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Challenging Anti-Muslim Racism with 'The Kominas' in the Classroom

After hearing the devastating news about the Christchurch mosque attacks and the death of 49 Muslims in New-Zealand, it’s hard to remain positive in my anti-racism journey. My prayers and thoughts are with those 49 Muslims who died, their families and all those who suffered from the attacks. The attacks have affected so many Muslims around the world, including in Scotland. Right after the attack, my close Muslim friend revealed that he couldn’t stop himself from fearing for his life as walked out on Scottish streets. After all, white supremacy is endemic and contemporary in the West.

In such times of desperation, I can’t stop wondering how much more educators like myself need to be doing to nurture a future that is safe for all Muslims. It’s not easy talking about such tragic current affairs in the classroom, but it needs to be done. With these intentions in mind, I have decided to share one of my Personal and Social Education (PSE) lessons on anti-Muslim racism that uses a satirical music video that is appropriate for all ages.

The Kominas are one of my favourite bands that specialises in taqwacore, a subgenre of punk music dealing with Islam, its culture and interpretations. The Kominas are a group of Pakistani-Americans whose songs challenge listeners to re-evaluate their assumptions about identity, Islam and race. Named after the Urdu word meaning “rascal,” The Kominas pose crucial, uncomfortable questions about white culture and its harms, in a playful and entertaining way through their music. Every anti-racist educator should listen to their lyrics and a couple of their songs are appropriate for children.

In my teaching, I tend to use the song “See Something, Say Something” which resonates well with the issues faced in the UK with Prevent legislation and the “See It, Say It, Sorted” campaign in British public transport. In the “See Something, Say Something” music video, The Kominas explore how anti-Muslim rhetoric spread by the media, the state and (lack of) education affect a white man’s psychology and harms people of colour and Muslims.

First, I get pupils to watch the video and then, as we watch it again, I get them to discuss the following questions in groups:

  1. Why does the white man keep seeing people with vampire teeth, swords, words in Arabic/Urdu and people reciting the Qu’ran?

Feedback with the teacher:

The white man is paranoid about Islamic extremists. He has clearly been affected by a lot of negative media which affects the way he sees people of colour and Muslims. Is he a bad person? That’s not the point – he could be any one of us with good intentions. He is not an “evil” person for thinking those things, it is all unintentional, but he has internalised a lot of anti-Muslim prejudice which can lead to discrimination and harm.

2. Why does he try to call the authorities and ask for help? Why does he get scared when he tries to ask a woman for help on the platform?

Feedback with the teacher:

He tries to call the authorities for help because he thinks the people of colour on the subway are terrorists. When he tries to ask another woman for help, he thinks she is watching an extremist video. In actual fact, she was playing candy crush, but he has become so scared of people of colour that he thought differently when he realised she was a woman of colour.

3. What happens to the suspected man of colour in end?

Feedback with the teacher:

The man of colour gets arrested in the end and the authorities open up what they think is his bomb – it’s really his lunchbox, a South Asian “dhaba.” Because some white people are not used to such cultural differences, these can be perceived as threatening. We need to question how we perceive cultural differences, since it can often lead to harm.

4. What happens to the white man at the end? What might the strange octopus symbolise?

Feedback with the teacher:

The white man at the end gets attacked by a strange octopus monster – the real threat in the metro! The octopus might symbolises his toxic prejudice which fuelled his paranoia and his racist fears. Notice that it was all unintentional, a mistake, but his implicit fears caused harm to others. Be wary of media which perpetuates negative stereotypes!

After analysing the video, you can get pupils to identify harmful representations of Muslims in the media as a research task or by printing examples of headlines and tabloid front pages for them to analyse. You can explore the double-standards revealed in media coverage of white terrorism versus Islamic terrorism.

Finally, ask pupils how Muslims might feel when they are constantly asked what they think about Islamic terrorist attacks. Why are Muslims constantly forced to prove their humanity, their innocence and their virtues, when white/non-Muslim pupils don’t get asked those questions after high-school shootings? Is it fair? As allies, white people and non-Muslims should be challenging anti-Muslim racism (internalised and that can be seen around them) and it should not be up to Muslims to defend their humanity.

Depending on the age group of pupils (university students under-taking teacher training could equally learn from this lesson!), you could end with Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan’s powerful poem, “This is not a humanising poem.” A discussion of power and privilege may also be appropriate depending on the level of learners in the classroom.

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