Debbie Almontaser

March 1, 2010

Debbie Almontaser, before being given the position of principal for the Khalil Gibran International Academy, was a 17 year veteran of the NYC public school system who taught special education, inclusion, trained teachers in literacy, and served as a multicultural specialist and diversity adviser. She has done a huge amount of community activism, and has received awards for her work community work.

In 2007 the Khalil Gibran International Academy was set for opening with Debbie Almontaser as its Principal; however there was a lot of Criticism against the school before its opening. Groups of people were against the opening of, what they considered to be, a school that would teach its students extremist Islam and they were especially against it being in NYC.

Debbie Almontaser fought left and right to ensure that the school would not be painted as a ‘terrorist training camp’, and instead as a center for education for different cultures that could bring people together. However, with only weeks left until the schools opening Debbie was interviewed about a shirt that was created by a group called “Arab Women Active in the Arts and Media”, which used office space to run its youth program at Saba: Association of Yemeni American, which Almontaser was on the board of. The shirt had the phrase “Intifada NYC” written upon it which according to some papers, such as the New York Post, called for an Islamic uprising in the Big Apple. The post had an interview with Almontaser in which she had explained the root meaning of the word Intifada, and then was used out of context by the Post in order to make her look like she was supporting an uprising. I would say, that if the word had such a negative meaning and was used in a negative way in the shirt, Almontaser should’ve definitely done something against it, being that she was renting space to the organization that made the shirt, however, a person who is not in direct contact with the organization shouldn’t be fired or even be reprimanded because they had nothing to do, at least not directly, with the people involved. In the end she was forced to resign.

This leads us to wonder if what happened here was right. A newspaper’s staff will always have their own opinions and will always try to make whatever story reflect what they believe but should that be done? I believe not.  A newspapers role should be to inform the public, and present both arguments, for and against, every possible story. In the case of Debbie Almontaser they were being an entirely partisan newspaper in their review of the case. They had taken what she said about the root meaning of the word and spun it to make her seem as if she supported something that she never had a part of.

Other than her statements about “Intifada NYC”, she had also been asked questions about 9/11 such as if she believed it ever happened, or if she believed that Muslims had part in it. It seems to me that asking about 9/11 is just an unfair question. If you say anything against it, or against what people believe about it you get branded as a terrorist, or as unpatriotic, or a heretic. People will go after you in the streets if you say anything that doesn’t sound similar to “USA is #1, get them commies!” It’s an unfair question, and if anyone responds to it they are forced to say the same thing, otherwise no matter what they try to endorse to create will fail. It’s unfair that an event that should be observed from all angles is forced to be observed from one tunnel vision like view because of the social stigma attached if you go against it.

I don’t think Almontaser should’ve been removed. She has an outstanding record of community activism, and has (as mentioned before) received awards for her activism. If it isn’t obvious, I believe Almontaser’s story. She has the record to back herself up, and I entirely believe she was just trying to start up a school that would teach peaceful relations between different cultures.


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