A Muslim teacher from New Jersey, Sireen Hashem, is suing her former school district after she was fired from her school for mentioning Islam and showing a video of Nobel Prize Laureate, Malala Yousafzai.
Hashem self-identifies as a “Muslim American of Palestinian descent.” She was working as a history teacher at Hunterdon Central Regional High School before she was laid off due to complaints filed against her by parents and local religious leaders.
According to Hashem, she showed Malala’s video to her class on the suggestion of her colleague, Lindsay Wagner, who had already incorporated the video into her lesson plan. Upon request from another coworker, Hashem had also translated a Skype conversation between the Palestinian subject of a school book called the “Lemon Tree” and the students.
Neither school administrators nor parents had been concerned about Hashem’s non-Muslim colleagues but complaints stacked up against Hashem when she, an American-Muslim of Arab descent, got involved in any activity that had link to the Middle East or Islam.
Hashem’s suit claims that the principal of the school received a complaint about Hashem for showing Malala’s video and in turn, Hashem’s supervisor told her that “she could not teach current events in the same manner as her non-Arab, non-Palestinian and non-Muslim colleagues.”
In another meeting with the school district’s superintendent, where Hashem pointed out that her colleague Lindsay Wagner had played the same video without any problems, she was allegedly told that “You are not Lindsay” — which implied that Hashem was Arab, Palestinian and Muslim while Wagner was not.
One student allegedly wrote in a Facebook post that Hashem preached anti-Semitism to her students and that Hashem’s brother was a terrorist. Hashem’s suit reads that the school’s administrators called another meeting with her following the online post and “accused her of discriminating against Jewish students and also questioned her about her place of birth, her family and her personal life.”
Despite receiving support from a number of students and parents, the school district refused to renew Hashem’s contract in May 2015 and fired her on the grounds of poor performance. In July, she was visited by the F.B.I. who said they had received a tip that Hashem had told the school board “they will be sorry if she is fired.”
Hashem denied ever having made such claims.
According to the lead attorney on Hashem’s case, Omar Mohammedi, Hashem is having a “hard time psychologically.”
“She is crying all the time,” he said. “She is really hurt emotionally.”
A majority of Hashem’s students have been defending her online with the hashtag #FightforHashem. Many of them have also expressed their grief over the teacher’s removal on the website RateMyTeachers.com, where Hashem has an overall rating of 4.13 out of 5.
Aside from the obvious absurdity of the school district’s treatment of Hashem, perhaps one of the most shocking parts of this story is that Hashem came under all this fire after showing a video of Malala Yousafzai — who is otherwise loved by the West.
Is Malala only relevant when she can be used as a pawn and the perfect poster girl to justify the “War on Terror” or to prove that American soldiers, bombs and drones have saved girls just like her?
Or do the words she says (including the condemning of drone strikes) and her efforts to actually make education a universal right have any value too?
Obviously Muslims are not extended the same luxuries that non-Muslims are, even in the classroom. And apparently, it is incredibly easy to call the authorities on Muslims and have the F.B.I. show up at their doors on the basis of perceived threats.
If this isn’t structural Islamophobia then I don’t know what is.
Image: He Named Me Malala