by Amar Alam
The case of a 10 year old Muslim boy who mistakenly wrote “terrorist house” instead of “terraced house” when his teacher asked him to write down the type of house he lived in was documented recently by BBC News.
While Muslim and non-Muslim commentators have focused their attention on the child’s mistake and the disproportionate reaction to the news by his teachers and the police services, there is a greater issue at hand that needs to be explored.
What impact is the government’s Prevent strategy and the ensuing counter-extremism legislation brought forward by the Conservatives having on ordinary Muslims, especially children?
We constantly hear ambiguous rhetoric from the government that their new anti-extremism laws are not targeting Muslims, rather they are targeting all types of extremist activity within British society, including that of the far-right and “Islamists”. However, contrary to the government’s claims, a number of news and media outlets over the last twelve months have mentioned that the policies put in place by the government suggests the intended target of such legislation are indeed the Muslim community.
What impact are these laws having on Muslim children? The question that must be asked is why would an innocent child mistakenly use the word “terrorist” in a sentence in relation to a topic that has nothing to do with any form of extremism? It seems the government’s Prevent strategy and the negative media portrayal of Muslims is having such a detrimental impact on Muslim children that they are now subconsciously internalising the belief that they are regarded as “terrorists”.
This is deeply worrying. At a time when the government have spent millions trying to prevent young people from being radicalised, their own policies and bias media reporting about Muslims are creating an environment that could potentially push them on to the path of radicalisation.
Only last month, a teacher in Rotherham called a young Muslim pupil a “terrorist” in class. There has also been a dramatic rise in bullying as a result of racist and Islamophobic sentiments in schools. A recent report by the NSPCC documented a 69% increase in such racist and Islamophobic abuse in schools across Britain. The common theme was for young people to be called a “terrorist” or “bomber”. Research recently published by academics from the universities of Newcastle, St Andrew’s and Edinburgh found that a majority of Muslim pupils in Scottish schools have experienced Islamophobia with children routinely being called “terrorists” and “Pakis”. A newspaper in France also found that shortly after the terrorist attack in Paris last November, the events had a particularly damaging impact on Muslim children in France. One child had mentioned that he did not want to be a Muslim anymore because he would be called a terrorist.
This is the impact that the government’s counter-extremism policies and biased media reports against the Muslim community are having on Muslim children across Britain. Therefore, is it surprising that children are mistakenly writing words such as “terrorist” on their school papers? If all you hear about your ethnic and religious community are words such as “extremism” and “terrorists”, it should come as no surprise that children have internalised such words and their response out of anxiety and fear is to mistakenly use them during the most inappropriate occasions.
Amar Alam has studied MSc Psychology at University College London. He has had academic articles published in medical journals and writes articles for a number of news outlets. Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely Amar’s own and do not express the views or opinions of his employer.