Sign up for the ING newsletter to receive news and announcements.
By Ishaq Pathan, INGYouth Manager.
This opinion originally appeared in USA Today.
This week I awoke to news that the president of the United States was retweeting anti-Muslim propaganda videos, the same kind of hateful content trafficked by well-known anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant bigots. The videos appear in three retweets from the deputy leader of Britain First, an ultranationalist party whose leaders regularly incite violence against religious and racial minorities. Its leader once threatened to bury a pig carcass on the site of a planned mosque to prevent its construction.
Propaganda like this is especially dangerous because it legitimizes the sort of anti-Muslim bigotry that we’ve seen on the rise in the United States (and the United Kingdom) and leads angry people to act out on their fears against religious minorities. It begets violence against Muslims, shores up public support for bad policies, and makes our schools less safe for Muslims and other minorities.
This irrational fear of Muslims has already penetrated deeply enough into our society and into our schools, undermining the ideals of safety, religious freedom and pluralism on which our nation was founded.
Muslim students are being bullied at a rate of two to four times that of other student populations. In our INGYouth workshops, students tell stories of being associated with terrorism and the Islamic State terrorist group through teasing, verbal harassment or ongoing bullying. Comments like, “Do you have a bomb in your backpack?” and “Make sure not to drive on the bike path” are faced by elementary-, middle- and high-school students alike.
And it’s not only students who perpetrate this harassment. Muslim students tell of facing discrimination from their own teachers and staff — the very people charged with preventing bullying in the first place — which puts them in a tough position. Feeling unsafe on the bus, at lunch, in the hallways and even in the classroom, Muslim students often have nowhere to turn for help.
By itself, negative public sentiment toward Muslims is dangerous, but when it’s combined with messaging like the videos produced by organizations such as Britain First and retweeted by our nation’s president, it can be a perfect storm for Muslim and other youth, normalizing hate and leading to increased bullying of Muslim students or students assumed to be Muslim.
We have to act.
Since the videos that the president unfortunately chose to share add to growing anti-Muslim bigotry, we need to equip all students, especially Muslims, with the tools and strategies they need to create more inclusive and safe learning environments. We have to provide educators and parents with cultural diversity seminars to improve learning outcomes for all students.
Islamic Networks Group, the organization for which I work, has had great success with both of these efforts — and, thankfully, we’ve experienced a sharp uptick over the past year in the demand for our youth workshops and training and for our educational presentations.
Drawing from ING resources, parents, educators and other school staff can also do much on their own. They need to be vigilant and engaged with students to learn how they are dealing with the climate of feeling in their school. If a student refuses to go to school; complains of vague and general physical pains such as stomach aches, headaches, tiredness; is increasingly sad, angry, upset or silent, he or she could be experiencing bullying in school. Adults have a responsibility to the children in our community to show that we are here for them and that we care enough to take action.
We all have a responsibility to ensure that what we are seeing does not become normal beyond repair by demonstrating care for ourselves and one another — and by upholding safe learning environments for all students who, effectively, make America great.