Thursday, March 18, 2010

When is Freedom of Speech a Crime?

I was called up to my daughter's school today as she was in tears and wanting to "leave right now, MOM!!!". As a teenager she is frequently caught up in the middle of some teenage drama but she usually handles it pretty well and life goes on. I don't get these "come take me home now" phone calls very often...so when I do..I know something serious has happened.
When I walked into the counsellor's office the secretary seen me and her usual smile was not in place. She had a very serious look and threw me a sympathetic smile of sorts. I felt this signalled a little something more serious was going on and prepared myself for "the worst". The counsellor heard my voice asking for Ameena and came out of his office with an equally serious expression. NOW I really was worried as he ALWAYS had a welcoming smile for me.
He invited me into his office and Ameena was sitting there obviously distressed and with red burned areas under her eyes signalling she had been doing some serious crying. I was not terribly surprised when I found out the cause of all this drama.
In every high school in the world there are cliques, gangs, and the occasional loners. There are the cheerleaders, the jocks, the nerds and the rebels. There are the whites, then everyone else consisting of those considered "lower in status". What I mean to say is we either belong to a group by choice or we are labeled into that group by our "peers". And always ALWAYS there is the "low man on the totem pole" group. Those considered the lowest in class, status, race...whatever. They are generally the most persecuted group in which every school bully bullies them, every cheerleader princess ignores them, and every other student thanks God they aren't them.
And then you have the new and novel group of which my son and daughter are the only two that belong to it...they are the Terrorist of Rock Springs High School.
Apparently my children have been assigned the role of resident terrorists by their peers and the harassment and bullying has been an almost daily thing. They have mentioned to me in the past that some students will shout out terrorist at them but they handled it by giving back as good as they got for the most part. My daughter has never been one to let such a comment slide by without retaliation. She told me she could handle it...I didn't need to come down there and deal with it myself....which I what I wanted to do the moment I heard about it. Zack keeps more to himself and doesn't really let himself react to such things for the most part...but when he's had enough...they will definitely know it.
Up until now Ameena seemed to be handling it well by ignoring it for the most part but today things got out of hand and she just couldn't take it anymore. It would seem several students started harassing her and calling her terrorist and others were laughing...the hardest part for her to handle was the fact that some of the students laughing were supposed to be her friends. She has faced the backs of many a friend and family member who was supposed to care about her but showed their true colors when they were needed the most...so she took this very hard and was overwhelmed with disappointment and hurt. She fled to the counsellor's office and I was called in.
I arrived not knowing what was going on but I quickly felt deep anger for my children who have suffered harassment all their lives for some reason or another. In Bahrain they were harassed for having an American mother (aka slutty whore). They were made to feel inferior for being a "mixed breed" Arab rather than a "pure blood" that many Arabs are so proud of. My girls, of course, were eventually harassed for having been subjected to rape by their father...and the boys for having slutty sisters etc. Not only was their Arab status criticized but so was their level of "Muslimness" simply because their mother was American and obviously corrupting Islam for them. We move to the states and now they are "terrorists" merely for being Arab. I can almost feel the pain my children must feel at the thought that they don't belong anywhere...they are always labeled different.
My question to you all here is...should calling someone a terrorist be considered a crime of some sort? I ask this simply because given the very fearful nature the word instills in people, to me it's akin to shouting "fire" in a crowded building. It automatically makes people jumpy and suspicious...and maybe even dangerous. that whole vigilante justice thing that a mob tends to decide is the right course of action is very much on my mind now. My daughter was surrounded by chanting students who could have whipped themselves up into a frenzy of sorts if enough of them had gathered and joined it...which apparently was happening before she ran to the councillor's office. We all are very well aware of what happens when a mob like mentality takes over and an individual is singled out as deserving of "justice". I might also point out that this is Wyoming and "cowboy justice" is still considered an option. She was afraid and had every right to be...but was freedom of speech on the side of the students in this case or are these considered racists or hate words and therefor a crime of sorts?
I'm very happy with the counsellors course of action in that he quickly denounced every student that took part in that little gang up and informed all the faculty and school administration staff that any student uttering that word in the future would be suspended and the police would be called to the school. I'm assuming that makes calling someone a terrorist a crime then if the police can be called...I'm not sure though. In my anger I didn't ask for specifics.
This evening Ameena is much better, kids bounce back pretty quick usually, but it's very much on my mind now. I didn't bring my kids home finally just to be faced with potential danger because of who they are or where they come from. I do know and believe with all my heart that America is a better place for them and with more opportunities but I also have to acknowledge that it also could prove dangerous for them because there are haters everywhere...and haters need something to focus their hate on. Hate often leads to violence unfortunately....I don't know what I would do if my children were harmed in anyway because I brought them here under the assumption it was better for them.
I feel the school handled this situation as well as they could but they can't be everywhere all the time...my children will have to face these bullies again at some point for sure as bullies never go away..they just wait until no ones looking. I was assured the school has cameras everywhere but still....I hate this situation and that my children have to be part of it. And of course, that's my fault for bringing them to an intolerant city, state, country??? Which is it? Is there anywhere in America that half Arab children can live in relative peace? hmmmm?
I don't like where this is going...any suggestions for a course of action, people?

36 comments:

Anonymous said...

Oh Red,

You did the right thing taking them back home of course. And more like terrorized (poor kids)!
A crime? in CA no, but that word plus even a single lil push is a considered a hate crime, which is a FEDRAL CRIME. I have no idea there in Wyoming, come to think of it I dont know the laws post 9/11.

There are several places where mixed kids r the norm. Southern California (even mid California but not Northern)is the most obvious one to me. But also Detroit and Florida.
Thing is Red,
Wyoming is YOUR backhome, they aint white girls like you, never will be. But the USA is huge, yes you may have to consider a move. And if you want any ideas on CA I have the 411 on several nice places. Course I am Armenian and was treated like your kids a few times, not quite white enough. But we stuck to Hollywood, Glendale, Whittier (all Los Angeles County)and for mid CA Fresno was my favorite place on earth. Lots of Arabs (half the population is Armenian) and lots of Indians, well every thing Eastern really.
UmMuhammad

Oh yeah and then remember we talked about Utah, well its getting pretty mixed there. Thats where Im headed in a few years (HEY HEY BYU) my mama always tell me that Mormons get along very well with Muslims.

jana z. said...

red, my 7 year old daughter is half arab and so far have had no problems but thats because she IS only 7 and the other kids dont know enough yet to start on such a thing but then again she is very "american" looking with light brown hair and white skin.

but at the mosque, she is different. the other kids question her about me, her father. i think the teachers there look at her with a bit of pity because of her circumstances which i hate.

bullying is not to be taken lightly and i pray that the admins at their school keep on top of it. no they cant stop it completely but they need to find a VERY effective way to put as much a stop to it as possible. too many children have suffered from bullying. too many children growing sick, leaving school, taking lives because of bullying.

it breaks my heart to know that your children are home and now being subjected to ignorance.

im so very sorry.

Johnathon said...

Sorry to hear about this... I was bullied, and know what it's like. The only recourse is to not react, to not give them the satisfaction of a response. That can make it hairy though :(

There's not much you can do.. just be there when they come home crying, tell them it's just kids, and they will grow out of it.. adults are, on the whole, much better. Let them know that they're not the only ones being picked on, and that the kids are only doing it because they're afraid of those who are different (but they must never say that to the bullies, keep it in their minds!)

AlabasterMuslim said...

The only place I know from personal experience where there are a lot of Arab teens is in Cali, but that is ridiculously expensive. (Plus the kids there...well a lot of times being a muslim arab (or any other race) means nothing and they are all sucked into trying to be pimps and
whores because that's "cool".

I totally just had a whole day dream about me and your daughter kicking butt and putting them in their place lol.

I really hope things get better, and they will just have to continue with having tough skin and let things roll off. (Though for them they are being harassed not just being bothered a little.)These people are nothing and are ignorant fools who are below your children. Maybe just tell them to focus on their work? High school was hell for me and when I was out I realized just how pathetic the drama and a lot of the kids were.

AlabasterMuslim said...

Oh yeah, and calling someone a terrorist under false pretenses is not right. Screw freedom of speech, if there had been a few more muslims a riot could have broken out.

Angel Darling said...

Coolred, I am so sorry this has happened to your daughter and as an educator myself, I am glad to hear that the school has taken the matter very seriously.

I live in a large metropolitan city and I feel that sometimes larger cities are more tolerant of differences than smaller ones (but they are also more expensive unfortunately).

One suggestion is to have a social get together at your home or a central location so folks can see you are just as kind as anyone else. Just a thought.

Good luck and tell Ameena to stay strong... what doesn't kill us hurts like hell, I know, but it does eventually make us stronger. :-)
God Bless!

Abu Abdullah said...

I am sorry for what your daughter went through.

Back in India when i was in the school my computer teacher "Mrs. Mary" at 11th grade called me a "Terrorist" Any way thats India and nothing can be done.

And back in my 4th Grade, I had my Hindi Teacher Mrs. Margatham who was old hag who would spit out her venom on muslims being bad.

And again nothing was done to these freak teachers whom i hate the most. Other than a hand full of good teachers like my 6th grade Computer Teacher Mr. Raman who inspired me to be what i am today i have no good memories of my school, if at all i hated it.

And whats worse is i went to private Anglican school who were supposed be the best but were other wise.

Well at least i am happy to note that in the US you have redress mechanisms which are absent in our part of the world.

Abu Abdullah said...

And yeah i was also bullied in my 10th, 11th and 12th grade by the same big fat bully and the stupid uneducated idiotic teachers did nothing about it.

And if i see that guy wallahi i am gonna teach him a lesson.

In short i still hate my school and i am glad i am out of that stupid crazy hell hole.

Chiara said...

As the comments here show, bullying is universal, and unforgettable, though it heals with time.

It is true that "showing weakness" is further "baiting" them and the best response is to ignore as if it isn't happening, and to get help from an authority figure. If you can do it.

You are very lucky that the counsellor and the school responded appropriately. This isn't always the case. Unfortunately, this usually isn't quite enough to stop the hard core bullies, but will dampen the rest and deter them from their worst.

The only real solution is to remove them from the bullying setting. Since Zack is in his final year that is not worth it for him, but he should be choosing his USA college wisely for this type of thing. Generally the North East and California are better locations. Dearborn Michigan is of course an Arab city basically, and Michigan would be an option as well for college / uni. Given costs of living and fees State unis and colleges are the most affordable and some have excellent programs and academic reputations. Usually a larger city is better so even the State U of Wyoming in Laramie would be better. College is generally better anyway, drawing on a larger pool of students and professors. If necessary for finances and family reasons even going to your local college would be better than the high school.

High schools, and the single high school in the small town, can be more stifling, even in more minor ways of labelling "the brain", "the jock" "microbe"(for a short male student I know), "slut", "father is a drunk" etc. Everyone knows too much and there is not enough diversity or enough alternate groups, or different schools to attend.

In this sense Ameena is more vulnerable since she has more time in high school left,and of course studies show that women are targeted more by both men and women. It may be worse once Zack is no longer there.

I understand her pain at the bystanders and her friends' betrayal. Reading Barbara Colarusso's "The Bully, The Bullied, and the Bystander" might help both of you, and the counsellor probably already has. It does teach bystanders how to behave better. Some trauma studies and the accounts of the bullied suggest that the greatest trauma comes from the bystanders' responses.

I know when I was once very dramatically bullied in an academic setting, I wound up coming away thinking the bully's behaviour was merely an escalation of what I knew about him already, but it was harder to accept that male(no women there that I remember) colleagues and mentors ie senior academics either colluded or didn't intervene. I can't quite have the same rapport with them or respect for them that I did before, even though I know that there are a variety of psycho-social reasons for bystanders, and for them in particular, to have behaved the way they did.

My nephew's elementary school (JK-Grade 8) has a "Tribes" program which is essentially a social skills, conflict management program that emphasizes inclusiveness, positive ways of preventing and dealing with conflict, etc. Perhaps something similar exists or could be adapted to meet the needs in your high school.

Ameena should develop all the coping strategies necessary including building positive relationships through activities outside the school, and an alternate group of friends.

You were right to bring them to the USA and this is an unfortunate but real part of the acculturation process. It will get easier the longer they have been in the US.

btw any public spoken word that is a false accusation and causes harm, meets the legal definition of slander; if written it is libel; any threatening gesture or unwanted touch is assault.

Chiara said...

PS Living well is the best revenge. (Proverb)

Anonymous said...

Hey Red,

I'm sorry this is happening. I suspect in the long run you and they will be happier in a more cosmopolitan environment but for now I guess you'll just have to make the best of it.

Perhaps if you can get them involved in some group activity, sports, drama club etc, they might be able to begin to feel part of a group where some real friendships could form.

What about a language club? Does the school offer Arabic classes? They could maybe even do some tutoring in conversational Arabic.

If the highschool doesn't offer Arabic classes maybe your college does. College students are always looking for a native speaker with whom they can practice their conversational skills. YOur kids don't have to be professional linguists, don't have to be grammer experts, students get that stuff in class. But nothing substitutes for one on one conversation with a native speaker.

I guess I'm mainly just looking for ways to turn what feels like a minus right now into a plus. Because being bilingual and multicultural really is a plus even if it doens't always feel like it in HS. Once they get to college they will see the advantage they have.

HS doesn't last forever it just feels like it.

Best wishes, Betty

ferguson7172 said...

Delurking because this just p***es me off. I am an ESL teacher in a small, midwestern, mostly Lutheran town. We have had a large group of Muslim students move into the district in the last 10 years and, fortunately, we have had very few problems of this sort. But when they have come up, they've been dealt with swiftly and severely. All students have the right to feel safe and secure in their school.

You need to find out your district's harassment policy and request a copy. Every district is required to have one. There is also a FEDERAL law which prohibits harassment based on age, sex, RACE, color, RELIGION, ETHNICITY and/or disability of students in the school environment. Harassment is defined, among other things, as "interference with a student's academic performance, access to a quality education, and creating a hostile learning environment." This includes "verbal comments or insults, denigration or slurs" that occur on school property. Your state most likely has a similar policy.

There will also be a procedure to file a formal complaint and a disciplinary procedure that the school must follow.

Your daughter is being harassed on the basis of race, ethnicity and religion. Make an appointment ASAP with the principal, get a copy of the district's harassment policy and find out how to file a complaint. If you don't get what you need from the school administrator, you need to contact the school board. Take this very seriously and do not wait.

Jay Kactuz said...

This is terrible. Kids should not be subjected to this kind of treatment - and in a perfect world, they wouldn't. Don't know what to say except maybe if I were their dad and found a bunch of brats doing that to my kids, they would quickly learn the real meaning on terror.
Kactuz

Suroor said...

This made me so sad. I have a friend whose children were so badly bullied she pulled them out of school and changed their names then put them in another school. More and more Muslims are giving their children biblical names so that they are at least not harassed as Muslim.

This is so sad. I don't have any suggestions but you and your kids are in my thoughts.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

So sorry to hear your kids are going through this :( Bullying seems to be part of so many children's school experience nowadays...

I wonder whether the teachers should be/could be doing more?

coolred38 said...

Thank you everyone for your helpful words and suggestions. A few days later and things seemed to have calmed down. I guess the word was spread in the school that it would not be tolerated...the use of that word specifically and bullying generally. Im glad the school took such prompt action.

Kids are doing well...my kids have always been able to bounce back from adversity...another great trait they have.

Om Lujain© said...

I am soo sorry about whats happening to your kids! It must be taking up all the energy you have to NOT go kick some a$$!!! I was bullied for 2 years, and that was because they thought of me as a rich snob.. (yes really)... it was ridiculous. I even started dressing down, and that didn't work. I never told my mother about it, and when my elder brother found out about it, he took care of it, and I was no longer bullied (I must ask him what he said or did).

Anyway all in all, I pray things get better for your kids, I know its especially hard when they are in a new place, and are having a hard time really being home anywhere. As someone else suggested larger cities seem to be more tolerant to 'foreigners'. But I hope that you guys find peace where you are, you have fought hard for this move.. and I hope things turn out for the best enshallah.

countrygirl said...

My two cents (maybe little late) I don't think moving in a bigger city would change stuff bullies are everywhere but at least in smaller school the bully problems is normally dealt faster compared to bigger schools....now i will be in lurkerdoom

Susie of Arabia said...

I'm so sorry your kids are going thru this now. Jeez - why do other kids have to be so mean? I would definitely stay on top of it and take what Ferguson said to heart. That advice was excellent - school don't want a lawsuit on their hands, but if the byullying escalates, you need to take action. I hope it doesn't come to that, but keep on top of it.
I HATE BULLIES!!! ARGHHH!%&$!!@#$%^^& DAMMIT!!!

Anonymous said...

Coored,

I am so deeply appalled about the way in which your daughter Ameena was treated recently, and the ignorance that surrounds her.

She must remember how special and unique she is a person. She is more wordly than the mmost of her counterparts and that is something she remind herself each and everyday she enters the doors at that school.
It is so sad to see xenophobes there! It should be such a blessing to have someone with such a background as part of the student body.

Sandy said...

Wow. I am so sorry to hear this. I think Ferguson offers good advice. Arm yourself with knowledge so you know what to do.

Also someone suggested them joining an activity. I think this might really help. I'm thinking they're in a typical small town, homogenous town- but maybe it would be easier to get accepted by a smaller group-Do they have Model United Nations- that seems like a natural. Once you have a group, the rest doesn't matter so much. I think if they withdraw, it just makes them more of a target in some ways.

In a group- if they can become accepted- they will also have the opportunity of enriching the outlooks and lives of those students who've never had a chance to experience anything more "ethnic".

coolred38 said...

thank you ladies. Ameena is busy in drama club (as if she needs a class for that...LOL) and other things and Zack is in a music club playing piano etc so they keep busy with people that accept them. There are always those few that cant seem to accept themselves...and that is why they point out others "flaws". What can you do but get over it and get on with it. My kids are great and work hard doing just that.

minka said...

Coolred,
As an American who has been all over this country, the problem is the cracker state of Wyoming. I had a bad feeling when you took your family there. You will never master a cracker state, it will always be what it is, and will change only on its own terms - not yours.
Wyoming, Idaho, eastern Oregon, Arizona, Colorado, etc etc - don't live there.

If you want to stay in the west, I would do some serious research into California. I live in the Bay Area and it is blissfully diverse. It is fantastic. But brutally expensive. Cheaper communities get ghetto fast - BUT not always.

I think you should move. I think you should find a California community with an prosperous Arab minority. You need to be careful. You need to find a community with a decent economy, and you MUST MUST avoid ghetto places and influences. This is a very serious decision. Don't be paranoid, don't be cynical, but be persistent and do your research.

Good luck.

Chiara said...

I included a comment on this post, and the link in my new post on:

Ann Coulter, Islamophobia, American Freedom of Speech, Canada's Right to Exist and Cancellation at the University of Ottawa--Relevance to Saudi?

Hope you and your readers will read it and share your ideas.

INAL said...

Red, terribly upset at your daughter's incident with what can only be termed as acquaintances, not friends. I've taught my kids everyone is a potential acquaintance, and only a friend when the going gets rough and they stick by you.

I am of mixed heritage like your kids; and my kids have added a few extra drops to their gene pool thanks to their Yemeni dad. But regardless where you go, someone is bound to say something. Having a son in the armed forces, I know people of all ages can get stupid and do stupid and hurtful things. So moving, where or not an option, may or not make a difference. We live in NYC and if ever there was a mixing bowl this would be it; but even I in my mid forties get subtle and at times outright post 911 cat calls of the wicked nature. One incident at NYU comes to mind of an ex-marine itching to call me a 'sand nigger' asked in class if I, foreign looking as I must have looked to him, had ever done anything for this country. I said yes, "I had signed my only son's life to the US Navy, what have you done?" Or the time an African American woman in the train huffed and puffed about having to sit next to 'these people' -meaning me. I retorted, "Ma'am aren't you glad Rosa Parks decided not to sit at the back of the bus"...I could go on. It doesn't stop- you just learn to ignore, or counter where it puts them in their place. Living, as Chiara pointed out, is the best revenge.

Your continued and unfailing support of your kids will pay off Red. They will continue to fight the good fight as long as their mother has their back. Knowledge is power, give them the knowledge to stand up for themselves as best they can.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear your teens are suffering.
Well, I put it down to just being a teenager.

Educating the principal and teachers would help.

But from what I recall. Teens are mean.
Some teens suffered for looking different...having wierd names, being too tall, being too short, and being too fat.

I think trying to make a point about Arabia would not be the answer. Rather educated the teachers and principal about their professional responsibility to not allow bullying on any issue.

At the end of the day...your kids are going to have to toughen up, and not advertise their expat life or brag about it. Once they hit University in a cosmopolitan setting, you will find more young people who have travelled.

You know I am in Arabia right now, and I can't go around telling all my Arab friends about my 'wild' life in Europe. They just 'won't get it'. And visa versa is true.

Anonymous said...

This is interesting, a man was sentenced to prison for calling another man a “terrorist “ in Saudi Arabia, yet nothing can be done by the police in the States !!!!

Caminante said...

Salam Coolred,

Recently, there has been a lot of crackdown on bullying after several girls actually committed suicide due to the bullying they were subjected to.

From the little I have read about the subject... bullying should be handled swiftly by the parents and the school. Even if your daughter is a strong, capable woman, she should not be dealing with this herself if possible.

Recruit the help of the school, be sure you're up to speed on these things (apparently a lot of bullying is also done through text message, facebook, etc.) and if there's any litlte thing... call the school, get them involved, follow up on what happened to the "bullies" (how they were punished, etc.) and also if possible, go have a polite talk with the bullies' parents.

There should be ZERO tolerance for bullying and it's sad that only after several people took their lives school authorities are beginning to realize this :(

Hijabis On Ranting Tour. said...

dont come by my blog to leave rude comments, thanks if you dont like the content, press the red button on your screen and never return
thanks a bunch
naz

coolred38 said...

Once again everyone for the helpful comments. Apparently there has been some new drama..and I wasnt called this time. Heard about it when she got home. Im going up there tomorrow to raise some hell. This is unacceptable.

coolred38 said...

Hijabis on Ranting Tour...Im almost positive I have never left a comment on your blog...rude or otherwise. I had to click on your name just to see what your blog was as it didnt ring a bell. Possibly you have me confused with someone else...if not...please tell me what I said that was so rude and I may consider apologizing if I agree with u. Thank you.

Chiara said...

Sorry that the situation has escalated but that is a common pattern. I hope you resolve it or temporize it. Let us know!

AlabasterMuslim said...

Came on here to check if there are any updates...instead saw your comment saying more drama went down concerning your children. Everything ok?

Anisah said...

Did you kick some butt? Sounds like they deserve it. My kids are the only ones with Arabic names in my area.

I was musing about blog titles today, and tagged you.

You've been tagged!

Anisah
http://catsrule2k.blogspot.com/

Anonymous said...

WHERE R U RED?

CAT GOT YOUR TONGUE?

HOPE THINGS ARE BETTER WITH YOUR CHILDREN AND LIFE IN GENERAL.

UMMUHAMMAD

San Antonio Cicily said...

Just read this...this school has an obligation to protect every student, the students should be suspended and the police should be called if this is still going on! Where are the parents of these children if I may ask, have you talked to them, maybe you need a conferenece with the principal as well as the parents of the children that are harrassing your kids! I would love to know how the parents feel about what their kids are doing!