The word ‘bomb’ has so much weight now that it can bring crowded roomfuls of people down to hushed tones. Just as you cannot yell “fire” in a crowded theatre, you cannot say the word ‘bomb’ on an airplane. Well, if there is anyone who really cannot say that word in that specific location, it is a Muslim. Apparently now, even thirteen-year-old girls are possible culprits, as in this case, where a teacher asked a Muslim student whether she had a bomb in her backpack.
Teachers not only educate children about the world, but also the ways in which said world operate. They influence children. Exposing a teenager to a xenophobic comment was a lesson of a different sort. It taught that Muslim student just how cruel the outside could be, that storms could always hit the terrain often considered the safest. She learned that even the teachers, the figures of authority that children are told to confide in, could be culprits of hate. She had no choice in what could be said to her. A bomb in her backpack was a joke. It was just a joke, maybe not a very good one, the teacher admitted, but it was a joke, all the same.
If this kind of humour is not considered to have malicious intent, what kinds of statements should be considered this way? Bullying should never have to be endured from peers, but to come from an adult of authority to a child is a hatred that cannot be ignored. Parents worry for their kids about torment from other kids. Now it is clear they will have to keep vigilant about what comes out of teachers’ mouths as well. Teachers should be held accountable for their actions. Amidst an atmosphere of Muslims becoming the scapegoat for terrorism throughout the Western world, Muslim children are vulnerable to learning all too quickly that their identities mutate into targets.
Muslim youth already see themselves mirrored on television not as varied humans, but as public security threats. Their portrayal reveals one thing: to associate with Islam translates to associating with evil. In Islamophobic eyes, Muslims are all dormant volcanoes ready to erupt at any given moment. To be labeled as aggressive simply for being has taxed the mental health of Muslims everywhere. Hebh Jamal, a fifteen year old Muslim girl in the Bronx stated, “If a Muslim hasn’t been called a terrorist in middle school, lower school or high school, then they’re probably in a really great school — and I’m happy for them!” Jamal reveals that being subjected to this bigoted hatred within the school system is a given, just as much as having to sit out in gym class for forgetting your change of clothes. It is more rare not to have to confront the terrorist comments. The odds are weighted towards the inevitability of each Muslim child having to bear the brunt of being the punch line.
Schools are political zones. They are mandatory for children to attend, and what they learn there affects them for life. It is where learning about world religions can become a matter of learning about religions of only certain parts of the world and where Islamic calligraphy can shut down the schools in an entire county Some will say knowledge is dangerous, but not learning is more dangerous, in an atmosphere where Muslim women are being told they are trash or where they are shot at after leaving mosques and fired from their jobs following acts of terror they did not commit. In this atmosphere, joking about what could be in a Muslim student’s backpack is more than “just a joke.”