With reporting from Riham Sheble
A news report alleging racism against local students in a private school here has caused upset among some Qataris on Twitter, who are asking for the Supreme Education Council to intervene in the matter.
But the headmaster of the International School of London (ISL) in Duhail, which was the focus of a damning report in Arabic newspaper Al Raya yesterday about a school brawl, has said there are numerous inaccuracies in the story.
Speaking to Doha News, Chris Charleson confirmed that six students at ISL (not four, as previously reported) were suspended after a fight last week on the school’s football pitch. Contrary to what was reported, the children who were disciplined were not only Qatari, he said:
“There was an incident between a group of grade 8 Qatari boys (aged 13-14) and grade 11 (aged 16-17) boys of mainly Arab descent. The grade 11 boys were playing football at break when the ball went off the pitch, and one of the grade 8 boys kicked it away, rather than back to them. Then there was a verbal argument when the grade 11 guys went to get the ball.”
He added that there were “different reports” about what was said during the argument, but described the alleged comments as “unpleasant but not racist.”
The headmaster, who said he was not contacted by any other media outlets regarding what happened, continued:
“Following this, the Grade 11 boys brought the ball back and continued playing. Then the Grade 8s came over because they were upset by what had been said. Then a kind of fight happened on the pitch.
The fight was between about 10-15 grade 8 boys (mainly Qatari) and a smaller group of Grade 11 boys (mainly other Arabs). There were many other bystanders who were not really involved. Before it got too serious teachers stepped in, and people were spoken to and things calmed down.”
By comparison, Al Raya states that non-Qatari European and Latino students “ganged up on one Qatari student and then the Qatari kids came to his rescue.”
The newspaper also reports that “one Qatari student got a black eye” during the fight, and another student – nationality not mentioned – was injured in the neck. Charleson however states that there were no serious injuries, as “the Grade 8 boys are not big boys.”
The report comes at a time when local/expat relations appear strained over growing criticism of the way Qatar governs its majority foreign workforce.
Qataris now account for less than 15 percent of the country’s population, and many have expressed displeasure at being stereotyped or treated unfairly by expats, who often echo a similar sentiment.
Under the hashtag #مدرسة_لندن_الدوليه_تضطهد_طلاب_قطريين (The International School of London is oppressing Qatari students) on Twitter, many Qataris have said what happened is evidence of widespread racism in the country’s private schools.
#مدرسة_لندن_الدوليه_تضطهد_طلاب_قطريين ماجفنا من المدارس الاجنبيه الا سواد الويه .. الأغلب يدشها قطري يطلع اجنبي
— عبدالله المهندي (@AM_almohannadi) December 3, 2013
(“That’s what we’ve gained from foreign schools, nothing but disgrace…one enters it a Qatari and comes out a foreigner.”)
(“Everywhere around the world if there is racism, it is usually directed towards foreigners (non-nationals) except in Qatar, where racism is directed at Qataris.”)
(“Where are you (@SEC_QATAR) in protecting our religion, values and citizens? How long do we have to hear about such incidents?”)
Others, meanwhile, cautioned restraint and an investigation into the facts:
— اخر الاساطير (@AMALI2412) December 3, 2013
(“People, you need to first listen to other side of the story.”)
Last week’s fight was not the only one that ISL dealt with. The same day of the schoolyard brawl, Charleson said that a second, more serious incident took place, that initially started between an 11th-grade boy and a group of Qatari eight-graders.
He estimated that a group of between 10 to 20 students were either fighting or “trying to stop the fighting” during this incident:
“Three or four of our teachers had to step in and stop people – that was quite unpleasant, as it was our going home time and there were young children and parents around.”
The school has been investigating what happened by speaking to all of the boys involved, as well as independent witnesses, including teachers and parents. It is also in touch with the Supreme Education Council, Charleson said:
“We gave a full report, written and verbal, to the SEC, and we got their backing saying we’d done exactly the right thing, that we had investigated it properly and had taken proper action. We are continuing to liaise with them.”
Al Raya reports that the Qatari students involved wrote and signed a petition that they submitted to the school, giving names of witnesses, but it states that the principal “refused to listen to their testimonies.”
Charleson states, however, that all involved students were interviewed separately, with an observer present.
“Every witness also made an individual written statement – in a room on their own – not under any duress. We had 36 interviews and 36 written statements. We based our conclusions on all these statements.”
In total, four eighth-grade Qataris and two 11th-graders of Arab descent were suspended for fighting, Charleson said, declining to disclose for how long.
In response to allegations of “a long history of discrimination against Qatari students,” Charleson said that the school, which was founded in 2008, has “great integration” between students of 70 different nationalities:
“We very much position ourselves as an international school, and intercultural understanding and diversity are the cornerstones upon which we build a strong sense of community and identity.
This incident should not be characterized as a clash between nationalities – it is more a disagreement between a small group of young teenagers, who are growing up and going through a difficult age, and some older teenagers who were the target of their displeasure.”