Controversial Arab School to Open Next Week

July 7, 2008 - 8:23 PM

(CNSNews.com) - Despite controversies, protests, and the principal's ouster, the Kahlil Gibran International Academy, an Arab language and culture school, is set to open in Brooklyn next week for about 60 sixth-grade students.

Yet opponents of the school, who fear it will promote Islam, are still fighting to keep the academy from opening.

And now a leading Christian legal group, the Thomas More Law Center, is lending a hand to the Stop the Madrassa citizens group in New York City. A madrassa is the name given to a Muslim school - New York City school officials say the Kahlil Gibran International Academy does not fit that category.

But the Academy, a public school, will be an incubator for Islamic radicalization, said Richard Thompson, president of the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, Mich. He cited a New York Police Department intelligence report that warned against isolation of the Arab population, because it can lead to terrorism.

"Rather than use the public school system to assimilate Muslims and other immigrants into American culture, New York City is doing everything it can to keep them isolated - a target-rich environment for recruiting potential new homegrown terrorists and a recipe for a future 9/11 disaster, according to my read of the NYPD report," said Thompson.

New York City Schools Chancellor Joe Klein said the school is not a religious school and will be shut down should it try to become one. He and others insist the school - similar to other schools with a culture theme, such as Greek, Russian and Chinese - can keep the teachings of Arab culture separate from the Islamic religion.

However, the school's advisory board is made up of three imams (Islamic leaders), as well as Christian and Jewish clergy. New York City schools spokeswoman Melody Meyer told Cybercast News Service this was not a step to push religion but an opportunity because of board members who were able to successfully reach out to the Brooklyn community. Meyer could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

One of the imams named to the board was Talib Abdul-Rashid, who preaches at the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood in Harlem. The mosque's Web site proclaims, "Allah is our goal. The prophet Muhammad is our leader. The Quran is our constitution. Jihad is our way. And death in the way of Allah is our promised end."

Abdul-Rashid had defended the ousted principle Debbie Almontaser, who helped found the school. Almontaser was controversial from the time the school was announced because of radical, left-wing comments she made regarding U.S. foreign policy.Debbie Almontaser, former principal of the Kahlil Gibran International Academy, ousted because of her radical anti-U.S. comments.

She resigned this month after it was discovered she shared office space with an Islamist group that sells T-shirts encouraging New York Muslims to join an "intifada."

The intifada refers to the attacks on Israeli Jews by Islamic radicals between 1987 and 1993, in some of the territories gained by the Israelis after the Six Day War in 1967.

The New York chapter of the Council of Islamic Relations (CAIR) released a statement earlier this month expressing "regret" that Almontaser "was unfairly pressured to resign from her position as principal due to attacks."

The CAIR statement said the academy has "sustained hateful and false attacks by anti-Arab media and extremists. In the post-9/11 world, a school educating our children about Arab history, culture, and language is not only crucial for the next generation to become informed leaders for positive change in our communities; it is also an extraordinary place of hope for people, understanding, and justice for our embattled world."

It was in March, this year, when New York City Department of Education officials announced the establishment of the academy, named for Khalil Gibran, a Lebanese Christian poet.

The school will host grades 6-12, but it will include only a sixth grade class the first year and then expand each year as students are promoted. The academy will enroll 60 students at a cost of more than $12,000 per pupil and have five faculty members - all certified teachers, Meyer said.

The executive summary of the school describes a day in the life of a student as passing through the hallway adorned with portraits of Arab philosophers, inventors and poets. In the cafeteria, a retired, Arab-speaking community member will come daily to converse with students to strengthen their Arab fluency, according to the summary.

Among those cafeteria speakers will be attorneys from the American Muslim Association of Lawyers, said Sara Springer, a member of Stop the Madrassa. The Muslim lawyers group is the organization representing the six imams who are suing passengers of a U.S. Air flight for allegedly discriminating against them after the passengers reported suspicious behavior by the imams.

"They have a specific ideology," Springer told Cybercast News Service . "A public school is not a venue for that. If we raise a generation of indoctrinated children, it's scary to think about the future in this country."

Springer said she isn't comforted by Almontaser's departure, because the faculty was hired by Almontaser.

"Even though the principal is gone, she created it," said Springer. "It's her vision."

New York school officials said every school has a rigid monitoring process. Still, Brian J. Rooney, an attorney with the Thomas More Law Center, told Cybercast News Service the group will monitor the school with help from the Stop the Madrassa coalition. If they find a religious violation, Rooney said they will bring a federal lawsuit against the school.

Monitoring by the city's department of education could create a constitutional issue in itself, Rooney said.

"The problem with the Department of Education coming in to determine if there are religious violations is that CAIR could view that as discriminatory on it's face," Rooney said. "CAIR will threaten litigation, and Klein will be hamstrung. We'll be in a much better position to monitor."

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