Mohammed Zubi asked his teacher if he could do his assignment at home; the teacher responded with an Islamophobic comment.
Trigger warning: This story contains themes of Islamophobia that some readers may find distressing.
A teacher has been suspended for making Islamophobic comments against an Arab-American Muslim student at a school in New Jersey. The Ridgefield Memorial High School student, Mohammed Zubi, had simply asked his teacher if he could do his assignment at home and his teacher responded by telling him, "we don’t negotiate with terrorists.” The incident happened in a school district in Bergen County. The school district released a statement making it clear that they don't stand for any sort of discrimination and also confirmed that the staff in question had indeed been suspended and was conducting an investigation on the matter, reported NJ.com. Zubi hasn't returned to school since the teacher's remarks.
Mohammed Zubi did a double-take when he heard the teacher's response to a simple question surrounding homework. Zubi had simply asked if it would be ok if he could finish his schoolwork at home. Zubi couldn't believe the teacher's response that he still had to check with a friend to make sure it wasn't just him who had heard the teacher make the Islamophobic comments. “[The teacher] responded saying, ‘we don’t negotiate with terrorists,’ so I look around in shock, there’s people laughing, and there’s other people in shock, and I turn around and ask my friend, ‘did he really just say that?’ and she said yes,” Zubi told WABC TV. The teacher who made the comment hasn't been identified publicly.
Ridgefield School District didn't make any comment on the student's allegations but said it wouldn't tolerate discrimination against any student or staff. “The Ridgefield School District has absolutely no tolerance for any sort of discrimination against any student or staff member,” read the statement. “The District strives to create an inclusive environment where students’ and staff members’ race, religion, national origin, and sexual orientation are embraced.” The Ridgefield School District said it could not legally comment on personnel or student matters, but confirmed the "District immediately suspended the staff member while it is conducting a full investigation.” The school also sought the assistance of law enforcement authorities on the matter.
Ridgefield Police Chief Thomas Gallagher sent the matter back to the school as the allegations were not considered criminal. “The District fully intends to pursue any and all legal remedies against the staff member as any discriminatory conduct has absolutely no place in our District,” read the district’s statement. The New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations offered to provide diversity training for district staffers and welcomed the investigation into the incident alleging islamophobia. “We are very concerned about these allegations and urge the school district to take appropriate corrective measures following a swift and transparent investigation,” said CAIR-NJ Executive Director Selaedin Maksut. “This type of insensitive language by an authority figure is unacceptable because it perpetuates stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims.”
This is the second instance of a New Jersey school district facing allegations of Islamophobia after a South Orange-Maplewood School District teacher was accused of pulling the hijab off a Muslim student’s head. The school had announced an investigation into that matter as well. A student was bullied over her religious identity in New Mexico recently but students rallied around her to support the student. As we reported, a seventh-grader was bullied with one even threatening to remove her hijab, a traditional head covering worn by Muslim women. The bullies had also called her a terrorist. Roughly 100 students gathered to walk her to class to show their support for the bullied student.
Principal Michelle Harris of Camino Real Middle School in Las Cruces said the show of strength from the students showed that bullying would not be tolerated at the school. Harris lavished praise on her staff and students for standing by the seventh-grader. "From the moment that happened, our teachers took a leadership role," said Harris. "Our students took a leadership role. What came out of that was a shift in the climate and the culture of our school."