By Nooria Alam
We put ourselves and our children through school with the belief that it is a place to foster a love of learning amongst ourselves, not a place where we experience violence from the people who are supposed to teach us. Unfortunately, for many Muslim students at R.H. King Academy, a subtle type of violence and discrimination through education is a reality. BASICS News got the chance to speak to Aisha*, a Grade 11 Student at R.H. King about her experiences with her racist teacher.
During a unit on terrorism for her class ‘Introduction to Anthropology, Psychology and Sociology’, her teacher spoke exclusively about the religion of Islam, suggesting that Islam and terrorism are inherently linked. “He would show the class videos of ISIS in order to prove his point, portraying Islam in a negative light”, says Aisha.
The teacher would ask Aisha, who is a Muslim student herself, questions about the Quran in front of her classmates, and made her defend the supposed lack of women’s rights in the religion. When the class had a substitute teacher, they were given a worksheet to complete which included negative statements such as ‘Islam is a religion of terrorism’. They were also handed an article about ISIS to read that they later had to answer questions about. Aisha explained how much it took a toll on her — to the point where her and other students did not even wish to attend the class anymore.
When some students finally had enough and confronted the teacher about his racist teachings, he apologized.
But why did it not occur to him in the first place that he was spewing racist remarks that were clearly insensitive and made his students feel uncomfortable? Why are school teachers spreading racist and Islamophobic propaganda? And why was it allowed to go on for so long, in particular at a school that is comprised mainly of racialized students in a very diverse part of Scarborough?
The spreading of misinformation is extremely harmful and should not be something young high school students should have to face or absorb. Aisha shared that she has been asked by a classmate if she is a terrorist, to which she replied by pointing out the double-standard of white males never being labelled as terrorists even though they conduct the vast majority of mass shootings in North America.
Aisha has refused to let racist attacks faze her. She was proactive in requesting a moment of silence for the Peshawar school massacre which left dozens dead, but was denied her request by the school principal on the grounds that an incident could only be remembered if it took place within North America. The only thing she could do in the name of the Peshawar attack, according to her principal, was to organize a voluntary school assembly after school hours to remember the victims of the attack, which obviously not many students were able to attend.
Yet when dozens were killed during the Paris attacks, R.H. King did have a moment of silence. This hypocrisy hurt and angered Aisha and many other students. She felt that it was demeaning to be told by the school administration that they would only support a moment of silence for events that happen within North America, and then witness the same school reveal its double standard and remember the victims of the Paris attack.
It is no accident that these attacks are treated differently. For what difference would it make if Peshawar was given a vigil during school hours, or if more people were able to attend?
It may have forced R.H. King administration to do its job as an educational institution, and actually bring context to attacks. Students and teachers would have to acknowledge Canada’s complicity and active participation in the violence that happens in Pakistan. They would be forced to acknowledge NATO’s strategic manipulation of Pakistan to maintain conflict in Central Asia and the Middle East for American imperialism. They would be pushed to see the bombardment of drones on the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas of Pakistan since 2004.
Graph retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/24/world/asia/drone-strikes-reveal-uncomfortable-truth-us-is-often-unsure-about-who-will-die.html?_r=0
Schools such as R.H King send out the clear message that an attack on white, European lives are to be mourned, grieved for and remembered, and that attacks on black, brown and other non-white people are intentionally erased. The racist behaviour of Aisha’s teacher clearly shows that these very schools work to inculcate a fear and hatred of Islam and Muslims amongst young students. This also promotes an unquestioning support for racist states like Canada and its imperialist allies in Europe.
When you make it acceptable to openly discriminate against Muslims and brown people, it is not surprising that it becomes acceptable to bomb Muslims and occupy their lands in other parts of the world without facing any repercussions, thus further perpetuating Islamophobia.
We, like Aisha, must not let the school system swallow up generations to come in a doctrine of lies, hatred and racism. We must stand up, refuse to remain passive, and hold institutions accountable for the lies they tell us. And perhaps most importantly, we must come together to build spaces in our homes and communities for honest discussion and build alternative education that directly reflects our struggles and experiences –rather than invalidate and silence them– by making connections to the terrorism inflicted on us and our people by the imperialists.
*At her request, we have given Aisha a pseudonym for this article.