ANTI-MULTI-CULTURALISTS’ ASSAULT ON BROOKLYN SCHOOL AND MUSLIM LEADERS IS BAD FOR NEW YORK CITY AND THE NATION
by Imam Al-Hajj Talib ‘Abdur-Rashid
Since the New York Dept.of Education announced its plan in January of this year to open a dual language (English and Arabic) college preparatory program in Brooklyn, forces opposed to its planned multicultural curriculum have been working to derail the city’s latest experiment in innovative approaches to education. The Khalil Gibran International Academy (KGIA) is scheduled to open this month of September, providing for 6th through 12th grade students what its designers identify as a “diverse, supportive and collaborative learning environment.”
A Neo-Conservative group called the Stop the Madrassa Coalition (STMC) (http://www.stopthemadrassa.wordpress.com/) began expoliting 1) the unawareness of most Americans insofar as the contributions of Arab culture and history to global civilization is concerned, 2) post 9-11 fears, and 3) anti-immigrant sentiments . They fanned the flames of opposition amongst parents at P.S. 282 in Park Slope, the Brooklyn neighborhood where the school was originally to open,until those parents voted against having the new program located in their school.
The Coalition’s ideologue, and the most recognizable face and name on its advisory board, is that of Daniel Pipes of the Middle East Forum; a right-wing, Neo-Conservative think tank. Pipes is a well-known Islamophobe, who for years has been attacking Muslim leaders in America who take firm Social Justice stances on both domestic and international issues; whether they carry the American flag or not.
His favorite targets are Muslim African American leaders, who tend to be bolder and more outspoken against injustices and American government hypocrisy, than their immigrant peers. Pipes continued this pattern of aggression against American cirtizens whom he deems dangerous, when he directed the cross-hair sights of the STMC towards this writer, and the end of August.
Parental disgruntlement scuttled plans to open the KGIA at P.S.262 , but the City of New York continued to stand by its commitment to the special school. Thus , the Dept. of Education announced weeks ago that it would open at the site of MS 447 in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn. The City remained adamant in its support of the KGIA, refusing to give in to pressure from the Neo-Conservatives, who wanted to close the school before it opened. The KGIA opened on scheduled and without incident..
This evidenced rejection of the Neo-Cons’ assertion that the school is an “Isla-mist" front, that will become a religious school disguised as a public one. Chancellor Joel Klein has stated publicly that if that were ever to be the case, then the school would be closed. In fact, the KGIA is to be the latest in the Dept. of Ed’s “New Visions for Public Schools” initiatives, which identify special groups of students and innovative educational ideas, and builds programs around them. Other efforts in the immediate past include numerous schools for gifted youngsters, alternative schools for the not so gifted who have trouble learning in traditional environments, an all-girls school in East Harlem, and a school for youth identified as gay, lesbian or transgendered, in Manhattan.
The success of these educational innovations seem to have eluded the Neo-Cons, who have appeared on all of the usual right-wing Neo-conservative television programs (Glen Beck, the O’Reilly Factor, etc. ) voicing their opposition to the KGIA, as their local print media equivalents (The NY Sun, NY Post, etc.) have attacked the idea of the school, and its visionary first principal, Debbie Al-Montaser. Two weeks ago Al-Montaser was forced to resign for failure to denounce a t-shirt produced by a NY-based group of Arab-American women artists , that read “Intifada NYC”.
Lost in all of this has been the fact that the battle over KGIA is really nothing more than the latest effort of right-wing Neo-Cons to fight the increasing multi-cultural direction of American education. When White Anglo-Saxon Protestants conquered the native Americans and established the American Empire, they also established as an empowered majority, “a dominant culture with its traditions, literature, facts, its special claim to know and supervise language, and its Protestant religions”. (Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind, 1987, pp. 30, 160, 162)
This Anglo-American dominance over all American institutions included the field of education. The public school system was the vehicle for academic standardization in major cities in both the North (like New York), and the South. Its curriculum was designed to create a common mind-set amongst American students, rooted in a Euro-centric, colonists’ interpretation of history, culture, and world events, along with instruction in math, the sciences, and other areas. The targets of this design were both “old and anticipated new waves of immigrants to the land” (Kly, The Anti-Social Contract, pp. 42-43).
This socialization strategy had limited effectiveness on non-immigrants like African American youth (who as the descendants of slaves were segregated in the South under American apartheid), Native American youth (who were segregated on reservations), and Mexicans (marginalized on the fringes of society), as well as Spanish-speaking immigrants. It still does today in Northern and Southern inner cities . (Davila, 2004), and the mid-West
The social upheaval of the 1960s and 70s, and the profound change which followed in its wake, began to force the American people, especially those of European descent, to reexamine the cultural heritage of the nation. During that time ethnic studies, women’s studies, and other areas of research previously excluded from curricula, were demanded by students nation-wide.
Some 20-odd years ago, Multicultural Education emerged as a bonafide extension of this late 20th century social revolution. It challenged the idea of a (White, Euro-centered) monocultural American ideal, with the acknowledgement of the nation as an amalgamation of many cultures (M. Haley, 1999). It was and is an idea, an educational reform movement, and a process (Banks, 1997).
However forces also existed then that opposed the change, insisting upon the maintenance of a monocultural status-quo. It is these same forces, rooted in a 20th century jingoism that smacks of racism (i.e. White supremacy), that are still doggedly opposing multicultural programs in the American educational system; even as the nation’s ethnic, cultural, linguistic, religious and spiritual demographic, continually changes.
One of these anti-multiculturalists is David Yerushalmi,a leader of the Stop the Madrassa Coaliton. Yerushalmi, described in The Jewish Week newspaper as a “national advisory board member, counsel, and defacto treasurer” (Chandler and Cohler-Esses, 2007) is the founder and president of an organization called The Society of Americans for National Existence (or SANE). It’s mission statement defines one of its objectives as, “…the dismantling of the liberal enterprise, including a rejection of the Open Society agenda and multiculturalism that so dominates and permeates our society”. (http://www.saneworks.us/mission.php) .
An ally of Yerushalmi is conservative writer Elan Journo, who has stated of multicultural textbooks that they reveal “…a concerted effort to portray the most backward, impoverished and murderous cultures as advanced, prosperous and life-enhancing”.
He continues, “Multiculturalism's goal is not to teach about other cultures, but to promote - by means of distortions and half-truths—the notion that non-Western cultures are as good as, if not better than, Western culture. Far from ‘broadening’ the curriculum, what multiculturalism seeks is to diminish the value of Western culture in the minds of students. But, given all the facts, the objective superiority of Western culture is apparent, so multiculturalists must artificially elevate other cultures and depreciate the West”. ( Journo, August 20,2007)
By quoting such members and supporters selectively, the Stop the Madrassa coalition tries (unsuccessfully) to obscure its obstructionist goals and Neo-Conservative identity. But it’s true colors come out in its writings and declarations. It claims to “wholeheartedly support the study of Arabic”, along with Farsi and Urdu, “…for national security purposes”. What the Coalition doesn’t say is that it is forced to take this position because the federal government is pushing what it calls “critical language” studies throughout the country, from kindergarten though college. This was announced by President Bush last January, the same month in which plans for the KGIA were unveiled.
The “critical languages” also include Chinese, Russian and Korean (all of which the Neo-Cons fail to mention in their statement), and the reason for this early 21st century enhancement of America’s foreign language study, is not just related to national security, but also the preparation of American students to compete in a global economic, technological, and scientific market; again as noted by President Bush on other occasions.
Having successfully hounded and harassed Debbie Al-Montasser - a caring, aware Arab-American immigrant, who has dedicated herself over the years to working with people of different ethnic and religious backgrounds in New York City, the Neo-Cons have now turned their attack upon an African American Muslim religious leader who sits on the Advisory board of the KGIA, namely this writer.
A week or so ago on its web-site, the Neo-Con coalition called for my resignation from the KGIA Advisory Board. The reasons cited by them reveal the true nature of their retrogressive thinking, Neo-Conservative politics, and anachronistic world view.
First, this writer was (accurately) cited as a member of the Committee to Free Imam Jamil Al-Amin (the former H. Rap Brown), whom the Neo-Cons identify solely as a “convicted cop killer”. This is mentioned about me as a negative. They fail to mention that there are many people who attended the imam’s trial (I was one of them, and I never saw Daniel Pipes or any of his Neo-Con associates there), and who don’t believe that he received a fair legal proceeding. Thus we are supporting him during his appeal process. This process is part of the system of American law and justice, which we are placing our confidence in to right what we believe to be a wrong. What’s wrong with that?
My second transgression according to the Neo-Cons, is that I have an essay available for reading on the inter-net, that asserts the Christopher Columbus didn’t discover America, that this land was inhabited by the Original or Native Americans long before anyone else came here, and that African Muslims were here before Chris. The Neo-Cons seem outraged by this view, which they denounce as “Islamist propaganda”. Certainly, my assertion must have surely outraged Journo, who in the above writing cites as an example of Multiculturalism’s “War on Education”, a textbook referring to West African Pre-Columbian civilization.
Excuse me,Neo-Cons ? I first learned of Muslim pre-Columbian presence in America, by reading of the references in the diary of Columbus himself (Jane,1988), and the writings of historians like Professors Leo Wiener , a Jewish American and author of Africa and the Discovery of America; a three volume work on the subject, published in 1920-22/ Then there is Professor Ivan Van Sertimer’s They Came Before Columbus (1976). He is an American Christian of African descent . Neither of these scholars was or is a Muslim, or an “Islamist”. Further, I confirmed this history during a meeting with Native American elders and leaders at the mosque I serve, years ago. Again, none of them were Muslims, much less “Islamists”.
Thirdly, the Neo-Cons cite the logo of the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood Inc. (visible on our web site at http://www.mosqueofislamicbrotherhoodinc.org/) and the fact that it has a sword on it beneath the words in Arabic which translated mean , “There is no god worthy of worship but Allah”, and Muhammad is His Messenger” , as proof of my “radical Islamist” identity.
Excuse me again? Do they have a problem with our declaration of faith in a country in which every citizen has freedom of religious belief and expression? Perhaps what the Neo-Cons really have a problem with is our use of a sword on our logo. The sword is a religious symbol not only for Muslims, but Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, and Taoists, that has been used throughout history not only by Africans and Arabs, but Celts, Chinese, Greeks, Japanese and Scandanavians (Cooper, 1978).
Further, doesn’t “Lady Justice”, you know, the one depicted as a statue in front of the Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C wearing a blindfold, and holding a balance scale in one hand, have a sword in her other? So why do the Neo-Cons have a problem with Muslims using the sword as a symbol of temporal justice and mercy, and the authority of righteousness, when other people and faith groups do the same?
Perhaps the Neo-Cons are upset because we of the M.I.B. declare that “Jihad is our way”, or “death in the way of Allah is our promised end”. Yet, even a little research by them (like beliefnet.com ,or religioustolerance.org) would help these narrow-minded individuals to realize that jihad is an Arabic word for “struggle”, and that it’s dimensions are primarily non-violent (as in spiritual jihad –called “the most excellent” by the Prophet Muhammad, or verbal jihad against tyranny, also identified as the same by him.
Then there is the jihad of arduous struggle, like the jihad against AIDS (and yes, they call it that) waged successfully in Uganda, East Africa for the past two decades. Jihad is only finally violent, as in self-defense or armed struggle.
The word “jihad” is over-used and highly mis-understood today, even by some Muslims; and apparently by the neo-Cons as well. Perhaps the latter are watching too much of their own corporate controlled media.
Yes it is true that when Muslims die, we want to do so in the way of Allah; which means in obedience to Him (Almighty God), and in a state of righteousness. Isn’t this the desire of all who are believers in the God of Abraham, and the existence of heaven and hell in the hereafter?
The Neo-Cons reveal not only their biases, but their fears, when they attack an African American Muslim leader and his Harlem-based congregation, who have been doing good works in the City of New York and beyond, for four decades. Like others from our Harlem community, we work daily to build bridges of tolerance and understanding in what is perhaps the world’s most diversified city.
What bridges have people like Mr. Pipes and the members of the Stop the Madrassa Coalition , and their advisors (many of whom do not live in New York), worked to build, anywhere? They only exploit the anxieties of good people, while perpetrating stereotypes as they engage in the politics of intolerance and fear.
In so doing, they render a disservice not only to the people of the City of New York, but the entire country. Ignorance breeds fear, fear breeds distrust, and distrust leads to division. Knowledge leads to awareness, awareness to enlightenment, enlightenment to understanding, and understanding to solidarity. What the city of New York and the entire country needs in this day and time are bridge builders not people dividers, or political wolves in sheep’s clothing. Apparently New York City’s mayor and education chancellor understand this, and good for them.
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