The past couple of years there have been screaming headlines about student suicides resulting from bullying, specifically for students that are Lesbian, Gay, Transgender and Bisexual identified. However, bullying as an issue is not limited to just sexuality, in fact, Federal law as well as California State law along with the Education Board, school districts and individual schools all define bullying in clear terms as the targeting of students over their color/ethnicity/race, nationality, gender, RELIGION and sexuality. (Sexuality was just recently identified as a protected category in California in 2003, though not federally).
One of the least recognized areas of bullying, in my view, is that based on a persons religion, specifically for American Muslim and Sikh students. While we have seen schools take swift actions on anti-Semitism the same has not been done for Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bullying. There are multiple reasons why I believe this is the case among them I believe is that Muslim parents themselves don’t know how to handle the situation, students dont tell their parents (for many reasons among them being the prevalent perception in the community that this is the “burden of being American Muslim in a post-9/11) world.
None of the reasons however are acceptable. Our laws clearly state that a Public School must provide for the safety and well being of ALL children during the course of their instruction and presence at ALL school sponsored events, and even, in some cases, while coming to and going from school. This is all part of the Federal Anti-Discrimination laws that were passed in 1964- yeah, those laws that Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X died for.. equality, justice, “I have a dream of a day where my child…”- and have since been strengthened to ensure the public safety, security, well-being and equality of students in our schools.
What struck me about working on bullying cases while I was at CAIR was that most of the cases came to our offices when it was too late- students who were the victims were getting expelled, parents removed the child from the school, students graduated and left the problem for other students to face. The worse were the anecdotal telling of what children faced in the schools, “Oh well Muhammad was called a terrorist on numerous occasions by his teachers (and he went from being a “B” student to getting “C’s” though at the time no casual connection was made as to why that was happening). I struggled to figure out how to address this problem and I left CAIR knowing that I hadn’t done enough. So over the summer I came back to CAIR as a contracted Project Consultant to help get a campaign off the ground to address School Bullying, its called “Building an Inclusive School Environment”.
The aim of the first phase of this project is simple- its time to be counted. To really address school bullying an organization like CAIR needs statistics. It might just turn out that at the end of the fact finding phase CAIR discovers that school bullying is not as rampant as the anecdotal evidence has suggested, that fine, it means the organization can now devout its limited resources towards more pressing issues and justify its decisions to donors who felt otherwise. The thing is being able to have hard statistics is a way to empower yourself, your community and give your issues a voice. So I turn to you now to help me help CAIR California gather these important statistics. From CAIR Calfornia:
“CAIR-California wants to hear from our American Muslim youth. We have created a survey to learn more about how our community’s youth feel about their school environment and what issues they face on a regular basis. CAIR-California aims to create, based on the responses we receive, specially tailored advocacy resources and tools for our youth to help create a more inclusive school atmosphere. If you are a Muslim student between the ages of 11 – 18 and are attending a public school, please take our survey here: bit.ly/muslimyouth. Please also help us spread the word by sharing the survey with other youth you may know.”
If you are a youth group leader, Imam of your masjid, community leader, MSA activist, Masjid board member who understand the importance of this, CAIR California needs your help. You can get CAIR into your community to do this survey and to follow up by presenting a “Know Your Rights- School Bullying” workshop. Contact your local CAIR chapter, tell them I sent you!
None of the information on this blog post is legal advice. If you are, or someone you know, is faced with a incident, please contact your local CAIR office or an attorney for legal advice. I am not affiliated with CAIR in any form except as a concerned activist that sees this project as being critical to the protection of rights granted to all Americans under the Constitution (and that education is a critical national security issues, lack of equal access is a threat to our future national security). With that being said I have worked at CAIR LA for six years and speak from my experience there, limited to only that experience and nothing more.