I’m writing this in the aftermath of the horrific and chilling events from Paris. Needless to say that all our thoughts are with the families and friends that have lost their loved ones during the devastating tragedy that occurred in the late hours of Friday night.
Why am I writing this post? Well, this is for all the educators who will return to their schools and classes on Monday morning still with the sad possibility that the death toll may have increased. This is a post to encourage teachers and leaders to think about their approach and how they will discuss the Paris tragedy with their students.
Firstly, let’s think about how the events have been reported by mainstream media – the media that our students may possibly consume – and also the thoughts, opinions and feelings that are being freely expressed on social media. It is one thing that our students will be subjected to the uncensored racist dirge and ill-informed bigotry that riddles social media but should students – without our help – assume that all the news coverage they see and hear is completely partisan and without political gain? For example, we will need to explain to our students that linking the Paris attacks with the rise of refugees in France is hideously inaccurate. We must also explain to our students and be honest with ourselves, that Western Foreign Policy has had a detrimental affect and caused more deaths. Without the invasion of Iraq, there would be no Islamic State, which has claimed responsibility for the horror in Paris. If the ultimate goals of these terrorist attacks are to create hostility, hatred and separation between Muslims and non-Muslims in France and other Western countries then we are already witnessing and seeing the Islamophobic backlash. Our students must understand that after witnessing evil hate, we must, combat it with compassion, solidarity and understanding.
All our students need to learn the capacity of love before they have the courage to fight for it.
Secondly, it needs to be highlighted that although the events in Paris were obviously acts of hideous violence, where was the outrage when 43 people lost their lives in Beirut on Thursday? Or, indeed were was the vocal mourning for the 26 people who lost their lives in Baghdad? Where are the Lebanese flag twitter ribbons, where are the Solidarity for Beirut hashtags, where are the coloured lights on buildings indicating support and togetherness for the desolated families in Lebanon and Iraq? We live in a world where grief seems to have a cultural hierarchy. It is also essential for our students to realise that terrorist acts similar to those seen in Paris, Beirut and Baghdad kill tens and hundreds of people in places such as Palestine and Syria every single day. Let’s be confident to discuss with our students when does another dead body become more important than others? Is it only Western or white bodies that deserve our attention and our thoughts?
We should mourn for the lives lost in Paris, but perhaps we should also interrogate and think why we don’t mourn for lives lost elsewhere.
Thirdly, under no circumstance should our Muslim students apologise or feel that they need to apologise for these events. Spend less time in stating the bloody obvious that ISIL/Daesh do not represent Islam and more time reassuring our young Muslim pupils that they don’t need to feel ashamed of their identity, religion and beliefs. Why is this important to do in schools? The school and teachers, in most cases, are seen as authority or voice the adult (usually white, middle class) perspective, if students for one second start to think that we as educators share the same views of the moronic idiots that have plastered Islamophobic rants on social media or inaccurate generalisations from so-called experts on news coverage, we have a problem…a serious problem.
Take a read of this post from my friend, the brilliant Amjad Ali
Finally, we live a time where Muslim students are refereed to CONTEST (part of the PREVENT agenda) on a daily basis (there are currently eight referrals a day, 80% are not carried through and there is no real evidence that the system is actually working) for asking for Prayer rooms facilities, using the French word “l’ecoterrorisme” and even (unfortunately, this is also true) for wearing a shalwar kameez on non uniform day. It is always our job* to consider and understand the importance of creating ‘safe spaces’ for our students (especially our Muslim students), where authentic debate and discussions about the points I have raised, can happen without surveillance or suspicion.
Our students must be allowed to gain a comprehensive realisation and understanding of their world and a desire to improve it – and where necessary, change it.
*If you don’t think it is your job then I assume that you believe education has nothing to do with democracy, compassion, freedom and emancipation. Never forget that, “…a pedagogy that matters has a relationship to social change”