In what has become all-too-common on Long Island as well as across the country, yet another example of “Islamophobia,” reared its ugly head last week as details emerged of a Muslim middle school student’s family and its $25 million federal civil rights lawsuit against the child’s Long Island school district.
The suit alleges that Nashwan Uppal, a 12-year-old, Pakistani-born, special needs student was coerced by East Islip school officials into admitting he was a “terrorist” and a member of ISIS who was planning to blow-up the school’s fence.
The incident occurred as Uppal was eating lunch in the school’s cafeteria and was continuously harassed and bullied by students who asked him, “What are you going to blow up next?” According to Antwork and the suit, Uppal, in an attempt to stop the harassment and also not fully comprehending exactly what he was saying due to his severe learning disabilities, told the school bullies he was a terrorist and was going to blow up the school’s fence. In addition, the suit says the school violated Uppal’s civil rights, breaking state and federal anti-discrimination laws protecting religious freedoms and the rights of the disabled.
The family’s attorney, David Antwork, said the school’s assistant principal forced Nashwan “under extreme duress” to fill out a written confession, admitting he was a “terrorist” and a member of the notorious terror group ISIS.
Further, the suit also alleges that school employees—including teachers and cafeteria workers–failed to act when Uppal was being harassed.
Damages alleged by the suit included, “severe and extreme emotional distress, including, but not limited to nightmares, sleeplessness, crying, fear, humiliation and stress.”
“It’s not like he was the new kid in school that all of a sudden nobody knew who he was,” Antwork told CBS New York. “He was this sweet boy that’s been in the system for seven years since he was in kindergarten.”
Antwork said that due to Uppal’s severe learning disabilities, he mistook the word “terrorist” for “tourist,” which may have added to the confusion when the boy was interrogated and questioned by school officials.
The school district, through a spokesperson, said they do not comment on pending litigation.
“It’s hard nowadays to be a Muslim in this country,” Antwork added, speaking to CBS New York. “There’s a lot going on in the news, there’s a lot of anti-Muslim rhetoric.”
And, that “anti-Muslim” rhetoric seems to be spurring increasing violence against Muslims as well. FBI statistics show that hate crimes against Muslims across the nation have been increasing in the past few years.
Recent examples of anti-Muslim violence in the New York area include just last week in New York City when a man was arrested and charged with the murder of a Queens Imam and his assistant on their way home from a mosque. Also, last month two Muslim gas station attendants in Cedarhurst reported they were the targets of racial slurs and death threats. Moreover, Muslim community groups, such as The Council for American-Islamic Relations, have continued to report that anti-Islamic policy proposals and rhetoric, including limits on Muslim immigration and possible deportations that are being discussed on the national stage, have contributed to a fearful and often hostile climate for Muslim Americans.
Alan Krawitz is a NYC-based freelance journalist who writes frequently on a variety of topics including politics, education, immigration policy, transportation and social issues. His work has appeared in numerous regional, weekly and other outlets in the NY metropolitan area including Newsday, NY Daily News, Metro NY and The Forum News.