All names in this interview have been changed as requested by the participants.
The school playground has become the new battleground for the government’s war on terror, targeting our most vulnerable and innocent – our children. Mariam is a year 5 student who had been caught in this crossfire and her mother, Abir, describes how this incident has affected their lives.
Abir, can you describe what happened?
Yes, my daughter came home from school one afternoon, scared and shaking, so I asked her “What’s wrong”? At first she refused to tell me but after pestering her to tell me she said, “Mum, I’m sorry but I’ve done an act of terrorism and the police are going to come to our house because of me. I’m going to get into big trouble now”.
I was shocked and confused to hear this. Mariam then explained to me what had happened at school that day:
“During lunch time, I ran up to my old kindergarten teacher and I said “Miss, look at my gun (playfully)”. I put my carrot on top of my apple to make it look like a toy gun. The teacher walked closer to me, stood over me and said, “How dare you!”
She said that she was going to tell my year 5 class teacher and then the Deputy Principal and then tell my mum and tell her what I’ve done wrong.
I told her that I was just playing around and I didn’t know what I did wrong. The teacher said “That’s very rude of you. Sit down and eat your lunch now.”
After lunch, she told my class teacher, who called me to the side of the class after everyone had left for home time. She said to me “What you did at lunch time, you can’t do that. This sort of behaviour is not on. It’s an act of terrorism! But don’t worry, you’re not in trouble,” she said.
Mum, I’m so scared and I never want to speak to that teacher again. I’m too scared to go to school now.”
As Mariam was leaving school for home time there just happened to be a police car parked near the school. She thought that police car was there to pick her up from school, which is why she came home frantically asking whether the police had showed up at home yet.
How do you think this has impacted Mariam’s relationship with her teachers?
Well, it has definitely broken any sense of trust she had with her teachers. All Mariam did was use an apple and a carrot to make a model of a gun, yet her actions and words alone, said in a friendly and playful way to a long time beloved teacher were enough to create a response that connected my daughter’s actions to acts of terrorism. Her actions were seen as so serious and threatening that she would have to be reported to not only the school authorities, but to the police as well. I doubt Mariam could have a trusting relationship with her teachers, especially if they view her as a dangerous threat.
Did you feel like you could seek a resolution with the school?
When I did visit the school to speak to the teachers involved, they denied everything. The teachers had a very different story to what my daughter had told me. Someone is not telling the truth and a ten year old child has no reason to bring this upon herself. At the end of the day it was my daughter’s word against theirs.
What role do you think the media and government have played in targeting Muslims at school?
Definitely a big role. I was visiting the school for another meeting with the teachers to resolve this issue, and walking in front of me was a white, non-Muslim lady with her son, who happened to be carrying a massive toy gun. Seeing this straight away caught my eye due to what I had just been through with my daughter, so I was waiting for a response from a teacher or staff member. They walked onto the school grounds, entered the office, spoke to some staff and left. No one said anything, no accusations of terrorism, nothing. Despite the boy shooting his gun around and making shotgun sound effects as well. It is so blatantly clear that there’s hypocrisy when it comes to treatment of Islam and Muslims.
Do you have any words of advice for any parents out there who may be facing a similar situation with their children?
At first, I didn’t think to contact the school but after sharing this incident with some close friends, they encouraged me to go to the school and speak up for Mariam because the teachers had no right to respond like that. A sister in particular helped me write a few letters and even visited the school with me. May Allah reward her for her support and efforts. It was quite an intimidating experience for me and for Mariam especially, but in the end I had to make it clear to the teachers that their reaction to Mariam was a complete overreaction and I would not want any other parent or child to have to go through this as well. I reported the incident, sent them letters addressing my concerns, spoke to them on several occasions – basically I made a big fuss about it, and I could tell they were running around trying to cover their tracks. And although it may look like nothing really changed, at least I know that in the future, the teachers in that school are going to think twice about what they say in front of their students.
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