Dear Mr. Dad: What happened in Paris last week has me shocked, upset, and frightened. The death and destruction are hard enough for my wife and me to grasp and to explain to our children, ages 7 and 10. But it’s getting increasingly difficult to answer their questions about Islam and to keep them from demonizing Muslims. We tried avoiding the issue, but that’s not working anymore. How can we talk to our children about terrorism and Muslims without slipping into stereotyping?
A: What a great question—one I’ve struggled with for a long time, and continue to do so—and the answer is anything but simple. As a parent, I think it’s incredibly important to teach our children about tolerance and diversity and to discourage them from making blanket statements about large groups of people who have similar characteristics, whether those characteristics are based on gender, politics, personal beliefs, sexual orientation, geography, religion, or anything else. At the same time, I firmly believe that it’s impossible to deal with a problem unless we honestly acknowledge what it is. And here’s where things get tough.
There are more than 1.5 billion Muslims in the world. Most are undoubtedly peace-loving people who have no desire to kill anyone. But how do we make sense of the fact that so many of the world’s conflicts, involve Islamic armies and terrorist groups? How do we make sense of the nearly daily murderous attacks proudly acknowledged by people who claim that their particular brand of Islam gives them the right to kill Christians, Jews, atheists, other Muslims, or anyone else who doesn’t believe what they do? And how do we keep from stereotyping Muslim countries or groups where people hand out candy and celebrate terrorist acts, openly advocate murdering “infidels,” or name streets and parks after suicide bombers who kill innocent civilians?