Even though its been almost 20 years my friend Howie still jokes about my old secretary (they were called that then). Her name was Edith. She had over a dozen cats at home and made the maintenance people at work take out the lights over her head because there was one lady in the research department that was transmitting evil waves at her through those lights. Without knowing it, Edith was the first, tin foil hat person I ever met. Ex-Madrassa Principal Debbie Almontaser reminds me of Edith. To start with take a look at her speech from the other day:
Good evening. My name is Debbie Almontaser. I am the founding principal of the Khalil Gibran International Academy, which is known as KGIA. Over a two-year period beginning in 2005, I devoted my life to establishing a school that reflected not only my vision, but the ideas of a design team that included other educators, prospective parents, community members, and the Arab American Family Support Center.In early August of this year, under pressure from The New York Post, The New York Sun, and right-wing bloggers, representatives of the mayor, the chancellor, and New Visions demanded that I resign as KGIA’s principal.
They threatened to close down KGIA if I refused. The next day, I submitted my letter of resignation. Because I believe that I am the person to carry forward the mission of KGIA, I have today submitted my application to become the principal of KGIA. I have also asked my lawyer to begin preparing a lawsuit against the D.O.E. for violation of my constitutional rights.
When I first discussed with New Visions for Public Schools the creation of an Arabic dual-language public school in New York City, controversy was far from my mind. I was thrilled to create a unique school that would provide a rigorous regents-based curriculum with Arabic language and cultural studies, and that would equip students for work in such areas as international affairs diplomacy and cross-cultural understanding. As with the more than 60 other dual language programs in the city, KGIA was created to foster multilingual and multicultural education. It was also joining many New York City public schools that use theme-based approaches to inform and enrich curriculum across subject areas. As an Arab-American Muslim, born in Yemen and raised in the U.S., establishing KGIA was my American dream. It turned into an American nightmare.
- Almontaser on 9/11: “I don’t recognize the people who committed the attacks as either Arabs or Muslims.” Source
- Today I believe that the terrorist attacks can have been triggered by the way the USA breaks its promises with countries across the world, especially in the Middle East and the fact that it has not been a fair mediator with its foreign policy. Source
- On the war on terror: I have experienced that when you talk to people and explain what is going on, then they are as strongly against the “war against terror” as I. That gives me hope for the future.Source
On Feb. 12, 2007, the Department of Education announced the establishment of KGIA. In the days following, right-wing blogs began spinning KGIA as an Islamist school with a radical extremist jihad principal. And local New York City papers fanned the flames with headlines like: “Holy war! Slope Parents Protest Arabic School Plan,” “A Madrassa Grows in Brooklyn,” and “Arabic School Idea Is a Monstrosity.” From the day the school was approved to the day I was forced to resign, The New York Sun plastered my picture on its website with a link to negative articles about KGIA.
As we say in Brooklyn “Not for nothing” but there is so much negative to report (see above).
Leading the attack was the “Stop the Madrassa Coalition” run by Daniel Pipes, who has made his career fostering hatred of Arabs and Muslims. The coalition conducted a smear campaign against me and the school that was ferocious.
This is where she really dons the tin foil hat…Like Edith. She accuses the Stop the Madrassa Coalition of stalking her and harassing her. Why is it when Islamics tell their “stories” its promoting free speech, but when people point out the truth its harassing and smearing? In truth I followed the story very closely–the only smearing that went on was butter on an everything bagel.
Granted, Dr. Pipes is a hero of mine, I would like to give him more credit than he is due, but he did not start and does not run the Stop the Madrassa Coalition (although he is a supporter). He is not a hater of Muslims as Ms Tin-foil-hat suggests. He differentiates between the moderate Muslims and the “foam at the mouth want to take over the world Islamics.”
Members of the coalition stalked me wherever I went and verbally assaulted me with vicious anti-Arab and anti-Muslim comments. They suggested that, as an observant Muslim, I was disqualified from leading KGIA, even though the school is rigorously secular, and its namesake, Khalil Gibran, was a Lebanese Christian. To stir up anti-Arab prejudice, they constantly referred to me by my Arabic name, a name that I do not use professionally. They even created and circulated a YouTube clip depicting me as a radical Islamist.
As far as the YouTube clip– as the saying goes…If the Shoe Fits…
Then in early August, The New York Post and the Stop the Madrassa Coalition tried to connect me to T-shirts made by a youth organization called Arab Women in the Arts and Media. The T-shirts said, “Intifada NYC.” Post reporters aggressively sought my comment. Because the T-shirts had nothing to do with me or KGIA
What about you and the Yemini American Association (YAA) where the nice shirts were made.
I saw no reason to discuss the issue with the media. I agreed to an interview with a reporter from The Post at the D.O.E.’s insistence. During the interview, the reporter asked about the Arabic origin of the word “intifada.” I told him that the root word from which the word intifada originates means “shake off” and that the word intifada has different meanings for different people, but certainly for many, given its association with the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, it implied violence. I reiterated that I would never affiliate myself with an individual or organization that would condone violence in any shape, way, or form. In response to a further question, I expressed the belief that the teenage girls of AWAAM did not mean to promote a “Gaza-style uprising” in New York City.
Although The Post story distorted my words, it accurately reflected my view that I do not condone violence. That should have been the end of the matter. D.O.E. officials should simply have said that it was clear that neither I nor KGIA had any connection to the T-shirts. They should have pointed out that I had devoted my entire adult life to the peaceful resolution of conflict and to building bridges between ethnic and religious communities. In other words, they should have said that the attacks upon me were utterly baseless. Instead, they forced me to issue an apology for what I said. And when the storm of hate continued, they forced me to resign.
OK Here is her big whiny close—anybody have a violin?
In closing, permit me to explain why I am speaking out at this time. While I have been the victim of a serious injustice, the far larger offense has been to the Arab and Muslim communities of New York City. In the years since 9/11, our communities have been the object of the most vile and hateful attacks. The attacks on me are part of a larger campaign to intimidate and silence marginalized communities. Among other strategies, the right-wing is trying to get people from other communities to view Arabs and Muslims as threats to their safety and security. As a result, well-meaning people sometimes act out of fear—not just a knee-jerk anti-Arab, anti-Muslim response, but the fear that, if they do not succumb to right-wing pressure, they too will become targets.
Not all Arabs and Muslims just the ones that say things like “I don’t recognize the people who committed the attacks as either Arabs or Muslims.” they way you did.
Those seeking to harm our communities would like nothing more than for me to remain silent in response to their hate. [Nah its OK there is no good celebrity re-hab story today–the news has to cover something]
For the sake of the Arab and Muslim communities and for all marginalized communities, for the sake of the families of KGIA, and for the sake of all of us committed to creating a society that we can be proud to leave to future generations, I stand here today to say that they will not prevail. I will continue to stand against division, intimidation and hatred; I will stand for a society based on mutual respect and understanding and dignity for all our communities. These are values to which I have devoted my entire adult life and career.
I am applying to be the principal of KGIA because, as its founding principal and the person who envisioned the school, I believe I am the person most qualified to be its educational leader. Throughout the planning process, I worked with a wonderful and devoted design team comprised of educators, parents, students, and community members. I would like to continue that work and to build KGIA into a model dual language school that, to quote KGIA’s mission statement, “helps students of all backgrounds learn about the world” and fosters in them “an understanding of different cultures, a love of learning, and desire for excellence in all of its students.”
OK Ms Almontaser your 15 minutes of fame are over…put your Tin Foil Hat back on and go away.
If you want to know more about the Stop the Madrassa Coalition please go to their website.