As an American Muslim, I am daily confronted by the fact that many of my fellow Americans are uneasy about my faith. This unease is not limited to the uneducated and uncultured; I have seen flickers of apprehension even on the faces of very well-educated friends and colleagues.
In the wake of the tragedy of 9/11 and the overwhelmingly negative media portrayal of Muslims, American or otherwise, I can't say I find this too surprising. But what does surprise me is the unwillingness of the same people to confront their unease by learning about Islam and its message.
Debbie Almontaser tried to tackle this unease head on by founding a public school in New York that teaches Arabic as a second language, with the intention of creating students who would be "ambassadors of peace and hope."
New York City already has public schools that follow this model, including the Amistad Language School, which specializes in Spanish, and the Shuang Wen School, which specializes in Chinese language and culture.
Ms. Almontaser and the local American Muslim, Christian and Jewish communities came together and, as a result, Khalil Gibran International Academy was born. Like all New York City public schools, the school's curriculum was strictly secular, even the school's namesake was an Arab Christian, not a Muslim.
But some local New Yorkers, blinded by bigotry, and led by Daniel Pipes, felt the school would become a center of Islamic extremism and started a disinformation campaign using what can only be called yellow journalism, to fuel fear and misunderstanding, the very things the school was founded to dispel.
Amid all the confusion and controversy, Ms. Almontaser was forced to resign and, without her leadership, the school has floundered towards failure rather than success. It was only recently that more balanced coverage, by the New York Times, allowed for the real story to come out.
I strongly recommend everyone read the article by Andrea Elliott and watch the interview of Debbie Almontaser by Democracy Now. Hopefully, it will go a little way towards making us all a little more comfortable.
Also worth reading, Gershom Gorenberg's post "Daniel Pipes vs Religious Tolerance"
Thanks to Tareq for sending me the NY Times article.