“Mummy why are they saying that about Muslims?” my eight-year-old asks me as I quickly fumble with the remote control to switch channels from a news report detailing another atrocity carried out by unstable murderous men in the name of a cause they desperately tie to Islam.
Most parents sit there on standby ready to fire off the remote at the slightest whiff of an inappropriate scene, but for me, I am also on guard for any reference to terror, “radicalised British Muslims” and the so-called Islamic state.
I am trying, hopelessly perhaps, to protect my son from the corroding impact of such relentless negative descriptions of an important part of his nascent identity. I know that these images and words will have an impact on his self-esteem, his worldview and even on how he is treated by his classmates on the school football pitch.
In times of parental ineptitude and crises I consult my Muslim version of Mumsnet, the ‘Foodlovers’ WhatsApp group. It’s comprised of a diverse range of mums who talk about issues ranging from what we should make for tea to foreign affairs. One theme that comes up time and time again, is the challenges we face raising our children in a post-9/11 world, where the biggest threat to world order, we are told, is terrorism claiming Islam as its moral cause.
We worry about the the spike in Islamophobic attacks post Brexit; how taunts like “terrorist”, “raghead” and “Paki” have become the favoured lexicon of playground bullies; and we fear of our children being wrongly referred to a local anti-radicalisation programme via the police, simply for asking for a prayer space at school or requesting time off to partake in religious ceremonies.
Only the other day a mother was telling us how bad she felt for shushing her children in public for saying “Allahu Akabar” as they cheered her for agreeing to buy them a treat from the supermarket.
Our children are left confused and preplexed. We invest so much time and money ferrying them to study Arabic and the Koran, only to feel awkward and fearful at their public display of faith incase others misconstrue religious and cultural expressions for extremism and radicalisation.
As a parent I’m exhausted by the judgments I have to make about how much of the real world I allow my children to see, if at all. How much longer can I protect them from the realisation that they are growing up in a world where an important part of their identity is under constant and unrelenting scrutiny and prejudice. Where multiple engagements with the world through school, social media, the internet and even walking down the street could expose them to Islamphobia or on the other end of the spectrum radicalisation. As I once said to two senior MPs, I feel like I have to protect my boys from the playground bully, the extremist and from ‘Prevent’ all at the same time.
Like other parents of children from different ethnic and racial backgrounds, I worry every day about how I can bring up confident, polite and kind children, proud of everything that makes them unique including their faith. But perhaps unlike them I ask myself how can I achieve this in a world that sees my sons as potential terrorists of tomorrow?