HOUSTON: 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 ostracised 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 deescalate 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.
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 cyber bullying.
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’.”
Professor Zahra Jamal, the associate director of Rice University’s Boniuk Institute for Religious Tolerance, told Anadolu Agency 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,” she added.
Jamal stressed that the culture of stereotyping Muslims as terrorists needs to change.