Behind Burqa, Student Gets an Education in Bigotry
Comments Directed At Muslims
By TRACY GORDON FOX, Courant Staff Writer
She found out “behind the burqa.” The 15-year-old freshman volunteered with a few other students to wear traditional Muslim clothing to school for an entire day in February after a Middle Eastern Studies teacher at
The hateful and abusive comments she endured that day horrified teachers, the teen and many of her classmates. The remarks underscored a persistent animosity toward American Muslims that is driven largely by the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the wars in
“Hey, we rape your women!” one upperclassman said as he passed Caitlin in the hallway.
“I hope all of your people die,” another sniped.
“You’re probably going to kill us all” and “Why do they let people like this in the country?” were other remarks she heard on Feb. 1.
Caitlin’s observations that day did not surprise those who work for the
Caitlin wrote down 50 comments and names she was called. She did not respond because “I am a freshman. I like to avoid making waves.”
But when she saw a friend and a teacher who knew that Caitlin was the person under the burqa, she broke down in a classroom.
“I started crying,” Caitlin said. “There is way too much prejudice.”
The lack of understanding of Islam and of the many of the cultures that contribute to a worldwide population of more than 1 billion Muslims is something Rabia Chaudry, a spokeswoman for CAIR, planned to raise with the state Department of Education when she meets with officials in a few weeks.
Now she plans to use
“I think what this teacher has done is exactly what schools should be doing,” Chaudry said.
None of the students were singled out for discipline because no formal complaints were made.
“It’s unacceptable,” Superintendent Karen Loiselle said. “It’s imperative students who are victims of those comments report them immediately and it will be taken very seriously. In this case, it has opened an important conversation.”
Chaudry agreed and said her group would like to send representatives to meet with students in
A partial list of the comments to Caitlin – some were not printable – appeared in the student newspaper, the Bacon Courier, along with a front-page story headlined, “Some at Bacon Fail the Test of Tolerance.”
Caitlin called it “The Girl Behind the Burqa.”
In the days that followed, teachers and students at
Chris Anderson, a senior at Bacon who also wore some of the traditional Muslim clothing to school and also was the target of ethnic slurs, said educators are not trying hard enough to expose students to other cultures. He criticized school leaders for replacing world studies in middle school with more American history.
“The prejudice displayed at
Chaudry said she is not surprised to hear how some students reacted to the burqas and other Middle Eastern outfits.
“I wear a regular head scarf and I get those reactions in public as well. I think people are confusing terrorists with Muslims,” she said. “They don’t understand the distinction because they don’t understand the religion.”
Parkinson, who has traveled to the Middle East and wants to participate in a teacher exchange with
“That happens to be my personal crusade,” she said. “And I think we should start it sooner. It should be taught in elementary school.
“My fear of this hatred of Islam is that it will become synonymous with patriotism,” Parkinson said. “We are a nation of immigrants. Some of the most disturbing comments were, `This is
In her class, Parkinson spends weeks explaining the history of the Middle East before she broaches the
“It takes weeks and weeks to understand the background,” Parkinson said.
There are plenty of examples of other incidents around the state that have not led to productive discussions, including a Muslim boy in New Haven County who was beaten up and called Osama Bin Laden, Chaudry said.
Many other incidents go unreported, she said. “I think a lot of times, [Muslims] just internalize it and go on.”