Posted by: Who-sane | August 14, 2007

Why I thank God that Khalil Gibran is not alive

How can a good idea turn bad? How can a good educational cause end up being labeled as “terrorist friendly”? O’er at the land of the free and the home of the brave, this can be possible.

The whole issue started when an announcement was made that a new school will be opened: a school that focuses on Middle Eastern studies and the Arabic language, with the sole objective of bridging the gaps between East and West, all from a cultural point of view and not a political one.

When the news spread, Arab Americans welcomed the idea and asserted that the school would make them feel more at home in the city of New York, but, unsurprisingly, even before it was opened, the Khalil Gibran International Academy, which is scheduled to open next September, has arched many eyebrows and was greeted with harsh criticism from people worrying about the “political bent of the school” and, of course, The New York Sun ran the largest condemnation campaign against this project.

Although a quick look at the names and designations of members of the Khalil Gibran International Academy’s Advisory Council should rid those cynics of their exaggerated concerns, Diane Ravitch, an education historian and one of those deeply concerned about the new educational initiative, says:

"It is not the job of the public schools to teach each ethnic group about its history. Certainly the large high schools should teach Arabic along with other languages, and they should teach the history of the Middle East as they teach global history. But it is an abdication of the basic principle behind public education to set up separate schools to teach uncritically one history and one culture."

Despite the fact that the schools has confirmed and reconfirmed that “the school will not be a vehicle for political ideology“, Daniel Pipes, a journalist, columnist and an active blogger, strongly opposes to the idea because “learning Arabic in and of itself promotes an Islamic outlook”, which is one of the most ridiculous quotes I’ve ever read for a journalist, but that’s not his silliest quote.

The same writer goes on to say: “Muslims tend to see non-Muslims learning Arabic as a step toward an eventual conversion to Islam, an expectation I encountered while studying Arabic in Cairo in the 1970s.”, again, a quote so feeble that, supposedly, shouldn’t even convince a five year old!

To support his ludicrous predictions, Pipes quotes James Coffman’s “breakthrough article” saying:

“Because Arabs draw so close a connection between classical Arabic and the faith of Islam, Arabization invariably leads to an identification with the (supranational) Islamic religious tradition. Even the most secular Arab nationalists (such as the Ba‘thist variants in Syria and Iraq) must appeal to Islamic symbolism to bolster sagging legitimacy and to mobilize the masses (as Saddam Hussein did in his wars against Iran and the U.S.-led coalition). Hence, Arab nationalism has, however inadvertently, contributed to the rise of Islamism. Indeed, today’s Islamist surge is the natural, perhaps inevitable consequence of the Arab nationalist policies of thirty years ago.”

So basically, what Pipes is trying to say is you either don’t speak Arabic, or if you have the audacity to do so, then it’s inevitable you’ll either become an extremist Islamist or a possible suicide bomber. So according to Pipes, those who speak Arabic, those millions, billions of Arabs and Muslims around the world are extremists by nature, or have a tendency to becoming so.

So the idea alone of setting up an Arab school was controversial enough for those opposing to the idea, which had lead the US Department of Education to clearly state that “it will be monitoring the funding and curriculum at the Arabic language and culture middle school”.

To further relieve some critics’ concerns, who some went as far as to label the school "terrorist-friendly", Joel Klein, Schools Chancellor at the Department of Education said: "If the school becomes a political school with a political agenda … then you’re absolutely right. I won’t tolerate that."

You’d think that’s so unfair but that’s all just a warm up for what’s about to come …

An article, published the New York Post by Chuck Bennett and Jana Winter, revealed a link between the selling of t-shirts that carried the words NYC and Intifada and Dhabah "Debbie" Almontaser, the proposed principal of the school, accusing her of "glorifying Palestinian terror". The keyword here is ’Intifada’.

So what was that mysterious link that those two razor-sharp investigative journalists managed to untie? According to the writers, the organization selling the shirts, Arab Women Active in Art and Media, shares office space on Brooklyn’s Third Avenue with the Saba Association of American Yemenis. Aha! And? Well Debbie is a board member and spokeswoman for Saba.

After that great discovery, Debbie Almontaser was accused of "downplaying the significance of the t-shirts" all because she had the audacity to say:

The word [intifada] basically means ’shaking off.’ That is the root word if you look it up in Arabic.

I understand it is developing a negative connotation due to the uprising in the Palestinian-Israeli areas. I don’t believe the intention is to have any of that kind of [violence] in New York City.

I think it’s pretty much an opportunity for girls to express that they are part of New York City society . . . and shaking off oppression.

That was exactly what her critics were waiting for her to say. A media uproar began and all hell broke loose. Journalists, columnists, bloggers all united to launch an anti-campaign against Debbie Almontaser.

Although she did not commit a grave mistake, yet Debbie, who emigrated from Yemen at age 3, had to resign and admit her regret just to keep the Academy alive, because she knew if she did otherwise, the whole project would be shut down and in her own words she says:

"This morning I tendered my resignation. I became convinced yesterday that this week’s headlines were endangering the viability of Khalil Gibran International Academy, even though I apologized."

But even her resignation did not guarantee the viability of the Academy. Increased calls have been made by activists and lawmakers to shut down the school, the school that did not see the light yet.

But what did all that chaos result in?

1- As of 10th of August, only 44 students registered, 6 out of whom are Arabic speakers only. Because, who would want to register his kids in this highly controversial school?

In her letter of resignation, obtained by The New York Sun, Ms. Almontaser said she was stepping down out of concern for Khalil Gibran’s students. Khalil Gibran critics’ "intolerant and hateful tone has come to frighten some of the parents and incoming parents," she wrote. "I have grown increasingly concerned that these few outsiders will disrupt the community of learning when the Academy opens its doors on September 4th. Therefore, I have decided to step aside to give the Academy and its dedicated staff the full opportunity to flourish without these unwarranted attacks."

2- A Jewish woman will be taking over Debbie’s role as principal. Isn’t it very fitting for a Jewish woman to run an Arabic school?

Khalil Gibran (1883 -1931) was a Lebanese American artist, poet and writer. He was born in Lebanon and spent much of his productive life in the United States.

Now, my dear reader, do you see why I thank God that Khalil Gibran is six feet under?

May you rest in peace Khalil Gibran, for all your brilliant works wouldn’t have been as beautiful if you had lived to see all that.


  1. Sorry guys, I know this is too long, but please read through … this is the kind of injustice that tears me to pieces.

  2. Who-Sane, I read it all (well done!) and am thinking now.

    My initial fragment thought was, in light of all the tensions already, that the choice of the already loaded word “intifada” was not wise. Especially not in NYC, with NYC on the shirt especially not with her connections to the KG school. Even as a long term resident of the Middle East, and speaker of Arabic, that word would never connect with women’s rights.

    To me, it is always Palestinian resistance. In a good way.

  3. Allah yeftha7 ommak ya sean hannity..

  4. Kinzi: Thank you for reading through all of the post and for being unbiased about it. I appreciate that.

    I do agree with you Kinzi, the choice of the word Intifada was not the smartest thing to do, but did you really see the link between Debbie and the shirts? She did not design, neither market or sell them, she simply shares office space with the agency that does that and that should not make her an accomplice in the crime.

    From my point of view, I think it’s an ill-founded pretext to consolidate the reasons why this school is a bad idea.

    It just upsets me so much that such occurrences are taking place in the 2007.

    Mohannad: what does hannity got to do with all this?

  5. This is becoming exactly like in the 50s when the US did everything in its power to remove every single trace of communism from its lands. They are just doing it the slow way to remove Muslims and any form of an outside culture. Soon they will also expel Hispanics and other non “native” Americans, who are the Canadians of the Brits.

    I am not surprised this comes from a group of people who live in a bubble so tight, when, presented with a map of the world, they would point to Australia and call it France and think that Russia is actually Canada and it was therefore “reasonable” to wage the war since they are “so close”.

    Seriously, I understand there are highly intelligent Americans who are aware of everything, but for the majority, or, at least, from those in power, I don’t see how they can outsmart pigeons.

  6. La wala eshi, but he did lead the campaign of fox news for almost two weeks everyday, thats all!

  7. What a great Article Husain. It was not long at all.

    I can’t believe the racism, would they do that to a French school? Makes me angry wallah.

    On a side note, maybe having a Jewish principal is not a bad idea, you never know, I hope it bridges gaps .

  8. damn missed that, btw don’t mind daniel pipes or sean hannity they are actually a lost cause and they will always be bigots.
    now the main issue here is that its NY people
    take into account that these people are xenophobic even to someone 70 miles away from them so yeah not the wisest idea (do i need to mention the other reason) so why not NJ instead.
    that doesn’t detract from the fact that its balatant ignorance but thats how the media works there, if they put some bulls eye on u, ur finished.

    on the other so far i hadn’t heard any issues regarding the other arabic schools in the states for there are quite a few in michigan, houstan and cali . if i recall correctly there are a bunch in NY and NJ.

    so what is the best way to reduce this reaction from such people ? (i have no answer other than stay low and avoid)

  9. I’m trying to formulate an intelligent response to both sides of this issue, since I live in both worlds.🙂

  10. WhoSane, I had the hardest time finding this post again!

    My main concern with the whole project is what Diane Ravitch said. Every other group in the US (Korean, Armenian, Greek) has programs to teach culture and history outside of school.

    It is the same for religion. The separation between church and state should be applied to every religion in the public school system. As Christians, we teach our kids about our faith outside the system as the system doesnt’ allow it.

    It is very difficult for me as a Christian, to see an Islamic focused tax-payer funded school when Christianity is basically off-limits in the same school. Do you think that is fair?

    As far as a political agenda, I don’t know. But I have heard from many of my Muslim friends that they pray and hope for America to become Muslim and adopt sharia law,which is completely in line with the Quran and Islam. I’m not excited about this, and not excited about a school promoting a Caliphate in America. Maybe I’ll post a survey on my blog!

    As far as the language goes, I have had several educated Western friends smugly tell me I am on my way to becoming a Muslim because I speak the language of Islam. Others have said God ‘might have mercy on me’ because I speak Arabic.

  11. Daniel pipes is rabidly anti-islam and his campus watch website routinely picks on professors who dare criticize israeli barbarism. He’s an idiot without any credibility and is up there with other certified hate mongers such as robert spencer. There is no point even attempting to reason with such people since they do not argue in good faith to begin with.

  12. […] (This post was originally written for The Arab Expats Blog) […]

  13. Funny , the principal’s name is Al Montaser , this is by its own an act of aggression , Al montaser meaning : victorious , over who ? the non-muslems according to Islamic culture

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