More about the controversy over the Khalil Gibran International Academy (KGIA)

May 31, 2008

My post The “Stop the Madrassa” Coalition and its campaign against the Khalil Gibran International Academy has been quoted on the FrontPage magazine site in an article titled Fantasizing “The New McCarthyism” by Phil Orenstein,, Friday, May 23, 2008.

Islamism (the totalitarian ideology) does pose a real threat. But it’s a threat that needs to be addressed with surgical precision, not blind hysteria.

Alas, Phil Orenstein’s article comes across to me as hysteria-mongering: a flood of accusations against various people, combined with a blatantly fallacious dismissal of the civil rights concerns of Muslims. But his article has inspired me to research several topics more deeply this past week, including hate crime statistics and the recent history of bigotry against both Jews and Muslims.

The quote from me, and my preliminary response

Below is a copy of a comment I posted here in response to the recent FrontPage article:

To Phil Orenstein: Quote out of context, etc.

I’m quoted above as saying that Debbie Almontaser is “a traditionalist-leaning Muslim and as such, has ties to the more fundamentalist Muslim groups.” You left out a crucial first part of that statement of mine: “It does appear that ….” I don’t know her personally, and I’m certainly no expert on her actual religious orientation, or on what groups she has ties to or how close any given tie is. The blog entry you quoted was merely my preliminary attempt to piece the story together from what people on both sides of the controversy had to say. I’m surprised that you deemed me worthy of quoting on this particular matter at all; don’t you have any better sources?

By the way, if you were wondering what the campaign against Debbie Almontaser has in common with McCarthyism, it is precisely your obsession with guilt-by-association, even to the point of quoting not-very-knowledgeable sources (such as, in this case, me) about someone’s associations.

There are other schools, elsewhere in the U.S.A., about which I think the anti-“Madressa” movement probably does have valid concerns. But it does not appear to me that the KGIA is one of them, as I explain in the blog post you quoted.

About your dismissal of the existence of hate crimes against Muslims: While the statistics you referred to do appear to show that hate crimes against Jews are a much more common occurrence, those statistics certainly do NOT show that “American citizens are showing more tolerance and respect toward Muslims than any other religious group.” Rather, according to those statistics (on the FBI site here) Muslims are the second most frequent target of religiously motivated hate crimes. Furthermore, according to the graphic in the article you cited on this topic, there were many more hate crimes against Muslims in 2001 than in the year of the FBI report in question, 2006. Fortunately such crimes have decreased, but not to the point of total insignificance.

I’m concerned about bigotry against Jews too, especially the revival of classic libels against Jews. I’ve been focussing more on Muslims lately because of the need to strike a balance between legitimate concerns about the spread of Islamism (the theocratic imperialist political ideology) and avoiding undue paranoia about individual Muslims.

Although the links in my copy above do work, they didn’t work in the original, so I posted the URL’s in a subsequent comment here.

Now for a further response to Phil Orenstein’s article.

The article is full of personal accusations against various people, plus quite a bit of wrangling over CUNY (City University of New York) faculty politics. I don’t know how much truth there is to most of these accusations, and I don’t have time to research them all. I’ll just say that Phil Orenstein’s citing of me as a source on Debbie Almontaser’s religious beliefs and organizational affiliations, while ignoring the explicitly tentative nature of my statement on that matter, does not leave me with a favorable impression of his journalistic acumen. As we shall see later, he also cites such dubious sources as an editorial by someone who can’t do math. That being the case, I would suggest that the reader take most of his accusations with a grain of salt.

In the remainder of this post, I’ll comment on just a few points that leapt out at me, some of which I considered important enough to research further. Among other things, I spent quite a bit of time exploring Daniel Pipes’s site.

The witchhunt mentality: guilt by association

In response to some statements about Daniel Pipes by Mona Eldahry, one of the panelists at the April 28 forum on “Academic Freedom and the Attack on Diversity at CUNY,” Phil Orenstein wrote:

Daniel Pipes is an Islamic scholar well known for his respect and defense of the majority of peaceful Muslims, often asserting that while radical Islam is the problem, moderate Muslims are the solution.

Yes, Daniel Pipes does make that distinction. (See his writings on moderate Muslims, and see also Flemming Rose’s interview with Daniel Pipes on The Threat of Islamism.) However, in practice, Pipes often comes across to me as overly quick to accuse someone of being a “stealth Islamist,” often based on little more than guilt-by-association. For example, on this page, he says that Debbie Almontaser’s “defense of CAIR [Council on American-Islamic Relations], more than any other statement by Almontaser, proves she is an Islamist.” This supposedly incriminating statement of hers, quoted by Pipes, is as follows:

CAIR-New York is one of the most prominent civil rights organizations in New York City, as well as across the country. The president of CAIR sits on the Human Rights Commission of New York City. He was appointed by Mayor Bloomberg. So if Mayor Bloomberg has no issues with working closely with CAIR, I don’t see why anyone should have any issues. CAIR, unfortunately, has been targeted, because it is fighting for the civil rights of Arabs and Muslims. And, you know, this organization, as well as other organizations fighting for civil rights of Arabs and Muslims, is very much needed.

Below are some pages dealing with the controversy about CAIR:

Even if it’s true that CAIR is dominated by Islamists (those who aim to impose Islamic theocracy worldwide), it doesn’t follow that everyone associated with CAIR is an Islamist.

Daniel Pipes also claims that, although most American Muslims are more moderate, Saudi-style Wahhabism/Salafism is disproportionately dominant in pretty much the entire American Islamic establishment, thanks to Saudi oil money. To whatever extent the latter claim is true, it would logically follow that there are probably lots of non-Wahhabis associated with Wahhabi-dominated organizations, simply because those Wahhabi-dominated groups are the only game in town.

Thus, an endorsement of CAIR does not necessarily mean that someone is an Islamist. And, by saying that Debbie Almontaser’s “defense of CAIR [Council on American-Islamic Relations], more than any other statement by Almontaser, proves she is an Islamist,” Daniel Pipes has thereby admitted that all his other “evidence” is even weaker.

In Daniel Pipes’s article Debating the Khalil Gibran International Academy, he says the following:

I do think that – what I know of her record suggests that she is someone who supports radical Islam, that is to say, supports bringing in elements of the Shari`a, of Islamic law, whether it be by bringing in imams onto the advisory board or having lunch that is served according to Islamic regulations or receiving an award from, as Ms. Elliot noted earlier, the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

The advisory board included not just imams, but also Jewish and Christian Clergy plus the leader of an atheist/humanist group (the ethical culture society).

As for halal food in the cafeteria: I would see nothing wrong with that if there were also public school cafeterias that served kosher food in neighborhoods with a large Jewish population. According to the NPR radio show linked in Pipes’s article, the Board of Education currently allows neither. There do exist CUNY colleges with cafeterias that serve kosher food. I see no legal or constitutional reason why gradeschools couldn’t serve both kosher food and halal food too, as well as ordinary food, except that some school buildings might be too small to accommodate multiple kitchens easily. However, in a sufficiently large school building, I see no rational reason for anyone to feel threatened by either kosher food or halal food. As long as they are optional, they don’t infringe on anyone else’s rights.

Daniel Pipes writes:

Let me just note one thing, that the long-time national spokesman of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said back in 1993, that “I don’t want to create the impression that I wouldn’t like the government of the United States to be Islamic sometime in the future, but I’m not going to do anything violent to promote that. I’m going to do it through education.” So the long term plan of CAIR and other institutions has been to work with education.

Pipes seems to be insinuating that if a public school teacher or principal is involved with CAIR, then that teacher or principal will abuse one’s position to promote, via “education,” the idea of an Islamic government.

Note the word “I,” not “we,” in Pipes’s quote from the CAIR “spokesman.” Thus the “spokesman” was speaking for himself, not for CAIR. While an Islamic government might be an informal goal of some, perhaps even most, of the leaders of CAIR, it’s not an official “long term plan of CAIR” itself (see CAIR’s Vision, Mission, and Core Principles). Thus, the “spokesman’s” statement certainly does not constitute proof that Debbie Almontaser intended to use her position as a school principal to promote the idea of an Islamic government.

Daniel Pipes has not found any evidence of Debbie Almontaser herself saying anything like, “The U.S. Constitution should be replaced by the Quran and Hadiths” or “Islam is the solution to all our social problems.” Had she herself ever said any such thing, it would indeed be cause for concern especially if she had said it in a classroom. But apparently she hasn’t.

Furthermore, there are many people who know her, including even an ADL spokesperson, who have attested to work for mutual understanding between people of different religions. This doesn’t sound to me like someone who wants to eliminate our secular government.

Debbie Almontaser does appear to be traditional in her practice, or at least traditional enough to wear hijab. But this, in itself, doesn’t tell us much about her political and social goals.

Pipes says:

Let me also note that back in 2003, Ms. Almontaser took part in something called the “Grand Display of Muslim Unity” at Madison Square Garden, organized with the Islamic Internet University, and the mission of that university is to establish and support, “the Islamic institutions, particularly Islamic educational institutions, in this land.”

Did she abuse her position as a public school teacher to promote this event at a public school? If not, I see nothing to complain about here. Teachers and school principals have the right to attend whatever religious and political events they choose.

Furthermore, to be an effective networker, a school’s founding principal needs to attend a wide variety of social events. Among other things, a school’s founding principal needs to be able to network with the Muslim community (as well as the Christian community, the Jewish community, etc.) as it exists now, rather than to be picky and associate only with small groups of modernizing reformers, as Daniel Pipes would apparently prefer.

Despite his scholarship, Daniel Pipes sometimes seems ignorant of basic logic. For example, he doesn’t seem to know what the word “imply” means:

My problem, in the abstract, was that I’ve seen over and over again that the instruction of Arabic implies either a political or a religious agenda. I’ve documented this [taking place] in various places, such as Middlebury College in Vermont or in Algeria, or a whole range of schools around the country.

Apparently by “implies” he means “has often been accompanied by.” Instruction in Arabic certainly does not logically imply “either a political or a religious agenda.”

Daniel Pipes then has the gall to say:

That’s not a witch hunt. That’s noting something and criticizing it, and I wish my critics had the decency to respond to what I’m saying, rather than abuse me and call me names.

Well, I wish Daniel Pipes had the decency to avoid making personal accusations based on flimsy evidence (e.g. that Debbie Almontaser’s support of CAIR “proves” she is an Islamist). It is precisely the flimsiness of his evidence that, indeed, does make his accusations constitute a “witchhunt.”

In my opinion, he does have valid fears about the spread of Islamism. But it would be nice if he could be more measured in how he voices those fears. If Pipes is worried that a particular person might a “stealth Islamist,” I think he should, at the very least, voice his suspicions about people in a more tentative manner, in the absence of real proof. He should be more careful to avoid making claims that are stronger than the evidence he presents.

Ironically, Pipes himself has been a target of similarly flimsy accusations based on guilt by association. Among other things, he has been accused of conspiring with Flemming Rose, publisher of the controversial Danish Mohammed cartoons, to stoke up “the Zionist Neo-Cons’ ‘clash of civilizations,’ the artificially constructed struggle to pit the so-called Christian West against the Islamic states and peoples.” See his article Those Danish Cartoons and Me, in which he recounts what happened and then writes:

In today’s vicious and vulgar political discourse, public figures must anticipate that their actions, however minor and innocent, might randomly be plucked out of obscurity and framed as part of some grand design.

He also has a page of corrections of other people’s factual errors about him.

From his own experiences with other people’s conclusion-jumping, one would think he should have learned to avoid jumping to conclusions about other people, too. Alas, he apparently has’t.

Perhaps Pipes’s accusations are correct. But, if they are, he should wait with making those accusations until he can present better evidence and not rely so heavily on guilt by association. I don’t know whether the people he accuses of being “stealth Islamists” really are “stealth Islamists.” But I do know that the evidence he presents, and his reasoning about that evidence, are glaringly flawed. I also know that a civilized society needs to uphold the principle of “innocent until proven guilty.”

Pipes and “the enfranchisement of the Muslim community in America” – valid fears of Islamists and Jew-haters

In Fantasizing “The New McCarthyism”, Phil Orenstein writes:

She claimed Pipes wrote that the enfranchisement of the Muslim community in America is a serious problem for the Jewish people. When I tried asking for the source of such statements, I was curtly interrupted, and told “we have to move on now.

Well, I’ve dug up some sources. The most directly relevant source is his WorldNetDaily article A French lesson for Tom Harkin, which begins by quoting something he said to the American Jewish Congress in October 2001:

I worry very much, from the Jewish point of view, that the presence, and increased stature, and affluence, and enfranchisement of American Muslims, because they are so much led by an Islamist leadership, that this will present true dangers to American Jews.

See also Daniel Pipes’s online collection of writings on Antisemitism, including the following:

Another relevant article, not listed on his “Antisemitism” page, is The End of American Jewry’s Golden Era: An Interview with Daniel Pipes.

Pipes’s claim is not that Islam itself poses a threat to Jews, but that the hatred of Jews that is all too common among Muslims these days, in conjunction with the political ideology of Islamism, is indeed a serious threat to Jews.

As far as I can tell, based on my own admittedly much more limited research, he is essentially correct that bigotry against Jews has become very widespread among Muslims not just opposition to the state of Israel, but a revival of old-fashioned European-style Jew-hating myths such as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and even the medieval blood libel.

(Like many right wingers, Daniel Pipes has a tendency to confuse legitimate criticism of Israel with “anti-Semitism.” But he does document plenty of instances of real hate crimes and libels against Jews too.)

I agree with Pipes that this is a serious problem. But I disagree with him on what to do about it.

I agree that it’s important to acknowledge the threat. And I agree that it’s important to encourage genuine moderates and modernizing reformers to become more visible in the Muslim community.

However, Pipes takes what I consider to be an overly heavy-handed approach. On the one hand, he is overly quick to accuse individual Muslims of being “stealth Islamists.” On the other hand, he, a non-Muslim, has played a very active and visible role in trying to help moderate Muslims to organize. (See, for example, his pages on Stephen Schwartz and the Center for Islamic Pluralism and Responding to Joshua Muravchik about “Moderate Islamists”.) Helping genuine moderates is praiseworthy, but I fear that he may be overdoing it.

Ironically, Pipes himself recognizes the dangers of a too heavy-handed approach in another realm, foreign policy. In Dealing With Middle Eastern Conspiracy Theories, he writes:

Avoid bestowing the kiss of death. Conspiracy theories foster a widespread suspicion among Muslims that foreign powers covertly control their rulers; overbearing foreign support thereby undermines a Middle East leader’s reputation and this redounds to hurt the foreign patron. In Syria, the government did so badly in the elections of 1954 in large part because it was seen as far too pliant to American wishes. Not accidentally, it was replaced by leftist politicians who viewed Washington with hostility, and these ruled for decades afterwards. The shah of Iran and Anwar as-Sadat lost their countrymen’s respect because both were (wrongly) seen as agents of Washington. Hafiz al-Asad and the communist rulers of Afghanistan suffered from their too close association with Moscow.

I would encourage Daniel Pipes to apply this insight not only to the U.S. government’s dealings with foreign governments, but also to his own and the American Jewish community’s dealings with the American Muslim community and the organizations therein that he likes and dislikes.

In much the same way that a government which appears to be controlled by foreigners is unlikely to win the loyalty of its citizens/subjects, so too a Muslim organization whose agenda appears to have been dictated by non-Muslims is unlikely to attract very many Muslims. Thus, a strategy of aggressively urging everyone to blackball all Muslim groups except for a select few small, certified 100% pure moderate groups (with too much funding from non-Muslim sources) could easily backfire, it seems to me.

(P.S., 6/2.2008: To counteract the effects of Saudi oil money, I would suggest laws limiting the amounts of money that religious groups, educational institutions, and other organizations can receive from overseas sources.)

At the same time, Daniel Pipes needs to rein in his own “conspiracy theorizing” tendencies regarding “stealth Islamists,” lest he unnecessarily alienate people via his propensity for conclusion-jumping accusations. The threat of “stealth Islamists” is real, but I think he needs be more careful to avoid crying wolf and the appearance of crying wolf about specific individual people. At least Pipes admits that he has made some mistakes in this regard. (See Identifying Moderate Muslims.) But he needs to become more careful about his evidence and how he presents it.

Hate crimes and civil rights violations against Muslims

In Fantasizing “The New McCarthyism”, Phil Orenstein wrote:

Nevertheless, the cries of widespread Islamophobia are false alarms according to FBI data which shows that hate crimes against Muslims have plummeted since 2001 and account for a fraction of overall religious hate crimes. In fact, in 2006, there were six times as many religiously motivated attacks on Jews as there were against Muslims in America, although Jewish and Muslim populations are about the same size.

Orenstein’s link, in the above quote, doesn’t take us to the FBI report itself, but rather to “Hyping Hate Crime Vs. Muslims,” an editorial on the Investor’s Business Daily website, Monday, December 03, 2007. This editorial says:

In 2006, a whopping 66% of religiously motivated attacks were on Jews, while just 11% targeted Muslims, even though the Jewish and Muslim populations are similar in size. Catholics and Protestants, who together account for 9% of victims, are subject to almost as much abuse as Muslims in this country.

Whoa! Here in the U.S.A., Catholics and Protestants greatly outnumber Muslims. So, the 11% of hate crimes directed at Muslims add up to a lot more hate crimes per Muslim than the 9% of crimes directed at Catholics and Protestants combined are per adherent of those faiths. The statistics certainly do not prove that Muslims are just slightly worse off than Christians in terms of the risk of being the target of a hate crime.

Let’s hope that the Investor’s Business Daily‘s pages about business and investments are written by people who are better at math.

Since neither Phil Orenstein or the Investor’s Business Daily provided a link to the actual FBI report, I looked for it myself on the FBI website. The statistics on victims are here, on one of several pages of Hate Crime Statistics, 2006. I also found the FBI’s announcement of this report, dated November 19, 2007, and a page listing hate crimes reports for other years.

Another very interesting thing I found on the FBI’s website is the text of a speech by Jonathan Solomon, Special Agent in Charge of the Miami Division of the FBI, as part of a lecture series sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in Boca Raton, Florida, February 6, 2008. Jonathan Solomon starts off by saying, “The ADL has been an invaluable partner to the FBI over the years, and so I’m happy to be here to continue building our relationship.” Later in the speech, he had this to say about the recent hate crimes report:

Unfortunately, hate crimes are on the rise. This past November, the FBI issued its annual hate crimes report based on data which was voluntarily submitted by police departments across the country. I’m disappointed to say that the data indicated that hate crimes had risen almost eight percent.

Over 7,700 hate crimes were reported. Over 50 percent were motivated by racial bias, and about 19 percent were motivated by religious bias.

Breaking down the numbers further, we learned that attacks on Muslims increased 22 percent. Attacks on Jews increased 14 percent. Attacks on Catholics were up almost a third. And hate crimes against Hispanics were up 10 percent.

Now, these numbers are from 2006. But in recent months, we have all read disturbing accounts of this upward trend in the papers.

So, while hate crimes against Muslims have not gone back up to 2001 levels, it appears that they are indeed rising again. So, Muslims are not utterly without reason to worry.

The Investor’s Business Daily editorial alleges:

Every year the pressure group releases a report citing thousands of alleged civil-rights and physical abuses against Muslims, which largely are based on anecdotal reporting from members. Despite CAIR’s obvious bias (and proven record of dissembling), the PC-addled media report its numbers unfiltered and without question.

I looked up CAIR’s report on the Status of Muslim Civil Rights in the United States 2007 (PDF), which contains statistics for 2006.

On page 5, the CAIR report says: “CAIR received 167 reports of anti-Muslim hate crimes, a 9.2 percent increase from the 153 complaints received in 2005.” Let’s compare this with the FBI’s list of Incidents, Offenses, Victims, and Known Offenders by Bias Motivation, 2006, which lists 156 incidents (with 191 offenses, 208 victims, and 147 known offenders) on the line for “Anti-Islamic” single-bias incidents. Thus CAIR’s figure for hate crimes is somewhat greater than, but not wildly in excess of, the FBI’s figure.

In addition to actual full-fledged hate crimes, the CAIR report also speaks of “civil rights complaints,” a separate category from “hate crimes.” The CAIR report says, “In 2006, CAIR processed a total of 2,467 civil rights complaints, compared to 1,972 cases reported to CAIR in 2005. This constitutes a 25.1 percent increase in the total number of complaints from 2005.”

That figure must be the “thousands of alleged civil-rights and physical abuses against Muslims” which the Investor’s Business Daily editorial allege to have been disproven by the FBI report. But the Investor’s Business Daily editorial is comparing apples and oranges here. As we have seen, “civil rights abuses” are not the same thing as “hate crimes.”

The Investor’s Business Daily editorial then says:

But if you peel them back, you find they’re mostly victimless crimes. For instance, in its 2006 report released in June, CAIR listed as a “hate crime” the following example: “A copy of the Quran was found in a toilet at the library of Pace University in New York.”

If that copy of the Quran belonged to the library, or to anyone other than the perpetrator, then putting it in a toilet is not a “victimless crime”; it is at least theft and destruction of property. In addition, deliberately clogging a public toilet with a book or anything else is at least a mild form of vandalism. Flushing a Quran down a toilet would be “victimless” only if you purchase your own Quran (or make your own printout of an Internet copy) and flush it down your own toilet.

This incident is described on page 25 of the CAIR report, where it is said, “Initially, Pace University administration called the desecration ‘vandalism’.” The CAIR report doesn’t say where the copy of the Quran came from. (Looking around for more information about this incident, I found this blog post, which doesn’t tell us who the Quran belonged to either.) In any case, it would appear that this act was intended to be reminiscent of the controversy over allegations of Quran desecration at Guantánamo Bay.

The Investor’s Business Daily editorial then says, sarcastically:

There are other atrocities, too, such as someone trampling on a “flower bed” at a mosque in Texas.

Not an “atrocity,” but still a crime against other people’s property. Whether it’s a “hate crime” depends on the motive. Furthermore, the incident in question, described on page 25 of the CAIR report, involved other kinds of vandalism too, including spray-painted graffiti and smashing of exterior lights.

I’m sure that similar vandalism at a synagogue would be considered a hate crime too. Most likely, so would a Hebrew Torah found in a public toilet. (Daniel Pipes objects to an episode of desecration of Christian Bibles at an Australian Muslim school here on this page.) Indeed, according to the FBI report, 32.1 percent of the 2006 hate crimes in general (against the total of all targeted groups) consisted of “destruction/damage/vandalism.” I would expect this to include lots of episodes of synagogue vandalism.

Anyhow, the hate crimes reported by CAIR do include violent crimes too. Some examples are given on pages 9 and 10 of the CAIR report.

Phil Orenstein goes even further than the Investor’s Business Daily editorial in twisting the facts to claim that Muslims have absolutely nothing to complain about whatsoever. He even claims, “American citizens are showing more tolerance and respect toward Muslims than any other religious group.”

That’s quite an exaggeration. It’s true that things aren’t anywhere nearly as bad for American Muslims as they could have been, and it’s true that there are many more reported hate crimes against Jews than against Muslims. But these aren’t valid reasons to dismiss Muslims’ concerns about hate crimes entirely. And they certainly aren’t valid reasons to dismiss Muslims’ concerns about civil rights violations either. Furthermore, American Muslims do have other valid worries too. See, for example, Jerry Klein’s 2006 Radio Experiment.

More guilt by association

In Fantasizing “The New McCarthyism”, Phil Orenstein then writes:

Eldahry, Almontaser and other self-proclaimed champions of diversity are crying “Islamophobia” in response to reasonable questions and concerns about the spread and infiltration of radical Islam in our public schools and colleges. Meanwhile they hide their true agenda under the cloak of multiculturalism and diversity allowing intolerance and disrespect toward America and Israel to prevail in the classroom.

His evidence for Debbie Almontaser’s “true agenda”? Mostly, guilt by association. For example:

Almontaser and the KGIA public school are enthusiastically supported by a number of radical individuals and Islamic groups such as AWAAM, CAIR — currently under federal investigation as an unindicted co-conspirator for terrorist financing, the American Muslim Association of Lawyers (AMAL) – which defended the notorious “6 imams” who threatened to sue passengers for profiling, cop-killer Mumia Abu Jamal, unrepentant former Weather Underground terrorist William Ayers, anti-Israel Columbia professor Rashid Khalidi, and others.

AWAAM is an Arab group, not a Muslim group. There are plenty of nom-Muslim Arabs and non-Arab Muslims.

CAIR is an “unindicted co-conspirator” why are they unindicted? Perhaps because there’s not enough evidence even to indict them, let alone convict them? Does Phil Orenstein think we should all shun anyone who is even suspected of a crime? Whatever happened to “innocent until proven guilty”?

Anyhow, Orenstein’s entire argument about whom “Almontaser and the KGIA public school are enthusiastically supported by” is pure guilt-by-association. So what if some disreputable people approve of her? Lots of other people “enthusiastically support” her too.

Further down the page, Orenstein defends guilt-by-association, as follows: “Any teacher will tell you that a student caught hanging out with troublemakers would be severely reprimanded.” But the point, in that case, is to keep impressionable kids away from bad influences. Debbie Almontaser is an adult. As such, she is responsible for her own actions, not the actions of her acquaintances and defenders.

At most, a person’s associations may be a good reason to ask questions. They are not, in themselves, proof of guilt.

Guilt by association is a logical fallacy. (See Fallacy: Guilt By Association on the website of the Nizkor Project.)

The two valid gripes of the anti-KGIA folks

It does not seem to me that the “Stop the Madrassa Coalition” has a valid church-and-state (or mosque-and-state) separation issue concerning the Khalil Gibran International Academy. And their accusations against Debbie Almontaser seem way overblown to me.

Nevertheless, in my opinion, they do have one valid complaint against the Board of Education, and they do have one valid complaint against Debbie Almontaser.

It seems to me that both Daniel Piples and the “Stop the Madressa Coalition” should have focussed more on demanding that the Department of Education be fully open about the KGIA’s actual curriculum. I can’t think of any good excuse for the DoE’s lack of transparency.

As for Debbie Almontaser herself, their one legitimate gripe, in my opinion, concerns her defense of the “Intifada NYC” T-shirts. (See the New York Post article.) Oddly, Phil Orenstein doesn’t discuss this in his article, except to refer briefly to “the inflammatory T-shirts with the slogan ‘Intifada NYC’ that ultimately led to the resignation of Almontaser.” Even this, by itself, should not have been sufficient reason to fire her or force her to resign, in my opinion. But someone should ask her the following questions, among others:

  • Should students in a New York City public school be allowed to wear T-shirts with the slogan “Intifada NYC”?
  • Even if the T-shirt’s intent isn’t what it seems to be, doesn’t it have a high risk of inciting violence, or at least creating a hostile and intimidating environment for Jews?
  • Are you aware of the growing worldwide trend of violent hate crimes by Muslims against Jews? (Daniel Pipes documents this trend in some of his writings on Antisemitism.)
  • Should students in a New York City public school be allowed to wear pro-Israel T-shirts? (To be asked if she thinks it’s okay for students to wear “Intifada NYC” T-shirts.)
  • What do you think of suicide bombers killing Israeli civilians?
  • What do you think of the Hamas charter’s endorsement of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion?
  • Here in the U.S.A., how do you think the police and the FBI should go about tracking down terrorists and their accomplices, while at the same time avoiding, as much as possible, violations of civil rights?

Alas, I didn’t think to ask her these questions at the April 28 forum. Neither did Phil Orenstein, though he did ask her a bunch of other questions.

In my opinion, both Daniel Pipes and the “Stop the Madrassa Coalition” should have avoided making questionable accusations against Debbie Almontaser and, instead, should have focussed on getting their questions answered. They should have waited with making any full-fledged accusations until they had real evidence.

(P.S., 6/6/2008: About the T-shirts: Debbie Almontaser’s defense of the T-shirts should not be seized upon as meaning that she “really” endorses violence against Israeli civilians. The only valid concern here is what her policies would be if she were principal, insofar as the Board of Education allows principals any discretion at all regarding dress codes.)

2 Responses to “More about the controversy over the Khalil Gibran International Academy (KGIA)”

  1. philorenstein Says:

    More on Fantasizing “The New McCarthyism”

    “I continue to deal with the contentious themes of “guilt by association” and the imaginary new sacred cow, “the New McCarthyism” in response to a comment on FrontPage Magazine’s reader forum.”

    Please read my reply posted on Democracy Project:

  2. (This comment is an edited pingback. The post linked here is a P.S. to the above post.)

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