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Debbie Almontaser: Monster or Educator?

When I first started watching the documentary piece on Debbie Almontaser, I already made the assessment that this was just another case of prejudice.  Ms. Almontaser is an American educator who was to be the principal of a NYC dual-language Charter School called Khalil Gibran International Academy.  Arabic would be the language taught.

Now many critics arose when they found out that the Arabic culture would be a part of the curriculum.  The opposition that arose in Topeka, Kansas with the Brown vs. Board of Education case in which Brown fought the segregation of schools popped up in my head. 

There are over 65 other dual-language programs all over NYC teaching languages such as Hebrew, French, Spanish and Chinese.  Why should this one cause so much of a stir? Because the terrorist attacks of 9/11 are still fresh in everyone’s psyche with NYC experiencing the brunt of human casualties.  As a result, everything Arabic is bad in the minds of many New Yorkers let alone Americans.  This is an unfortunate fact, thus I can understand why so many were opposed to the school.  I believe that critics thought that the program would breed many American supporters of terrorism.

 A smear campaign touched off against Debbie Almontaser but a story from the New York Post was the clincher that eventually forced her to step down as principal of the Academy.  In an interview by a Post reporter, Almontaser is asked about a T-shirt with the words, “Intifada NYC” created by a group called, “Arab Women Active in the Arts and Media”.  This group only borrowed office space to run this youth program at Saba: Association of Yemeni American.  Almontaser is just one of the board members of Saba so for them to ask her about it in an attempt to incriminate her is highly devious.   She went on to explain that the word, “intifada” means ‘shaking off’ and she continued by stating, “it is a negative connotation due to the uprising in the Palestinian-Israeli areas” and she does not “believe the intention is to have any of that kind of violence in NYC.”  The Post misquoted her as saying, “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.” This story fueled the already burning fire of unfounded hatred against Almontaser.

 Almontaser denied using the phrase “shaking off oppression” but that did not matter.  Those who wanted to destroy her dream of being the principal of New York’s first Arabic/English dual language academy won.  It’s very scary that the media can one day uplift a person’s career and the next day destroy it with a simple word.  I do not think the blame should fall on the media alone.  I do believe that if the public was more educated and less prejudiced, they could look objectively at the media, especially when it is wholly partisan like this Post story on Almontaser.  We can not sit and passively swallow everything we hear without doing an educated evaluation. Human nature attacks things it doesn’t understand.  For this reason, schools like the Khalil Gibran Academy, are needed to teach our children about cultures other than their own.

Debbie Almontaser is not only affiliated with the Saba organization.  She finds ties with many other organization such as Columbia University, the Mayor’s office of Immigrant Affairs, the NYC Police Department, the Dialogue Project, the Brooklyn Borough President’s New Diversity Task Force, the Same Difference Interfaith Alliance, Youth Bridge N.Y. and Nickelodeon to name a few.  If any of these organizations happened to allow another organization to use one of their spaces and later turned out to be questionable, should Almontaser be the one that is attacked?  It makes no sense and frankly, it sounds like outright bullying to me.

 9/11 is a touchy subject for all Americans and the world but that doesn’t merit attacks on Arabic peoples and their culture.  I believe that because it is a sensitive issue, people who have views on it such as Churchill, should be more sensitive and tactful to the public and try to keep their views within their circle without suppressing their right to free speech.

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March 2, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized

2 Comments »

  1. People are scared of what they do not understand and/or ignorant to – let this be a lesson to our society – we can be a melting pot but to what degree and to what end. Good and bad, we all believe in something -we really will never know what is best for our society today and this is again another example of segregation of the worst kind… can we learn from this or ??

    Comment by Lisa J | March 3, 2010 | Reply

  2. Nikki,

    An excellent post here! Well done.

    Where are the others? Chase Harper? The Nazi one??

    Comment by Professor Dunphy | May 14, 2010 | Reply


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