Islamophobia and young people – fear and anxiety compounded by negative perceptions of Muslim people
Since the horrific attacks in Paris on 13th November, I have worked with young people from across key stage three at anti-racism education events in Middlesbrough, Bristol and Brighton, and at all events the young people have raised the issue of the threat of Isis.
Their views have been far from straightforward however. “People from dangerous places can bring trouble and violence with them”, I am scared that attack will happen here” and “Muslims don’t like us and want to hurt us” are just a cross-section of opinions expressed during safe-space sessions.
These fears about security and a perceived threat from ‘others’ are real and should not be dismissed without concern, despite any feeling that they are based on a distorted and inaccurate representation of a religion or religions, and a homogenisation of the actions of a few with the identity of billions.
What is clear is that children as young as nine are well aware of what happened in Paris, but are confused by the information they are receiving, and perhaps just as importantly, are lacking an opportunity to discuss the issue of international conflict and humanitarian crises in a safe, informative and productive way.
At Show Racism the Red Card (SRtRC), we believe that the language used by many of the mainstream media outlets, coupled with the absence of positive and accurate stories about the contributions of Muslim people to society, creates a dangerous conflation of the actions of a small number of barbaric individuals and anyone who follows the religion of Islam.
Sadly, this misrepresentation goes even further, with some young people expressing concerns about the threat of terrorism from anyone not native to the UK, with immigrants and refugees being regarded negatively by association.
Headlines such as those generated by the Sun’s widely-condemned poll regarding ‘sympathy’ with those seeking to challenge the situation in Syria are trickling down to the young people in our classrooms, who are also well aware about the humanitarian crisis in the country and neighbouring territories.
As educators, it is essential that we afford young people the respect and opportunity to discuss their ideas, fears and concerns surrounding these issues, and that we do so in an honest, accurate and compassionate manner. We know that this is not easy, especially given the enormous pressures on teachers and ever-increasing workloads.
SRtRC have developed a number of issue-specific educational resources for use with all key stages, designed to stimulate safe debate and support the development of critical thinking skills that are essential in deconstructing myths and analysing information accurately.
The Islamophobia education pack and DVD looks at issues of anti-Muslim sentiment and explores safe and educational ways to examine some of the common misconceptions about Islam and the negative impacts of anti-Muslim prejudice.
A Safe Place education pack and DVD contains a range of audio, visual and kinaesthetic activities which help to explore the reasons why people are forced to seek asylum and provide opportunities to create empathy towards those making difficult, life changing but essential decisions to move.
The No Place for Hate education pack explores the influence of far-right organisations, many of whom are directly or subtly opposed to immigration and Islam, and looks at ways to avoid escalation of hatred from prejudicial thoughts and ideas to acts of discrimination and violence.
With attacks against Muslim people and those seen as ‘different’ in the UK and elsewhere across the world on the rise following the tragic events in Paris, there is a real and significant concern that young people from within our schools could be drawn into prejudicial thoughts and actions motivated by their fear and misunderstanding.
It is therefore essential that we protect not only those potential targets of Islamophobia, but also that we educate any potential perpetrators of racism or racially-motivated violence. By increasing education surrounding the issues and using our roles to help support honest and critical analysis and the rejection of prejudice and hate.
Written by Campaign Worker, James Kingett.