Online campaign launched following Islamophobia in US school

#WeStandWithHuda online campaign launched following 'Islamophobic, anti-Palestinian' heckling at US school graduation ceremony
3 min read
23 June, 2021
Americans have launched an online campaign after a Pakistani-American girl's graduation ceremony in the US was interrupted by Islamophobic heckling.
The young Pakistani-American student was told to 'go back to Pakistan' by one parent [Stock image, Getty]

A US civil rights group is calling for an investigation after a Pakistani-American Muslim student who delivered a speech during her school graduation ceremony in New York was subjected to Islamophobic abuse, according to campaigners.

A campaign called #WeStandWithHuda was launched by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) demanding school officials "publicly apologise and take corrective action following an Islamophobic, anti-Palestinian and anti-immigrant incident". 

The Muslim graduate speaker at New York’s The Wheatley School was reportedly booed and told to "go back to Pakistan" by a parent after she spoke about her heritage and the plight of Muslims across the world, according to the reports.

She made particular reference to Palestinians, who recently experienced an onslaught of violence by Israeli forces in Gaza and the West Bank.

On 20 June, the 17-year-old Muslim student, who wears a hijab and is of Pakistani descent, gave a graduation speech that was approved by the school principal. The school insists that the student did not stick to the approved speech.

During the speech, the student, who has not been named for child protection reasons, urged her peers to educate themselves on global topics, including the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and Uighur Muslims, as well as global warming.

Her speech read: "Educate yourself about international dilemmas, including the ethnic cleansings of Palestinians and Uighur Muslims. Families are continuously torn apart and real human lives are being lost but ignored.

"Educate yourself on the widespread issues that plague our planet and threaten our very existence in the long run: consider global warming with the gravity that it needs to be looked at with. And never stop speaking about these issues until they are resolved."

The student was then booed by some parents who chanted "we support Israel".

Parents then reportedly harassed and bullied the student and her family. One parent is caught on video asking the student, "what about Hamas?" 

Another parent made the anti-immigrant statement, "go back to Pakistan!"

In response, the principal of the school claimed the speech approved by the body was not the same one the student gave. He later sent two emails to the parents.

In Dr. Feeney’s email, he claimed: "Unfortunately, one of the student speakers diverted from the remarks that had been originally approved by the Graduation Speech Committee who made the selections, presenting personal views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"I want to be clear that the injection of such remarks was absolutely inappropriate to the graduation ceremony, as would be any political statements during a celebration solely intended to acknowledge our seniors and their many achievements and accomplishments as members of our Wheatley School community. The comments were not part of the approved speech."

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The principal's email was criticised by the civil rights groups, who called for a retraction and apology for "failing" to support his student in the face of abuse.

"Instead of supporting the student, they made false and defamatory statements about the student and failed to address the harassment and bullying the student and her family received at graduation and continue to receive," said CAIR New York’s Legal Director Ahmed Mohamed.

"The student and her family faced Islamophobic and anti-immigrant hate from parents at the graduation ceremony. The school district and school must condemn these actions, immediately investigate and hold these parents accountable for harassing and bullying a student and her family at a school-sanctioned activity."