Muslim parents often feel they may be putting their children at risk of hate crime simply by sending them to school. This worrying trend affects children regularly and must be tackled.
The issue of bullying in schools is widely understood by teachers, pupils and parents. Sadly, bullying related to race or faith is becoming more prevalent and may not be being tackled efficiently- especially Islamophobic bullying. Following terrorist attacks by so-called Muslims, spikes in hate crime are not just experienced by adults, but are being seen in schools as well.
A young woman named Malak was interviewed by the BBC about her experience of Islamophobic bullying at school at the age of 5. Malak’s father recently warned her not to leave the house following the recent shooting at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. She said that as a young hijabi woman, every time there was a terrorist attack, regardless of who was responsible, she felt under threat from Islamophobic hate as a result: ‘sadly, it doesn’t seem to matter if Muslims are the victims or the perpetrators of an attack – we can still feel like easy targets.’
Now aged 23, Malak grew up in East London, an area where many Muslims and Asians live. She told the interviewer that everything changed after 9/11, when she was just 5 years old. Other children would call her names such as ‘Bin Laden’ or ‘terrorist’, and would even physically attack her. Malak said she was hospitalised due to these attacks more than once.
18 years later, children are still experiencing Islamophobic bullying at school. Last year, young Muslims in Wales reported they were being called ‘terrorists’ at school. One 15-year-old said they thought this was due to ignorance about Islam. Newcastle Bahr Academy had the same suspicions after their school was attacked twice in 2019. The school was painted with Islamophobic graffiti, Korans were left torn up, and the building was severely damaged by several teenagers. In a statement afterwards, the school wanted to invite the vandals to meet them personally, putting their violence down to a lack of understanding of what Islam really looks like.
This lack of understanding of Islam crops up in Islamophobic incidents at schools seemingly every time a high-profile terror attack takes place. In 2015 following the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris, there was a significant increase in hate crime incidents at schools. One child was slapped and called a ‘terrorist’ at school- the boy later told his parents he did not want to go back to school. His mother was distressed and felt she might even be putting him in danger just by sending him to school.
More worryingly still, the problem of Islamophobia in schools seems to be getting worse. According to the Guardian, in 2018 a record number of children were excluded for racist bullying. While this shows that Islamophobia from teachers is being taken seriously enough to warrant exclusion, the fact that so many children are experiencing this abuse is unacceptable.
So why are children increasingly exhibiting Islamophobic behaviour in school? David Lammy MP suggested it reflects the way the UK government treats migrants and the toxic rhetoric around immigration and refugees. Incidents such as a 15-year-old Syrian refugee being verbally and physically harassed at school in Huddersfield also suggest that the way immigrants are portrayed in mainstream media is going so far as to affect children and their behaviour in educational settings. The child helpline organisation Childline have said children as young as 9 have been calling Childline about race/faith-based bullying. When such young children are experiencing this abuse, there is little doubt they have picked up on Islamophobic sentiments from people around them; their parents, the media, and other adults in their lives.
We, at JAN Trust also know fully well that the levels of Islamophobic bullying has increased with the number of cases being reported to us increasing year on year.
This Islamophobic behaviour in young children proves adults and the media should be taking a greater responsibility to protect not only our own children, but to consider the safety of children from all backgrounds. It is shocking that young people are experiencing this abuse, and can lead to trauma or other mental health problems later in life, as well as interfering with the child’s education. School has to be a safe space for children; any threat of race or religion-based discrimination or abuse has no place in our society, and especially not in our schools.
JAN Trust works with young people in the local community to educate them about hate crime, extremism and the different types of extremist groups. We have found that many young people are not aware of the threat of hate crime directed towards certain people, and that they are always keen and grateful to learn how to report and recognise hate crime and discrimination. To find out more about our work, head over to jantrust.org.