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Anti-Muslim Bullying: Emerging Issues and Pro Bono Opportunities

On October 27, 2017, KARAMAH joined a group of civil rights advocates and attorneys to discuss the issue of increased anti-Muslim bullying in school. The event was organized by the Capital Area Muslim Bar Association and was co-sponsored by the American Bar Association.

KARAMAH executive director joined co-panelists including Jonathan Smith, executive director of the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, Brenda Abdelall, director of the Program to Strengthen Muslim Charities at Muslim Advocates, and Suzanne Greenleaf, director of the Citywide Youth Bullying Prevention Program at the DC Office of Human Rights. The panel was moderated by Saleema Snow, board member of CAMBA, associate professor of Law at the University of the District of Columbia, and the Chair of KARAMAH.

The panel addressed a few key issues, namely, the rise in anti-Muslim bullying in schools around the U.S. Professor Snow began the conversation by framing the issue around anti-Muslim rhetoric in the public square and asked whether the environment that we are currently living in has impacted how schools address issues of bullying. “There is a direct correlation between the rhetoric that is all too common now in our society that is anti-Muslim, that is xenophobic, that is ‘othering’ American Muslims and that [rhetoric] is unfortunately not only amongst adults, but it is pervading our social media, our mass media, and is impacting the most vulnerable of our population: our children” said Aisha Rahman.

The conversation then turned to solutions. While Ms. Greenleaf presented that the District of Columbia has very clear guidelines dictated by the D.C. Human Rights Act related to bullying, the panel acknowledged that state laws were largely vague on the issue and on enforcement. Mr. Smith clarified that there is no “national statute that prohibits bullying” but that there are a number of laws that provide that students that go to school should be free of “discriminatory conduct.” The discussions turned then to what teachers, administrators and schools were required to do – every child is entitled to the benefit of an education. The schools are also responsible, Mr. Smith said, to “make sure that there is a climate that is not deliberately indifferent” to any barriers to students gaining access to an education free of discriminatory conduct.

Ms. Abdelall discussed Muslim Advocates’ latest advocacy on the issue of bullying, namely through a “dear colleague” letter. The letter highlights, she said, “not just the obligations of the school district’s but also some potential strategies for how to talk about some of these issues in schools, as well as the climate around these conversations.”

KARAMAH joins these organizations as well as others in prioritizing the issue of anti-Muslim bullying in schools, and hopes that this conversation is just the beginning of a larger conversation with creative strategies around how to provide equal access to education free of bullying and discrimination.

Please watch the video of the panel here: https://www.c-span.org/video/?417538-1/discussion-focuses-antimuslim-bullying