Return to Transcripts main page


President Visits San Bernardino; Muslim Teacher Loses Her Job; School District Closed Over Islam Assignment; Trump-Putin Bromance; Trump Tops Newest Poll; Putin Praises 'Bright & Talented' Trump. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired December 18, 2015 - 21:00   ET



DON LEMON, "CNN TONIGHT WITH DON LEMON" HOST: President Barack Obama on air force one tonight on his way to San Bernardino to meet with families of the victims of the terror attack.

This is "CNN Tonight" I'm Don Lemon.

Meanwhile, just a week away from Christmas the call for peace and good will is being tested. In New Jersey, a Muslim high school teacher loses her job after showing a video of Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai.

And in Virginia, angry parents force an entire school district to shut down over an assignment that has students practice calligraphy by copying the Islamic statement of faith. Has fear of Islam gone too far?

Plus, Donald Trump topping the newest poll and getting praise from Vladimir Putin, what is behind this new bromance? There's a lot to get to in this broadcast tonight.

I want to being though with the day in Trump.

Joining me now to discuss is Bob Beckel, his latest book is "I Should Be Dead, My Life Surviving Politics, T.V. and Addiction." Also Matt Lewis author of "Too Dumb to Fail" and Kellyanne Conway president of Keep the Promise, Keep the Promise 1 PAC, a super PAC supporting Ted Cruz.

You liked that animation didn't you? I saw you.


LEMON: Good in day in Trump. So Kellyanne, I'm now going to start with you. Let see, this is the newest Fox News Poll out tonight and it shows that Trump is really dominating. He's at 39 percent, Ted Cruz 18, Marco Rubio 11, Carson 9 and everyone else down three or lower and that includes Jeb Bush. So Trump would say "I'm at the top, you should be covering me." Yes, we know he's at the top, but that's a lot of ground for Ted Cruz to make up your guy.

CONWAY: Oh sure, but we like the trend lines so in this latest Fox News poll, like some other national polls that we've done, you see Donald Trump rising, you see Ted Cruz rising and you see establishment favorite, Washington favorite Marco Rubio flat lining, going down three points in the Fox News poll and of course, Ben Carson has lost voters to both Cruz and Trump.

In the state polls though that everybody's looking at, I think that's incredibly relevant because you see Cruz on top in Iowa, Trump dominating New Hampshire, you see both of them on the top in South Carolina.

So question for Marco Rubio is which of these early states can you actually win? And we know that you're the favorite of the senators. We know that you're the favorite of the middle class. We know you don't show up to work and you voted I think two times in all of November since the Senate was in session in October but...

LEMON: You had to get that in, right? Yeah.

CONWAY: It's true. The Washington Posts to your times are written by that what state can you win? That's the big question for all these folks all 12 or 13 that elect.

LEMON: Let me follow up with Matt Lewis. Matt, you know, Ted Cruz has made no secret, you know, of drafting in Trump's -- in the Trump lane, right?


LEMON: Hoping to pick up those voters if Trump does implode, it doesn't seem like he's going to implode because everything he said is seems to be rising. So what do you think is that likely to happen at this point if he does?

LEWIS: Well, I don't think it's clear at all that Ted Cruz would inherit Trump's voters. You know, it's sort of -- its conventional wisdom that that would happen but, in fact, Donald Trump actually has a lot of moderate and liberal Republicans who support him. It's not the right wing conservatives who support Trump. I would say this, though, I think that...

LEMON: Can you say that again? I've been saying that forever and no one believes me.

LEWIS: No, you're right according to the polling, everybody assumes that Donald Trump has all of these right wing ultraconservative Republicans but in fact he performs really better among liberal and moderate republicans who if Trump were to get out they may not go to Ted Cruz.

I would say this, though. It doesn't matter that much about the national polls because the national polls will change once the early states vote and I think it is very likely that Ted Cruz will in fact win the Iowa caucuses.

LEMON: Let me follow up, is that because as, you know, as many Democrats and Republicans have been saying "Donald Trump is really a Democrat." Do you think deep down Democrats say, you know, whether the guy is really a Democrat?

LEWIS: Yeah, I mean, you go down the list of things. I mean, Hillary Clinton came to his wedding. He supports single payer health care. He's been on both sides of the abortion issue.

So Donald Trump is not a conservative. He is very liberal. In fact, he is appealing to a sort of a populous strain of kind of working class white maybe Reagan Democrats is a way of putting it but not ideological free market conservatives.

Ted Cruz for all of his fault actually is a legitimate conservative and I think that Ted Cruz will do better with evangelicals who are prominent in the Iowa caucuses.

LEMON: OK, that's Barbara Walters, you know, she does her year's most fascinating people at the end of every year. I found this moment fascinating from that special. Listen.


BARBARA WALTERS: If you lose the republican nomination, are you a loser?

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Certainly, yeah. Hate to say it. If I lost the nomination, yeah, I guess I'd call myself a loser.

[21:05:00] I never said that about myself before. Look, I want to win. I want to make America great again. If I lose the nomination, not so good.

WALTERS: Let's say you become the president, when you leave office, in one word, what would you like your legacy to be.

TRUMP: A victory.


LEMON: Ha, ha, ha. So I found that fascinating. I also found the view of Central Park is gorgeous. I know if you guys notice that.

Listen, did you, you know, it's very telling though because you could see that pained look on his face to even associate himself with the word "loser" Bob Beckel.

BOB BECKEL, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yeah, well it's not -- listen, I know Democrats well and I have a lot of Democrats who are friends of Donald Trump ain't no Democrat. And the fact is it may be across the board in national polling that he does pick up some moderate and liberals but in Iowa he's got -- when you say Reagan Democrats, they're quite conservative. But Cruz I think will win in Iowa and that will change the dynamics of this.

I've been in six presidential races, these polls in December are very misleading and whoever wins there is going to have momentum. Now, there will be...

LEMON: Bob, can I talk because you said something, again, I want the others to follow up on it but you first. Maybe he's not a typical conservative. Maybe he's not a typical Democrat and maybe that's the appeal that he is drawing, you know, to what Matt said that people who are sometimes somewhere in the middle.

CONWAY: He is Donald Trump.

BECKEL: He is a typical populist. He goes -- he go back to Williams Jennings Bryant and follow all through glass on your ears and every time there is disenchantment as deposition with Washington you have people who come up through the ranks and grab hold of that. They're smart to do it. Ross Perot was an example of that. So I think what you don't define him as a democrat or Republican, you define him as a populist.

CONWAY: I agree with that. No, I totally agree with that. Let me add two big things. We also have to give some kudos to Bernie Sanders for doing the same thing this year. I know he's eclipsed by everybody trying to clean a straight line path for Hillary Clinton, nobody wants free market competition on that side but Bernie Sanders, too, Don, has tapped into some type of populist anti-Washington anti-corporate sentiment.

I wonder after he's out of the race, if and when, don't some of his voters go to the other populist in the race, Donald trump. I mean, that scares me as a Cruz person.

LEMON: Do you think people that far left and people calling socialist are actually...

CONWAY: Well, are they going to go back to Hillary? They're going to say, you know what? I do want the woman who makes $250,000 for a 25 minute speech and says very little in it. I think I'll go back to her and not Bernie Sanders.

LEMON: I'm not mad at here because I think many people had contribute...

CONWAY: But this whole idea trying...

LEMON: I mean, but what's the difference though? I understand that.

CONWAY: Trump is its own lane. It's called the lane.

LEMON: Yeah.

CONWAY: I think he's going to start the lane...

LEMON: He's going to make a lot of money as well, yeah. OK. So listen, what if he does? What if he's got this big national lead? But what if he does lose to Ted Cruz in Iowa, Matt? Do you think that that could happen?

LEWIS: I absolutely think Ted Cruz will win the Iowa caucuses and then we go to New Hampshire and I think somebody who's not Ted Cruz will win in New Hampshire.

It could be Donald Trump. He's up big there but it might not be. It could be Marco Rubio. It could be Chris Christie, even and if that happens then all of a sudden -- and by the way it's entirely plausible that Cruz wins Iowa, I think that's likely and then if somebody other than Trump wins in New Hampshire then Trump is now 0 for 2. Then the Barbara Walters question comes into focus.

A Donald Trump who is built his entire campaign on the premise that he is a winner will have lost the first two and arguably the most important primaries in the Republican nomination in that contest that what if -- does he just collapse like a house of cards?

CONWAY: And so more with Jeb Bush, he's at 3 percent. Why is he in the race now and why would he still be in the race after that under that premise?


LEMON: Well, and because he hasn't built, as he said, his whole campaign on being a winner and touting polls.

CONWAY: A year ago we were on the show talking about how he's the prohibitive favorite? He's up by 40 points. He's now the only one who can beat Hillary Clinton, shock and awe. Jeb Bush...

LEMON: Jeb Bush that -- what are you talking about?

CONWAY: You know, and explaining to this over the year ago...

LEMON: Yeah, but that's a year ago. We are in a different place now Kellyanne, come on.

CONWAY: Yeah, I know. I'm happy about it.

LEMON: Listen.

BECKEL: Just New Hampshire just (inaudible) one point about New Hampshire.

LEMON: Yeah,

BECKEL: New Hampshire always throws a curveball into this thing after Iowa. It's happened every election that I've been involved in out there and they are not evangelical Christian based.

I think Trump probably will win in New Hampshire but it also may revive a fourth person. Three will come out of Iowa. The rest are gone with the exception of Christie.

LEMON: Yeah.

BECKEL: And if Christie gets revived in New Hampshire and comes in fourth or a close third then you've got four coming out of New Hampshire and you go to South Carolina at which point I don't think Christie got as much of a chance. But let's remember when you say where is Rubio going to win? Florida is not too far behind that.

LEMON: So when -- I mean, for how long do we have to deal with this up until the convention?

CONWAY: Possibly?

LEMON: Election day you're going to be voting for...

BECKEL: We won't have a republican nominee...

CONWAY: What happen is there's proportional delegation for a long time that means you can win a state but you can win it at 19 in the second place, person could be at 17 percent.


LEMON: Exactly.

CONWAY: Proportional delegation means you both pick up those when it becomes win or take off.

LEWIS: And that's the problem -- that's the problem for Ted Cruz, by the way. That's one of the big potential problems for Ted Cruz is that he's really great in those FCC primary states in the south -- right exactly, but he may not get that many delegates. So it's possible that Cruz...

CONWAY: Or he may.

LEWIS: He might do but he might do OK, but it's possible that Cruz could have all this momentum and be wracking up early victories and not really be accumulating that many delegates.


BECKEL: I didn't answer to go to north. I didn't answer to go north to places like Michigan and Wisconsin.

LEMON: I did not even get to...

BECKEL: And they're winner take all states.

LEMON: I did not even get to the Twitter wars and I thought it used to just be celebrities and now people is running for president are fighting on Twitter. What does this world come to?

Thank you and happy -- have a great weekend. Thanks everyone. If I don't see you guys, Merry Christmas. When we come right back, the Trump-Putin mutual admiration society. Why they're putting their usual tough talk aside and singing each other's praises?


LEMON: Donald Trumps likes to say that he would get along very well with Vladimir Putin and apparently the feeling is mutual. Asked about Trump this week, Putin said this quote, "He is a bright and talented person without any doubt he is the absolute leader in the presidential debates, as we see."

So, what is behind the Putin-Trump bromance? Joining me now is Former State Department Senior Adviser Christian Whiton and Former KGB General Oleg Kalugin. Thank you both gentlemen for joining us. Appreciate you have coming on tonight.

First, I want you to listen to how Donald Trump responded. This was on "Morning Joe" today to the nice words from President Putin.


MIKA BRZEZINSKI, "MORNING JOE" CO-HOST: Do you like Vladimir Putin's comments about you?

TRUMP: Sure. When people call you brilliant it's always good especially when the person heads up Russia.


JOE SCARBOROUGH, "MORNING JOE" HOST: Well, I mean, also it's a person that kills journalists, political opponents and invades countries obviously that would be a concern, would it not?


TRUMP: He's running his country and at least he's a leader, you know, unlike what we have in this country.

SCARBOROUGH: But, again, he kills journalists that don't agree with him.

TRUMP: Well, I think our country does plenty of killing also, Joe, so, you know.

SCARBOROUGH: What do you mean by that?

TRUMP: There's a lot of stupidity going on in the world right now, Joe. A lot of killing going on, a lot of stupidity and that's the way it is but you didn't ask me the question, you asked me a different question, so that's fine.

SCARBOROUGH: I'm confused. So, I mean, you obviously condemn Vladimir Putin killing journalists and political opponents, right?

TRUMP: Oh, sure, absolutely. SCARBOROUGH: Yeah.


LEMON: Christian, what's your reaction to that?

CHRISTIAN WHITON, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT SENIOR ADVISER: I'm glad Donald Trump is now on record that he's against killing journalists. It's very untoward for an American president to strike moral equivalence between Vladimir Putin the strongman in Russia and other and, you know, our own leader or someone like that.

You know, there's a real problem beyond the comedy of this and that is Putin sees Trump as putty in his hands. Putin has had great luck with the past to president.

George Bush thought he saw Putin's soul. He thought he was Putin's friend and that would change Putin's behavior that people Georgia learned that was not the case and then President Obama thought he could change Russia's calculation of its national interest by changing our own diplomatic tone, that didn't work as the people of Ukraine can attest.

Putin is great at manipulating presidents and he sees Donald Trumps and Donald Trump's ego and he knows he can stroke that and manipulate that.

LEMON: Well, speaking Oleg Kalugin, you were a high ranking KGB officer in Russia, in fact the youngest KGB general in Soviet history and you know, Vladimir Putin very well. What is he up to flattering Donald Trump?

OLEG KALUGIN, FORMER KGB GENERAL: Well, I would not say I know him quite well, actually, when I worked in St. Petersburg, Leningrad at the time, as a (inaudible) in charge of hundreds of KGB officers, Putin was one of them but I barely remember him.

He was just low-ranking guy and I recall the former mayor of St. Petersburg who -- and until he sub who was a Russian reformers, I mean, reform minded guy. He asked me Oleg, could you name someone from the KGB I could be in touch with and I mentioned a couple of guys and it's too high, he said not highly placed. I need someone small. I so I don't -- cannot name anyone.

And then he himself -- the mayor of St. Petersburg picked up his student from the law School of Leningrad University, name of Vladimir Putin. And Putin proved to be a very effective manager. At that time Russia was in trouble with food supplies actually.

LEMON: So what do you think he's up to? What do you think he's up to? Does he know very well what he's doing when he compliments Donald Trump in a U.S. presidential race at this point?

KALUGIN: Well, I think Putin is smart enough to praise those who he believes may become leaders of the country and I think they are of more or less the same mind-set in my view. I do not -- I actually -- I believe I had met Trump many years ago in New York and I spoke something about Russia and he was bored and left the, you know, but that I may be wrong.


KALUGIN: But anyway, Putin as I say, he is a guy who has been, well, very effective, for taking advantage of high oil prices and his own, I would say, resolute, I mean decisive manner of dealing with his friends and enemies.


KALUGIN: And as mentioned before, well, those who would not agree may just get out of his life.

LEMON: If I met you at a cocktail party or dinner party you would be the guy I'd be talking to all night to get all of these stories because they're fascinating.

Well, Christian, you know, the comments from both men have gotten a lot of reaction. Mitt Romney tweeted this today. He said, "An important distinction, thug Putin kills journalists and opponents, our presidents kill terrorists and enemy combatants."

So do you think that Donald Trump understands how ruthless Putin's Russia really is? He has to.

KALUGIN: Well, it's a matter of...

WHITON: I think so but I'm not really sure because it would be as if, you know, you were endorsed by hate group of the United States. You can actually reject those and should reject those endorsements.

The fact that Donald Trump didn't do that, he previously going to before today's kind words for Putin he previously gave Putin an A rating when it came to discussing him. And again, you know, comparing him unfavorably to President Obama, I'm a big critic of President Obama, but I -- it's just looks terrible I think for a presidential candidate.

It's wrong but it also looks terrible to say that a foreign dictator is better. You know, Putin, why is he so popular? Why is he a winner? Donald Trump should ask that. It's not just killing journalists like the host of that show this morning asks but also encouraging the most base anti-gay sentiments of the Russian population and engaging in wars of aggression.

LEMON: I have to say that you put up -- you just put up the full screen. This is what you wrote today. This is for an op-ed but anyway, you ended by saying, "It is a fancied-up version of a con man looking for his mask, talking."

[21:20:04] Yeah. So I'm looking for his mark -- sorry. Looking for his mark.

WHITON: Yeah. LEMON: So, I mean, do you -- you're saying he's trying to manipulate that and if you could put it up both of you can read it but he's trying to manipulate Donald Trump.

WHITON: I think so. You know, you look at Trump and you see someone actually is not great at calculating American national interests.

He said it's great for Putin to be. He said it's wonderful for Putin to be in Syria because Putin is fighting ISIS. Well, everyone now knows, who watches T.V., that Putin is not in Syria to fight ISIS, he's there to back up aside Assad and fight Assad's other opponents including people who way back, whom the Turks back.

So I think he see someone you can manipulate. If you look also at the way that Putin deals with journalists that people who challenge him get assaulted but it's really quite easy actually just if you suffer Trumps ranting patiently then he'll love you, you know.

So you can, this is someone who it's easy to manipulate and that's something that Putin was probably trained by -- trained about very well as a young KGB officer.

LEMON: So Oleg, do you think this is real, then? One would wonder why even go there? Why, you know, each guy would be attracted to each other to complimenting each other at this point?

KALUGIN: Well, Putin is a smart guy and so his -- he's American guest, I believe they have something of common in terms of their mind- sets. I may be wrong but that's my impression as I watch television and read the stuff. And probably they do like each other and so well, it's a matter of taste.

LEMON: Yeah, it's certainly interesting, very interesting campaign season. Thank you, gentlemen, have a good one. Happy holidays to you.

When we come right back, the Muslim teacher who says she lost her job for talking about Islam in class and for showing a Malala video is Islamophobia out of control? We'll talk about it.



LEMON: A high school history teacher in New Jersey is suing the school district claiming she was fired for talking about Islam in class and showing students a video of Malala Yousafzai, the Muslim teenager who won the Nobel Peace Prize.

So joining me now, that teacher Sireen Hashem and her attorney Omar Mohammedi. Thank you for joining us. I said it right?


LEMON: All right, yeah, thank you very much. So you were one of several teachers to show this film, right of the Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai?

Why did you decide to show this video?

HASHEM: It's -- the story is not about the video. First of all, it's not my fault, its Jon Stewart, "The Daily Show," because I love him.

One of my student's just see Jon always sent me links to all his show. So I listened to it, the teacher was showing it, she sent me the link and for me as a high school teacher it will be -- she's a role model for all my students.

LEMON: Yeah, but someone had shown the video before you, right?

HASHEM: Yes, he did it before me.

LEMON: Who wasn't Muslim, right? And there was no problem. OK, but let me show. I wanted to play a clip of what you showed in class. Here it is.


MALALA YOUSAFZAI, ACTIVIST: And I used to think that the Taliban would come and he would just kill me, but then I said if he comes, what would you do, Malala?

Then I would reply to myself that Malalal just take a shoe and hit him but then I said -- but then I said if you hit a Talib with your shoe then there would be no difference between you and the Talib, you must not treat others that much with cruelty and that much harshly, you must fight others, but through peace and through dialogue and through education.

Then I said I'll tell him how important education is and that I even want education for your children as well. And I will tell him that's what I want to tell you, now do what you want.


LEMON: So what was the objection to that?

HASHEM: The objection that the administration called me comes right now and they said parents complained that this Muslim teacher is bringing too much from her own culture. And I was asked to stop doing current events for the rest of the year.

The story is not about the current event, it's -- the story is about how this administration handle that issue, handled it beyond instead of discussing it with one or two parents out of 122 students I showed in different classes, if they attacked me. I was asked to be changed.

LEMON: So is it true that you were prohibited from mentioning Islam the list in your high school classes after the parents and local religious leaders complained that to school administrators? Is that correct?

HASHEM: I heard from many staff and many local people that a lot of people have been complaining about the Muslim teacher who's been bringing so many...

LEMON: What did you hear? What were the complaints?

HASHEM: That I'm bringing so much about my culture as an Islam to current event. And current event is that chosen by students but if a student has misconception, misunderstanding I explain it it's my duty as -- I'm a Muslim. I'm a Palestinian. I'm an Arab and I'm a proud American.

LEMON: Right.

HASHEM: As an American citizen, it's my duty to address and as a Muslim misunderstandings of stuff and people about Islam. Islam is a beautiful religion if people understand it well and it's my duty to explain and all I did I explained her role as a young woman.

LEMON: So that -- I guess the parents and some of the administration didn't feel that it was her duty to do that, right? How did you get -- I know it's a longer story, you went through a process but in the short time that we have explain how you got involved in this.

OMAR MOHAMMEDI, ATTORNEY FOR SIREEN HASHEM: My client called me and she said that "I would like to speak with you." She came to the office and she explained everything and I said that's discrimination.

They treated her differently from other student -- from other teachers because of who she was. She was a Palestinian. She was a Muslim, an Arab. There are other teachers who were able to show the video and which is very interesting.

[21:30:00] The video actually is very positive. It shows how Taliban -- they will not allow, you know, children who are, you know, to be able to be educated, especially -- specifically women.

LEMON: Well, she was on -- what happened to her when she was shot? She was on the bus on her way to school.

MOHAMMEDI: Exactly. This is very positive.

LEMON: So then what do you think that they felt like this was too political possibly for school or for the students and that you shouldn't be -- I'm trying to understand this.

HASHEM: The issue is if a social studies teacher, a history teacher does not bring current events, controversial which is 24 hour in the media to the classroom, who's going to do it? A Science, a math teacher?

It's my responsibility when students bring a current event to add to it, explain it. So I was treated as you're a Muslim and you should not talk about Islam. Don't mention you're Palestinian. Don't mention you're a Muslim. Don't mention you're Arabic. Don't discuss it. Don't explain it.

LEMON: Did they explain why? HASHEM: No. I mean, in the meeting, the stress I used to go through. They paged me one time to come to the main office and then a minute later they page the union representative and then as soon as you feel those two there is a conflict, there's an issue.

My heart will stop. Sometimes they will e-mail me in the middle -- while I'm teaching. I walk very nervous and instead of addressing the parents' issue they accuse me. It's always my fault, not that there's some kind of misunderstanding from the students or the parents.

LEMON: Yeah and any statement from you? You can respond. We reached out to the school, they did not respond to us and they haven't said anything but go on.

MOHAMMEDI: You know, you ask the question if this was political -- too political. It was not too political for other teachers. Why would it be too political for a teacher that it happened to be a Muslim?

LEMON: Did you ask the students? I understand that as a student that many parents complaints when you asked the students to compare John Brown's actions at Harper's Ferry, right?

HASHEM: That was...

LEMON: To Osama bin Laden's actions on September 11, right. That's according to the lawsuit that frequently share -- and that's frequently shared on blogs, online database, U.S. history teachers. This was in an assignment to teach student, correct?

HASHEM: If that's a document-based question it's called "What caused the civil war?" given by the school. 12 years history teacher taught the same DBQ and the background essay of the DBQ it compares September 11 to civil war. But I never -- the student accused me that I compared him.

Student wrote some question about September 11, there were babies old, some of them that were not even born and I explain it but the kids raised the question. That's what the parents accuse me but that's not what I did.

LEMON: How has this affected your life and your family?

HASHEM: It's really been so stressful. The last day of Ramadan which is I was just getting up in the morning, preparing for Eid the next day and an FBI knocking in my door. It was -- I mean, July 17 was one of the hardest day in my life.

I spent my holiday I could not talk to my family overseas, I spent it crying, upset. I've been stressed.

LEMON: Why did the FBI come?

MOHAMMEDI: That the issue -- I think the school wants -- did not -- was not enough for them to dismiss her, Miss Sireen Hashem. What they did, they went and they called the FBI on her. HASHEM: Accused me of being a terrorist.

MOHAMMEDI: And that's, you know...

LEMON: Well that's -- and again, according, the school has not responded so according to you the FBI -- and is it documented that the FBI accused you of being -- you say they accused.

HASHEM: They said you were fired from the school and you went to the board meeting and there's a students put in his Facebook that you're a Palestinian terrorist and the school did not even discuss it with the students or anything. I was the one who was punished and accused and investigated over and over about my religion and my family and my history.

LEMON: We would love to hear from the school and the school district on this to get their side of the story. And, you know, we wish you well.

MOHAMMEDI: Don, I just want to let mention something. You know the clock boy that he made the clock and he was suspended. And he was arrested. Then there is a student who posted to Facebook about the teacher calling her a terrorist, that other student should be afraid of her, nothing happened to her. Instead, the teacher was dismissed.

LEMON: Yeah, I do have to say to you, and these cases are different. The clock that young man accused of the clock thing is different and in some cases, to be honest, it's a bit nebulous. This is a different story if all of the information shakes out the way you said it.

There are two different cases but, again, we want to bring light to what is happening to Muslim Americans in this country but we much take each particular case on its own merits.

MOHAMMEDI: But I just...

LEMON: I appreciate you joining us. I'm out of time but I thank you guys so much.

MOHAMMEDI: All right, thank you.

LEMON: And please come back. Thank you so much.

Up next, reaction to the Syrian's case plus the Islamic homework assignment that led to the closing of an entire Virginia school district today.



LEMON: Schools in Augusta County, Virginia were closed today. It stems from the backlash over an Islamic homework assignment in a high school geography class that some parents feel is an attempt to promote the Islamic faith. So joining me is now is Imam Abdullah Antepli of Duke University, Legal Analyst Mel Robbins and Buck Sexton, National Security Editor at the Blaze. Good to have you all of you.

So Imam, you know, we're going to get to that but first I want you to talk about a Syrian story here. Does it sound like she was treated fairly? And maybe I have a different perspective because as I'm getting responses, people they're saying religion should be kept out of schools, public schools, I went to a catholic school so everything was based in religion but in a public school do you think she was treated fairly?

IMAM ABDULLAH ANTEPLI, IMAM, DUKE UNIVERSITY: It doesn't sounds like a fair story. Of course we shouldn't jump into conclusion and look and wait to hear the school side of the story but I'm not at all surprised.

I think for so long, especially in the last couple of months we have been feeding and nurturing fear and fueling the fire of the fear culture and scare culture on Islam and Muslims. You know, he doesn't reveal the best of anybody.

LEMON: Her story started in 2013 though, so I mean, you can't base it on the current political cycle. This started in 2013 for her.

ANTEPLI: I think this kind of irresponsible coverage of Islam and Muslims and the fear culture has been increasingly going on since 9/11 and when people are scared the common sense goes out of the window.

People are not able to distinguish Malala from Osama bin Laden. But again, as you responsibly have been covering, we have to wait and see if there will be a formal investigation and we should hear also the version of the story that the school administration will come up with.


LEMON: Yeah, so now, I wish we could have the school commander but the school is not responding. Now, did you hear any reason why she should have been fired?



LEMON: Mel Robbins.

MEL ROBBINS, CNN COMMENTATOR AND LEGAL ANALYST: Yeah. I hear any reason why she should be fired. And, you know, I don't know the specifics of the case, Don, but I'm sitting here kind of floored only because the story of Malala, somebody who has won the Nobel Peace Prize named The Time Person of the Year.

There was in -- my son's fourth grade public school, they had something called a wax museum where kids could be a historical figure to teach other people about somebody that inspired them, three girls dressed up as Malala in fourth grade. Nobody had a problem with it. Why? Well probably because it wasn't a Muslim teacher. So I do think this smells funny in terms of the facts, and I think that it would be a very different outcome if the teacher wasn't Muslim.

LEMON: Well she said that was the teacher who wasn't Muslim who showed the video the same video just before her and it was not a problem. And the teacher actually suggest ...

ROBBINS: So than that in and of itself to me is a piece of fact, Don, that is really troubling. But I don't know all the facts in the case, I don't know the other issues that people were complaining about. So beyond just the Malala issue, I can't comment.

LEMON: All right. I'm talk to Buck Sexton now. Buck, what's your opinion in the proper role in teaching Islam in the Middle East in the classroom especially, you know, a civic social studies class?

BUCK SEXTON: Look, I think it's essential to understand as much as you can about all these issues. I'm somebody who is studying Arabic, before 9/11 I was studying in the Middle East in college before this became a much more prominent field of study. And so, I think that it's essential that at a young age, students have some sense of what's going on in this part of the world that is going to be very important for the foreseeable future in terms of U.S. foreign policy, U.S. strategic relationships really across the globe. And so, I think that it should be taught.

I do think thought there are tremendous sensitivities in the classroom whenever we're discussing religion -- I mean, there has been a concerted effort to try to push Christianity out of classrooms and public schools for some time now. And so, I think there's a sensitively apart from the heightened sense ...

LEMON: But you can't say prayers in schools.

SEXTON: Right, exactly. You can't say prayer in school and also right now there's a heightened sense of what's going on with Islam and there's always debates about Islamophobia. But even underneath that, there's a layer of you can't say a prayer before a football match now in school, people will bring lawsuits about that.

So when you have students, for example, doing something like writing out the profession of faith which is central to being a Muslim, there going to be some parents who react to that understandably and perhaps overreact as what we saw in this case that shouldn't be shutting down the school.

LEMON: Let's explain it. I mean because this is in Augusta County, Virginia. All the schools in the county were shut down today over threats called in after a world geography class was given a home work assignment that involved writing the Shahada, the Islamic statement of faith in Arabic calligraphy. The assignment was about learning the complexity of calligraphy, so what do you think Buck?

SEXTON: Well, not where I would start. Again, if they're really going to learn about Islam, I'm not sure that having them sort of replicate this calligraphy is a good teaching plan. But I'm not trying to be critique of the teaching method here.

In our current school system, the way that it works is that anything that even has a hint of being some sort endorsement of religion causes problems for people.

LEMON: Yeah.

SEXTON: And so when you see this, I understand immediately, a lot of people want to jump to Islamophobia but other people will point out that if you had students sitting there and you have them all recite the Our Father or the Hail Mary, that would be a problem. And this doesn't seem to be that distinct from that despite the fact that there's some sort of cultural learning process going on around it.

So I understand the parents being upset. I don't think they need to shut down all the schools over it.

LEMON: Go ahead Imam, what do you think?

ANTEPLI: Well, during a normal situation, during normal days, this shouldn't be an issue at all. Even the Shahada, the declaration of the faith, the whole assignment is about the calligraphy, it's the beauty. Their assignment is telling and teaching the world of Islam, Islamic history, Islamic civilization through the language of arts. What other better way than trying to understand these complex realities through the prism, through the lenses of art?

But unfortunately we are not going through normal days. We are not going through usual days. That anything and everything about Islam and Muslims it brings fear, it brings tension. I think this is a prime example of how we have to really try to calm the tension about the realities around Islam and Muslims in our society and we should avoid and silence those political religious leaders, civic leaders, who are just basically fueling the fire by irresponsible statements.

LEMON: Mel, what do you think?

ROBBINS: You know, interestingly, Don, I agree with both Imam and Buck. Buck said it really well, there's a lot of sensitivity around issues any related to the teaching of religion in public schools.

[21:45:03] However, he is right. It's one of the most important topics that kids should be discussing and learning about in a social studies or a world geography class. They studied Christianity. They studied Judaism. They were about to study Hindu, they were about to study Buddhism. There was no uproar until they were writing out calligraphy.

And let's make it clear, the schools were not shut down because of an assignment, Don. The schools were shut down because they received such threats that were so scary to the school that the school felt that it was necessary that threats directed at the geography class be taken seriously.

And so, I believe personally that world religion should be taught. I think it's fundamental in this day and age for understanding, for people to understand the basic tentaments of world religions. That's number one.

Number two, I do think that we need to approach it with sensitivity and having it be an expression of faith was something that would anger a lot of people. The school responded, Don, they said okay, we get it, next time we do calligraphy it won't be a direct statement of faith. That wasn't enough.

LEMON: Go ahead, Buck.

ROBBINS: There were people that were so angry, Don, that it was the anger, the vitriol, the ignorance and the threats of violence that shut down the school, not a state homework assignment.

SEXTON: Shutting down schools is something that happens far too easily. We've seen this earlier in the week ...

LEMON: Not in New York City.

SEXTON: ... with -- well...


SEXTON: ... we've got schools more than 600,000 involved in that schools and they shutdown. I read that letter -- I mean, it was preposterous. This was like something it was put together by a bunch of teenagers who were trying to shut down the school system.

So, yes, I know there are some violent threats or some things that were said but we need to stop allowing for a hecklers, we need to stop allowing people to say something and all of suddenly, no one can go to school anymore. Everyone is so terrified and afraid. This is something the schools need to get a grip and identify what is a real threat and what's going to actually there's something they can ignore.

LEMON: Thank you, everyone. I appreciate it.

When we come right back, is political correctness out of control at Harvard? I'm going to talk to the student who says the school is teaching the wrong lesson with the Holiday Placemat for social justice.



LEMON: Has Harvard gone overboard with political correctness? The school distributed what it calls the Holiday Placemat for social justice. This is a quick reference guide for students on how to talk to the family and friends about race and justice at holiday dinner tables.

So joining me is Idrees Kahloon, that's right, a student who wrote about it for Harvard's publication "The Crimson." Good evening to you sir, are you doing OK?


LEMON: So what did you think when you saw the social justice placemat - I mean, how did this come to your attention?

KAHLOON: Well, I received an e-mail that basically showed that the Office for Equity Diversity and Inclusion had published a placemat that told students what they should be saying to family members who might disagree with them when they went home for the holidays. So, this covered topics from Yale to the Black Lives Matter Movement, to -- even the Syrian refugees.

And so, I didn't think that the university should be in the business for telling students what to think about those issues and that they should come to that consensus on their own.

LEMON: OK. For those who haven't seen this placemat, let's take a close to look at it. So here is some of the topics that they include. The topics included Islamaphobia and refugees, black murders in the street, house master title change at Harvard and Yale student activism. So for black murders in the street, the hypothetical family question, is why did they just listen -- didn't they just listen or don't they just listen to the officer? If they had just obeyed the law, this wouldn't have happened.

And the suggested answer is this.

So, do you think the response would be the same if it were a white person being pulled over? In many incidents the result is a death of a black body in the street. These victims are not breaking the law and are unarmed. Then it goes on to give some facts about the Tamir Rice case.

So, what do you think Idrees?

KAHLOON: Well, I think that -- so first of all, I don't think people who have had issues with the Black Lives Matter Movement would frame it that way. I don't think that a lot of them will say, why don't these black people just listen to the officers?

And I think the greater point here is that, you know, I'd personally identify as a liberal. And so, I am closer to what the placemat actually wrote. I just think that the college shouldn't have distributed its position, its endorsed position to students while they were talking about it in the dining halls.

LEMON: OK. The placemat also suggests this, that the students should advocate that the U.S. let in Syrian refugees in the name of social justice. Many people believe that but a lot of people don't -- or are all Harvard students expected to the whole one point of view on this particular subject?

KAHLOON: Well, I think that for the Syrian refugee questions in particularly, this is a very complex issue. We have, you know, people who are rightly concerned, perhaps, in their mind, that there are risks of terrorism after what happened in San Bernardino and after what happened in Paris. And I'm a Muslim myself, I think that Islamophobia is an issue that's really close to me. And I think that some of the arguments made about Syrian refugees are in factor in Islamaphobia.

But once again, the point I think that needs to be made is that, the university shouldn't be in a business of establishing its preferred view on Syrian refugees and distributing this to students.

LEMON: So what is going on on college campuses now? You know, we hear what's happening at different college campuses about safe spaces, about freedom of speech. What is happening?

KAHLOON: Well, I think it's really concerning. I think you have students who are saying that they are very uncomfortable with opposing views and that they want the university to step in place and to basically protect them. There is this new conjured up right that you have the right to not be offended and you have the right to not be uncomfortable. And to me, that stands in direct opposition to everything that the American university stands for. It's about a marketplace of ideas.

[21:55:00] It's about having tough conversations and coming through a consensus. Especially for universities where these types of situations have occurred like Harvard and Yale and Princeton, if these universities are producing the next leaders of the world, they should be expected to think for themselves.

LEMON: Idrees Kahloon, thank you. I really appreciate it, sir.

So back, let's get some reaction to this. When we -- I should say because Mel is back and Buck is back as well. The administrators at Harvard did apologize for this, but -- what's left to say it? Young men said it all. First Mel, go ahead.

ROBBINS: You know, I think Buck and I are going to agree for the first time ever on national television on something. I think this is outrageous frankly. You've got a university under the freshman dean's office handing out a script to students as to what they should say on four of the hottest social political topics, number one and number two. Aren't you supposed to be promoting diversity of idea, diversity of thought, the point is not to come to consensus but to be able to talk about ideas?

LEMON: Get ready to get attack Mel because I have said this forever about what's happening on college campuses and people aren't -- they attack you. I mean, Buck, quickly, I just have this couple of seconds.

SEXTON: This whole this preposterous. Harvard is handing out left wing propaganda. That students have take up. We just heard from a Harvard student, he doesn't need eighth grade reading level talking points handed to ...

LEMON: And he's a liberal and Muslim.

SEXTON: The guy is making plenty of sense to me saying things that at least were making cold and arguments. Harvard is sending him home with talking points. They need a spoon to feed their kids.

ROBBINS: And why are you talking about this at a family dinner, right? I mean, don't you just gossip about family when you get together at the holidays? So last what you want to do is talk about ...

SEXTON: No, everybody talks about social justice...

LEMON: This is what we do it at ours. We do this. We sit around with our stomachs and god, my gosh we eat too much. Thank you guys. Happy holidays if I don't see you. We'll be right back.