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How to tackle Islamophobia

Samidha Garg offers advice to counter racism

In 1997, the Runnymede Trust's groundbreaking report, Islamophobia: A Challenge for us All, drew attention to the phenomenon. It describes Islamophobia as "unfounded hostility towards Islam and the practical consequences of such hostility in unfair discrimination against Muslim individuals and communities, and the exclusion of Muslims from mainstream political and social affairs".

Islamophobia has similarities with other forms of racism, such as anti-Semitism: a strong religious element, for example, with negative stereotypes used to justify exclusion and discrimination.

Islamophobia was evident during the Gulf War of 1991, when racist attacks on Muslims increased. Such racism also surged after September 11, 2001 and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The ongoing instability in the Middle East continues to stoke the phenomenon.

These extraordinary world events pose particular challenges for teachers.

It is no more acceptable to blame all Muslims for attacks by extremists than to use disapproval of the Israeli government's actions as an excuse for anti-semitism. It is important to integrate action against all forms of racism and discrimination. An attack on one minority group is an attack on them all.

Teachers may meet some of the following situations:

* Muslim pupils being targeted by other children and adults;

* Muslim staff facing hostility from pupils and parents;

* The use of racist language against Muslims when discussing recent world events;

* A hardening of views in the school community on Islam and the role of Muslims in the UK.

Islamophobia is an issue for all schools, regardless of their racial make-up. Teaching about racism and Islamophobia can have a profound effect on pupils' understanding and attitudes.

There are many ways of challenging Islamophobia in schools, depending on the age and maturity of the pupils. Teachers can help them:

* Examine the connections, similarities and differences between Christianity, Judaism and Islam in RE lessons;

* Understand the impact that discrimination has had upon the Muslim community;

* Understand that Islam is a religion of peace. There are extremists, but these are also present in other religions;

* Understand that there is no natural link between Muslims, refugees and terrorism;

* Challenge Islamophobia within the broader framework of anti-racism, equality, fairness and social justice. Encourage pupils to challenge friends who display Islamophobic behaviour;

* Use curriculum opportunities to improve pupils' understanding of Muslims and the nature of Islamophobia;

* Understand Islam and Muslims by rejecting popular stereotypes ;

* Use the new citizenship curriculum to consider the issues of fairness and social justice, the nature of prejudice, anti-social and aggressive behaviour, and to gain the skills to challenge unacceptable behaviour in appropriate ways;

* Challenge stereotypes of Muslims in films, art and literature.

Under the Race Relations (Amendment) Act, schools have a duty to promote good race relations and equality of opportunity. If Islamophobia is not challenged in schools and society in general, Britain cannot be regarded as an inclusive society.

Samidha Garg is principal officer (race equality) at the National Union of Teachers.The union's anti-racist curriculum guidelines are at: 2001.pdf

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