By Michael Lozano, Long Beach Voicewaves
Photo: Long Beach Voicewaves
Ed. Note: Last week’s shooting rampage at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California has prompted renewed fears of a backlash against the Muslim American community. According to one group, Muslim students in California experience bullying and other forms of harrassment at a rate that is double the national average. In this audio podcast by our sister site Long Beach Voicewaves, Muslim students in Long Beach discuss their own experiences with bullying and other forms of discrimination.
Narrator: Abdu Rrahman Mohamed is only 12, but the Long Beach youth has been through a lot.
While attending Long Beach schools, he has been bullied week after week just because he is Muslim.
Abdu Rrahma Mohamed: “Some peoples spread it and then everyone starts asking me, like, weird questions like ‘Are you part of the 9/11 or are you Isis? Are you a terrorist? Did you ever kill anyone? Are you going to bomb this place?’ A bunch of racist things (sigh).”
Narrator: Other students have also fought him and thrown his school lunch on the floor after calling him a terrorist, and a recent report says other Muslim students face the same discrimination, too. The Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, reported in November that bullying against Muslim students in California is double the national rate of average students. Ojaala Ahmad is the communications coordinator for CAIR-Los Angeles.
Ojaala Ahmad: “A repetitive narrative that we found from these students is that they felt like this is what it’s like to be an American Muslim in school. They almost feel defeated. They just feel that there is no way around this, like, having a discussion or bring it up with the teacher is not going to be very effective and that’s what most unfortunate about it, is that they’ve come to just accept it as being normal.”
Narrator: Abdu Rrahman’s 17-year-old sister, Samia, knows what it’s like. She had often been picked on for wearing a hijab, or headscarf, to school. She recalled what one student told her.
Samia Mohamed: “She said that ‘because you’re wearing that it terrorizes me, doesn’t that make you a terrorist?’ Like, I’ve had something every year, like, just issues every year with a couple of students or, like, maybe even my teachers, which is the worst.”
Narrator: Other students have tried to rip Samia’s headscarf off her head. Others have said anti-Muslim diatribes in front of her for class presentations. Samia said teachers and principals didn’t do anything about it.
Samia Mohamed: “That’s actually the reason I tested out was because there was too much hate from all my teachers and all the students and everybody.”
Narrator: Of course, there were good days, definitely bad days, and then, there are days like 9/11.
Samia Mohamed: “Ugh, oh my god, those are the worst. Even now, like, every time I enter a room and its 9/11 or, you know, the clock hits 9:11 or something like that someone will make a dumb remark or something about how we’re, you know, nasty people.”
Narrator: Ahmad from CAIR said that the recent attacks in Paris and San Bernardino have the Muslim community fearing a backlash, though there is no clear motive yet behind the attacks in San Bernardino.
Ojaala Ahmad: “You mourn the loss of what’s happening and on the other hand you also fear for yourself for that islamophobic backlash. And we have been seeing a rise in hate crimes. It’s unfortunate that there there’s this climate and that students and adults of the Islamic faith are smeared as an entire group because of the actions of a few violent extremists.”
Narrator: So you may be wondering how can Long Beach schools and others be more welcoming to Muslim students, so they don’t have to transfer out like Samia and her brother did?
Ojaala Ahmad: “They should all have an open discussion. They should hold forums where students can come and express openly what that their fears have been with their classmates or their teachers.”
Narrator: For VoiceWaves, this is Michael Lozano.
To read more on how young people are responding to the shootings in San Bernardino, see Youth Radio’s Generation Lockdown.