Muslim man whose young son was beaten on school bus driven out of US by Islamophobia

Zeeshan-ul-hassan Usmani is a twice-Fulbright scholar who works in counter-terrorism

Mr Usmani, his wife and three sons standing in front of a sculpture of Buzz Lightyear from 'Toy Story'
Mr Usmani, his wife and three sons standing in front of a sculpture of Buzz Lightyear from 'Toy Story'

A Muslim man who works in counter-terrorism has moved his family back to Pakistan after a series of attacks and discrimination against him, his wife and three sons in North Carolina.

Zeeshan-ul-hassan Usmani’s wife witnessed their seven-year-old son, Abdul Aziz, walk off the school bus last week, battered and bruised. A group of classmates had kicked and punched him, twisted his arm and repeatedly called him “Muslim”.

A picture of the boy in a sling - a fan of Captain America - was posted online and was shared and commented on thousands of times.

Despite media attention, Mr Usmani told The Independent he had still not heard back from the school, which was telling parents and the media that his son’s version of events did not corroborate with witness interviews.

“We haven’t received a response from the principal, [the school is] saying they can’t connect with us, yet everyone else can,” he said.

Lisa Luten of the Wake County Public School System said an investigation had been launched by the principal of Weatherstone Elementary School.

"They did not see anything and nor did the bus driver. [Abdul] did not report anything to the children around him or to the bus driver,” she said.

“There was one seven year old sitting next to that child on the bus, and that child did report playfighting. But they weren’t aware of [Islamophobic] language”

Ms Luten told The Independent the school principal had tried to get in touch with the Usmani family by phone, but was unable to reach them.

“We have policies prohibiting that type of behaviour. It’s not tolerated in our schools and when it happens it’s addressed.”

Mr Usmani took his family to Pakistan last week and is now trying to find an online schooling system for his three children.

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“Probably due to my work, I feel more safe in the US than Pakistan, yet my kids say they feel more safe in Pakistan than the US, so we are in a very interesting dilemma,” he added.

“My children say they feel good but psychologically I know they are still trying to cope. Abdul said: ‘I want to go back but only when I feel strong enough’, so we have taken him to a psychiatrist.“

But other attacks against the family and the Muslim community in Cary, North Carolina, have been less well documented.

His middle son, 8 years old, was called a “terrorist” at school because Mr Usmani had a beard.

Abdul Aziz at school

The twice-Fulbright scholar and scientist said his eldest son, 14, saw his classmate bring in a knife his dad had bought in Colombia. When he brought it a knife his dad had bought in Pakistan, the school went on lockdown and he was suspended for six months.

In June, a man burst into the Fayetteville mosque, which Mr Usmani’s family attended, threatening to kill the congregation. Iraq War veteran Russell Thomas Langford, the man allegedly behind the attack, left packs of bacon outside - a common insult to Muslims who do not eat pork.

In July, their family reported harassment from a neigbour who came to their house in the middle of the night, telling them to “behave” and “how to live in the US”. The local police department reportedly was “really great” in dealing with the situation, as reported by the Huffington Post. The neighbour eventually moved.

In September, a Florida mosque that Mr Usmani said he used to attend when he was a student was set on fire.

This all happened within a year.

Mr Usmani told The Independent that his family was planning to move anyway, maybe to California where his employer was based, but they would consider moving back to the US if Donald Trump loses the election in November.

Mr Tump has been accused of stoking Islamophobia by announcing he would implement a temporary ban on all Muslims entering the US, and would carry out "extreme vetting" of Muslims and refugees.

Abdul Aziz in a photo posted by his father on Facebook

Mr Usmani, a scientist, has won awards for his work, and developed software in collaboration with the United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education to model the damage of suicide bombings. He has a Ph.D and an Eisenhower fellowship and was formerly the chief technology officer of data company PredictifyMe.

The family lived in Florida between 2004 and 2010, and lived in Pakistan until 2014. The family then moved back to North Carolina.

Asked if he had a message for Americans, Mr Usmani told them “not to assume anything”.

“They don’t know us or about our lives, where we come from or how we get treated in our home country,” he said.

“The second thing is people need to understand that my son is a seven-year-old child. We don’t want this to happen to any seven-year-old kid. We need to just give this much respect to our children. There is something wrong somewhere.”

Mr Usmani added that he has received mostly positive emails, but about 5 per cent of them were “really nasty”, with one even pointing out that he should be grateful his child was not shot in the head on the school bus, like Malala Yousafzai was by the Pakistani Taliban in 2012.

“These are my kids, they are our kids, it's a communal responsibility,” he said. “We should think beyond political rivalries and viewpoints and look into our hearts.”

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