The Khalil Gibran International Academy, a secondary public school with an Arabic-based curriculum, will open its doors this fall despite an outcry from local taxpayers.
Reports Sarah Garland of the New York Sun, the academy will be a “public secondary school that is to include Middle Eastern Studies in its curriculum,” and will focus on the study of Arab culture, not present-day regional conflict. According to Pipeline News, Principal Dhabah Almontaser revealed that the school will teach the Arabic language as well as ensure that its students possess “a better understanding of where their ancestors came from,” referring to the school’s constituency, mostly of Arabic origin.
However, Professor Moustafa Bayoumi of Brooklyn College unintentionally hinted at a possible agenda when he remarked about the school, “It’s not uncommon for Arab students to feel isolated— I think it’s seen as a foothold.” Daniel Pipes, a middle east expert, has been covering the growth of the school in detail, as it heads for its opening academic year this fall. He maintains that the publicly-funded institution will pose as a safe haven for Arabic families struggling in the urban environment. The Sun reported that “while Khalil Gibran’s organizers say the school’s main focus is academic, they also said the school could help to integrate Arab families into New York society by providing the school community with health services, counseling, youth leadership development, and English as a second language classes for parents.”
Meanwhile, a sample math lesson was given by the CEO of the Office of New Schools, Garth Harries. In teaching both Arabic culture and mathematics, students would learn of the Arabic origins of zero. However, Daniel Pipes notes that the concept of zero was actually Indian in origin, and was adopted by the Arabs. The new school, noted a fellow critic, “will be ethnic cheerleading at its worst.” Also, Principal Almontaser maintained that the school was not to teach religion, pointing out that Islam is a religion rather than culture, and strictly Arab culture will be taught. However, she also revealed that the curriculum will include the modern Palestinian-Israeli conflict, a religious conflict at its core. And it would be quite difficult to learn Arab culture without being immersed in Islam, a key element of Arabic history. AP reporter Nahal Toosi even stated that the school “would be one of a few nationwide that incorporate the Arabic language and Islamic culture.”
Furthermore, the principal possesses questionable ties to certain organizations which promote Islamist agendas and Muslim sympathy in the wake of 9/11. Almontaser, according to Pipes, denies that Arab Muslims carried out the 9/11 atrocities, and framed the American response to the disaster as that of a totalitarian regime. In a terror case in New York City where an Arab man was tried for attempting to bomb a city subway station, Almontaser bemoaned that the police were using “FBI tactics” to solve the case and were “polarizing the Muslim community.”
The principal also has received an award in the past from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, an Islamist group that has been notably reluctant to criticize terrorist groups. Not only that, but the board of advisory council members consists entirely of religious leaders, thus contradicting her previous statement that separated the school’s agenda from religion.
Pipeline News also reported that Almontaser has proven over her years in New York schools “a Muslim-centric viewpoint of victimization and resentment” through her continuous comments. Simply because of her past record, Almontaser is not qualified to head such a publicly-funded institution.
Pipes, from his extensive studies in the Middle East, has found that Arabic instruction is generally “heavy with Islamist and Arabist overtones and demands.” Thus the Arabic language curriculum at the school will be taught by members of the staff of the Arab-American Family Support Center, whose website contains links to various Islamist-supporting organizations and proclaims that the “Arab-American immigrant community has been one of the most severely impacted by the 9/11 backlash… evidenced by the campaign of sweeps, raids, detentions, deportations, interrogations and investigations conducted by government authorities,” according to Pipeline News. Though the truth to the website’s claims can be debated, it is important to note the special interests the organization serves, the organization that will be providing teachers for a publicly-funded school from its very own staff.
Writer for the International Herald Tribune Richard Bernstein remarked about the school’s agenda that “most people who knew about it seemed to see it as a reasonable gesture to an Arab immigrant community that often feels estranged from the surrounding American society.” His affirmation of the school’s outreach to the Arab community simply confirms Pipe’s worries that the school will also serve a secondary purpose as a haven for Arab-American culture and thought as a public institution. Pipes is confident in his concern that the school serves a special agenda, and remarks that though the inclusion of the “history and contributions of the Arab people” in the curriculum may be harmless, this public school should require close supervision by the city public schools department.
(Information compiled thanks to PipelineNews.org and Daniel Pipes’ weblog “On New York’s ‘Khalil Gibran International Academy’.”)
Matt Hadro is an intern at the American Journalism Center, a training program run by Accuracy in Media and Accuracy in Academia.