Since the 2016 election campaign, incidents of bullying Muslim students have skyrocketed. In a survey by the Washington chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Muslim Community Resource Center, more than 60 percent of Muslim students have said they’ve felt unsafe in public since 2016.
When teaching about the Middle East and North Africa, U.S. teachers are often confronted with a dearth of accurate and nuanced material about the history, politics and people of the region. This crisis of critical awareness mainly materializes through two recurring narratives that circulate in mainstream media, political discourse and popular culture: “Islam as anti-Western” and conflict fueled by “ancient hatreds.” These narratives work in tandem to produce a one-dimensional conception of the MENA, which, in turn, fuels the rising Islamophobia in U.S. schools and society.
As educators, we know that our words carry a powerful weight. Although we can’t control how the media portrays Muslim people, we can encourage students to think critically about the messages that they receive from the media. We must also protect our students from classroom debates where they are singled out and feel like they have to defend their faith. One way to mitigate the impact of Islamophobia is to teach our students about it. We need to expose and critique the myths being constructed about Islam all around them in the media, in public discourse, and even in their classrooms.
Determined to defy and combat Islamophobia before more innocent Muslims are targeted and harmed, Veterans For Peace (VFP), working closely with Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), has organized a campaign called “Veterans Challenge Islamophobia” (VCI). This national campaign is a broad-based, action-oriented effort which calls on military veterans everywhere to defend the values of religious freedom, equality and individual rights. It is the hope of VFP and its allies that the VCI campaign functions as an educational instrument and a call to action.