How it all Started: Islamophobia and its Effect on Young Muslim Children

On September 11, 2001, Americans witnessed many lives lost that day. 2,573 people in New York. Many people that day were scarred by what they experienced.

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According to Matthew Tull, One study of 2,733 people across the United States conducted in October and November of 2001 found that 11.2% of New York City residents had PTSD, and 4% of U.S. residents had PTSD (Tull). Because of this many people developed a fear of Muslims, termed islamophobia, and some acted on these fears while others took it to the media. This was the start of increased hate against Muslims. The media started to portray more of radical Islams and their actions. What the United States is doing against them that is. Everyone thinks of Muslims as people with beards, or hijabs, and dangerous for no reason at all. But what no one thinks of, is how does it affect the Muslim children growing up under this? How does it affect all Muslims in general? Islamophobia affects young Muslim children negatively because it causes confidence loss, lower academic standings, and higher rates of sadness compared to other groups. There needs to be a solution to this paranoia that Americans feel around Muslims, because believe it or not, Muslims feel paranoid around Americans as well. Franklin Delano Roosevelt says that The only thing to fear is fear itself but the American people do not follow this at all because of our fear of the unknown.

Our fear of things influences everything we do. Arachnophobia leads to people avoiding spiders in general. Coulrophobia leads to people avoiding circuses. And Islamophobia leads to people avoiding Muslims. Kalkan, Layman, and Uslaner state that, Social identity theory stresses that we are less likely to trust or tolerate people who seem different from ourselves, and Muslims’ religious beliefs and practices, cultural orientations, and ethnicities have long made them different in key ways from the Judeo-Christian mainstream (Kalkan 2) which seems to hold especially true for the actions of white supremacists. The racism they use against Muslims and the violence caused may be because of their fear of Muslims taking over America or another war of terror like 9/11. Americans’ fear of Muslims also leads to many things in our modern era as well. This fear leads to the assault of many young children who had nothing to do. Two specific instances are when a Muslim third-grader was found hanging unconscious in his school in Louisville, KY and a Muslim girl from Dreyfus School in New York was beaten up; thrown on the ground, had her headscarf pulled off, as she was repeatedly called a ‘terrorist,’ ‘Muslim,’ and a ‘bitch’ (Mujahid). Just because both of them were Muslim or even had a Muslim name, they were assaulted. And sadly these crimes are not isolated. Seven percent of Muslims students in New York get attacked, according to Columbia University. All because of 9/11 and the experience people had and heard about that day. Because in human nature, Threat increases ethnocentrism and hostility to perceived enemies (Duckitt 2003), and there is evidence that perceived threats led to post-9/11 antipathy toward Arab-Americans (Davis and Silver 2004; Huddy et al. 2005) (Kalkan 5) which is understandable. Because every fear has a trigger or traumatic experience and for us Americans it would be 9/11 and the ISIS conflict. But all of this fear traumatizes everyone including young Muslims psychologically.

Young Muslim children get affected by these experiences in many ways including emotional state. According to the Gallup Center, Muslim youth aged 18 to 28 are the least happy and the most angry compared to the youth of other faith groups in America (Mujahid) which is alarming to say the least. Because this leads to another statistic found by the Pew Center asserting that, 26% of young Muslim Americans support suicide bombing of civilian target (Mujahid) which is very alarming to the American community. But why do they support it? Is all the negativity they receive from classmates or other people around them that hateful or is it because they might have the mind state of commiting suicide because of all the attacks and bullying they face? For me personally, I don’t agree with them but my views on Muslim as a whole have changed. Before I used to think, why are they doing this? They have so much to live for. Why throw it all away? But over time, as media portrayal of Islam increased, my view changed to Oh look it’s another one. When will this stop? I eventually started to lose faith of radicals thinking rationally of their actions because of how many attacks have happened. Everytime I hear of these attacks, I fear that I might be a part of one. That was the case of the incident in October 2017 that occured in Tribeca where a Muslim, in a truck, rammed into some cars and apparently had a bomb in the truck. After that day, I fear that I might personally get attacked even though I know most New Yorkers are nice and would never do that, but I still have those nightmares. This might hold to be the case for other young Muslims as well. As a result, their academics in school might be inhibited as well.

What happens in school plays a big role in the emotional state of young muslim children as well. According to Costello, “”The elephant in the room was that Mr. Trump’s campaign had an effect. We could not avoid the fact that children were imitating him both in word, tone and behavior (OChieng). This presidency led to children and teachers alike to bully the Muslims. There is a higher percentage of bullying Muslims in K-12 schools compared to Jewish students or Protestants after the elections. Above 90 percent of educators say that the environment of the school was definitely impacted by the 2016 elections and what the presidential candidate and the current president said. For example, Ben Carson said in a debate where Muslims should not become president because of a tradition called taqiyya, allows Muslims in danger to deny their beliefs to save their life, he calls them liars and unfit for the presidency which the younger generation implemented in their vocabulary. This lead to violent attempts and a superiority complex of other students compared to Muslim students. It can be from simple name calling to physical bullying. This allows Muslim children to develop an inferiority complex and a confidence deficit especially if the teacher is part of the bullying. This leads to higher rates of depression or sadness in Muslims as well as lack of motivation which eventually also leads to lower performance in academics, higher drug use to inhibit their emotions, and a higher dropout rate. Another factor is lowered self esteem because of media portrayal, which leads to lower scores on tests. Apparently an 11-year-old Muslim Somali refugee student was being discriminated continuously by his teacher who kept saying, I can’t wait until Trump is elected. He’s going to deport all you Muslims,”” and “”Muslims shouldn’t be given visas. They’ll probably take away your visa and deport you. You’re going to be the next terrorist, I bet”” (OChieng). His classmate follow this example and called the child terrorist and other hateful names. So why wouldn’t the student have a lower self-esteem, depression and an inferiority complex. Especially if our media keeps giving these types of representation.

Negative media portrayal gives fuel to the white supremacist community to make racist comments that impact younger children. But media portrayal not only does that. It alienates young Muslims from their own country which may vary (Lean 123). Since the media only portrays Muslims as terrorists or radicals people tend to think that is what all Muslims are. They think Islam is inferior to them and is worthless (Green 14). It is like reaching for an apple in a pile of apples. If you get a rotten one on the first try, most people would assume the rest of the apples are rotten without even trying them. Even though the media does not show bias towards the issue, as much, it doesn’t matter what they show. White Supremacists are too stubborn, for the most part, to acknowledge another side of the argument. Which means even if Muslims were shown as positive, islamophobes would only look for the negative parts and define Muslims as such like in television shows or video games. Some Muslims tend to be shown as bombers or terrorists and islamophobes just focus on that image. In order to solve this problem of islamophobia, some thing definitely needs to be done.

One solution that could be proposed to fix this problem is to start with the teachers. Most of a student’s life is spent with a teacher, so if the teacher is not racist, it makes the student’s life a little less harder and also provides a good role model for other students to follow. This can be accomplished by adding required seminars for teachers to attend regarding classroom etiquette, racism and not showing any bias in class to improve learning of all students. This would prevent racism from the teacher and the student will not always feel attacked. Another solution is to give other normal roles to Muslim actors as well to set some role models for the younger generation. If more Muslims come on screen and are shown in other roles, islamophobia in general will be decreased. And it is good to integrate many cultures in the movie industry as shown in Crazy Rich Asians and Black Panther. Other solutions may include having assemblies on why racism or islamophobia specifically is bad for the students to teach them lessons about racism early on (even though it may not work) and safe spaces for Muslim children so they can talk to people when they need to. All of this helps solve the problem of islamophobia little by little. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day. And we are on the process of mending our relations with Muslims for the better.

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