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September 18, 2015

What Ahmed Mohamed Can Teach Us About Having ‘A Wrong Impression’

Ahmed MohamedOn Monday, Ahmed Mohamed, a fourteen year old high school freshman with a talent for tinkering and technology, brought a homemade digital clock he constructed to school to show his teachers. His engineering teacher was impressed but later in the day when it beeped during English class, Ahmed’s troubles began. He showed the device to his English teacher who notified school officials who then notified the police. “She thought it was a threat to her,” Ahmed said, “so it was really sad that she took a wrong impression of it.”

The clock was confiscated and Ahmed was suspended from school for three days. After being questioned at school by police officers, Ahmed was put into handcuffs and brought to a juvenile detention center where he was fingerprinted and had his mug shot taken. Since that time, the charges have been dropped.

Ahmed’s story quickly precipitated a national outcry on social media where messages of support came from Mark Zuckerberg, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama, who extended a special invitation to Ahmed to the White House for Astronomy Night in October. White House press secretary Josh Earnest said, “This episode is a good illustration of how pernicious stereotypes can prevent even good-hearted people who have dedicated their lives to educating young people from doing the good work that they set out to do.” Conversely, Irving Police Chief Boyd said this matter was not caused by stereotypes and “would have been the same regardless” of his religion.

While we were not on the ground at MacArthur High School on Monday, we acknowledge that school security is critical and school violence is always on the minds of school staff, whose job it is to remain vigilant. In addition, this incident raises questions about stereotypes and the possibility of implicit bias. It is also very important that school staff get to know students to prevent making assumptions or forming “wrong impressions,” as Ahmed aptly put it. He is obviously a young person who loves technology and making things. The question for us to ponder is: Are all students regarded as threatening because they make a quirky clock or can a student’s gender, religion and national origin be a factor in our own evaluation of what feels threatening?

The school year in Irving began on August 24 so this week marks the fourth week of school, ample time to see what everyone else is seeing now—that Ahmed appears to be a bright and inquisitive teenager with a passion for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). He nobly stated that he wants to use this moment to “try my best not just to help me but to help every other kid in the entire world that has a problem like this.” He’s talking about stereotyping, and he’s right.

Whether this was a situation of miscommunication, bias or something else, educators should be mindful that context is important. Muslims are regularly marked by the stereotype of “terrorist” which has implications for how welcome or unwelcome Muslims often feel in their communities and on school campuses. For educators committed to their role as leaders in building respectful learning environments , combating bias and proactively teaching about race and racism, this context should be considered and managed in a way that meets multiple goals: safety and inclusion.

As we start the new school year, Ahmed’s story is an important reminder to explicitly teach about stereotypes, bias and discrimination, that unconscious bias can seep into all of our interactions—both large and small and that implicit bias can shape our assumptions and expectations about others. Most importantly, creating an anti-bias learning environment and integrating culturally responsive teaching practices goes a long way toward assisting educators in knowing their students and treating them with respect.

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September 11, 2015

Anti-Muslim activist Pamela Geller promotes anti-refugee rhetoric

“Immigration Jihad” is a newly minted term by anti-Muslim activist Pamela Geller to describe the current refugee crisis in Europe, where thousands of refugees are trying to find a safe haven for their families away from the war-torn Middle East.

Anti-Muslim activist Pamela Geller

Anti-Muslim activist Pamela Geller

As wrenching images of Aylan Kurdi, a toddler lying dead on a Turkish beach after he and his family sought refuge spurred the world to take action to help save more refugees, Geller advanced her claim that the flow of refugees is a Muslim invasion that needs to be stopped. “How this new invasion will end is anyone’s guess – but it won’t be pretty. Today’s refugee is tomorrow’s jihadist,” Geller wrote on September 6 on WorldNetDaily (WND), a conservative website.

Geller exploits concern over terrorism to get an audience for her anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim agenda. She equates Muslim refugees with terrorism and promotes the idea that every Muslim wants to wage Jihad against the West.

She wrote on September 6, “The question no one is asking is why all these people, all of a sudden? Did millions of Muslims across the Middle East and Africa get a text message that said, go now? This is clearly orchestrated, and as I previously reported, ISIS warned Europe of an invasion of ‘migrants.’ This, too, is an act of war. How many jihadists are among the hordes?”

Geller also connected the refugee crisis in Europe to the United States. She wrote on her official blog post on September 7, “This is a cautionary tale for America. We must not allow these invaders into our country. This is a hijrah, a migration to Islamize a new land.”

In addition, Geller’s campaign against refugees also recycles some of her anti-Obama conspiracy theories. In August, she accused President Obama of resettling a large number of Syrian refugees as part of a plot to destroy America. She claimed, “Obama is bringing Muslim refugees into this country by the hundreds of thousands in his unceasing pursuit of the destruction of America.” She also called for an end to the U.S. refugee resettlement program

Geller has waged an anti-Muslim campaign for years by holding controversial events such as the “Draw Muhammad” contest, placing anti-Muslim ads on buses, and giving speeches claiming that Muslim immigrants pose a threat to the U.S. Her increasing anti-immigrant and anti-refugee rhetoric not only contradicts the Jewish-American values which she claims to defend but it also violates basic human decency.

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January 14, 2015

After Terrorist Attacks, Anti-immigrant Activists Attack Muslim Immigration

In the wake of the deadly terrorist attacks on the Charlie Hebdo Paris office and a kosher market in Paris, anti-immigrant activists in the U.S. are urging the United States to stop all Muslim immigration to this country. They also claim that anyone who practices Islam is inclined towards extremism.

Tom Tancredo

Tom Tancredo

In a January 12, 2015 column for World Net Daily (WND) titled, “Yes, It is Islam!” former Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo writes, “So, here we are again, being told that we can’t blame Islam for the murderous acts that have cost thousands of lives since 9/11 and millions of lives since the 14th century! Well, then let me ask a simple question: If Islam did not exist, how many of these events would have occurred?”

Although Tancredo acknowledges that radical Islam is the problem, he does not make a distinction between terrorists and people of the Muslim faith.. He asserts “that the jihadists do not represent all Muslims is irrelevant.” He continues, “We have spent tens of billions hunting down and killing terrorist leaders with drones and other tools of high-tech warfare, while accepting and permitting the growth of the cancer of Shariah law in our own communities.” Tancredo then suggests that “we stop all immigration of Muslims into the United States and then deport those already here who adhere to Shariah law.” He also calls for sealing all our borders against illegal entry to prevent jihadists from using “our open borders to infiltrate our communities.”

Frosty Wooldridge, who is an advisory board member of the extreme anti-immigrant group Federation for American Immigration Reform, often denigrates immigrants and Muslims in his columns for in the right-wing online publication, “News with Views.” He has written a series of columns titled, “Impregnating America with Muslims,” in which he attacks Muslim immigrants. In his latest column on January 12, titled, “Islam Forces Western Ideals into Extinction,” he reprints a number of anti-Muslim quotes from the late writer and bigot Lawrence Auster, including: “It is important to understand that what makes Islam dangerous to non-Muslims is not that Muslims are morally bad people. The problem is not that Muslims are bad people, the problem is that they are good Muslims. Our concern is with the religion and the political ideology of Islam, which makes all Muslims dangerous to us, since all Muslims, even if they personally have no aggressive intentions, even if they are personally fine and lovely people, are part of the Islamic community and owe their highest loyalty to Islam.”

Wooldridge ends his column by warning, “The illiterate, barbaric, killing-machine warlord Mohammed continues his carnage into the 21st century with the hands of 1.5 billion of his followers. If we fail to stop mass immigration, France’s nightmare becomes our future.”

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