Sixth graders told to ‘go back to your country’ in London: study


Racial discrimination has a great influence in the development of young children.

The London Free Press, in a study, which examined the influence of Islamophobic acts on Muslim children in London. Many children were traumatised, and were too scared to visit mosques.

The study was conducted by Siham Elkassem, a therapist who works at the Vanier Children’s Centre, London. She interviewed 25 Muslim children in the 6th, 7th and 8th grade.

“A lot of the kids talked about how it’s a really scary time to be Muslim,” said Elkassem. “They feel unsafe because they’re Muslim.”

Elkassem heard stories of Muslim students being told to ‘get out’ of London, and ridiculed for cultural practices. “Snide remarks and comments, (like) ‘Go back to your country’ — that was said multiple times,” she said.

Elkassem’s research showed that many Muslim students were shocked at the discrepancy between how they saw themselves and how society perceived them. Many of the children felt that they felt targeted if they displayed a visible symbol of their religion, such as the hijab which some Muslim women choose to wear.

“A lot of the boys talked about being with their moms and feeling powerless to respond when their moms were being abused,” Elkassem said. She was especially worried at the effect witnessing such events would have on young children.

“You end up internalising those negative beliefs about yourself,” she added. “Early adolescence, that’s a time when kids’ identity and self-confidence is really being cultivated.”

Elkassem called on bystanders to speak up when they witness abuse or ‘micro-aggressions’. Others believe education is the best way to combat such incidents.

Mihad Falmy, a lawyer, says that the stereotypes attached to Islam and Muslims are proliferated by people who are more often than not ignorant of the religion. She chairs the human rights committee for the National Council of Canadian Muslims.

“They assume (Muslim children) come from sexist families, and that may be furthest from the truth,” she said. “It makes them question a little bit who they are, because they know these assumptions are swirling around in peoples’ heads.”

“A large part of the work we’ve been doing in the last year has been addressing Islamophobia in schools,” she said of the national council. “The way to address it most effectively is to engage youth.”