4.28.2008

NY Times Bemoans Downfall of Madrassa Principal

The New York Times writer Andrea Elliot has a new feature detailing the rise and fall of the principal of the Arab-language charter school started in Brooklyn last summer. This publicly funded school, the Kahil Gibran International Academy, has been discussed at length by Gus Van Horn. Gus points out the obscene nature of the people of New York City -- the victims of 9/11 -- paying to support a school where "the general expectation among many Arab language instructors [is] that their students are interested in converting to Islam."

Elliot takes a different view of the situation, however. The title of the piece really says it all: "Critics Cost Muslim Educator Her Dream School." From there, the rest of the article serves to paint the picture of the principal, Debbie Almontaser, as a frustrated idealist unfairly targeted by media and harsh critics.

Elliot and the Times characterizes Almontaser as a well-intentioned moderate Muslim who became the victim of circumstance, of a "well of post-9/11 anxieties," and of unscrupulous critics who characterized her as "a 'radical,' a 'jihadist' and a '9/11 denier.'”

The thing is, Elliot may be right in this. Almontaser may have truly wanted to start a relatively secular school -- as much as "normal" (i.e. Christian-leaning) public schools can still be called secular, anyway -- that was able to cater to an Arabic-speaking population. Many of her critics may have been out of line, calling her a terrorist, among other things. The media may have seized upon the controversy and burned her at the newsprint stake.

But none of that is really the point. The point is that on top of the fundamental problems with the entire concept of public education, this school adds insult to injury by using taxpayer dollars to fund a school that could easily foster Islamist ideas while teaching the Arabic language.

Despite attempting to present him in a negative light, Elliot does print detailed quotes from Daniel Pipes, one of the primary critics and director of the Middle East Forum, and the intelligent reader can go from there.

The danger, Mr. Pipes says, is that the United States stands to become another England [a la the Archbishop of Canterbury -ed] or France, a place where Muslims are balkanized and ultimately threaten to impose sharia.

“It is hard to see how violence, how terrorism will lead to the implementation of sharia,” Mr. Pipes said. “It is much easier to see how, working through the system — the school system, the media, the religious organizations, the government, businesses and the like — you can promote radical Islam.”

Mr. Pipes refers to this new enemy as the “lawful Islamists.”

They are carrying out a “soft jihad,” said Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, a trustee of the City University of New York and a vocal opponent of the Khalil Gibran school. [links and bold added]

The Times article is a long one, and goes into great detail about the various troubles at the school, the media scandals, and details more of the criticisms by Pipes and others. But the overwhelming bias of the article is palpable, and Almontaser is presented as a tragic figure who could have created a "dream school" where the students would become "ambassadors of peace and hope," but for the fact that she "didn't get a chance."

It is this casual acceptance -- and even admiration -- by the cultural relativists of an Arabic-language school next door to Ground Zero that is so galling. Still, I would like to see the amount of public indignation described in the article also being raised about Spanish-language public schools, or better yet, the very existence of public schools in general.

It's hard to celebrate a movement to bring down an Arabic school to fight Islamist ideas taking root in the culture, when the much more insidious ideas of a "public right" to education are flourishing, sucking my pockets dry, and leaving my family with a scant few good options for education.

3 comments:

LB said...

Maybe this will provide the wick which, once lit, helps the whole government schools idea implode.

Pipes talks about some interesting stuff regarding these publicly funded Islamic education programs on his website. He reports that there are several in Massachusetts. He'll be with Yaron Brook next Tuesday at Harvard discussing "The Threat of Totalitarium Islam" at 8PM. I wish I could go.

I confess, I find the same letter forms of the Arabic language exotic and beautiful when written on a lovely piece of handmade paper, revolting and threatening on government-sponsored documents.

C. August said...

I haven't looked at Pipes' website. I'll definitely do so now. I was assuming that since I hadn't heard about them, those schools didn't exist in Massachusetts, but I guess I was being too optimistic.

And I'm planning on going to both the Harvard talk and the Ford Hall Forum on the Thursday after that. I haven't seen a talk like that since Peikoff spoke last at Ford Hall in the late 90's. I could be wrong, but I think there was a period of a number of years when no featured Objectivist spoke there.

Regarding your first point, I too wish this could be the catalyst for the downfall of government schools, but I sincerely doubt it will be.

By the way, I like the use of "government schools" instead of "public schools." There's something about "government schools" that sounds so sinister, Big Brother-ish, and indoctrinating. In other words, it's much more descriptive and true.

LB said...

Pipes talks more about Arabic or Islamic programs rather than schools in Massachusetts if I remember correctly.

Yes, we had hoped to go to both, but had to decide between them. Thursday is just a better night for us, not necessarily a better lecture.

Regarding "government schools" vs. "public schools", I share your enthusiasm of the first and adopted it recently upon reading it in response to something I wrote to an HBLer. I think it is used widely in ARI commentary, as well. It makes perfect sense.

Speaking of ARI, I will continue to be optimistic so long as men and ideas still exist to inspire that optimism.