Wayne, New Jersey — “Terrorist,” “towel head,” “camel jockey” – those are some of the taunts that bullies have used to put down Arab, Muslim and South Asian students in what some community leaders say is a growing epidemic.
The students have become frequent targets of bullies since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, with reports of name-calling, intimidation and physical violence in schools, community and civil rights leaders said Thursday at a forum about bullying. With the rise of anti-Islamic sentiment, the problem has grown worse, they said.
“When public officials and media commentators propagate these ideas, it gets into the main discourse, and schools are a ripe environment for these feelings,” said Aref Assaf, president of the American Arab Forum, a Paterson-based think tank specializing in Arab and Muslim affairs.
For Shehnaz Abdeljaber, the telling moment was when her son came home with his yearbook, and it was plastered with notes from classmates – and a teacher – about blowing things up and bombs. Abdeljaber said she did not want to identify her son or hometown to protect him.
Activists said the vilification of Muslims and Arabs was a key factor in the rise of bullying, citing as examples anti-mosque activism, the burning of the Quran as a form of protest, and the recent congressional hearings on radicalization of American Muslims.
See also Sheila Musaji, “Bullying a problem for Muslims, Arabs, and other minorities in American schools”, The American Muslim, 22 April 2011