Teacher calls Muslim student 'terrorist'
Since last year's Cronulla riots, the New South Wales Anti-Discrimination board has been inundated by calls from Muslim Australians.
One of those calls came from a grade 11 student at Blakehurst High School in Sydney's south-east, who lodged a complaint against his legal studies teacher for calling him a terrorist.
Wagih Zac Fares says he's still hurt by the comment made in front of his classmates.
WAGIH ZAC FARES: I put my bag on the table, looking for a chair to sit at. I asked the girl next to that chair if the chair was free and her reply was yes. I sat down next to her, and on that table was her magazine, and I began flicking through it.
Mr Seymour then approached me, and said give me the magazine, in that aggressive tone right from the beginning. I said sir, please can I just put the magazine back in her bag?
He said no, you've come into my classroom, you've moved desks, and that's when he outburst (sic), said no, I don't want to negotiate with a terrorist.
When he said that it hit me, and I was shocked, I was embarrassed, I was just humiliated. And everyone stopped talking, all conversations dropped and looked at me.
Emotions were building up. That's when I banged the table and said sir, that's wrong. And unable to control my emotions, I began screaming out, I'm not a terrorist. How can you call me a terrorist?
I ran out of the classroom, punching walls, screaming I'm not a terrorist, how can you call me a terrorist?
Wagih Fares says he ran from the classroom and was followed by his teacher, who apologised. When he returned to the school he picked up tables and threw them.
He says he hasn't been able to return to his legal studies class and now wants the teacher transferred to another school.
WAGIH FARES: I cannot continue my education and to achieve my personal goals and go on to uni with this teacher there now.
The Department did take a while to come out with a result, and the result was that I had to either move schools, drop the subject, or do in-school tutoring, where I have to do... make the decisions, where I've done nothing wrong. It should be the teacher that must make the decision.
The State's Education Department has investigated the incident and disciplined the teacher. The investigation found that the teacher hadn't intended to embarrass or humiliate the student.
The Department's Regional Director Dr Phil Lambert says the teacher is truly sorry.
From National Nine News
A year on from the Cronulla riots, it's words, not actions, that are causing pain.
Blakehurst High student Wagih Fares was called a terrorist by his legal studies teacher.
The conflict today is whether an apology and counselling is punishment enough.
I met Wagih, his parents and brothers and sisters at their Brighton Le Sands home this morning. They offered coffee to reporters and unwavering support for Wagih's stand.
"It's painful," Wagih said. "It's more than words."
There's no doubt that for this Lebanese Muslim family the teacher's words caused deep wounds.
"We are Australians. My children were born in Australia," Wagih's mother said.
Wagih claims that in June he was told in a "loud and very aggressive voice" by legal studies teacher, Michael Seymour, to hand over a magazine.
When he refused the teacher responded: "I don't want to negotiate with a terrorist."
The Department of Education's regional director of schools Phil Lambert said today the teacher had admitted his mistake and apologised.
"In the heat of the moment he said those words and he regrets having said them."
"He was there to have a go at me," replied Wagih. "I don't know why. Maybe because I'm Lebanese."
The Fares family want the teacher fired or transferred so that Wagih can return to his legal studies class. The Education Department believes the teacher has learned his lesson the hard way.
An Anti Discrimination Board investigation will make the final call on whether the teachers remorseful actions are punishment enough for his painful words.
"I've done nothing wrong and to be called that word it's painful. It is painful, that's a good word to describe it, disgusted, it's still hitting me now, it still gets me now," Wagih said on Channel 10.
I've learned that our background and circumstances may have influenced who we are, but we are responsible for who we become.
I've learned that we are responsible for what we do, no matter how we feel.
I've learned that either you control your attitude or it controls you.
I've learned that sometimes when I'm angry I have the right to be angry, but that doesn't give me the right to be cruel.
I've learned that maturity has more to do with what types of experiences you've had and what you've learned from them, and less to do with how many years you have lived.
I've learned that you shouldn't be so eager to find out a secret. It could change your life forever.