Muslim Families’ Understanding of, and Reaction to, ‘The War on Terror’


concerning this article should be addressed to Cecile Rousseau, Division of Social and Cultural Psychiatry, McGill University, 7085 Hutchison St., Local 204.2, Montreal, QC H3N 1Y9, Canada. Electronic mail may be sent to


In multiethnic societies, the consequences of the war on terror (WOT) for Muslim youth are still not well understood and the school’s role remains to be defined. This article documents the parent–child transmission of understanding and emotional reaction to the WOT in South Asian Muslim families in Montreal, Canada. For this qualitative study, the researchers interviewed 20 families. Results indicated that the families’ emotional reactions and communication about these events were interlinked with family patterns of identity assignation. The majority of parents avoided talking with their children about the WOT and felt that these issues should not be discussed at school. Most children shared their parents’ feelings of helplessness and familial patterns of identity assignation. Parents reporting a greater sense of agency displayed less avoidance, had a more complex vision of self and other, and favored the school’s role in helping children make sense of these events. These results suggest that school interventions in neighborhoods strained by international tensions should emphasize immigrant parents’ empowerment and provide spaces where their children feel comfortable expressing their concerns.