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Arab American Youths Endure Taunts at Schools

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Lena Khan, 17, feels uneasy about wearing a necklace to school that says “God” in Arabic.

Since last week’s attacks, she has heard students call Muslim girls in scarves “terrorists.” Some have told Arab American youths: “Go back to your country.” On Monday, a classmate asked Khan: “Why do Muslims want to kill everybody?”

“It’s hard to hear that something you believe in so much is so hated by all your peers,” said Khan, a senior at Etiwanda High School in Rancho Cucamonga. “Some people have gotten confused. They’ve confused Muslims as terrorists.”

To prevent a backlash against Muslim and Arab American students, school officials throughout Southern California are meeting with community leaders, organizing informational forums and offering suggestions to teachers on how to deal with prejudice.

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Some students are making “really hurtful” comments, said Los Angeles school board member Caprice Young. “There have been well-founded concerns that kids who are of an Islamic background are somehow being blamed for being involved in these terrorist actions.”

Young met with concerned Arab American parents and community leaders last week. In coming weeks, the district will send suggestions to teachers on how to deal with bias. It also will bring Islamic experts into schools to answer students’ questions.

“People look around and see who is close to them and see who is to blame. That needs to stop,” Young said. “It’s a diverse nation, and we must not become suspicious about our neighbors.”

But some students said they’ve already felt the scorn of others through dirty looks and comments such as “Your uncle is a terrorist.”

“You can tell they don’t understand and don’t know what they’re saying, but it still hurts,” said Khadeeja Abdullah, 16, a senior at Etiwanda High. “You should be able to go out and be the person you are and not be scared.”

Khan said Muslim students are sad about last week’s tragedies, like all Americans. “But now we have a double tragedy,” she said. “We have to look over our shoulder too.”

Khaled Abou El Fadl, an acting professor at the UCLA School of Law, said he believes that his 12-year-old son, Cherif, has been the target of prejudice at his Los Angeles Unified middle school. He said the boy was violently shoved on the playground three times in the past week. Abou El Fadl said he reported the incidents to the school but is concerned that the situation may get worse.

“I’m worried about whether kids who are already bullies now will get a sense of entitlement,” he said. "[My son] is a very openhearted person and tolerant. I don’t want this to change him. I don’t want any of this to make him grow up feeling like a victim.”

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Other school districts, including those in Burbank and Glendale, have offered advice to teachers on how to deal with prejudice. The Pomona district is arranging for students to visit a Muslim school in the area. The goal is to have them take what they learn about Islam and Arab Americans back to classmates as peer counselors.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles district sent out a memo Friday to remind students that they will be punished for hate crimes including any “physical and/or verbal assaults directed to selected groups of students because of the events of the past week.”


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