Islamophobia exists – and we must combat it in our schools

A deeply flawed political discourse is normalising anti-Muslim sentiment with worrying consequences for our students

A deeply flawed political discourse is normalising anti-Muslim sentiment with worrying consequences for our students

2 Mar 2024, 5:00

In 2015, I wrote an article about my worries for students after the horrendous terrorist attack on the Bataclan theatre in Paris. Nine years on, I am more worried than ever.

It is a worry that has been a constant in the lives of Muslims since the events of September 11th were etched into our minds, hearts, and souls, not only because of the terrible loss of lives, but also because in its immediate aftermath every Muslim was made to feel branded as a terrorist or sympathiser by virtue of their faith. Our faith has since become synonymous for many with danger, extremism and violence, the very opposites of our true teachings and history.

Amid heart-wrenching and unprecedented deaths occurring in Palestine at the hands of the Israeli government and in spite of the United Nations confirming violations of up to 28 of its resolutions in pursuance of this military campaign, our political discourse is more divisive than I have ever experienced.

A simplistic and deeply flawed rhetoric of Muslims vs Jews is dominating airwaves and spilling into our schools. Meanwhile, the very same students who were positively encouraged to show support in one recent conflict are being suspended for doing the same thing with this one. In online discussions, educators openly say they do not want to be seen to be ‘taking sides’. This isn’t about sides. This is about humanity.

Where is the humanity in young Muslims hearing politicians use their religion’s name in derogatory fashion? Where is the humanity in generalising and collectivising whole swathes of British people to stoke tension and anger? And where is the humanity in labelling students and their communities as ‘Islamists’, as I have repeatedly seen in online chats and on TV?

Islam is the only religion that has ‘ist’ added to the end of it. In my 2015 article, I equivocated. I wrote the words “whether Islamophobia exists or not”. Today, I am certain it does, whether the general population acknowledges it or not.

‘Anti-Muslim hate crimes’ have risen by 335 per cent

This, of course, has a knock-on effect on our students. Put simply, Muslim students’ religion is as much a source of abuse and discrimination for them as is the case for Jewish students. Antisemitism is appallingly rife at present, and as usual it is spiking at the same time as ‘Anti-Muslim hate crimes’, which have risen by 335 per cent. We must name and shame this as Islamophobia.

So, I am still worried about pupils. On top of all the things I was worried about nine years ago, I’m now also worried about all those who think that support for the plight of Palestinians equates to anti-Jewishness.

I am worried about the ones who say they ‘hate us’ even more now.

I am worried children will make idle jokes about their Muslims classmates belonging to Hamas. And then in turn, I am worried about Muslim pupils who shout their support for Hamas, either unknowingly or because social media has filled the void left by admonishments to be impartial and worries about ‘taking sides’.

I am particularly worried about the ones who will go to school having heard adults talking about Islamists ruling not just London but the country. I worry they will only feel even more disconnected, excluded and segregated than they have in recent years.

If you share my worries, then there are things we can do.

We can teach students to talk about events by seeking out information and guidance from a variety of reliable sources. And we can teach pupils about the political spectrum of right and left-wing rhetoric and provide them with keywords to look out for.

Above all, we can and must altogether reject the term ‘Islamist’ and continually remind everyone that Islam and Muslim are not synonymous with terrorism and violence.

I ended my 2015 article with an appeal to our collective motivation to be part of this profession: tackling inequalities and forging communities through greater knowledge and understanding. That sentiment is still just as valid. Yes, I am more worried than ever, but I have more faith in education than ever too.

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