Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The story of the public school in Brooklyn that is poised to become a taxpayer-underwritten, Islamist recruitment and indoctrination center took a dramatic turn last week. The principal-designate of the so-called Khalil Gibran International Academy (KGIA), Dhabah “Debbie” Almontaser, was forced to resign after she defended a T-shirt emblazoned with the words “Intifada NYC” — making clear her radical ideology and proclivity for dissembling.

The question is no longer whether Ms. Almontaser was, as her critics in a group of parents, teachers and concerned citizens called the Stop the Madrassa Community Coalition have insisted, determined to use the KGIA to advance her theo-political agenda. Her claim that “intifada” actually meant nothing more than a “shaking off” and that its use in connection with New York City was unobjectionable was so preposterous — not to say alarming — that her supporters, notably Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Public Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, found it impossible to ignore the outcry.

Even before Ms. Almontaser was obliged to resign, however, she ran into problems with respect to another part of her agenda: Last week, the city’s Department of Education felt constrained to reject her effort to make the school’s kitchen “halal,” the Muslim equivalent of kosher.

Unfortunately, at this writing, it appears that the rest of Dhabah Almontaser’s plan for the Khalil Gibran International Academy remains intact. If the school opens as scheduled in September, it will, as a practical matter, have to operate on the basis of her curriculum, with the teachers she has hired and utilizing her selections of Arabic-language textbooks.

Presumably, the same would be true of her plan reported in the New York Post last week to have “retired Arabic-speaking community members converse with the students during lunch periods” — although we are being assured that such interlocutors will be subjected to “background checks” before being given access to KGIA’s students.

The inadvisability of allowing the Almontaser influence to persist after her departure is made clear in an executive summary of her program, the only document about KGIA provided to date in response to a Freedom of Information Law request submitted by a member of the Stop the Madrassa Coalition, John Matthies of the Middle East Forum’s Islamist Watch. A scathing critique of this summary is provided by two other coalition members, William Mayer and Beila Rabinowitz, who note on their blog, PipeLineNews.com (https://www.pipelinenews.org/index.cfm?page=kgiaexec8607%2Ehtm): “[It] is actually a manual for creating an Islamist vocational school, one in which every activity is planned around creating social activists with an Arab supremacist mindset, in the mold of KGIA’s activist/principal Dhabah Almontaser.”

Mr. Mayer and Ms. Rabinowitz observe that “nearly every party and organization involved with KGIA does not just represent Arab Muslims, but hard core Islamists with a definite agenda.” For example, according to Ms. Almontaser’s executive summary, an organization known as the Arab-American Family Support Center (AAFSC) “will have a constant presence on site” providing a “site coordinator” as well as staff members who will: serve as “student advisers and Arabic language teachers,” offer “social services,” and develop the “extended-day Arabic language and cultural arts programs.”

If that were not enough, the AAFSC’s director, Lena Al Husseini, also continues to serve on the KGIA planning committee. Ms. Al Husseini and her organization are closely tied to other Islamist groups, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), and the Muslim Students Association (MSA). CAIR and ISNA were recently designated as unindicted co-conspirators in a terrorism-financing case.

Like its sister organizations, the AAFSC promotes the image of Arab-Americans and Muslims as victims. In the words of Ms. Al Husseini’s predecessor at AAFSC, Emira Habiby Browne: “There’s a sense of being targeted, profiled and harassed. There’s fear that no matter what you do, you are suspected as a potential terrorist. No one feels secure — even in their own homes.” Should taxpayers be asked to underwrite the exposure of public school students to a pedagogy rooted in this sort of separatism, victimization and grievance?

The good news is that Ms. Almontaser’s “Intifada NYC” meltdown has prompted influential figures in the New York educational community to reassess their support for the Khalil Gibran International Academy. For instance, long-time City University of New York’s Board of Trustees member Jeffrey Weisenfeld said in an interview with PipeLineNews last week: “I think we have to get really serious about demanding that people say what they mean and mean what they say … especially in this era, this kind of duplicity has gone on for too long. … [Ms. Almontaser] is very smooth … there are a lot of these smoothies, they are all very good at this … we are just being sold a bill of goods.” He concluded, “I will fight [KGIA] in every way that I can … the concept is bad, it’s dangerous. … It’s a national security concern.” Mr. Weisenfeld knows whereof he speaks; he served for four years in the FBI’s foreign counterintelligence division.

In light of such concerns about the departed principal’s agenda, about those who will be responsible for pursuing it in her absence and about the national precedent being created, it is only reasonable to insist that the opening of this school be deferred. To do otherwise would be to defile, not burnish, the memory of Khalil Gibran — a Lebanese Christian who practiced the traditions of peace and tolerance as well as writing evocatively about them.

Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. is president of the Center for Security Policy, which is a member of the Stop the Madrassa Community Coalition.

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