New Zealand Mosque Attacks Part Of Ongoing Trauma For U.S. Muslims After the New Zealand terrorist attacks, mental health professionals are asking: What does persistent trauma do to a generation of young Muslims growing up in the midst of it all?
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Coping With The Persistent Trauma Of Anti-Muslim Rhetoric And Violence

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Coping With The Persistent Trauma Of Anti-Muslim Rhetoric And Violence

Coping With The Persistent Trauma Of Anti-Muslim Rhetoric And Violence

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The terrorist attack in New Zealand that killed at least 50 people as they prayed in their mosques sent shockwaves throughout the world. But in the U.S., many young Muslims say they weren't surprised. They're a generation that has been raised in the midst of anti-Muslim rhetoric, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, mass shootings and now rising hate crimes. As NPR's Leila Fadel reports, mental health experts are worried about the lasting impact on this generation.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Over the weekend, Muslim mental health professionals quickly pulled together a webinar to share advice on how to deal with trauma after an event like New Zealand. Dr. Farha Abbasi is a psychiatrist at Michigan State University.

FARHA ABBASI: What we see now and is the concern for us - all of us who are working in mental health field and in the community is, what is going to be the long-term impact of this persistent exposure to trauma that our kids are facing right now?

FADEL: Abbasi says this kind of persistent trauma like anti-Muslim rhetoric can rob a person of their sense of safety, their ability to trust and connect. She says young Muslims are feeling more alienated. They're more likely to be bullied at school than their peers by classmates but also by teachers. And a survey from the Pew Research Center found that more than two-thirds of Muslims don't think other Americans see them as mainstream. Kameelah Mu'Min Rashad is the founder of the Muslim Wellness Foundation. It promotes healing and emotional health in American Muslim communities.

KAMEELAH MU'MIN RASHAD: Post-9/11, there is a more concerted effort to demonize Muslims, to make us the other, sort of the foreign threat and the enemy.

FADEL: So, she says, that's what the 15- to 20-year-olds she counsels have heard their whole lives.

RASHAD: From extremely horrific events, like what we saw happen in New Zealand in Christchurch, to daily microaggressions and invalidations of their identity.

FADEL: It's commonplace for them, Rashad says.

RASHAD: I'm very proud of how resilient American Muslim youth are, and I'm also very concerned about the daily erosion of their humanity.

FADEL: Every day, these young people are asked to prove their worth and their humanity. And many, she says, have multiple identities that are marginalized - black Muslims, queer Muslims, undocumented Muslims. It's all too familiar for Nayab Khan, a 22-year-old student at the University of Pennsylvania.

NAYAB KHAN: I've only lived in a period of, like, where Islamophobia is always present everywhere I go, whether that be eighth grade, being called a terrorist for the first time, or whether that be the shooting a few days ago. Like, I think...

FADEL: The daily aggressions have shaped her identity. She goes to the corner store near her apartment, and someone calls out, go back to your country. She gets on the train. A woman yells at her. It's part of being visibly Muslim. She's a Pakistani-American who wears the religious head covering, the hijab.

KHAN: It's very exhausting and very laborious to always, one, like, have to constantly be explaining yourself and, two, like, attempting to normalize it when in reality, like, I am - I'm Muslim, and I'm different.

FADEL: So now Khan is active on campus, building coalitions with other groups who combat white supremacy, xenophobia and racism. Seventeen-year-old Noor Bowman says the anti-Muslim stuff barely registers with her anymore.

NOOR BOWMAN: You know, as a young person growing up, they shape your experience and the way you see the world around you. And sometimes, you know, I'm so used to it that when people mention it, I'm like, oh, I do experience, you know, microaggressions and different things. But unfortunately it's become a part of everyday life.

FADEL: Things like people calling her derogatory names for an Arab - she's African-American - telling her to go back to her country. She's from Philadelphia. So she's learned to be resilient. At school, she's taken on the role of someone who speaks out when her identities as a black Muslim woman are demonized or questioned. Leila Fadel, NPR News.

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