Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/2044 Tue, 25 Sep 2018 09:56:31 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) In the Face of Bigotry, Teachable Moments http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6535:in-the-face-of-bigotry-teachable-moments http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6535:in-the-face-of-bigotry-teachable-moments school visit nycschools

(photo via @NYCSchools)


This school year is very different from previous years. This September, students began their classes in the midst of a heated presidential race and a hostile political climate where nearly every young New Yorker -- black, Latino, immigrant, LGBTQ, female, and Muslim -- has been maligned by politicized messages of racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, and bigotry.

This year, however, could also be different in other ways. If parents, teachers, and community leaders step up to the plate, this could be a year where we take time to educate our children about our nation’s First Amendment.

This nation was founded on the premise that all people should have freedom of religion; it is part of what makes our country extraordinary. No one should live in fear because of the color of their skin, the language they speak, or how they pray. This year is the perfect time to educate our children about what it really means to stand as one nation, undivided, no matter our faith traditions or our country of origin.

Students who are Muslim or perceived to be Muslim are under particular attack this year. Within a four-week range, there have been three murders of Muslims in New York, the city I call home. In Brooklyn last week, two women were assaulted while pushing their children in strollers for no reason other than they dared to leave their homes wearing headscarves. A Muslim woman in hijab window shopping in midtown Manhattan was set on fire. One can’t help but wonder how many other incidents of harassment and abuse go unreported in communities across the city and country.

Obviously, this is not a local problem. On a national level, anti-Muslim rhetoric has increased exponentially during the current presidential race. Our nation’s children have seen, again and again, proposals to ban all Muslims from entering the United States, to launch a database specific to Muslims, or even reintroduce internment camps.

In a school system of 1.1 million students, I can’t imagine what it is like for Muslim students and those perceived to be Muslim in New York City, especially during this time. Sadly, students experience prejudice and discrimination from their peers. In the days after Donald Trump’s initial call for a ‘Muslim ban’ back in the Spring, 10-year-old Nadine’s mother called me that her daughter was bullied in school and asked what should she do about it. Nadine, who lives and goes to school in the Bronx, was told by one of her peers that all Muslims are terrorists and ISIS and Muslims should go back to their country. Nadine’s heart sank and she felt defenseless in front of peers who said nothing to her aggressor, her mother told me.

Nadine is not alone, there are children across the US who are being bullied based on their religion. Bayan Zehlif, a Muslim student and senior in Rancho Cucamonga, CA was misidentified as “ISIS Philips” in her high school yearbook photo. What a terrible way to end your high school career.

Incidents like these can be prevented if schools make a concerted effort to create a caring and nurturing environment in every classroom where every child sees a reflection of him/herself in their peers. While we teach Common Core standards, prepare for AP tests, and coach our students before the SATs, we must not forget to prioritize students’ civic education. Their understanding of the world around them must include a focus on the virtues of a pluralistic society and empathy for their fellow human beings.

Empathy and respect for plurality can be fostered from simple “getting to know each other” activities, sharing stories of culture, costumes, and traditions, and discussions of what holidays stand for. Even hosting an open conversation about what it is like to be different from each other, and how that makes our democracy stronger, can shift the perspectives of our students to a more productive place.

When we invest in the time to do this, we connect our students, by mind and heart. We build bonds between them to see each other as allies and fellow students, not adversaries. As a result, we empower students to be upstanders, not bystanders, when one of their peers comes under attack. After all, this is what we want our country to look like. It should start in the classroom.

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Dr. Debbie Almontaser is the founding and former principal of the Khalil Gibran International Academy. On Twitter @DebbiAlmontaser.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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In the Face of Bigotry, Teachable Moments Mon, 19 Sep 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Vigilance in the Fight Against Islamophobia http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6517:vigilance-in-the-fight-against-islamophobia http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6517:vigilance-in-the-fight-against-islamophobia MMV Daneek Miller

Daneek Miller, left, & Melissa Mark-Viverito, the authors (photo: William Alatriste)


In New York, we have always embraced diversity. We strive to make sure that everyone feels welcome—no matter their race, faith, or background. This has never been more important for Muslim Americans, who have been the target of vicious political attacks during this election cycle.

This month, Muslim Americans across the country and in New York City will be celebrating Eid al-Adha. As our fellow community members observe this important religious holiday amidst a rising trend of Islamophobia, we must be mindful of their safety. Let us continue to set an example for strengthening our community and promoting open-mindedness.

Recently, Muslims have been the target of hate speech and violence in their homes, schools, neighborhoods, and places of worship. These verbal and physical attacks represent a broader trend of discrimination against Muslims.

According to the Bridge Initiative at Georgetown University, anti-Islam rhetoric in the United States has increased significantly during the current presidential election cycle. In fact, anti-Muslim attacks surged in the days and weeks after Donald Trump made anti-Muslim statements, suggested instituting a database to track Muslim Americans, and called for shutting down mosques. In recent months, organized, sometimes armed, protests against mosques have increased, as well as the targeting of Muslims for bullying or hate crimes.

This year’s presidential election has seen the candidate of a major political party not only endorse bigoted views, but also encourage the spread of these attitudes among his followers. Donald Trump’s message of bigotry has created a hostile climate against Muslims, immigrants, African Americans, Latinos, and women, dividing and weakening our communities. This marked increase in Islamophobia in the United States means that every day Muslims are unable to go about their daily lives without worrying about their personal safety. As we have seen with Imam Alauddin Akonjee and most recently with Nazma Khanam, Muslims are frequent targets of hate and violence. As a Latina legislator, as an African-American Muslim, we will not let any hateful rhetoric go unchecked and unchallenged. We have and will continue to stand up and speak out.

When an individual’s ability to publicly practice his or her faith is threatened, all of our liberties are at stake. We need to protect the freedom to practice faiths of all kinds and to educate others about diversity. That’s why the City added two Muslim holy days to the public school calendar in 2015, to ensure that all Muslim-American students can celebrate holidays together with friends and family.

Our fellow City Council members have also been very vocal about protecting the rights of Muslims in New York to practice their faith in peace and safety. Just last December, we helped organize a large interfaith rally on the steps of City Hall in coordination with other elected officials and faith leaders to denounce Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant remarks.

Despite challenges, our city will stand strong against these messages meant to divide us. Muslims continue to play important roles in our communities, contributing to the multicultural fabric of our city and our nation. Muslims are important figures in New York City arts, sciences, and businesses, as well as in public service – like Congressmen Keith Ellison and Andre Carson. Muslims are artists, teachers, doctors; mothers, fathers, and cherished members of their neighborhoods.

Institutionalizing Islamophobia only causes our communities to live in fear. This month, in the spirit of Eid, we must reject bigotry and collectively work together to spread awareness and hope. We have a responsibility to denounce discrimination and violence and to ensure that all communities can feel safe and respected in New York City. That is why, this Eid, we ask everyone in our broader community to do what they can to spread kindness instead of hatred, understanding instead of suspicion, and acceptance instead of close-mindedness.

Traveling across this city, whether to Bay Ridge or Midland Beach or Astoria, to connect with New Yorkers of all backgrounds and faiths has always been a highlight of serving in elected office. All of us are part of the New York City community, and we look forward to celebrating Eid together.

New York City is home to one of the most vibrant Muslim communities in the country. In order to continue preserving the values that make this city so special, we need to make sure that we are listening to the needs of Muslim-American New Yorkers.

Islamophobia has no place in New York City. Instead of embracing hateful rhetoric, we should be lifting up Muslim voices and sharing the stories of Muslim-Americans.

New Yorkers have always been stronger together. Together, we can work to protect and promote diversity and defeat Islamophobia.

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Melissa Mark-Viverito is the Speaker of the City Council and Daneek Miller represents parts of Queens and is the only African-American Muslim City Council Member. On Twitter @MMViverito and @IDaneekMiller.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Vigilance in the Fight Against Islamophobia Thu, 08 Sep 2016 04:00:00 +0000