Beliefnet News

New York – August 20, 2007 – Friends and foes of an embattled public school whose curriculum will be taught in Arabic raised the volume of their rhetoric Monday, with critics warning students could be “indoctrinated” with radical Islamic beliefs and supporters calling such statements “racist.”
The Khalil Gibran International Academy – named after a Lebanese Christian poet – has emerged as a target for criticism since officials announced in February it would be set up as the first in the city to offer instruction in Arabic and on Arab culture.
Supporters planned to rally Monday in favor of the school, gathering in front of the city’s Department of Education. They have said that criticism of the school has been couched in anti-Arab and anti-Muslim rhetoric and that as a public school which receives government money, it was bound by the constitutionally mandated separation of church and state and would not teach religion.
“Unless we all send a clear message that racist comments associating Arabic language and culture with terrorism will not be tolerated, we will continue to hear them again and again,” the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee and other community groups said in a statement in support of the school.
Meanwhile state Assemblyman Dov Hikind said the school’s children could be “indoctrinated” and warned in a statement that “establishment of an Arab school is a misguided and dangerous idea.”
“It will not, as suggested, be a hope for peace; it is a blueprint for anti-Israel and anti-U.S. extremism,” he said, adding that the school has been endorsed by “radical” groups.
City education officials have said they plan to open the school on schedule on Sept. 4 despite efforts by critics equating it with a madrassa, an Islamic religious school, and portraying it as a potential radical Islam training ground.
Officials were forced to change the school’s original venue – a Brooklyn elementary school – after some argued that the new students would overcrowd the school. It has been moved to a high school in the same borough.
Then, earlier this month the school’s original principal, Debbie Almontaser, a Yemeni-born Muslim, resigned after she failed to condemn the use of the highly charged word “intifada,” an Arabic term for the Palestinian uprising against Israel.
Her replacement is Jewish and does not speak Arabic.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said on his radio show that Almontaser is “certainly not a terrorist,” but he called her resignation the “right thing to do.”
Some of the school’s supporters argued Monday that education officials’ quiet persistence in planning to open the school is not enough.
“‘Welcoming’ Ms. Almontaser’s resignation and remaining silent on the underlying anti-Arab, anti-Muslim bigotry has the effect of legitimizing the very thing that should be condemned,” the groups said in a statement.
Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.