Principal at New NYC Arabic-Language School Forced to Resign
The Khalil Gibran International Academy will be New York's City's first public school dedicated to the study of the Arabic language and Arab culture. It is due to open this fall but ever since plans for the school were announced early this year it has been the object of a well-orchestrated attack from the local rightwing media and neoconservatives like Daniel Pipes. The New York Sun has been relentlessly hostile calling the school a place that could "groom future radicals." In the latest setback, the principal of the school, Debbie Almontaser, resigned last week under pressure after she was lambasted by the media for publicly explaining that the word "intifada" literally means "shaking off" in Arabic. Her remarks, made last weekend, were in response to questions from The New York Post over the phrase "Intifada NYC," which was printed on T-shirts sold by Arab Women Active in the Arts and Media - or AWAAM, a Brooklyn-based girl's empowerment organization. The shirts have no relation to her school. Almontaser was widely criticized for not denouncing the use of the word and condemning its use on the T-shirt. On Wednesday, a headline in the Post called Almontaser the "Intifada Principal." This weekend, an editorial in the paper had the headline, "What's Arabic for 'Shut It Down'?" In a statement on Friday, Almontaser said she was stepping down as principal of the school. She wrote, "I became convinced yesterday that this week's headlines were endangering the viability of Khalil Gibran International Academy, even though I apologized." Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he continued to support the school, but welcomed Almontaser's departure. On his weekly radio program this weekend, he said of Almontaser, "She's very smart. She's certainly not a terrorist. She really does care." Almontaser had a major hand in designing the Khalil Gibran school. As described by its planners, it will offer a standard college preparatory curriculum, with instruction in Arabic each day and a focus on international studies.
- Paula Hajar, longtime educator and activist. She has worked with and written extensively about Arab and Arab American communities in the United States.
- Mona Eldahry, co-founder of AWAAM, Arab women active in the Arts and Media, an organization that trains young Arab women and girls in media production and leadership skills.
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