Exploring Islamophobic Tropes | Facing History & Ourselves
Facing History & Ourselves
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Lesson

Exploring Islamophobic Tropes

Students explore Islamophobic tropes, their troubled history, their evolution and their present manifestation in further depth, and consider the harm that their circulation can cause.

Published:

This resource is intended for educators in the United Kingdom.

At a Glance

Lesson

Language

English — UK

Duration

One 50-min class period
  • Democracy & Civic Engagement
  • Culture & Identity
  • Human & Civil Rights
  • Equity & Inclusion
  • Global Migration & Immigration
  • Propaganda
  • Racism
  • Resistance

Overview

About This Lesson

This is the second lesson in a unit designed to help teachers have conversations with their students about contemporary Islamophobia in a safe, sensitive and constructive way. Use these lessons to help your students reflect on Islamophobia – how it manifests in contemporary society and its impact – and consider what needs to be done to challenge it.

In this lesson, students explore Islamophobic tropes, their troubled history, their evolution and their present manifestation. The activities provide students with the opportunity to reflect on differences in how lies and the truth spread; to explore what led to the creation of Islamophobic tropes, and how they have been adapted for different social-historical contexts and used to target human emotions; and to consider the harm that the circulation of Islamophobic tropes can cause.  

Encouraging students to reflect on how lies and the truth spread is important as Islamophobic tropes are rooted in misinformation and propaganda used to further religious and/or political agendas. Teaching students about Islamophobic tropes and their history helps them understand the roots of these malicious rumours and myths, as well as how they have evolved to retain relevance in the present. These explorations can both mentally prime students to be critical consumers of Islamophobic content they might encounter in the future and help counter any pernicious misinformation that may have already shaped their world view (the importance of tackling misinformation is outlined in the note on ‘Debunking Misinformation’ in our Notes to Teacher section). 

We recommend that you do preparatory work on discussing Islamophobia with students using Lesson 1: Confronting Islamophobia if you have not already done so, as well as revisiting your classroom contract before teaching this lesson. If you do not have a classroom contract, you can use our contracting guidelines for creating a classroom contract or another procedure you have used in the past.

  • What are the historical roots of Islamophobic tropes?
  • How have tropes helped Islamophobic ideas spread and persist throughout history? 
  • How can being able to recognise Islamophobic tropes be an important part of challenging Islamophobia?

Students will understand the history and manifestation of contemporary Islamophobic tropes.

This lesson is designed to fit into one 50-min class period and includes the following student materials:

  • 1 handout (intermediate and advanced versions)
  • 1 classroom-ready PowerPoint

Islamophobic tropes are a form of misinformation that have been in circulation for almost a millennium, having been used to ostracise and attack Muslims across countries and time periods. Many have their roots in interreligious conflict that began during the Crusades, when the Christian Church sought to depict Muslims as a violent, barbaric and oppressive enemy in order to encourage Christians to take up arms against them. These tropes then persisted in the face of other cultural and social shifts, adapting to retain relevance and to reinforce political projects such as European colonialism. Their harm lies not only in the fact that they can lead to stereotyping, discrimination and violence, but also in how they can encourage conspiratorial thinking. Like all misinformation, if left to circulate unchallenged, Islamophobic tropes can cause serious damage: they have the capacity to yield significant and long-lasting influence over the world view of those who encounter them. 

The Islamophobic trope rooted in the idea that Muslims are a monolithic block underpins many of the other tropes and Islamophobic discourse in general as it creates situations in which a minority of Muslims are viewed as representative of all Muslims. 

As the academic Todd H. Green notes, 

Once Muslims are regarded as fundamentally sharing the same attitudes and commitments, it is not difficult to conclude that one violent Muslim, or one intolerant Muslim, makes all Muslims violent or intolerant. 1

Other damaging Islamophobic tropes are related to cultural incompatibility, the oppression of women, terrorism and the ‘Islamisation’ of the West. The widespread traction of these narratives, both online and in print, as well as Islamophobic sentiments in general, leads to stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination against Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim. These tropes also shape how Muslims are treated, both in European countries and elsewhere, and impact the foreign policy of Western/European governments: these tropes have been used to justify invasions of Muslim majority countries.

Educating young people about Islamophobic tropes, their history and how they appear in the present day can challenge Islamophobia both by helping young people understand the destructive past and present of Islamophobic narratives, making them more likely to stand against such prejudice, and by preventing them from sharing Islamophobic content unsuspectingly.

  • 1Todd H. Green, The Fear of Islam: An Introduction to Islamophobia in the West (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2015), p. 202.

Preparing to Teach

A Note to Teachers

There are two versions of the handout Islamophobic Tropes (Intermediate / Advanced) to allow you to choose the most appropriate version for your students. Additionally, the five texts used in the Jigsaw activity are not at the same level – some are longer than others, while others contain information that requires more advanced processing skills. It is important to think about this when you are deciding which groups students should work in. You may choose to ensure groups are made of mixed-ability students, or that some groups are given shorter excerpts or the texts that are easier to understand. Ideally, the groups would be divided in such a way as to ensure that they all finish reviewing their given text and the connection questions at the same time. If possible, print at least enough copies of each reading for sharing one between two.

In addition to the readings, you might also, time permitting, ask students to watch the accompanying video for each Islamophobic trope from the organisation Get the Trolls Out!, inviting students to note down how what they see in the video Connects, Extends, and Challenges what they learnt in the reading, or vice versa. Please note, the video on Terrorism is included in an extension activity in Lesson 3: Addressing Islamophobia in the Media, and the video on the Oppression of Women is used as part of a main activity in Lesson 4: Understanding Gendered Islamophobia.

Islamophobic tropes are a form of misinformation that can lead to stereotyping and discrimination, and can encourage conspiratorial thinking. Misinformation, if left to circulate unchallenged, can cause serious damage: it has the capacity to yield significant and long-lasting influence over the world views of those who encounter it. 

Beth Goldberg, Head of Research and Development at Jigsaw, notes,

One of the reasons misinformation is so pernicious is its ability to continue to influence thinking long after someone initially sees it. In fact, misinformation often persists even after someone has been shown a factual correction of the false claim. This is because misinformation can be “sticky,” meaning it can have what experts call a “continued influence effect” on someone’s memory and reasoning long after seeing it.

Debunking is especially difficult with conspiracy theories, which are often believed at an emotional, rather than rational, level. 1

According to the Debunking Handbook 2020, which was collectively authored by academics from twenty universities around the world, one of the most effective ways to tackle misinformation is to ‘prevent it taking root in the first place’. 2  

Prevention strategies include ‘simply warning people that they might be misinformed’, ‘encouraging people to critically evaluate information as they read it’ and ‘helping people become more discerning in their sharing behavior’.  3

There is also a process known as ‘psychological inoculation’. 

Beth Goldberg further explains,

Inoculation protects people against disinformation 4 by teaching them to spot and refute a misleading claim. Inoculation messages can build up people’s resistance or “mental antibodies” to encountering misinformation in the future, the way vaccines create antibodies that fight against future infection. 5

If people have already been exposed to misinformation, its misleading content can be countered by ‘debunking’ – though, as stated above, this process can be difficult. To be effective, the debunking process must be detailed and must involve giving people the facts, alongside warnings that the content they have encountered is a myth and explanations on how the myth has been used to mislead people.

Several Islamophobic tropes have their origins in the discriminatory behaviour of the early Christian Church. When teaching the reality of this difficult history, it is important students understand that a range of organisations around the world are working on creating interfaith dialogue. In the UK, these organisations include the Christian Muslim Forum, The Inter Faith Network and The Centre for Muslim–Christian Studies.

Each lesson in this unit includes a PowerPoint of student-facing slides. The PowerPoints are intended to be used alongside, and not instead of, the lesson plans because the latter include important rationales and context that teachers should familiarise themselves with before teaching each lesson. The PowerPoints include basic content and student-facing prompts from the lesson plans but are minimally designed because we expect teachers to adapt them to fit the needs of their students and class.

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Lesson Plans

Activities

Before you begin engaging with the content of the lesson, we recommend that you create a classroom contract or revisit a previously created one. You can use our contracting guidelines for creating a classroom contract or another procedure you have used in the past. 

Then, explain to students that you will be exploring Islamophobic tropes, which are commonly shared ideas, phrases or stories rooted in rumours, lies and myths first spread about Muslims almost one thousand years ago. 

Ask students to reflect on how lies and truth spread by responding to the following prompts in their journals:

‘A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes’. 1

  1. What does this quotation suggest about how lies spread in comparison to the truth?
  2. How far do you agree with the statement? Explain your view.
  3. What evidence do you see in the world around you that supports or undermines the statement?
  4. How is this statement relevant to Islamophobia and Islamophobic tropes (commonly shared ideas, phrases or stories that attack Muslims and Islam)? 

Invite students to share any responses they feel comfortable sharing with the class. 

You might also share research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which discovered that fake news spreads six times faster than true stories on Twitter, and invite them to consider why and/or what the consequences of this are.

Next, inform students that they will be exploring some of the Islamophobic tropes in circulation using the Jigsaw teaching strategy, which contains two key steps. Explain that Islamophobic tropes are a form of both misinformation and disinformation. 

  1. First, students will be divided into ‘expert’ groups and each group will be given a different reading that explores one Islamophobic trope, its context and how it manifests. These ‘expert’ groups will review and discuss the assigned materials together.
  2. Students will then be divided into ‘teaching’ groups, in which they will give an overview of what they learnt in their ‘expert’ group, and discuss new questions to consolidate their learning.

Divide the class into ‘expert’ groups of four to five students (there are five separate readings). Then, pass out a different reading contained in the handout Islamophobic Tropes (Intermediate) and Islamophobic Tropes (Advanced) to each ‘expert’ group (some groups might have the same reading). Please ensure that you are giving students a text that is appropriate for their level by selecting either the Intermediate or Advanced handout. 

Explain to students that each ‘expert’ group will read the group’s assigned reading together out loud, taking it in turns to read, and will then briefly discuss and respond to the connection questions in their books.

Let the students know how much time they have for this first task and circulate around the room to check in with groups as they are reading and discussing the questions together.

Then, divide the class into new ‘teaching’ groups. All of the members of each ‘teaching’ group should have read a different reading in their ‘expert’ groups.

Project these ‘teaching’ group prompts on the board:

  1. Briefly summarise 2–3 key findings of your ‘expert’ group to your ‘teaching’ group (take it in turns). 
  2. What led to the creation of Islamophobic tropes? 
  3. How do Islamophobic tropes appeal to people’s emotions and fears? What impact does this have?
  4. Has learning about Islamophobic tropes impacted your ability to help stop the spread of Islamophobia? How might you use what you have learnt about tropes to stand up to Islamophobia?
  5. What else might it take to overcome these false Islamophobic beliefs?

Invite groups to share key ideas and insights from their discussions with the class.

Finally, invite students to reflect on the following experiences of Islamophobia from research conducted by the All Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims in a Think, Pair, Share, before inviting them to share their thoughts with the class.

  • ‘A driver felt that I did not let him join the traffic along a dual carriage. He followed me into a petrol station. I had my two young children in my car. In front of my children he shouted “YOU TERRORIST, YOU SHOULD HAVE GIVEN ME WAY AND LET ME IN” (to join the lane) … I did not report the incident but I did try to engage and talk to the driver but he drove away.’ 1

–(Muslim male, Birmingham)

  • ‘I don’t wear the hijab, but my friends do. They were told to go back to where they came from and told they were foreigners. We didn’t report it, to whom and why bother?’ 2

–(Muslim female, Sheffield)

  • ‘I have been spat at on the street when I wore a prayer hat … I’ve witnessed people calling Muslims devils … at work I was asked if I was bin [L]aden??? (laughable) … I was asked to explain [the] Rochdale cases, and “if you all are like that” … my daughter was called the Taliban… the list goes on.’ 3  

–(Muslim male, Birmingham)

Osama bin Laden was the Islamic extremist who organised the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The Rochdale case refers to a child sex abuse ring in Rochdale, Greater Manchester in which a group of Muslim men sexually groomed, trafficked and assaulted mostly white British girls. 

The Taliban are an Islamic fundamentalist group currently in power in Afghanistan. 

  • Which Islamophobic tropes fed into these attacks? 
  • What does the female from Sheffield’s statement ‘We didn’t report it, to whom and why bother?’ suggest about what some Muslims feel is done about Islamophobia? 
  • What impact might being called a terrorist have on the victim? How might it impact their sense of belonging? 
  • How do these statements highlight the importance of understanding and challenging Islamophobic tropes?

Extension Activities

Islamophobic tropes create stereotypes and simplified views of Muslims and Islam. To help students understand the dangers of stereotyping and understand the relationship between stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination, use the lesson Transcending Single Stories from our unit Standing Up for Democracy.

To help your students understand more about Islamophobic tropes, you might choose to share information from one or more of the following, adapting as necessary to suit the needs of your pupils: 

To help students understand more about the interfaith dialogue between Muslims and Christians, you might choose to share information from one or more of the following organisations/initiatives, adapting as necessary to suit the needs of your pupils: 

Materials and Downloads

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