Muslim pupils across Britain are suffering a backlash of bullying and abuse following the Charlie Hebdo massacre amid a broad rise in Islamophobia in schools which the Government is failing to tackle, campaigners have told The Independent.
The sole UK charity monitoring anti-Muslim hate crime said it had recorded a “significant” increase in incidents in schools in the wake of the killings in Paris with both parents and teachers reporting verbal and physical attacks against Muslim students.
In one case, a teenage Muslim pupil at a school in Oxfordshire was this week allegedly slapped and called a “terrorist” by classmates after a teacher raised the murders of 12 people at the French magazine in a classroom discussion and suggested Muslims should be “challenged” by the display of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. The boy told his parents he did not wish to return to school.
Teachers unions and anti-racism groups told The Independent they have recorded an increase in Islamophobic incidents in schools with the 400,000 Muslim pupils in British schools increasingly likely to be taunted as “terrorists”, “paedophiles” or “immigrants”. The NASUWT, the teaching union, said the rise of anti-Muslim sentiment is causing “uncertainty and fear” in schools.
Tell MAMA, which monitors anti-Muslim hate crime in Britain, said it had logged 112 reports of physical and verbal violence in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo killings, including nine incidents which related specifically to schools in locations from West Yorkshire to East Sussex.
The organisation, which was recommended by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles last week in a letter subsequently criticised by Muslim groups for appearing to ask Muslims to prove their British identity, said it had been repeatedly rebuffed by a “short-sighted” Department for Education (DfE) in efforts to seek its support in offering training for schools in how to deal with Islamophobia.
Fiyaz Mughal, chief executive of Tell MAMA, said: “We are seeing more incidents of racialised language and bullying against Muslim children in schools and it has led to a significant number of incidents following the events in Paris.
“It is right that teachers and pupils should be able to discuss terrible events of this nature but it needs to be done carefully and in a manner that is sensitive to the position of Muslim pupils.
“For the past 18 months we have sought to engage with the DfE to offer training to schools but on each occasion we have been rebuffed. The lack of engagement is worrying.
“Whatever the reason, it gives the impression that anti-Muslim hatred is something that is not of significance for them. Lack of action is short sighted since we are seeing problems in some schools regarding bullying and prejudiced statements against Muslim students.”
The charity said it had been approached in the last fortnight by parents whose children had been targeted by fellow pupils as well as school staff who wanted advice on how to raise the implications of the Charlie Hebdo killings and had found little or no guidance was available on structuring such discussions.
In Oxfordshire, the Year 10 pupil at a secondary academy, rated as “good” in its latest Ofsted report, said the massacre had been raised during a history lesson.
A formal complaint about the incident, obtained by The Independent, alleged that the teacher had “expressed his desire to purchase t-shirts with cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad as a way to challenge Muslims who are offended”.
The report said the teenager, whose parents have asked that he remain anonymous, was the sole Muslim in his class and had felt “unfairly targeted and belittled” by the discussion.
Shortly afterwards, it is claimed the pupil was confronted by a number of boys in the year above him and slapped. When the victim asked why he had been attacked, it is alleged the same boy slapped him twice more before then calling him a “Paki” and a “terrorist”.
The complaint added that the teenager’s mother was “increasingly frustrated and distressed at the clear targeting of her son and she feels that she is putting her son in danger by sending him to school”. Tell MAMA said it had submitted a complaint to the school and was awaiting a response.
A second anti-racism group said Islamophobia has been on the rise in schools for at least four years with children increasingly viewing Britain’s Muslims as a homogenous group.
Show Racism the Red Card, an educational charity, said it had strong anecdotal evidence of growing anti-Muslim prejudice, including the results of word association exercises in which children increasingly responded to the word “Muslim” with answers such as “terrorist”, “pig”, “praying” and “immigrant”.
Laura Pidcock, education team manager, said: “What we are seeing is a process of homogenisation between immigrants and Islam. Young children equate immigrants with Muslims, and Muslims with immigrants. There is a perception of Muslims as a single collective body and a sense that this can be a threat. We would like to see room made in the curriculum for the sort of work that encourages pupils to think for themselves and challenge these sort of views.”
The NASUWT, which last year issued guidelines to its members on how to tackle Islamophobia, said anti-Muslim sentiment in wider society was a growing problem for schools which needed to be treated as a “priority”.
Chris Keates, the union’s general secretary, said: “For many teachers and pupils across the UK, there is a growing sense that the promotion of anti-Islamic sentiments is fostering a climate of uncertainty and fear in schools. Teachers are in the frontline in promoting and advancing human values and human rights.”
The DfE acknowledged it did not provide specific advice on Islamophobia to schools but said it had no opposition to suitable material on the issue being distributed.
A DfE spokesman said: “Bullying of any kind is unacceptable. We produce clear guidance for schools giving advice on how to tackle it. All schools must have a behaviour policy including measure to prevent bullying and they are expected to promote mutual respect, tolerance and community cohesion.”
Post-Hebdo violence: Islamaphobic attacks
“Islam must die” Graffiti featuring a Nazi swastika and the words “ Islam must die” were found last week outside accommodation at the University of Birmingham, which has a large number of Muslim students.
A teenage boy has alleged he was slapped and racially abused as a “Paki” and “terrorist” on 20 January in an incident while playing football at his school. The attack followed a classroom discussion about the Charlie Hebdo shootings in which a teacher is claimed to have said T-shirts carrying cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed should be worn to challenge Muslims who are offended by such images.
A young Asian dentist was attacked by a knife-wielding assailant at a Tesco supermarket in Mold, Wales. Police said they were treating the assault as racially motivated. A 25-year-old man has been charged with attempted murder.
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