• “Sometimes kids just can't cope with the negativity. And that negativity can lead to kids making stupid decisions." (Inmagineasia/Getty Images)Source: Inmagineasia/Getty Images
An inherent feature of terrorism is the terrible impact it has on everyone it touches – Muslim kids included.
By
Nicola Heath

5 Jun 2017 - 2:10 PM  UPDATED 5 Jun 2017 - 4:16 PM

Terrorists, in their effort to spread hate and fear through violence, choose innocent people as their target.

In London over the weekend, seven people were killed and 48 people injured when three attackers went on a rampage in London Bridge and Borough Market, one of the city’s most popular entertainment precincts.

In May, a suicide bomber killed 22 people and injured 119 others at a pop concert in Manchester. According to reports, the youngest victim was just eight-years-old.

Victims, their friends and families, witnesses, emergency workers and hospital staff all feel the effects of terror in varying degrees. But others feel the effects of terror too. 

"After these sorts of attacks, you generally get racial abuse, whether it being when they go to a shopping centre, whether it be in school, by those who are non-Muslim.”

After a terror incident, the Muslim community may experience social backlash – sometimes violent, as was also seen in the US late last month. In the week following the Manchester bombing, a man killed two passengers and injured a third on a train in Portland, Oregon when they tried to interrupt his anti-Muslim tirade directed at a teenage girl and her friend.

Acts of terror may also make life harder for Muslim kids. In his capacity as a counter-terrorism expert, Dr Clarke Jones from Australian National University is in regular contact with Muslim groups in Australia. He says children often experience harassment and bullying in the aftermath of a terrorism incident.

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“They [may] get ridiculed at school because they're Muslim. After these sorts of attacks, you generally get racial abuse, whether it being when they go to a shopping centre, whether it be in school, by those who are non-Muslim,” he says.

Anti-Islamic sentiment in the community, stirred up by Islamophobic rhetoric from the likes of various Australian politicians may also take a toll on young people who are Muslim. “A lot of people in broader society will only see Muslim groups in the eyes of terrorism or violent extremism,” says Dr Jones. “That's a real shame. That has a major negative consequence on how kids feel, how they feel attached to society or whether they belong to the broader Australian community.”

In the home, Muslim kids could also be exposed to negativity when parents become “angry about the way they're treated or the way Muslims are perceived,” says Dr Jones. “Sometimes kids just can't cope with the negativity. And that negativity can lead to kids making stupid decisions. Sometimes tragic decisions.”

After every terrorist attack, Muslim community groups are subjected to greater levels of scrutiny and criticism, but these groups play an incredibly valuable role in mitigating the threat of terror. “If it wasn't for them we would not be as safe as we are today,” says Dr Jones.

“In many cases, the kids that are involved in violent extremism have a very shallow knowledge of religion,” he says. “It's actually the community groups that are helping them with their religious understanding, and at the same time helping them engage in the community.”

“Sometimes kids just can't cope with the negativity. And that negativity can lead to kids making stupid decisions. Sometimes tragic decisions.”

Many Muslim community groups do a lot of work in youth engagement, running youth centres and camps for kids and their families, says Dr Jones. He attended one camp in December 2016 where fathers and sons – in some cases grandfathers and grandsons – participated in religious classes and sporting activities like bush walks, ping pong, soccer and water polo. Time was also set aside for attendees to improve their relationships. “It was wonderful,” says Dr Jones.

Making kids feel like they belong – to families, schools, and community groups – is an important part of reducing the likelihood that they will make questionable decisions or engage in risky behaviours – not just radicalisation, but also things like drug and alcohol use, obesity, gang membership and unsafe sex.

In the wake of terrorist attacks, it’s crucial that the community works together to make people from all backgrounds feel welcome, says Dr Jones. It’s important that “we provide as many opportunities as we can to keep kids engaged and keep kids moving in a positive direction. And those that fall off the rails - we've got to make sure that we don't give up on them.”

Love the story? Follow the author on Twitter: @nicoheath or Instagram: @nicola_heath

Viceland investigates terrorism around the world with the documentary 'Terror'. Watch the next episode airing on Viceland, Tuesday 13 June at 8.30pm.

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