Daily Archives: Monday, 28 April, 2008

Debbie Almontaser Suing to Get Her Job Back

I did a bunch of posts last year about the Khalil Gibran academy and the ridiculous bigoted smear campaign against it and its original principal, Debbie Almontaser.
The New York Times online has a long article about the whole ordeal.

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 Ms. Almontaser’s words, to become “ambassadors of peace and hope.”

I don’t how widely it is understood by the public how very badly we need more people who know Arabic. A program like this would be extremely valuable. Arabic is not a language that you can pick up quickly or easily.

Ms. 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, Ms. 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 Ms. Almontaser’s longstanding reputation as a Muslim moderate, her critics quickly succeeded in recasting her image.

“Recasting her image.” In that book Jews and Christians like to quote when it’s convenient, that’s known as “bearing false witness.”

Muslim leaders, academics and others see the drive against the school as the latest in a series of discriminatory attacks intended to distort the truth and play on Americans’ fear of terrorism. They say the campaign is also part of a wider effort to silence critics of Washington’s policy on Israel and the Middle East.

Cool, I’m in the New York Times. See where it says “and others”? I’m one of them.

After 9/11, Education Department officials had enlisted Ms. Almontaser to hold workshops on cultural sensitivity for schoolchildren. She spread the message that Islam was a peaceful religion. She told of how her own son had served as a National Guardsman in the clearing effort at ground zero. She was soon attending interfaith seminars, befriending rabbis and priests. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg honored her publicly. She became a ready commentator for the media, prompting some Muslims to joke that she was the city’s “talking hijabi.”

In February 2007, the Department of Education announced that the school had been approved. It would eventually encompass grades 6 through 12, teach half of its classes in Arabic and be among 67 schools in the city that offer programs in both English and another language, like Russian, Spanish and Chinese. Ms. Almontaser designed a recruitment brochure to attract the school’s first class of sixth graders.

Bolding mine.

Then a lot of bad stuff happened and a bunch of loud fearmongers had their way, as so often happens. And Ms Almontaser, an American through and through, is suing.

On Oct. 16, Ms. Almontaser announced that she was suing the Education Department and the mayor. She claimed that her First Amendment rights had been violated because she was forced to resign after she was quoted as saying something controversial.

She requested that the city be prevented from hiring a permanent principal until her case was resolved. A judge rejected the request, and Ms. Almontaser appealed. In March, a federal appeals court upheld the ruling, but the judges were sharply critical of the city’s handling of Ms. Almontaser’s case.

“This was a situation where she was subject to sanction not for anything she said, not for anything she did, but because a newspaper reporter twisted what she said and the result of it was negative press for the city and the Board of Ed,” Judge Jon O. Newman told a city lawyer at a hearing in February.

Ms. Almontaser’s case will proceed in the Federal District Court in Manhattan.

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Filed under arab, arabic, arabist, bigoted idiots, hijab, language