“No child in America deserves to feel that way,” read Facebook post of Melissa Chance Yassini, mother of 8-year-old Sofia who had to comfort the little girl after she “heard that someone with yellow hair named Trump wanted to kick all Muslims out of America”. Sofia started collecting all her favourite things in a bag in case the “Army” came to oust them. Her post has been shared over 20,000 times.
When Yassini arrived home from her work a few days ago, Sofia ran into her arms and cried.
“I want people to understand the impact that their words have on these children. We often forget, we’re waging war on one another with words, and we’re adults. We can take it. The kids are suffering with this. They go to school every day and they’re afraid to tell people they’re Muslim. This has to stop,” said the mother.
As soon as the word spread on social media, #IWillProtectYou sprung on Twitter with many US veterans and public reassuring the girl that she would not be deported.
— Pedro Vasquez (@ImGoingToSayIt) December 23, 2015
— Bajun Mavalwalla (@BajunMavalwalla) December 23, 2015
— Cristina Trecate (@CristinaTrecate) December 22, 2015
— Josh (@That_Bama_Guy11) December 21, 2015
— Justin Clark (@JustClarkSocial) December 23, 2015
#iwillprotectyou If anyone ever tries to harm another person because they’re Muslim in front of me, they will have to go through me first.
— Dug Corpolongo (@SifuDug) December 23, 2015
Anti-Muslim sentiment was building in the days before 14 people were killed on December 2 in the massacre at a disability centre in Southern California by a Muslim couple allegedly inspired by the Islamic State. Some governors had already said they wouldn’t allow Syrians fleeing civil war into their states because of extremist fears.
Ahad Khan, 12, came home from school in rural Westminster, Maryland, in tears because his best friend called him a future terrorist who couldn’t be trusted, according to Ahad’s father, Raza Khan.
Khan, the chairman of the science department at Carroll Community College, shared Ahad’s experience in an open letter to Trump on Facebook. The post has been shared over 4500 times.
“He is the engine right now for that fearmongering,” Khan said in an interview. “I don’t think he realises that his words matter. He doesn’t realise the damaging effect his words can have on people, especially kids.”
In the minds of children — many long on imagination and short on political understanding — phrases like “total and complete shutdown of Muslims” can be traumatic, experts say — LINK?.
“Children expect that society will be nurturing and protective,” said Mark DeAntonio, a child psychiatry professor at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). “Statements implying detainment or exclusion for arbitrary reason like race ethnicity or religion create anxiety and trauma.”
Some children have questioned their faith and place in the American society.
Kafumba Kromah, of Minneapolis, said his 8-year-old daughter asked him: “Why we are Muslims? Why can’t we be what everybody else is?” His daughter encouraged him to cancel a trip to his native Liberia for fear he would be barred from returning.
Mehnaz Mahmood, of Dallas, said her 7-year-old son urged her to switch to a black-and-white hijab — so she would look more like a nun — after they were subjected to anti-Muslim remarks outside his school this week.
Sam Madi, of New Orleans, watched coverage of Trump’s remarks with his 11-year-old son. He said he feared anti-Muslim sentiment would set back progress in integrating Muslims into American society. Zane Madi plays soccer and spends most weekends with his mother helping the city’s homeless.
“We’re not prepared for this,” said Madi, whose father fled Iraq in the 1970s. “We’re not prepared to sit and educate our children why they’re not any different from anybody else. I don’t think any parent is prepared for that. I don’t care what religion you believe or don’t believe.”
Parents needn’t shoulder the burden themselves, said Patricia Greenfield, a psychology professor at UCLA. Teachers should talk about not generalising Muslims and ask children to reinforce their friendships with Muslim students, she said in an email.
As Khan, the father in Maryland, tucked his son in last week, he left him with the words he recited when he became a U.S. citizen two decades ago: “One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
“I don’t know why, I don’t know how people forget that,” Khan said later, fighting back tears. “We have to; otherwise we’re dividing ourselves.
With inputs from AP