Debbie Almontaser dreamed of starting a public school like no other in New York City. Children of Arab descent would join students of other ethnicities, learning Arabic together. By graduation, they would be fluent in the language and groomed for the country's elite colleges. They would be ready, in Almontaser's words, to become "ambassadors of peace and hope."
Things have not gone according to plan. Only one-fifth of the 60 students at the Khalil Gibran International Academy are Arab-American. Since the school opened in New York last fall, children have been suspended for carrying weapons, repeatedly gotten into fights and taunted an Arabic teacher by calling her a "terrorist," staff members and students said in interviews.
The academy's troubles reach well beyond its cramped corridors in the Boerum Hill area of Brooklyn, New York. The school's creation provoked a controversy so incendiary that Almontaser stepped down as the founding principal just weeks before classes began last September. Almontaser, a teacher by training and an activist who had carefully built ties with Christians and Jews, said she was forced to resign by the mayor's office following a campaign that pitted her against a chorus of critics who claimed she had a militant Islamic agenda.
In newspaper articles and Internet postings, on television and talk radio, Almontaser was branded a "radical," a "jihadist" and a "9/11 denier." She stood accused of harboring unpatriotic leanings and of secretly planning to proselytize her students. Despite Almontaser's longstanding reputation as a Muslim moderate, her critics quickly succeeded in recasting her image.
How dare we question the motives of Debbie Almontaser and her plans for the school.
How dare we question her for defending shirts that were for sale with the wording "Intifada NYC" written on them.
When asked about the slogan on the these T-shirts, Almontaser broke her self-imposed silence and downplayed its significance. "The word [intifada] basically means "shaking off." That is the root word if you look it up in Arabic. I understand it is developing a negative connotation due to the uprising in the Palestinian-Israeli areas. I don't believe the intention is to have any of that kind of [violence] in New York City. I think it's pretty much an opportunity for girls to express that they are part of New York City society . . . and shaking off oppression."
"Shaking off oppression" from NYC? Get real.
Almontaser denies that Arab Muslims carried out the 9/11 atrocities, telling sixth-graders she taught: "I don't recognize the people who committed the attacks as either Arabs or Muslims."
Almontaser likened the American response to 9/11 to that of a totalitarian regime: "Right here in this community ...we stated to see people literally disappearing. ... The police came and took them in the middle of the night and we were, like, ‘What is going on?'"
If Almontaser doesn't believe Arab Muslims are responsible for 9/11 then this chick doesn't deserve to have her "Educator Dream" come true. Just sayin....
For a detailed background on the school and this "moderate muslim" Debbie Almontaser see Daniel Pipe's On New Yorks Khalil Gibran International Academy. Mr. Pipes has been quoted extensively in the Herald Tribune's article.
Cross-posted at MPJ