“Mr. Jones, what’s wrong? You’re not smiling and joking like normal today.”
This is the question I got first thing Monday morning from one of my students as we were all getting ready to try to get through the last week of school before Thanksgiving break. I had a lot of things on my mind, some just the typical housekeeping items that always occupy me at work following a weekend, and some of a more serious nature.
Whenever there’s a major news event I always wonder how much impact it will have on life at school; I’m constantly listening for hints that my coworkers are talking about current events or that my students have any idea of what’s going on in the wider world. Last year during the height of the protests in Ferguson, I was more than a little on edge about the possibility of those events leading to heightened tensions at school (there’s no point in sugarcoating the fact that I live and work in the heart of the American South, and racism is a very real, very contentious factor in all social interactions, particularly among my students). At the start of this school year, after the Emanuel AME shooting occurred and the popular tide turned against the Confederate battle flag, I was definitely nervous about how to address the issue with our students who are very proud of their Southern identities and very unaware of the emblem’s problematic history.
Naturally, following the attacks in Paris I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from my students. The demographic makeup of my school’s student body makes racial issues beyond the tension between black and white students typically moot, but I’ve observed instances of Islamophobia in the past, and I was genuinely worried that the fires that politicians had been stoking all weekend might bleed over into conversations at school.
Even setting aside those misgivings, there’s also the persistent fear for the well being of my friends who are Muslim in the wake of a terrorist attack that too many people will equate with all of Islam rather than one very particular fundamentalist strand that, much like fundamentalist Christianity, has more to do with amassing power for a privileged few through the manipulation of many than Islam’s broader teachings about the sacredness of life, peace, and charity. I’m genuinely afraid of the way (let’s face it, white, Christian) Americans will treat Muslims and people they perceive as Muslim in the coming weeks. We’re already seeing the larger trends of conservatives railing against the Syrian refugees trying to escape the reach of Daesh because the majority of them are Muslim, heedless of the fact that the terrorist organization that everyone is so afraid of is primarily killing Muslims.
This is a really sensitive issue at the moment, and all week I’ve been positively stewing over the implications of the way the Western world is responding. Before the weekend was ended, France had deployed a ship to the Middle East with the intention of bombing Raqaa, the declared capital of Daesh’s territory. They view the Paris attacks as an act of war, and so they are going to war; America is an ally of France according to the NATO charter and so we will inevitably provide military support. There’s another war revving up, and all I can think is that it won’t accomplish anything in the long run other than continuing to alienate people in the region so that more will find the idea of violent attacks on the West appealing. Recognizing that Daesh wants to create an environment where the world is easily divided into the parts where their form of Islam is dominant and the parts where everyone else is a justifiable enemy of their ideology, I’m sad to see that our leaders feel like they’re doing the right thing by playing into that narrative.
On the subject of the Syrian refugees, I’m mostly just aghast at the way so many people are openly hostile to the idea of helping people fleeing a war zone because of fears that there might be terrorists hidden among them. We have no evidence that that’s a real risk, and beyond that, it’s extremely callous to be close-fisted about offering help to people in need–especially when many proponents of the “cautious” approach claim that they’re acting in alignment with Christian principles at the same time. It makes me angry to think about it.
So when my student asked me what was up, I had to take a long moment to think of an answer. In the end all I could say was this:
“It was a bad weekend.”
For further reading:
Guilty Until Proven Christian by William Saletan at Slate
Dear politicians who want to bar Syrian refugees: here are 6 ways you’re wrong by Max Fisher at Vox
Trump crosses the Nazi line: Maybe Muslims should wear special ID badges by Travis Gettys at RawStory
Paired with that last one: Demerit Badge by Kim LaCapria at Snopes.com which gives more context for the original interview the RawStory article references.
Nevermind. Trump’s still as horrible as everyone thought: Donald Trump’s Plan for a Muslim Database Draws Comparison to Nazi Germany by Vaughn Hillyard at NBC News
Words matter in ‘ISIS’ war, so use ‘Daesh’ by Zeba Khan at The Boston Globe
Cursed be anyone who deprives the refugee of justice by Fred Clark at Slacktivist
Syrian Refugees Don’t Pose a Serious Security Threat by Alex Nowrasteh at The Cato Institute