A T-shirt, a Muslim and a Handful of Eleven-year-olds

When a t-shirt is someone's sole form of political protest, the immigrant in me thinks they're just being lazy. However, with the recent events surrounding the Khalil Gibran International Academy in Brooklyn, NY, I am beginning to feel t-shirts might have political power, at least when they are worn by young Arab girls.

The NY Post, that Beautiful Map of Freedom and Oppression

In August, a few weeks before the opening of the Khalil Gibran International Academy (KGIA), Debbie Almontaser, the school's principal and founding member, was interviewed by the New York Post. KGIA is New York City's first middle school to teach Arab language and culture in addition to the city's standard curriculum. The concept is not new. There are a number of dual-language schools in New York City.

Due to an intense anti-Arab media campaign against the school, one that has been fueled by Stop the Madrassa, Militant Islam Monitor, the New York Sun, Fox News, and of course, the Post, the Department of Education asked the paper's reporter, Charles Bennet to submit his questions beforehand. At the end of the interview, Bennet proposed an unsubmitted question. He asked Almontaser to define the word "intifada."

Choosing to take the role of an educator, rather than a politician, Almontaser opened up a dictionary and defined the word using its literal meaning: "a shaking off."

The reporter then asked if Almontaser was aware of the "Intifada NYC" t-shirts created by young girls from AWAAM: Arab Women Active in the Arts and Media. He insinuated Almontaser was connected to the t-shirts (and by extension violent uprisings) because she was a board member of Saba, a Yemeni-American organization that shared office space with AWAAM.

The Post story was titled, "City Principal is Revolting" and stated: "The inflammatory tees boldly declare 'Intifada NYC' - apparently a call for a Gaza-style uprising in the Big Apple."

In actuality, AWAAM is not linked to KGIA. Its purpose is to empower Arab women to shake off multiple forms of oppression, specifically media oppression. No wonder the Post was alarmed.

What followed over the next few days was described by Rabbi Michael Paley, a scholar from the United Jewish Appeal-Federation of New York, as a "high tech lynching."

When Almonstaser publicly stated that she was misquoted, the Post responded with an article "Shirting the Issue." When Almontaser was forced to resign, the Post gleefully claimed, "Intif-adios to School Chief."

Sometimes I wonder who these Post writers are. Failed spoken word poets? Shakespeare-wannabes punning like mad? Or struggling fiction writers who use keyboards where all the caps are locked?

And Thank You For Your Support

It wouldn't have taken a call to the psychic hotline to guess that the Post was planning an ambush. However, the behavior of NYC officials, Mayor Bloomberg, Chancellor Joseph Klein and United Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten was disturbing.

Weingarten, who is infamous for her lack of support of teachers of color, publicly backed the NY Post and asked, "What is she doing with the job in the first place?"

Maybe, I'm old-fashioned but I thought unions were created to defend their employees.

Bloomberg was less harsh, but his lack of support led to the inevitable: "Today [Almontaser] submitted her resignation, which is nice of her to do and I appreciate all her service."

Nice of her to do? "All of her service" includes being an interfaith peace activist, long-time educator and founder of KGIA, no small task in a city whose educational system is so weighed down by bureaucracy that were it not for the extraordinary work of teachers, most of us publicly educated New Yorkers would be illiterate.

Intifada: Okay, we'll define it for you

Purposefully overlooked in the coverage is perhaps the political definition of intifada, the one the reporter knew, the one Almontaser knew, the one perhaps even you dear reader, are well-aware of.

I'd like to hand out the award for keeping it real to two collectives. The first is The Center for Immigrant Families who wrote: "[T]he word intifada connotes resistance to an unethical and illegal and brutal occupation. It is not the word intifada that promotes violence or that should be denounced; rather, what should be denounced is an occupation that promotes violence and that made the intifada necessary."

The second award goes to NYC educators and Jewish social justice activists Naomi Braine, Jon Moscow, and Lee Schere in the article "Public Education and Global Politics."

"When the principal of the Khalil Gibran school was asked a question about a t-shirt slogan that used the word 'intifada', she was being asked to publicly repudiate the struggles of Palestinians living in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. . . Elements of the Jewish and Christian Zionist movements have deliberately created the strong American identification with Israel that enables the use of the intifada as a litmus test of political loyalty in the US."

In Other News

Homeland Security High School also opened its doors in September. Features of Homeland Security High School include an internship program at a military base where weapons, including biological weapons are developed and tested. There was little public outcry over its opening.


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"Oh, the ignorance. A school of ""radical islam"" named after a Christian poet? Great article."

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