Student Suspended for Debating Islamic Extremism with Muslim Peer in Debate Club

Kayla Schierbecker, College Fix, December 7, 2017

A Missouri high school that suspended a student for making critical comments about Islamic extremism says he’s not allowed to appeal the finding of wrongdoing.

Senior Alex Lonsdale, a member of Liberty High’s nationally ranked debate club, says he was just trying to have a friendly debate.

During his free period Oct. 17 at the public school near Kansas City, Lonsdale joined a spontaneous conversation among acquaintances about the nature of Islam.

He told The College Fix in a phone call Monday that he pointed to pro-terrorist sentiment among British Muslims, as indicated in polls by ICM Research for the 2016 Channel 4 documentary “What British Muslims Really Think.” The program was presented by the former chair of Britain’s Equality and Human Rights Commission, Trevor Phillips.

A Muslim sophomore also in the debate club, Faraz Pervaiz, allegedly challenged Lonsdale’s viewpoint on account of his own religious beliefs.

Both students had experience debating policy issues in the club, currently ranked second in the nation by the National Debate & Speech Association, where Liberty competes annually during its national competition.

Lonsdale and a debate partner shared a semifinal placement at the Grain Valley High School New Year Novice Kickoff this year, while Pervaiz and his partner tied for first in policy debate at a high school tournament in December 2016, according to The Kansas City Star.

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“Why are you making my religion out to be like that?” Lonsdale said Pervaiz asked him. The Muslim student became reticent, apparently no longer wanting to continue debating, before he ended the conversation by leaving, according to Lonsdale.

“I wasn’t saying that ‘you’re a bad kid because you’re Islamic,’” he told The Fix. “I wasn’t being rude. I didn’t personally attack him at all.”

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‘Emotionally unsafe zone’

Three days after the short-lived debate, Alex Lonsdale was called into a meeting with the principal, vice principal and Pervaiz, where he said he was asked to explain the statements that Pervaiz alleged he made.

Pervaiz “claimed that I said all Muslims are terrorists; all kill…” he told The Fix, trailing off. “I don’t know how you could even get any of that from this.”

School officials told him his behavior could be considered “harassing” or “hounding” and that Lonsdale should be conscious of “social cues,” according to Lonsdale.

He said they accused him of “‘creating an emotionally unsafe zone.’”

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Although the school said Lonsdale was not entitled to an appeal, Assistant Principal Bridget Herrman promised Nov. 20 to give him a letter containing the “necessary information about the suspension,” according to emails provided to The Fix.

The letter the school sent his parents, dated the same day, simply said he was suspended “due to behavior” and had been prescribed “corrective disciplinary action.”

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Though Pervaiz called Lonsdale “retarded” in their disputed interaction, the Muslim student appears to have escaped discipline, according to Lonsdale, adding that he didn’t want to punish Pervaiz’s speech.

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‘You need to apologize for how you made Faraz feel’

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Lonsdale said he has been ostracized by some students at school: Several now believe he is a racist.

A student who witnessed the debate – and gave a statement supporting Pervaiz to school officials – also had cross words with Lonsdale.

Miles slipped Lonsdale a handwritten letter (below) admonishing him for his “1-sided bash” on Islam and claimed he had equated Islam with terrorism.

“You initiated a 35-minute conversation trying to prove that Faraz’s entire religion was about terrorism,” wrote Miles. “You need to apologize for what you did and how you made Faraz feel.”

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