Campus Watch Research
On New York's "Khalil Gibran International Academy"
by Daniel Pipes
Editor's Note: The most recent updates to this ongoing blog post appear at the top. Scroll down to the beginning for the initial post and earlier updates.
May 29, 2008 update: I have just received a report on Almontaser's statements in "The High Schools" session at the "Academic Freedom in the Age of Permanent Warfare Conference" that took place on April 3, 2008, hosted by New York University's Tamiment Library and Frederic Ewen Academic Freedom Center. At it, Almontaser referred to Campus Watch and facetiously called me "the person who loves me the most." She claimed that I, along with PipelineNews.org and David Horowitz, quote her out of context and use a broad brush for guilt by association. "[They believe] a jihad school grows in Brooklyn [and] describe an Islamist agenda. … [They believe] Debbie does da‘wa." In response, she countered: "If you know me, you'll know I'm extremely fashionable. I wear extravagant jewelry and wear the hijab in different styles."
May 22, 2008 update: More evidence of how wretchedly unsuited Almontaser would have been to head a New York City public school came out in a public talk she gave some days ago at the City University of New York. Phil Orenstein attended the event and wrote it up at "Fantasizing ‘The New McCarthyism'."
After the talk, Orenstein went over to Almontaser and spoke to her in private:
Orenstein also comments on Almontaster's seeming obsession with me:
To which, he comments:
May 17, 2008 update: Three members of Stop the Madrassa Coalition, Sara Springer, Irene Alter and Pamela Hall, have brought a libel case against Almontaser on the grounds that Almontaser defamed them in claiming that the coalition "stalked" her.
May 5, 2008 update: The Investigative Project on Terrorism takes a close look today at Almontaser's defense of CAIR (see the May 2, 2008 update, above) and concludes: "If Ms. Almontaser is somehow trying to rebuild her credibility by reaching out to CAIR, she has made a grave error. If there was any doubt before that Ms. Almontaser was unfit to lead a public school teaching America's children, she has put that to rest by her embrace of America's foremost Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas-linked front group."
May 2, 2008 update: Adam Brodsky responds to the Elliott article in the New York Post:
Apr. 29, 2008 update: I mentioned yesterday that the Elliott article is "overtly sympathetic to Almontaser"; Sara Springer of Stop the Madrassa Coalition documents this bias today in a 2,400-word analysis at "Setting the Record Straight with the NY Times."
Apr. 28, 2008 update: The New York Times has published today a nearly 4,500-word article, "Her Dream, Branded as a Threat" by Andrea Elliott, plus a set of video interviews, "Battle Over a Brooklyn School," that looks in depth at the school and the issues it raises. While overtly sympathetic to Almontaser (note the article's title), Elliott fairly represented the views of school critics, including myself. She also provides some new pieces of information:
Apr. 17, 2008 update: Moving KGIA to P.S. 287 in Fort Greene appears to one advocate, Mona Eldahry of Arab Women Active in the Arts and Media (AWAAM), to amount to a death sentence for the school. First, the move takes the school out of an Arabic-speaking neighborhood and "It's best for a dual language school to be in a neighborhood where the language taught is spoken." Second, the administration's having abandoned Almontaser means that the DoE is pandering to its critics, which Eldanry deems a "crime." Keeping KGIA in its current location and funding it more generously would, Eldahry concedes, "right the wrong" of Almontaser's ouster.
Apr. 11, 2008 update bis: Stephen Schwartz reports in "CAIR vs. the NYPD" The Wahhabi lobby attacks" that Almontaser's ties to CAIR run significantly deeper than was known before.
The issue concerns an exemplary report issued in 2007 by the New York Police Department (NYPD), Radicalization in the West: The Home-Grown Threat, that anchored terrorism in what it called the "jihadi-Salafi" ideology. The analysis, naturally, met with a hostile reception from CAIR. Schwartz reveals that it and other organizations issued a statement on November 23, 2007, in the name of the "Muslim community," protesting the report and calling on New York police commissioner Raymond W. Kelly to rescind and correct it, and also to commit to working with Islamist organizations. These Wahhabi lobby activists then formulated a "Community Statement" that critiqued the report and informed the city's police what they really should do in response to Islamism. As Schwartz puts it, "The extremists would set the NYPD's overall agenda, forcing Commissioner Kelly and his personnel to work according to Wahhabi guidelines and at the Wahhabis' convenience."
Schwartz also got hold of the minutes of a meeting held in New York on March 3, when CAIR (represented by Faiza Ali, Aliya Latif, and Omar Mohammadi) met with Syed Z. Sayeed and Almontaser to prepare a detailed reply to Radicalization in the West. Schwartz then notes:
Comment: Now we have a better idea why Almontaser received a CAIR award (on which, see above, Mar. 10, 2007 update).
Apr. 11, 2008 update: The KGIA seems unable to get anything right. Rachel Monahan reports in the New York Daily News that it also suffers problems of space and control. Teachers union district representative Bob Zuckerberg says "The space there is totally unacceptable. [It's] something the Department of Education should never have allowed." Because classrooms are separated by walls that do not reach the ceiling, "The noise level is kind of high," according to Zuckerberg. "Because of the space issues, it has led to discipline and safety issues."
Parents are in a near-state of revolt. KGIA's Parent-Teacher Association President Pomposa Peña threatens that she and many other parents "are planning to transfer our kids to other schools at the end of this school year if the Department of Education continues to neglect [KGIA]." One father of a student, Muhammed Shahadat, complains that students lack access to computers in recent months and even Arabic lessons have been scaled back. (Department of Education officials acknowledge that the after-school program classes have been reduced from twice a week to once.) Shahadat added: "It's not what you'd expect of public school. A lot of parents have said that the principal lacks the experience to discipline the kids."
Apr. 5, 2008 update: KGIA finally has a new location, shoe-horned into Public School 287, on Navy Street near Flushing Avenue in Brooklyn. Trouble is, the parents of at the Vinegar Hill elementary school already there are none too happy, according to Dana Rubinstein in the Brooklyn Paper. One complained about having been "bamboozled" by the city without advance discussions. Edgardo Rivera, head of the Parent-Teacher Association at the elementary school added that "Everyone was stunned by the decision." Councilwoman Letitia James (D–Fort Greene) complained that "The city originally told stakeholders that it was just thinking about placing Khalil Gibran there, and then they come back and say it's a done deal." To which Melody Meyer, the beleagured DOE spokeswoman replied that "The parent leaders have been a part of the process from the beginning."
Apr. 4, 2008 update: Stop the Madrassa Community Coalition did some research into the AERA letter signatories and found that they include "a number of well- known former leaders of extremist Leftist organizations." It points specifically to William Ayers, the Weather Underground member personally involved with a number of terrorist incidents in the 1970s, and Michael Klonsky, founder and chairman of the pro-Maoist "Communist Party, Marxist-Leninist."
Apr. 3, 2008 update: The annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association inspired an open letter signed by thirty educaters to New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein "in Support of the Khalil Gibran International Academy and Principal Debbie Almontaser." They pull no punches:
One of the letter's signatories, Michael Klonsky, explained the genesis of the letter at the AERA conference. "There was so much support among the leading educators around the country, we thought we should do something."
Comments: (1) More of that name-calling. Can't the Left ever formulate a positive argument anymore? (2) KGIA and Almontaser are turning into a national cause celèbre.
Mar. 21, 2008 update: Mary Frost reports in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle that Almontaser will continue her efforts to become principal of KGIA.
Mar. 20, 2008 update: In a complex legal development the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today that Almontaser, in the words of the Associated Press, "cannot immediately force New York City to give her another shot at getting her job back. … But Debbie Almontaser may still pursue the matter at a trial." The fast track denied her, the case could take years to resolve. Having lost her appeal for immediate reconsideration by the DOE, everything stays the way it is. Almontaser could still win the case; or New York City could settle it with her.
Mar. 3, 2008 update: Almontaser and her supporters just won't give up, but keep ratcheting up the pressure for her return. Something called Riptide Communications posted a press release today, "Arab-American Educator Charges NYC Department of Education with Discrimination," that indicates she "filed an amended complaint in her federal lawsuit and a charge with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, both of which assert that Department of Education (DOE) officials discriminated against her on the basis of race, religion, and national origin." To be more specific, says her lawyer, Alan Levine:
That's sure not mincing words. Also of note, the release seems to blame half of Almontaser's predicament on this entry:
Feb. 28, 2008 update: Yet more troubles – no one wants KGIA. "Khalil Academy's plans to inhabit P.S. 287 met with resistance," write Rachel Monahan and Carrie Melago in the New York Daily News. The DOE has ideas of moving it to Public School 287 in the Fort Greene are next academic year but parents from the school have made known their opposition to the school.
Feb. 27, 2008 update: KGIA has not even been open a full half year and it already seems to be sinking, according to Ariel Siegel, "Problems persist at city Arabic school" in Washington Square News of New York University. The troubles are several-fold:
Also, the DOE has indicated that KGIA will probably move to another location with more space in September 2008.Jan. 29, 2008 update: Sara Springer of the Stop the Madrassa Coalition attended today a "Performance in Support of The Khalil Gibran International Academy," and came away with the sense that it "seemed more like a wake than a celebration."
Springer concludes that "KGIA looms as a failed experiment. It is a disaster imposed upon Brooklyn by an arrogant DOE which now maintains the effort out of sheer spite, defiant to the last that the program's critics, which now have been proven right, will not be allowed to triumph."
Jan. 17, 2008 update: Sean R. Grogan, a science teacher at KGIA, issued a statement today that includes this cry of despair:
Jan. 9, 2008 update: The KGIA has a new principal, Holly Anne Reichert, 42, and she immediately distanced herself from Almontaser's mischievous legacy by responding to a question about intifada, saying: "It's a word that connotes tremendous violent conflict, and I don't think it should be used casually, as on a T-shirt." Let's hope that this reply augurs a real change of mentality at KGIA, not just a cosmetic one for media purposes.
Nov. 26, 2007 update: Chuck Bennett of the New York Post reports in "Class ‘clown': Arab school extremists? Try a mime," about the personal biographies of some of the school's teachers. He starts with this observation: "Critics of the Khalil Gibran International Academy feared the new Brooklyn school would become an Islamic extremist indoctrination center. But a review of the professional work histories of the staff reveals little to suggest anything so nefarious."
Then Bennett gives three redacted examples of teacher backgrounds. (Redacted because the Department of Education fears legal action from the teachers union; so it provided the Post with only some details of cover letters and résumés but not names of teachers.)
Comment: This is one of the most foolish commentaries of the entire KGIA affair, for Bennett assumes that playing as a mime, loving T.S. Eliot, or mastering mathematics implies moderation. But, as I established twelve years ago in "The Western Mind of Radical Islam," it is not just possible to combine these interests with Islamism but a widespread pattern. Coincidentally, that article mentions T.S. Eliot in its first paragraph:
Need one say more? The article offers an explanation for the tie between modernity and Islamism.
Nov. 22, 2007 update: More evidence about Almontaser's affiliations: speakers at a rally on her behalf that took place Nov. 19, reports the New York Jewish Week, included not just Faiza Ali representing CAIR (see the Nov. 20, 2007 update on that) but also two other figures of note:
(For videos of the speeches at the Nov. 19 event, see http://www.awaam.org/.)
Hearing about these speakers, Jeff Wiesenfeld of Stop the Madrassa Coalition responded, "I ask the readership of The Jewish Week, now that they know who the supporters of this school are, are they happy? Are they comfortable? Does this give them confidence that [the Khalil Gibran International Academy] is one that is properly controlled and supervised?"
Nov. 20, 2007 update: "CAIR-NY Joins Rally for Ousted Arabic School Principal" headlines a press release issued today by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which reads in part:
Almontaser's complaint claims the mayor and schools chancellor engaged in a conspiracy to deny her her constitutional right of freedom of speech.
Comment: Not only did Almontaser receive an award from CAIR, the country's leading Islamist group (on which see the Mar. 10, 2007 update), but she enjoys its political support. That's yet another reason to worry about the Islamist orientation of the school she designed and once led.
Oct. 25, 2007 update: A little sleuthing finds that Almontaser donated a sizeable amount of money to the Islamist friendly Cynthia McKinney.
Oct. 17, 2007 update: In Almontaser's first public statement since her resignation, she mentions several critical writings on KGIA, including my first column on the school, "A Madrassa Grows in Brooklyn," then she goes on to assert:
In related news, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) came out in support of Almontaser's reinstatement. In addition, its press release indicates that it belongs to "Communities in Support of KGIA."
Comment: Almontaser is providing more evidence for why she should not be principal of a New York City public school, or in any other way affiliated with the educational system. First wrong fact: I never "ran" the Stop the Madrassa Coalition. It started completely independently of me in June and I joined its advisory board in August. Second wrong fact: I do not hate Arabs and Muslims and have never fostered such sentiments. I defy Almontaser to produce evidence to the contrary.
Sep. 19, 2007 update: Another distressing sign that the KGIA purpose is less to teach Americans Arabic and more to coddle Arab-Americans, from a news report about efforts to reinstate Almontaser:
Sep. 5, 2007 update: To commemorate the opening of KGIA, I published an article, "Teach Arabic or Recruit Extremists?" that looks at other public schools teaching Arabic in the United StatesStates and shows the consistent pattern of pan-Arab nationalist or Islamist recruitment.
Also today, Andrea Peyser writes at "Odd Lesson on ‘Jihad' at Arab Academy" about the views of Talib Abdur-Rashid of KGIA's advisory board, about the meaning of jihad. "Struggle," he explains. When Peyser protests that to her it means holy war, he replies, "And that's not my definition. That's a common definition - struggle on various levels." And Peyser reports that Almontaser yesterday told CNN International that she is not a terrorist, but her critics are. "To me, [they] seem more like terrorists. They're the ones who are terrorizing us."
Aug. 28, 2007 update: The "Friends of Gibran Council" (which defines itself as "an international organization with chapters in Lebanon and the United States") issued a statement today, "The Friends of Gibran Council Asks the New York City Department of Education To Cease Using Kahlil Gibran's name for the Khalil Gibran International Academy." It includes the following passages:
Aug. 27, 2007 update: The Thomas More Law Center, a Christian public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, announced that it is representing New Yorkers opposed to the opening of the KGIA in just over a week. "This proposed public school is nothing more than an incubator for the radicalization that leads to terrorism," says Richard Thompson, president of the center.
Aug. 21, 2007 update: What about the KGIA advisory board as a whole? Elizabeth Green writes in today's New York Sun:
Also, a transcript of the Aug. 13 meeting at Brooklyn's Islamic Center of Bay Ridge in support of Almontaser includes a woman from CAIR announcing that "at our office too we've been talking about this all day," meaning the Almontaser resignation. No surprise, as this has been CAIR's baby from the start.
Aug. 20, 2007 update: The Stop the Madrassa Coalition (whose advisory board I have just joined) today demanded that Talib Abdur-Rashid be dropped from the KGIA advisory board. (For the board's make-up, see the Apr. 28 entry.) A coalition spokeswoman described his efforts as "indoctrination in which they make everything Muslim- and Islamic-centric, at the expense of the rest of the world's contribution to history."
Aug. 19, 2007 update: In a mailing today, CAIR not only urges "Muslim New Yorkers and other people of conscience" to sign an AWAAM petition supporting KGIA, but it also announces its co-sponsorship of a rally tomorrow at the NYC Department of Education with the same end of showing solidarity with KGIA. Talk about the school being wrapped in the mantle of Islamists!
Aug. 18, 2007 update: Beila Rabinowitz alerts me to another Islamist feature of the KGIA's advisory board: Imam Talib Abdul-Rashid, about whom I have previously written (noting that he "belongs to the ‘National Committee to Free Imam Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin'," a convicted cop-killer), turns out to be the "resident imam" of the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood, Harlem. The MIB's logo shows a sword with the words "There is no deity but God and Muhammad is his prophet." Yet more alarming, however, is the Muslim Brethren slogan, devised by Hasan al-Banna himself, printed right on the "About us" page:
Abdul-Rashid's bio also lists that he is a member of the "N.Y.C. Dept. of Education Chancellor's Interfaith Advisory Committee to the NYC Dept. of Education," pointing to the deeper state of rot in the whole of the DOE when it comes to Islam. That this man is on the KGIA board offers further confirmation of the school's Islamist quality.Aug. 17, 2007 update: I discussed the KGIA today with New York City's former mayor, Ed Koch, and the conversation with him makes me realize that I need to be more specific when I say (as I did in the first entry of this weblog) that there needs to be "special scrutiny" of KGIA.
I do not mean by this that the advisory board (membership listed above, Apr. 28 entry) sign off on the school's activities, nor that distracted Department of Education bureaucrats nod their okay, but that there be a robust Supervisory Board special to the KGIA that intensively and hands-on reviews the school's activities. Its ranks should be made up of individuals aware of and knowledgeable about the threat of radical Islam, along the lines of the NYPD report issued just two days ago, "Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat." This is not an opportunity to display political correctness, but a test case for developing needed skills without the danger of self-inflicted harm.
Aug. 16, 2007 update: More confirmation for KGIA's Arabist/Islamist nature comes from Zein Rimawi, a founder of the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, and an organizer with the Arab Muslim American Federation. "It's like somebody spit in our face as Arabs," he said of the appointment of Danielle Salzberg, a Jewish woman, as KGIA principal. "They didn't hire an Arab principal [for] a Chinese school. It doesn't make any sense. This is no respect to our community. Where is the respect?"
Aug. 15, 2007 update: I published a third column today on the KGIA, "Stop the NYC Madrassa," focusing on the role of the "Stop the Madrassa Coalition." Also, a picture accompanying a New York Post story on the KGIA shows Danielle Salzberg opening a door to the school as women in black body coverings bring their children to her, again confirming my point about the Islamist tendencies of an Arabic-language school.
Aug. 14, 2007 update: How interesting to learn more about Danielle Salzberg, the interim KGIA principal. Elizabeth Green of the New York Sun interviewed her father, Michael Salzberg, and found out that Danielle grew up in an Orthodox Jewish household, has a bachelor's degree from New York University, then attended Columbia Teachers College, does not speak Arabic, and belongs to a Manhattan synagogue. Her father says she seemed apprehensive when the Department of Education asked her to run Khalil Gibran temporarily. He noted that his daughter's politics are far more liberal than his.
Meanwhile, the STM Coalition website documents the ways that Salzberg was presumably involved in the mistakes of KGIA thus far.
Comments: (1) This is one clever appointment by the Department of Education. (2) Will a liberal Jewish woman who does not know Arabic be the one to stymie KGIA's Arabist and Islamist impulses? Count me highly skeptical – and still opposed to this school opening in exactly three weeks.
Aug. 13, 2007 update: Abdelkader got it wrong, as her correction on the same webpage indicates. She quotes Almontaser:
For the record, I have not had any discussion about continuing with the Department of Education with anyone. As for my replacement, the Arab-American Family Support Center can make a recommendation to Chancellor Klein who then decides who to hire.
Lena Alhusseini of AAFSC also corrected the record: "The DOE decides on hiring a new principal not AAFSC."
On behalf of the AAFSC, Alhusseini professes herself "delighted" with the choice. She calls Salzberg "uniquely qualified to assume this post" because, as a senior program officer for "New Visions for Public Schools," she "had direct responsibility for supporting the Khalil Gibran planning team over the last six months." Also, Alhusseini finds that Salzberg shares AAFSC's "dedication to creating" the KGIA.
On a related subject, the Stop the Madrassa coalition has information about KGIA's scholastic materials, according to a WorldNetDaily.com report:
Comment: Predictably, the Council on Islamic Education is an Islamist organization.
Also of interest is an account from a pro-KGIA source on what happened to Almontaser and why she is no longer principal of KGIA. Here is Mona Eldahry, co-founder of AWAAM, speaking on "Democracy Now!", the interview show hosted by Amy Goodman:
I may disagree politically with Eldahry, but not with her account of what happened, even if she has mangled who I am.
Aug. 12, 2007 update: According to Rima Abdelkader, a New York-based journalist who writes at www.Arabisto.com, "the Arab-American community in New York will be holding an impromptu town hall meeting to be scheduled tomorrow[, Aug. 13,] at the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge at 6:30pm.… Discussions will include a city-wide boycott of the New York Post as well as on how the situation has been handled by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the New York Department of Education."
Abdelkader then continues with some surprising news: "Ms. Almontaser will be returning to her previous position on Monday, August 13 and KGIA will continue to be in service, according to a reliable source I spoke to earlier today. I was also told that Lena Alhusseini, head of the AAFSC, will decide on who will replace Ms. Almontaser."
Comments: (1) The Islamic Society of Bay Ridge has been recently in the news due to criticism of New York Times reporter Andrea Elliott receiving a Pulitzer Prize for her puff-piece on the society's imam, hiding the radicalized nature of this mosque.
(2) Presumably the boycott of the New York Post would be in retaliation for its hard-hitting news coverage and editorials on the Almontaser matter.
(3) "Lena Alhusseini, head of the AAFSC, will decide on who will replace Ms. Almontaser." Really, and not the Department of Education? One knew that the Arab American Family Support Center had a central role at the KGIA, but not quite this central.
Aug. 11, 2007 update: The New York Post put the Almontaser resignation on its first page with the headline "Sheik Up." America Online placed this news on its "Welcome page" and asked two questions of its readers in a large-scale but unscientific poll. As of 5 p.m. EDT today, the replies looked like this:
Unfortunately, AOL did not ask readers whether KGIA should or should not be opened on September 4, but the drift of public opinion is very clear.
"Almontaser will remain on the Department of Education payroll and be reassigned to a position not connected with the academy," reports the New York Post..
Aug. 10, 2007 update: Dhabah Almontaser has resigned as principal of the Khalil Gibran International Academy. Here are various documents, some of them assembled by Julie Bosman of the New York Times:
Almontaser sent a pugnacious letter of resignation to Klein:
Almontaser also released a milder public statement, under Education Department auspices:
Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the resignation during his weekly radio show on WABC-AM:
School Chancellor Joel Klein issued a statement:
Randi Weingarten released a statement:
In light of this news, Dov Hikind cancelled the rally scheduled for August 12. Hikind added that he hopes to convince the New York State legislature to call on the city to shut down the school before it even opens. He prefers that Arabic be taught in normal public schools. "If she got herself into trouble, imagine what the kids will do."
In other KGIA news, the initial 6th-grade class contains just 44 registered students, including 6 Arabic speakers and 1 English-language learner. Some 75 percent of students identified themselves as "black." So far, 5 teachers have been hired. Also, the Department of Education denied her request to serve "halal" meals in the school cafeteria; students wanting halal meals would have to bring them on their own. Finally, the DOE insists that the Arabic-speakers Almontaser wants to bring in to converse with students during lunch would first have to go through a background check.
Comments: (1) Its immediate cause must be the most surprising aspect of Almontaser's resignation. I offer three explanations for why the "Intifada NYC" T-shirts affected her after she'd been tied, without effect, to so many radical activities and outlandish statements in the past.
(2) Almontaser's departure from KGIA, highly welcome as it is, does not solve the more basic problem of an Arabic-language school lacking special scrutiny. To repeat what I wrote when I first took up this topic in March:
The city, in other words, can take steps to make the KGIA acceptable. Trouble is, in the statements quoted above by the mayor and school chancellor, they suggest no such steps are underway. Until and unless the city leadership changes the tone and substance of its approach to the KGIA, I shall continue to call for its not opening on September 4, 2007, for the 2007-08 school year.
Aug. 9, 2007 update: Randi Weingarten, president of the United Federation of Teachers, a union, wrote a letter to the New York Post published today in which she slams Almontaser:
In conversation with the New York Post, "Randi Rips 'Intifada' Principal," Weingarten elaborates on this letter.
Also, Assemblyman Dov Hikind has called a protest this on August 12, at 10 a.m. outside the offices of Chancellor Joel Klein, at 52 Chambers Street, in lower Manhattan, "asking for the removal of Debbie Almontaser as principal of KGIA."
Aug. 7, 2007 update: Things are heating up concerning Dhabah Almontaser.
(1) Almontaser's has retreated from her defense of the t-shirts. Under Department of Education auspices, issued a statement saying, "The word ‘intifada' is completely inappropriate as a T-shirt slogan. I regret suggesting otherwise. By minimizing the word's historical associations, I implied that I condone violence and threats of violence. That view is anathema to me."
(2) Despite this apology, calls for Almontaser's resignation or firing are coming in fast and furious:.
Assemblyman Dov Hikind: "It is an absolute outrage that she doesn't know what intifada is all about. This is not about shaking off - this is about carnage represented by blowing up pizza stores in Israel, blowing up buses."
Councilman Peter Vallone Jr.: "This woman should not be principal of any school."
A New York Post editorial, "Joel Klein's Choice":
Aug. 6, 2007 update: Relying on information from the "Stop the Madrassa Coalition," the New York Post in "City Principal Is ‘Revolting'" reports on ties between Almontaser and T-shirts with "Intifada NYC" written on them. This apparent call for a Palestinian-style uprising in the five boroughs is made available, Chuck Bennett and Jana Winter write, by an organization, Arab Women Active in Art and Media, that shares office space on Brooklyn's Third Avenue with the Saba Association of American Yemenis. Almontaser in turn is both a board member and the spokeswoman for the Saba Association.
When asked about the slogan on the these T-shirts, Almontaser broke her self-imposed silence and downplayed its significance.
While AWAAM refused comment, its co-founders, Rama Kased and Mona Eldahry, are active in al-Awda, whose main goal is to submerge Israel under a Palestinian influx.
Comments: (1) Almontaser's radical ties are deep and wide – the more one searches, the more apparent they become. (2) Exactly how are New York City's girls oppressed? (3) She probably should have remained silent, as her response cited above only aggravates the situation. The NYC Department of Education defended Almontaser, describing her link to the T-shirt as tenuous, which is true, but she now foolishly has defended the foul shirts. 4) Awaam is the colloquial Arabic pronunciation for qawwām, which translates as rebels or insurgents. And the word qawwām is written in Arabic script on the T-shirt, قوام.
Also today, John Matthies, my colleague and assistant director of Islamist Watch, is quoted in "NYC Officials Accused of Withholding Information on Arab School" wondering about KGIA's advisory board: "I don't know why all these religions are on the board. It's evenly divided among Christians, Jews, and Muslims, seemingly to allay concerns." To which Melody Meyer, spokeswoman for the city's Department of Education replied that the make-up of the advisory board had "absolutely" nothing to do with religion. "The board was chosen because they are people who could speak to the hearts and minds of the community. They were chosen based on their ability to communicate."
Comment: If you believe Meyer, I have a bridge to sell you, so you can get to the KGIA.
July 27, 2007 update: The San Diego Unified School District may have rejected Mary-Frances Stephens' allegations (see the July 2 entry), but it nonetheless had to change its practices, thereby substantiating her critique. Helen Gao writes at "Prayer OK at lunch, not classes at Carver" that "Carver Elementary's schedule will be reconfigured so students can say their required midday prayers during lunch," which is not a controversial time for praying in public American schools. In addition, the school will eliminate single-gender classes, Superintendent Carl Cohn indicated in a July 18 memo, because they have become "a serious distraction from learning rather than a vehicle to promote learning."
July 17, 2007 update: Beila Rabinowitz and William Mayer dig deeper into Dhabah Almontaser's associations at "Hamas Sympathizers Tied To Khalil Gibran International Academy?"
July 15, 2007 update: Charlestown High School in Massachusetts is one of eight schools nationally to teach Arabic during the summer months, drawing on federal funds to do so. Of course, it must have an Islamist component, which includes a session at the notorious Islamic Society of Boston, as Tracy Jan reports in the Boston Globe:
And the anti-Israel component of the curriculum also turns up, right on schedule:
Jan paraphrases Jarudi, who lived in Lebanon until the age of nine, explaining that "she has received mixed feedback from family and friends about teaching Arabic" to Americans: "They fear that I'm helping Americans train more spies. I feel quite the opposite. Anyone who learns the Arabic language inherently has to understand the culture a little bit."
July 2, 2007 update: The San Diego Unified School District investigated Mary-Frances Stephens' allegations (that religious indoctrination was taking place in Carver Elementary School and that a school aide led Muslim students in prayer) and found them unsubstantiated.
June 29, 2007 update: In a curious piece, "Zionist Organization Supports Gibran School Principal: ADL Support Could Affect School's Success!" Antoine Faisal writes in Aramica that I
Two responses: (1) I have never written the term Islamic madrassah, so this is a falsehood. (2) Faisal is correct that the Arabic term carries quite different connotations in English, minus the machine guns I did precisely mean to raise precisely the picture of "youngsters being indoctrinated in anti-Western ideology."
June 25, 2007 update: In undated story by Amanda Millner-Fairbanks of Columbia University, Almontaser says about me and others that we are "loud minority voices based on ignorance, who equate Arab with Islam. Islam is a religion. It has no culture."
My response: (1) I think that, after nearly forty years studying Islam, not to speak of the Turkish and Persian languages, I can claim to realize that not all Muslims are Arabs. (2) Declaring that "Islam is a religion. It has no culture" is nonsense. Islam is a religion that has developed a distinct culture around it. Indeed, my first book, Slave Soldiers and Islam (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1981), is an exploration of this very complex and deep topic.
June 23, 2007 update: A new organization, "Stop the Madrassa Coalition" has come into being to stymie KGIA's opening in a couple of months. It boasts a website, www.stopthemadrassa.wordpress.com, and I am pleased to see that this blog gets the show started.
June 21, 2007 update: A "Dear Principals, Parents, Staff, and Community" letter went out from Garth Harries, dated June 19 and lists the many goodies to be doled out to make the KGIA's presence palatable to unhappy parents: new equipment, a dance studio, an upgraded technology lab, 48 stolen computers replaced (quite contrary to normal DoE policy), additional storage and shelving space, more air-conditioning, and so forth.
June 8, 2007 update: In an article, "New York is hell for young Osama," Chris Reiter of Reuters decries the circumstances of Osama Al-Najjar, 16, a New Yorker. After years of being taunted as "bin Laden" and "terrorist" at school, he attempted suicide in July 2006. Along the way, Reiter mentions the KGIA in the context of a school he could have gone to and been treated better, then notes that by getting started only for sixth graders in 2007, "opens too late for Osama."
Comment: This sort of attitude suggests that the KGIA is seen not as a place to teach the Arabic language but as a shelter for Arab-Americans from bias. Its goals appear more about therapy than security.
May 22, 2007 update: I published today a second column on the Khalil Gibran International Academy, "The Travails of Brooklyn's Arabic Academy."
May 19, 2007 update: In an interview, "Almontaser speaks! Gibran school principal stares down her critics," the KGIA principal-designate is asked about me by the left-wing Brooklyn Paper and replies:
Comment: Clever reply but, as I noted in 2000 on my website, "Wilson Bishai and Annemarie Schimmel were my Arabic teachers." Neither of them were pan-Arabists or Islamists.
May 16, 2007 update: Looking at "an optional application for all 5th grade students in Brooklyn who are interested in applying to a New Middle School" titled "The New York City Department of Education 2007-2008 Middle School Application for New Brooklyn Schools Accepting 6th Graders," I note that today is the deadline for applying to the Khalil Gibran International Academy. One has to wonder how many parents of 5th graders have enrolled their children in a school whose location, the form indicates, is yet unknown ("Address To Be Announced"). An inquiry to "Enrollment Center - Region 8" about late applications indicates that maybe one a day late will be accepted.
May 15, 2007 update: At a PTA meeting to discuss KGIA's landing at 345 Dean Street, what are described as "a few outside agitators aiming to stir alarm about Khalil Gibran's focus on Arabic culture" raised some good questions about the projected school, according to an account at InsideSchools.org:
Comment: The report implies that these "disrespectful" questions were brushed aside and not replied to.
May 9, 2007 update: The city Department of Education announced that it has found a location for the KGIA for the next two years. It will open doors at 345 Dean Street, in the same building as two other schools, the Brooklyn High School of the Arts and the Math & Science Exploratory School, and that's that: "This is not a tentative decision," said David Cantor, department spokesman. "The school will open at this site in September."
May 7, 2007 update: Garth Harries, the chief executive of the "Office of New Schools" at New York City's Department of Education, replied to one letter writer protesting the KGIA thus:
May 6, 2007 update: In a puff piece on the KGIA (complete with nasty asides about the New York Sun coverage of this issue), the International Herald Tribune paraphrases Melanie Meyer, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education saying that the KGIA "will follow a college preparatory program, which involves a rather closely controlled course of study with required testing of results. So even if the new school has, say, the history of the Middle East taught in Arabic, it will most likely not play host to fanatics using the Koran to justify the cult of death." In a quote, Meyer then reiterates Klein's promise (see the May 5, 2007 update, above): "This school is not a tool for political or religious ideology, and we'll close it if it shows any indication that that's what it will become."
Also curious is this understanding of KGIA's purpose by the IHT article's author, Richard Bernstein: "Most people who knew about it seemed to see it as a reasonable gesture to an Arab immigrant community that often feels estranged from the surrounding American society." For that matter, Bosman in the New York Times (see the May 4, 2007 update, above) refers to KGIA as "conceived as a public embrace of New York City's growing Arab population and of internationalism." Foolish me – I thought the school was about Arabic-language instruction, when it seems really to be about a good-will gesture to Arabic-speakers.
May 5, 2007 update: The KGIA was supposed to share a building with a Brooklyn elementary school, PS 282 in Park Slope, but the parents there all along protested this intrusion on the grounds that younger children should not be mixed with older ones. News comes today that the parents got their way and the Department of Education has dropped plans for the shared building idea, conceding that "Siting the Khalil Gibran International Academy at the school would be detrimental to its core academic programs." But the department insists this decision is just logistical and unrelated to the controversy over the school's very existence, and that it remains committed to opening the school.
Almontaser was quoted saying that the parents' concerns were "valid" and she was not disappointed by the decision. She also says religion is not part of the KGIA curriculum but the Arabs' culture, history, and "contributions" are. "With any language that you learn you need to learn about the people and their customs and their history to develop effectively in that language, in order not to offend people when speaking the language." She has to say this, for Joel Klein a few days earlier stated that "If any school became a religious school, as some people say Khalil Gibran would be, … I would shut it down. I promise you that."
In response to Militant Islam Monitor's noting of Almontaser's fashion changes (see Apr. 16, 2007 update, above), Almontaser says, "I have to say that I'm really flattered. I'm flattered that there's so much attention being paid to me, especially about how I dress."
Comment: How does Klein reconcile the completely religious nature of KGIA's advisory council (see the Apr. 28, 2007 update above) with his assertion now that "If any school became a religious school, as some people say Khalil Gibran would be, … I would shut it down"?
May 4, 2007 update: Almontaser claims not to be upset by objections to the KGIA: "Quite frankly, I don't let it bother me. I don't lose sleep over it. My main objective is the opening of the school." This quote comes in a puff piece by Julie Bosman in the New York Times, "Plan for Arabic School in Brooklyn Spurs Protests," where the debate over KGIA is deemed "a test of tolerance — and its limits — in post-9/11, multiethnic New York." As for Almontaser, Bosman describes her as someone who "who organized peace rallies and urged tolerance after the attacks of Sept. 11" and "known as a moderate active in interfaith groups," then provides many quotes in her favor. The criticism of her is called "preposterous," "heartbreaking," and" outrageous."
The article does contain some news, specifically:
And I am quoted in this article saying, "What you find is that the materials that are included in an Arabic curriculum have a natural tendency to promote Islam."
Apr. 28, 2007 update: In a comment on this article on the New York Sun site, one of the members of the KGIA Advisory Council, Daniel Meeter, helpfully provides a list of that council's makeup:
Comment: If the KGIA has no religious content, then why is every one of its advisory council members a reverend, rabbi, or imam, plus one Ethical Culture representative? Is this not a blatant contradiction?
Apr. 24, 2007 update: I have written a column on this subject, "A Madrasa Grows in Brooklyn."
Apr. 16, 2007 update: A later version of the same AP story, now titled "Proposed NYC Public School Causes Stir," provides some key differences. (1) Almontaser now asserts that the school will teach the Arab-Israeli conflict, confirming my concern above:
(2) The reporter, Nahal Toosi, adds that the school "would be one of a few nationwide that incorporate the Arabic language and Islamic culture." Note the quiet insertion of Islamic culture, however, just as I predicted.
Also today, William A. Mayer and Beila Rabinowitz provide three important new pieces of information about principal-designate Dhabah Almontaser.
First, during the trial of Shahawar Matin Siraj for attempting to blow up the Herald Square subway station in Manhattan, a case that relied on informants, New York Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly met with a group of 150 Muslims to hear their "concerns about issues of public safety." According to a New York Times report on the meeting: "Debbie Almontaser, a board member of a Muslim women's organization [Women In Islam, Inc.], told Mr. Kelly that she was saddened that the police had resorted to ‘F.B.I. tactics,' and that she thought this was polarizing the Muslim community. Applause swept the room." As Mayer and Rabinowitz note, "In Almontaser's insular world, preventing a crime that could have killed hundreds is viewed as ‘polarizing.'"
Second, 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."
Third, 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?'"
In a separate posting, Beila Rabinowitz points out Almontaser's fashion evolution of late, from frumpy cowl to chic headscarf with jewelry. Wonder why she'd do that.
Comment: Making Almontaser the principal of KGIA virtually guarantees troubles ahead.
Apr. 14, 2007 update: Almontaser replies to my critique that in practice, "Arabic instruction is heavy with Islamist and Arabist overtones and demands" in an Associated Press article, "Plans for NYC Arabic school draw protests, ‘jihad' labels":
Apr. 13, 2007 update: In "Khalil Gibran School - A Jihad Grows in Brooklyn," Beila Rabinowitz and William A. Mayer provide extensive information on "the players within the Arabic community who are KGIA's primary advocates and who will be intimately involved in designing and running it." Specifically, they look in detail at four individuals – Dhabah ( "Debbie") Almontaser, Emira Habiby-Browne, Ahmad Jaber, Assad Jebara – and two organizations (the Arab American Family Support Center and Alwan for the Arts). The authors term the KGIA a "program built on a series of lies, whose only function will be to divide" and predict that it will be a "government-funded madrassah."
Apr. 11, 2007 update: A case from San Diego, California, confirms my point that, if unchecked, Arabic language instruction brings with it religious indoctrination. Helen Gao writes up the story of Carver Elementary, a kindergarten-through-eighth-grade institution that has had an Arabic program since September, at "Legality of Arabic Class Questioned."
A teacher, Mary-Frances Stephens, told the school board yesterday about her experiences since being assigned to Carver on March 8: according to Gao,
To these charges, the principal, Kimberlee Kidd, said Stephens misconstrued the lesson plan. But, Gao, relates, Kidd "confirmed that an assistant was assigned to the classroom for an hour. During that time there was a 15-minute recess. … The aide, who is Muslim, prayed alongside the students but did not lead the prayer."
Mar. 16, 2007 update: (1) A number of readers have pointed out, correctly, that the above excerpt includes a mistake in it; contrary to Garith Harries, no "Arabic mathematician invented the concept of zero." Zero was an Indian invention that the Arabs adopted. As a reader puts it, "Harries really let the cat out of the bag, revealing that the new school with be ethnic cheerleading at its worst." Another reason not to establish this school. (2) John Abi-Habib has written me to indicate that the Sun misreported the spelling of his name.
Mar. 10, 2007 update: It turns out that my abstract concern has real substance to it. Beila Rabinowitz establishes that the school's principal, Dhabah (or "Debbie") Almontaser received an award from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and that the school was designed in part by the American-Arab Anti Discrimination Committee (ADC). Need one say more? CAIR is an Islamist group that is on the enemy's side in the war on terror while ADC includes a motley collection of leftist and Islamist extremists. Their association with this school confirms my worries about it. I again call for it not to be opened.
March 7, 2007
Sarah Garland reports in the New York Sun about Brooklyn's soon-to-be-established Khalil Gibran International Academy:
My take on the school: In principle it is a great idea – the United States needs more Arabic-speakers. In practice, however, Arabic instruction is heavy with Islamist and Arabist overtones and demands. For one powerful first-hand example of this problem at the collegiate level, see "Middlebury's Arabic Morass" by Franck Salameh. He explains:
For another specific case, see Shukri B. Abed, Focus on Contemporary Arabic: Conversations with Native Speakers (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007); YUP conveniently has posted the table of contents (if backwards), where one chapter deals with "The Question of Palestine." The chapter contains eleven readings. To give an example of their flavor, the fifth of them states that the "Palestinian problem" is at base an issue of justice in which the Palestinians are the victims of a double standard.
For the heavy Islamic freight that Arabic instruction carries, see "Does Learning Arabic Prevent Moral Decay?" where one learns that some Muslims believe "Knowledge of Arabic can then help the Western countries recover from the present moral decay." (This is not as surprising as it sounds, for Muslims commonly assume that a non-Muslim who learns Arabic is en route to conversion to Islam; I experienced this many times during my Cairo years.) Evidence from Algeria also points to the impact of Arabic instruction, as documented in James Coffman's breakthrough 1995 article "Does the Arabic Language Encourage Radical Islam?" He compared Algerian students taught in French versus those taught in Arabic and found that
Coffman also find a similar trend in other Arabic-speaking countries:
The Sun article additionally indicates that the KGIA will serve as a place to make Arab students feel at home. "While Khalil Gibran's organizers say the school's main focus is academic, they also said the school could help to integrate Arab families into New York society by providing the school community with health services, counseling, youth leadership development, and English as a second language classes for parents." The article quotes Moustafa Bayoumi, a professor at Brooklyn College and co-editor of The Edward Said Reader, saying that "It's not uncommon for Arab students to feel isolated — I think it's seen as a foothold." That the school is in large part intended for native Arabic-speakers to learn English is supported by the "English Language Learner Grants" for which it is eligible. The school sounds like a place to indulge Arab grievances and support Arab immigrants. It worries me that the school's purpose is not really to teach Arabic to non-Arabs.
For all these reasons, an Arabic-language school in New York needs to be held under special scrutiny.
But political correctness will make such scrutiny impossible. One can see the kernel of this denial in the statement by John Ali-Habib, vice chairman of Brooklyn's Republican Party and a member of the school's planning committee: "There's an Asian school opening in Flushing. It's the same thing." But it's precisely not the same thing.
Therefore, unless such controls are clearly put in place, I am opposed to the opening of this school. (March 7, 2007)
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