WASHINGTON – Taking an action to erase Islamophobia in his community, David Baker, an American youth from Mukilteo, Washington, is organizing a special workshop in Seattle to empower high-school students in their fight against unjustified fear of Muslims.
For Muslim youth, it is an opportunity to “personalize their experiences as Muslims,” Jordan Goldwarg of Kids4Peace, which is co-facilitating the event with the newly formed American Muslim Empowerment Network (AMEN), told Seattle Times.
“For non-Muslim youth, it’s an opportunity to talk about their experience with American Muslims.”
Goldwarg was referring to the upcoming workshop in Seattle will teach middle- and high-school students how to use the media to fight Islamophobia in their own communities.
The initiative is the result of the work of Baker, Mukilteo middle-schooler, who got involved in anti-Islamophobia fight a year ago following a controversy over a proposed mosque.
While a mailing by a local man suggested the mosque might make residents less safe, Baker, an interfaith activist, disagreed.
“I was thinking that it (the mosque) would actually promote diversity, would help people learn about Muslims and lower Islamophobia,” says Baker, 13, who is Christian.
“So my mom and dad suggested I write a letter to the editor, and I did, and it got posted in the paper.”
The letter in the Mukilteo Beacon opened with, “The fears that people have about Muslims are untrue and hurtful” and argued that many Americans need to go beyond their often false assumptions about Islam.
Ever since, he has been working on encouraging youth to contact Muslims and clear misconceptions they might have about the faith.
Therefore, he will be participating and speaking at a four-hour workshop to help middle- and high-school students use the media to fight Islamophobia in their own communities.
The workshop, at Seattle University on Sunday, Jan. 15, will encourage youth to tell their own stories about Islam and American Muslims. They will then pitch these stories to the media as opinion pieces and letters to the editor.
“It’s really easy to demonize a minority that you don’t know or understand,” says Aneelah Afzali of the American Muslim Empowerment Network and a lawyer who recently left her profession to focus on community work.
Afzali says only 38 percent of Americans know someone who is Muslim. She believes lack of exposure, combined with heavy media coverage of terrorism, can lead to dangerous misperceptions about her faith.
Storytelling that emphasizes and encourages contact, interaction and humanization is what next weekend’s workshop is all about.
“Being a Muslim youth in 2017 is really unique,” said Ahlaam Ibraahim, an 18-year-old University of Washington student who will be a writing coach at the workshop, “and some day their stories will be taught in the classroom.”
Baker hopes so but worries that attitudes will have to change for American Muslims to be fully accepted into US society and culture.
“What happen to the great American melting pot?” he wrote, closing out his letter to the editor.
“Are we going to let them in and remember what our country was founded on, or are we going to succumb to fear …”