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‘Someone Attacked a Mosque and Hurt a Lot of People’

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On a recent morning, Sami, my four-year-old-son, and I sat down for breakfast, as we do most mornings. Sami asked for cereal and I asked him to prepare the French press. We didn’t talk about the flowers on the kitchen table or the book we read before going to bed. We talked about the terrorist attacks at two mosques in New Zealand, where 51 worshippers were killed, including children who were younger and older than Sami.

My son is only four, but I felt compelled to speak to him, attempt an American Muslim version of “the talk” that countless black and brown parents have with their children.

I did not know how to talk to him about it. Does anyone know how to discuss acts of violence and bigotry with their little ones? Like many parents, my wife, Azin, and I, are learning on the fly.

I am a historian of the modern Middle East at Skidmore College; Azin works as an immigration attorney at the nonprofit, The Legal Project. We live in an upper middle-class town, which, although largely white, also has a decent amount of international and religious diversity. We have Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Hindu, agnostic, and atheist neighbors and friends. Sami goes to a Jewish preschool.

Our routine is a fairly simple one: Sami and I get up together around 6:30 am for breakfast while Azin is getting ready for her workday. Sami gets dressed upstairs and I start the breakfast downstairs, listening to NPR.

Far more often than not, Sami comes downstairs demanding, “Turn that off! I don’t want to hear his voice!” My four-year-old son is referring to President Trump’s voice.

The first time this happened I obliged. The second time, I asked, “Why do you want me to turn it off, Sami? Why don’t you want to hear his voice?”

“I’m scared,” Sami replied.Sami’s fears are rooted in hearing Azin and me talk about her work as an immigration attorney, President Trump’s policy of family separation, and his unabashed “othering” of Islam and Muslims. Defending his Muslim travel ban, Mr. Trump stated, “I think Islam hates us.” Like other Muslim Americans, we often ask ourselves who the “us” is in this sentence.

On that Friday morning, after I took in the news about the Christchurch massacre, Sami and I sat down for breakfast. I asked myself what I would tell my son about it. It wasn’t a question of whether we should discuss it, but how. How do I tell him enough so that he understands, but not so much that he feels too scared to be who he is?

“Sami…” I said, not knowing exactly how I would continue.

“Yes, baba,” he responded.

“Something terrible happened the other day in a country named New Zealand.”

“Yes, I know,” Sami replied confidently.

“You do? How do you know that?” I asked puzzled.

“I heard about it upstairs when I was getting dressed.”

I struggled to string together the ‘right’ words to describe the massacre.

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Thanks !

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