In trying to prevent Islamophobia, Canada’s largest school board has proved itself to be Islamophobic itself. Good work.
According to a report earlier this month in The Globe and Mail, the Toronto District School Board pulled high school students out of a book club event featuring a former Islamic State group sex slave.
Nadia Murad, a Nobel Prize-winning activist, was set to appear before the A Room of Your Own Book Club in February of next year to discuss her memoir, “The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Islamic State.”
The book club, organized by Tanya Lee, invites hundreds of teenage girls — many of them from low-income families — to read a book and then discuss it with the author virtually. The club is promoted by educators, including school principals and teachers.
The TDSB said they’d be pulling their students from two events. One involved the lawyer who defended former CBC broadcaster Jian Ghomeshi, who was tried for sexual assault in 2016. The other involved Murad, whose talk, according to TDSB Superintendent Helen Fisher, could potentially “foster Islamophobia.”
The to-do involving Ghomeshi’s lawyer is a matter which, unless you followed his case closely or are Canadian, may strike you as a bit arcane. The idiocy of pulling out of an event involving the survivor of Islamic State group sex trafficking, however, is evident to anyone who’s been near a news channel in the past decade or so.
Nevertheless, Lee thought perhaps Fisher needed a primer on the matter, so she sent the superintendent information about the terrorist organization from the BBC and CNN.
“This is what Islamic State means,” Lee wrote in an email. “It is a terrorist organization. It has nothing to do with ordinary Muslims. The TDSB should be aware of the difference.”
Or not: “The next day, Ms. Lee said, Ms. Fisher sent her a copy of the board’s policy on selecting equitable, culturally relevant and responsive reading materials,” reported the Globe and Mail.
Of course, now there’s been a “misunderstanding.” There always are misunderstandings in situations like these, right? When the Globe and Mail contacted Fisher, she said TDSB spokesman Ryan Bird had responded to the email.
“An opinion that did not reflect the position of the Toronto District School Board was shared with the organizer of the book club prior to staff having an opportunity to read the books – something that is routinely done before giving them to students. Staff are currently reading both books and anticipate being able to add them to the list of titles used in the corresponding course(s),” a statement from the TDSB read, according to the U.K. Telegraph.
“We sincerely apologize to both [Ghomeshi attorney Marie] Henein and Ms. Murad – both of whom have powerful stories to tell and from whom we believe students would learn a great deal.”
Bird, meanwhile, told the Globe and Mail “there appears to have been a misunderstanding, as the equity department does not review and approve books for book clubs.”
He added that the book is being reviewed at present “and we hope to be in a position to approve in the near future.”
However, as of the Telegraph’s report on Wednesday, Lee said the TDSB hadn’t given the go-ahead for students to attend the Islamic State group survivor’s talk.
“The book club event for ‘A Room Of Your Own Book Club’ with Nadia Murad will go ahead across Canada in February. The TDSB has not committed to letting their students attend. This is unfortunate for all involved. A great loss to the students, community, and educators at the TDSB,” she said in an email.
“The school board withdrawing their support means that they are not putting their students first- only their administration. Nadia Murad is a Nobel Peace Prize winning author and Human Rights Activist. We have so much to learn from her about the Triumph of The Human Spirit and the Will and The Ability to help others overcome tragedy. Nadia and her activism is an example to us all in all societies around the world.”
This is hardly a misunderstanding. The assumption that the talk would “foster Islamophobia” implies a conflation between Islam and the Islamic State group, itself a form of Islamophobia.
If the high-schoolers who are being invited to attend the event were too young to remember the Islamic State group when it held a wide swath of territory across the Middle East, Murad and others could (and assumedly would) easily explain how divorced from mainstream Islam the terrorist group is. It’s neither difficult nor nuanced; if the BBC and CNN can do it, rest assured, a Nobel Prize-winning activist and author can do it.
The problem, instead, seems to stem from the book club putting the woke school board in the unpleasant position of acknowledging the real threat of extremism and terrorism — and then having to walk back its original position because of the negative publicity.
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