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Online backlash adds to bullying controversy with Muslim overtone at Williamsville East

An online backlash against two brothers who say they are the victims of anti-Muslim bullying at Williamsville East High School alleges that they are the bullies.

Many students at the school who signed an online petition have accused the brothers of taunting and fighting, disrespecting authority and harming the school’s image.

The online petition at contradicts the Siam brothers’ contention that they are the victims of bullying. The petition contains 189 names, with some of the names listed and others remaining anonymous. The petition, prompted by a TV news report earlier this week, is titled: “demand-for-channel-4-to-tell-the-truth-about-the-siam-brothers-williamsville-east.”

The attorney for Jameel and Adam Siam says the petition’s allegations and other negative online comments and emails about them are all part of a “toxic environment” spawned by the failure of school officials to provide a place where learning can occur free of discrimination and harassment.

Attorney Michael B. Berger is scheduled to represent the brothers Friday afternoon at superintendent hearings to determine whether they will be allowed to return to school, be placed on an extended suspension or expelled.

Jameel, 16, and Adam, 15, were suspended last week for fighting with another student who refused to remove a social media post that included the words “Siam Slayer” and images of an American flag and an Islamic flag.

That student and possibly a second student involved in the fight reportedly appeared earlier this week for superintendent hearings, but the district has declined to comment, explaining that student disciplinary matters are confidential.

Berger said the school district has failed the boys.

“New York State enacted the Dignity for All Students Act a few years ago, and the goal of the act is to create a safe and supportive school climate where students can learn and focus, rather than fear being discriminated against verbally or physically,” he said.

Given the harsh tone of some of the online comments against the brothers, Berger said, he does not know whether it would be safe for them to return to the high school. “Would you want to go back into that environment?” he asked.

The online comments, many from other Williamsville East students, were in response to reports aired on WIVB-TV, Channel 4, and published in The Buffalo News. The Siam family told of years of harassment at school because the brothers are Muslims and of Palestinian ancestry. The stories also reported on how the family’s East Amherst home was vandalized early Saturday morning.

Berger and Rehab Siam, the boys’ mother, have acknowledged that the brothers are not perfect, but say there is no place for religious intolerance in the school. The brothers have been called terrorists and physically threatened, they say.

“If we don’t stand up for what we believe in and try to make the world a better and safer place for our children, then what are we?” Berger said Thursday in response to the negative online comments.

The petition includes many comments about the brothers’ alleged behavior at school.

Someone who identified himself as Joel Stoddard wrote: “The Siam brothers (do) not get bullied, if anything they are the bullies. I’ve sat at tables where Jameel has come up and asked anyone if they wanted to fight him, they don’t get bullied because of their race, they are using it as an excuse to not get suspended, they have both been in many (fights) before and got in trouble for drugs, the Siam brothers are not innocent!”

A writer identified as Erica Martinsen, in signing the petition, wrote:

“They were NEVER bullied because of being Muslim. In fact, they were the bullies. … in reality I didn’t even know they were Muslim and neither did half of the school. … Using your religion as an excuse is so terrible, because everyone is accepting at East. There are basically more Asians & minorities in this school than whites so think again.”

Another petition signer, Harjas Bedi, who described himself as a Sikh-American and wears a turban to school for religious obligations, wrote:

“They were just kids who did bad things, got into trouble. They’re now just lying about this. … ‘discrimination,’ just to get a ‘race card’ reward. I’m disgusted because this offends everyone who has gone through bullying, and have to see people fake it to get out of situations THEY THEMSELVES have made. The reason I came to East was because I wanted to get away from the bullying I went through at my old school. This is the best school I’ve been to. I have friends of many various ethnicities, religions, and races who have all accepted me.”

Michael, who spoke with The News in a phone call and sent an email, wrote:

“I’m a student at East, and everyone is very upset by this article and what was on WIVB. They are getting expelled not just because of their many fights but because of their countless other citations; such as cheating, vaping in school, getting caught with drugs, calling a teacher bad names, and more, ruining our image.”

Amherst police say they continue to investigate the school fight to determine whether a hate crime occurred against the Siam brothers. Police are also trying to determine who was responsible for vandalizing the Siam family’s home. It was egged and a rock shattered the glass in a front storm door at about 3 a.m. Saturday.

The FBI is aware of the situation, spokeswoman Maureen P. Dempsey said, but at this point considers it a local police investigation and a matter for the school district.

District officials say they will not comment on the Siam brothers. But Berger said Dr. Khalid J. Qazi, a spokesman for the region’s Islamic community, notified Superintendent Scott G. Martzloff on Dec. 1 about the alleged bullying and asked that the district look into complaints of harassment against the brothers.

A copy of that email and a Dec. 2 email response from Martzloff was provided to The News. Martzloff thanked Qazi for “bringing these allegations to our attention” and assured him the district would “begin an investigation very quickly.”

Berger said that such an investigation was not conducted.