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"Arabicity" In Our Schools By: Joseph Klein
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The controversial Arabic-oriented public school in Brooklyn, Khalil Gibran International Academy, promotes what it calls a “non-traditional school schedule” that embodies “intensive Arabic language instruction” and lessons in Arab culture and history. Half of its classes are to be taught in Arabic. Its proponents, such as the Network of Arab American Professionals, like to call this approach “Arabicity,” which they have chosen to define as the “expression of one's Arab heritage through individual effort and collective action to further the Arab-American community within the greater American landscape.”

However, this is a revisionist definition of Arabicity, which is meant to sanitize the inextricable bonding of Arabic language and culture to Islam’s ethos of world-wide religious dominance. Arabicity of the Koran, in its truest sense, is central to Islam believers because Islam was founded in the Arabian Peninsula. Its prophet Muhammad, who was Arabic and ensured that the Koran’s original words were in Arabic, believed that his Arabic Islam was destined to rule the world even if it had to be at the point of a sword.

Sayyed Qutb, a leader of the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood whose writings would later become the theoretical basis for many radical Islamic groups of today - including al-Qaeda - called Arabic the language of Islam. He specifically linked “Arabicity” to the Koran, which raised the Arabic language from regional to international status.

Real Arabicity is seen today in the hate-filled sermons and instructional materials distributed daily in Saudi and other Arabic nations’ schools. It is seen in the treatment of women as chattel and the treatment of non-believers as despicable infidels who are not deserving of the same rights as devout Muslims. It is seen in the Arab-dominated Sudanese regime’s imprisonment of a British woman teaching in one of Sudan’s private schools, whose crime against Islam was to let her seven year old pupil name a teddy bear Muhammad. The authorities, oblivious to the fact that it was named after one of the children in her class, considered such naming an insult of the prophet.

As the Sudan Tribune put it:

“Unfortunately, for Sudanese, especially those of African decent, the northern Sudan elites who took over from the British have assumed an entirely Arab-Islamic identity for this country since independence in 1956. And the current regime took this imposed Arab-Islamic identity to the extreme and to its current tragic consequences in the South, Nuba Mountain, and Darfur, to the detriment of other cultures that are a part of Sudan.[1]

In the real Arabic culture – exported around the world - the rights of women are an oxymoron and religious freedoms are virtually non-existent. Khalil Gibran’s curriculum may not be deliberately modeled on this true meaning of Arabicity. However, even if we take its founders’ stated intention of promoting tolerance and inter-cultural understanding at face value, the curriculum’s singular embrace of Arab culture and language will necessarily lead to this true meaning if the school is true to its subject matter. Any curriculum that is centered on Arabic language and culture is imbued with Islam.

Khalil Gibran’s former principal, Debbie Almontaser, resigned last August after coming under a barrage of criticism for wearing a t-shirt with the phrase “Intifada NYC” at an event sponsored by Arab Women Active in the Arts and Media and then trying to deny the violence-charged significance of the word "intifada." She is also in denial about the Arabic-Islamic culture that educated, nourished and funded the 9/11 terrorists from Saudi Arabia. She said “I don’t recognize the people who committed the attacks as either Arabs or Muslims. Those people who did it have stolen my identity as an Arab and stolen my religion.”

Ms. Almontaser cannot bring herself to admit that the terrorists’ ideology was born in the Arabic Koran, not in some sort of political statement as she seems to think.

Now Almontaser is suing the city to get her job back, claiming that her First Amendment rights were violated. She is wrong here too. She resigned from the principal’s position, although she now says she was forced out of that job. Yet, whatever the circumstances of her giving up her title of principal, she remained employed by the Department of Education. An administrative job such as principal does not receive the same First Amendment protection that is accorded to faculty.

Most importantly, the First Amendment problem is not Almontaser’s ouster but the school she founded. Its curriculum necessarily brings the Islam religion into the school room in a way that would be barred for Christianity and Judaism.

In a statement this past October in which she announced her intention to bring a lawsuit against the New York City Department of Education and to apply again to become principal of the Khalil Gibran Academy, Almonstaser said that she would “stand against division, intimidation and hatred.” She should start by joining the call to close down this school, which is inherently divisive, or to convert it into a private school that is not funded with our tax-payers’ money.

America is all about tolerance and freedom to worship as one pleases. It is the Arab world that needs instruction concerning the respect of other cultures and religions, not our public school children.


[1] British Teacher : Irrationality rules in Sudan by Ahmed Elzobier, Sudan Tribune (September 1, 2007).

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