education and holistic development programs centered on pluralism education, moral reasoning, and a cosmopolitan ethic that honors individual identities and collective collaborations,” she said.
“If it takes a village to raise a child, then it takes a global village to save all our children … and their future generations.”
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