Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Arabic Language Education is NOT a Crime

By Ibrahim Abdil-Mu'id Ramey
MAS Freedom Civil and Human Rights Director

WASHINGTON, DC (MASNET) Aug. 14, 2007 − A few days ago, I was invited to be a guest on one of the more notoriously anti-Muslim and anti-progressive programs on the FOX cable television news network. The scheduled September opening of the Khalil Gibran Academy in Brooklyn, New York was the topic of the five-minute segment. The academy is a dual Arabic-English language facility for some 60 elementary school children in a community with a substantial Arabic-speaking population.

The academy was established to facilitate the learning of both the Arabic language and Middle Eastern culture, the school, however, is not intended to be a facility for religious training or indoctrination, and it will be fully certified by, and accountable to, the New York City Board of Education.

Of course, I support multi-cultural education (I worked for the New York City Board of Education in the 1980's), and as a person who is bilingual in both English and Spanish, I believe that when children learn about other cultures and languages, they grow both intellectually and as future global citizens. That said, I found it of interest to learn that the Gibran Academy is under ferocious attack by some elements of the New York City community who consider Arabic language and educating students regarding Middle Eastern culture to be an open invitation for Islamic "extremism" and the indoctrination of children.

As the program segment commenced, the first question thrown at me was not about the Gibran school or its proposed curriculum; it was whether I, as an individual, support the Palestinian Intifada. After I responded in the affirmative, the program host then inferred that supporting the Palestinian people meant that I also approved of the killing of "innocent Jews". (Interestingly, the television program host didn't ask me my opinion about the overwhelming number of innocent Palestinians who have been, and are being, killed by Israel occupation forces.)

So what does the Israel-Palestine conflict have to do with Arabic language instruction in an American elementary school?

On the surface, perhaps nothing. But this type interviewing on a televised program is typical of the way mainstream media combines global politics, such as the Israel-Palestine conflict, the Middle East, and the fear of Islam, to fuel opposition to the legitimate rights of Muslims and Arabic-speaking citizens in the United States.

The designated principal of the academy, Debbie Almontaser, is a respected, veteran New York City school teacher with a history of community leadership and deep involvement in interfaith dialogue. The proposed conflict resolution program for the Khalil Gibran Academy will be created by the Tannenbaum Center, one of America's most highly regarded interfaith institutions.

But none of this matters for the haters of the Muslim/Arabic community who equate the Arabic language and Islam with terrorism.

Since the plans were announced to open the school, there has been a relentless campaign to close it. Numerous letters have been sent to the New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and public school Chancellor Joel Klein, demanding that the academy not be allowed to open. Ms. Almontaser and other Muslim organizations and leaders associated with her, have been excoriated and slandered as being associated with violence and terrorism - all without any particle of evidence that these assertions are true.

It is not necessary for the Academy's opponents to bring any credible arguments against the school in their resolve to see that it does not open. It is only necessary for them to trade in a climate of fear and hatred towards Muslims in order to have any chance of success.

Sadly, the naysayers are one step closer in their campaign to stop the Academy from opening. Last Friday, Debbie Almontaser resigned as the Academy's principal-designate.

I'm sure Ms. Almontaser - an honorable woman whom I have personally met and spoken with - left her position only because she did not want unwarranted personal attacks to be a distraction from the struggle to open the school and serve the kids in her community.

Speaking the Arabic language in America is not a crime. And receiving school instruction in this language, or exploring the rich and diverse cultures associated with it, are not acts of subversion.

I am sure that the Khalil Gibran Academy will indeed open this Fall. It will be one of the most highly scrutinized elementary schools in America, but then again, it has nothing to hide.

I believe that it will become a beacon of learning for the children of Brooklyn.

But the school will remain open only if we are prepared to organize for the defense of rights of our children, our communities, and the integrity and value of cultural and religious diversity in the institutions of a nation that is, indeed, our nation, too.

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