Recently, our university's Muslim chaplain reached out to me and asked if I would be interested in a talking to a small group of Muslim parents about what Muslim college students thought about the recent Paris attacks. College students because we have all grown up in the almost immediate aftermath of 9/11.
We were five students in total and among us we were two undergraduates and three graduates, three boys and two girls. We all come from very different backgrounds and thus could offer different perspectives on the questions the parents asked us. Questions like what kind of language should we use when we talk about these kind of events to our children? Should we tell them that those people aren't actual Muslims? How early should we expose our children to these news? How do we approach the whole process of "condemning violence" as Muslims? How do we ensure our children are safe and have the means and confidence in their schools to deal with what might come at them?
And I want to address not only how we, as Muslim college students answered these questions, but also the general necessity of this meeting and the fact that it happened. Because this is something we don't usually talk about. We don't talk about how the children raised in our communities feel and are treated because of these violent attacks and the ensuing Islamophobia. We don't talk about how it affects the environment our children grow up in when even our parents aren't sure about how to respond to these kind of events. When we have religious extremists killing in the name of Islam and constant anti-Islam propaganda, we look at how Muslim adults react. We don't look at six and seven year olds who don't even know the branches of the government. We don't look at fifth graders who are left unaware of the thousands of civilians dead at the hands of the US military.
The broader framework of what we told these parents was that, yes they do need to talk to their children about this, and no they do not have to be sorry or ashamed of anything, they need to keep their dignity and stand their ground, and they need to trust their children in learning about and understanding complexities and nuances within these things.
Within this broader framework, we talked about how these attacks in the name of Islam are not simple. They are not done with a single goal and born out of a single motive. They are layered and complicated and multidimensional. They are not simply religious, they are political and ideological and based on dogma and prejudice and hatred. And this is something we need to address.
We need to address how no matter how un-Islamic their actions may be, these terrorists still identify themselves as Muslims. And we can't just say "No! Islam means peace! They aren't real Muslims!" Not only is this trite and patronizing, it's also confusing for children. Implying that all Muslims are somehow all great and faultless just sets our children up for disappointment.
What do we expect will happen if they grow up with the notion that all Muslims are angels and then face the reality that Muslims are also people? And just like all people and all groups, they have good ones and they have bad ones. They have honor students and they have bullies. They have trustworthy businessman and corrupt politicians. At the end of the day, they still identify as Muslim, and they are a part of this 1.7 billion-people community, but they aren't a monolith. They aren't homogenous. They are different and diverse and yeah, some of them are bad, and some of them (most of them) are good (or try to be).
We talked about how some children don't have the luxury of being shielded from these truths. Some children live under the shadow of ISIS and some children are born refugees. We talked about how when we hide these realities from our children, it can feed their ignorance later in life.
We talked about how to keep our dignity and pride with our children. How to not underestimate our children because they are really perceptive and they pick up a lot. They see and observe and they understand things that we don't explicitly talk about. We discussed how children emulate their parents and thus how parents respond and react is especially important in keeping children confident in their identities and secure in their communities.
We talked about how we need to make sure children know that violence isn't a Muslim problem. It's a human problem. It's in every community and it's born out of oppression and lack of education. And it can be fixed but we need to work for it.
We talked about the difference between religion and politics and what it means in the context of all these violent crimes. We talked about how we have to be careful with the language we use when we refer to these terrorists. We need to instill the understanding that sometimes people do horrible things thinking that they are doing the right thing. And that good behavior is recognizable as is bad behavior. And the real distinction between people doesn't come from race or religion - it comes from whether they are good people or bad people.
Especially within the Muslim household, we talked about how parents should enforce the way that God wants us to react to these kind of situations. With patience and dignity and consistency. With level-headedness and logic. How we shouldn't victimize ourselves and be miserable. How we need to keep our heads up and condemn all types of violence and injustice by principle. How we need to be less reactionary and more regular in what we stand up for and what we stand against.
Muslims have been dealing with ostracization and marginalization since Islam came to be a religion. It's not new that we are being targeted and harmed and being called names. But now people have means to do it globally. People are connected and millions of resources are at the tips of their fingers.
People can trend #KillAllMuslims for an entire day, people can organize islamophobic events across the country, people can terrorize mosques and Muslim community centers with little to no planning. People can develop intricate agendas within governments to oppress Muslim communities. And it's time to talk about how we can help our children process these. How we give them stable and strong foundations to fall back on when they are faced with bigotry and prejudice in their schools and among their peers. Born and raised post 9/11 kids. Here they come.