Arabic Public School Principal Forced to Resign Over Tee-Shirt Comment

A very disturbing story is emerging from New York where the principal of the city’s first Arabic-language school (the Khalil Gibran International Academy) said that she was forced to resign over mild statements regarding a tee-shirt sold by an outside group. Debbie Almontaser was the target of a concerted campaign to get the administration of Mayor Bloomberg to fire her.

Let me begin by expressing the great irony in supporting Almontaser’s reinstatement. I have been a long critic of New York’s creation of special schools for gay and lesbian students, religious groups, and other groups. Click here and here and here.

Yet, if New York insists on continuing this Balkanization of the public schools, it should at least maintain a consistent treatment under our constitutional values. The pressure on Almontaser is perfectly bizarre. It began over a teeshirt and her apparent fatal failure in the eyes of some to condemn the message or makers.

The tee-shirt controversy began in early August over teeshirts with the phrase “Intifada NYC,” produced by Arab Women Active in the Arts and Media, a Brooklyn-based group. Almontaser merely said, when asked, that the word “intifada literally meant “shaking off” and thus did not clearly call for violence.

David Cantor, a spokesman for Chancellor Klein, has said: “In August, Ms. Almontaser said she resigned as principal from Khalil Gibran International Academy to protect the stability of the school and give it ‘the full opportunity to flourish.’” He said, “The chancellor agreed with her decision, accepted her resignation, and now considers the matter closed.” Really?  I find it rather surprising that the chancellor of a major school system believes that a principal should resign in such circumstances.

She clearly should not have resigned and should have fought the issue on principle. Instead, her students saw a leader bow to pressure over free speech and yield to the demands of the mob.

While I do not support the school on the principle of a common educational mission and curriculum for elementary and high school students, it is clear that virtually all of the opposition has been directed at the specific mission and identity of this school. For example, as noted in the article below, the conservative Web site Political Dishonesty carried this commentary on Feb. 14:

“Just think, instead of jocks, cheerleaders and nerds, there’s going to be the Taliban hanging out on the history hall, Al Qaeda hanging out by the gym, and Palestinians hanging out in the science labs. Hamas and Hezbollah studies will be the prerequisite classes for an Iranian physics. Maybe in gym they’ll learn how to wire their bomb vests and they’ll convert the football field to a terrorist training camp.”

Such disturbing views reveal the motivations and methods of many who sought this removal. Mayor Bloomberg should step in and reinstate the principal. We should then continue a worthy educational debate over the rapid expansion of these specialized schools across the country.

As it stands, the city has taught its students an erroneous and dangerous lesson about the limits of the first amendment — an tolerance in a pluralistic society.

For the full story, click here and here.

16 thoughts on “Arabic Public School Principal Forced to Resign Over Tee-Shirt Comment”

  1. DW, I’ve been seeing the same kind of demonizations you have lately; especially after reading some very enlightening books by very wise and well-informed authors.

    The tone of the 2004 and now the 2008 elections has gotten worse in that respect. Each candidate seems to spend more time on personal verbal attacks on the candidates instead of doing what they should be doing; focusing on what THEY will do to help the American people in various ways. Now, maybe I’m mistaken in that perception, but given what I am seeing, I don’t think so.

    It’s gotten to the point where I only watch programs that SAY something (like COUNTDOWN and sometimes Dan Abrams’ program) and then shut the TV OFF and read. I like the quiet better anyway. 🙂

  2. Susan,

    For a while now I have been pushing the idea that an organizing principle in the American political divide between liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans is the notion of demonization of out-groups on the part of the conservatives/Republicans. And to that observation I have asserted that the liberal position has been to be concerned with policies.

    So elections boil down to liberals earnestly pushing policy and conservatives angrily denouncing threating out-groups (gays, abortionists, immigrants, terrorists, minorities, lawyers, liberals, and so on).

    The reason I adduce is that conservatives run government only in order to keep it from being run by someone who will turn its powers against their economic interests. They don’t want the car to be driven to a certain destination, so they try to sit in the drivers seat, essentially doing nothing as much as they can. When by chance liberals get in control of the machinery, the conservatives try to hamstring government by obstructing tactics. They are simply not interested in public policy, or the public weal for that matter. Politics is a necessary evil for them, that they have to play to get access to the drivers seat. Their real fear is not terrorism, but regulation. But they won’t ever win even a race for dog-catcher on that platform, so they have to come up with something.

    And that takes us back to hatred for out-groups. As in all paradigms, once you see it, it clarifies a lot of what we see on the national stage and also reveals a mystifying complicity in the national media.

    Glenn Greenwald, one of the premier voices on the internet, takes up this paradigm today:

    “There is no better phrase to describe the animating feature of the modern Limbaugh/Kristol/Fox News conservative faction than “threatened tribalism.” The belief that they are good and pure, yet subjected to unprecedented systematic unfairness and threatened by some lurking Evil Other against whom war must be waged (the Muslim, the Immigrant, the Terrorist, the Communist, the Liberal, the Welfare Queen) is the centerpiece of their ugly worldview.”


  3. Speaking intuitively and for myself only, my strong impression, which has been/is limited
    to this blog, the answer would be that JT is and has been nothing short of meticulous in keeping
    within the Court’s Order, by not sharing information until its availability had been made to the Public
    – which, if referenced, recently, appears to be almost non-existent elsewhere, also.

    My, likewise, however limited, knowledge as to the lengths others might go to implicate anyone
    associated with JT’s blog, including JT, would be both limited AND magnified, in my view, and
    subject to that same, first, generally favorable, somewhat limited overall impression
    – in review…

    Consider mine, therefore, a similarly drawn line, but towards civilized discussion, here
    -at least with me, anyway… : )

    Happy Easter! Happy Passover! And ALL Holidays in between!

  4. Susan,

    I suppose a social scientist would tell you that it is an emergent behavior with political groups, that they generate cohesion by shared adherence to values, but also shared antipathy toward out-groups and out-individuals.

    Lose the enemies and the group is somewhat weakened, but not necessarily to the point of dissolution.

  5. Deeply Worried wrote:
    “Destroy all enemies of America. No exceptions. No mercy.”

    This is the folly and hubris of the neo-cons in a nutshell. Their reasoning is faulty and can be answered by another bumper sticker:

    “We are creating enemies faster than we can kill them.”

    Time for both sides to lay down their arms and start to talk.

    DW, here’s a better question; WHY are some people so quick to create “enemies” which might not even exist? And what would they do with their lives if they didn’t have these “enemies” to fight against?

  6. Indeed. The word mensch (mentsh) is a word meaning ‘a respectable man.’

    Our talking news-info-tainers, scores of academically under-nourished (and otherwise unemployable) elected officials and former elected officials (irrespective of party or pending indictments) have routinely and daily, used terms that are highly offensive to many people of Middle Eastern origin, including those whose families have been Americans since the late 1800’s.

    Small minds – Big Wars

  7. Another related aside: Today my wife and I saw a bumper sticker on a car we passed. It said something very bellicose like:

    “Destroy all enemies of America. No exceptions. No mercy.”

    This is the folly and hubris of the neo-cons in a nutshell.

    Their reasoning is faulty and can be answered by another bumper sticker:

    “We are creating enemies faster than we can kill them.”

    Time for both sides to lay down their arms and start to talk.

  8. As to the “Islamo-fascist” users. Without enemies, they cannot hold their coalition together. Watch them, they are always creating and then exploiting out-groups.

    Meanwhile the adults are trying to keep the distractible public’s attention on the public policy that affects their future.

    Good story about “mensch”. I always understood it to be a term of approval and admiration.

  9. A few facts is always helpful – particularly in light of the fact that our Freedom of Speech doesn’t require an absence of malice or an embrace of honesty.

    Khalil Gibrain was a Lebanese born Christian. He,like many Christians or former Roman Catholics born in the US, was vociferous in his criticism of the historically relevant corruption among the Clergy and High Clergy. In his case – the Eastern Rite of the Catholic Church.

    The school is named after him because he was a highly regarded artist and a celebrated poet in the Arabic language.

    Almontaser’s assertion was about language. To those who are more familiar with Middle Eastern cultures, attended American University in Lebanon or served the United States of America in the region – this reaction to her statement is as tragic as it is comical. The tee-shirt controversy is an Arabic Language and Arts Institute indicating rebellion. This entire debacle is an enormous overreaction by a specific type of American that speaks no other languages, understand very little culture outside of 100 square-miles of where they were born or where there TV transports them; as well as the anti-Islamo-Facista paranormals.

    A concise overview can be found here:–arabicschool0320mar20,0,864858.story

    The reporting and accompanying dialog remind me of an evening that a family member insisted, (using his greater age as certification0, that the word ‘mensch’ in Yiddish was a slur. Even though I have a near fluent and functional use of the language and he doesn’t, he insisted he was correct. Short of calling Jackie Mason for corroboration, I suggested that he check with his good friend, a fellow octogenarian, that was very familiar with Yiddish. He then began to argue with him that he didn’t know what he was talking about, regardless of the fact that it was the language of his youth.

  10. “”If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”

    Justice Robert Jackson

  11. JT:

    Another case of law being sacrificed for order. Don’t expect too much from Bloomberg, he’s still carrying water for the country club mafia, and decisions based on principle, as opposed to fleeting but fervent public sentiment, have been outlawed.

  12. Khalil Gibran wrote about Christianity, condemning the practices of the Eastern churches and their clergies.

    For someone to wear a t shirt emblazoned with Intifada, meaning shaking off, in the context of how the Palestinians are “shaking off” the Israelis by attacking civilians, I can understand why she got fired.

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