AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Debbie Almontaser, who was the founding principal of the Khalil Gibran International School in New York until she stepped down before it actually opened. Debbie Almontaser is known as a builder of bridges between the Muslim, Jewish and Christian communities in New York. But I wanted to turn now to neoconservative pundit Daniel Pipes. In April 2007, he wrote an op-ed for the New York Sun about Debbie Almontaser’s appointment that helped spark the campaign against her school. In an interview for the New York Times website, Pipes was questioned about some of his claims.
DANIEL PIPES: I worry that the intensive instruction of Arabic brings with it, in many cases, political and religious or religious indoctrination.
ANDREA ELLIOTT: You referred to it, in your first op-ed piece that ran in the New York Sun, as a “madrassa.” Was that a bit of a stretch?
DANIEL PIPES: Yes, it was a bit of a stretch. It was intended to get attention. But basically, that was correct, in the sense that "madrassa" is a school where Islam is taught. And my fear was and is that the Khalil Gibran International Academy is a school where Islam is taught.
ANDREA ELLIOTT: What have you learned about it that is concerning to you?
DANIEL PIPES: One learned about the application for a halal dining room. One learned about the adviser board, which is exclusively made up of religious figures. One learned about the illustrations on the expectations of the school and its promoting Islamic culture, all of which left me feeling queasy. Then one later learned about the personnel, their connections to radical Islam. When I look at some of the proponents of the school, like the Council on American-Islamic Relations, like the Council on Islamic Education I see the standard Wahhabi lobby members promoting radical Islam in, now, a public school. And I say no.
That was it! Notice how Pipes here imbues his accusations with spurious objectivity by using the pronoun "One." And then he makes the switch: "One" learned of these things, so naturally D. Pipes, being a word-warrior of One--and there can be only One, y'know--says, I see terrorists!
He's using bad logic (Arabic = Wahabbi) to challenge the religious and political loyalties of our Sister. Later, he even has the insane hubris to claim to know whether or not lunatics like bin Laden have stolen Almontaser's identity and religion, even dictating to the accomplished educator the words she must use to repel his attack. And the oh-so logical Pipes bases that outrageous usurpation on precisely what evidence? Only Debbie Almontaser is qualified and competent to speak of her own beliefs. How dare he dictate to her?! I'll tell you how.
On the job sites, where Every1 of Us, as lil' ol' me, is embodying a house painter, we have a very graphic phrase for exactly this strategem: mind-fucking. Daniel Pipes is the leader of the public gang-raping and usurpation of Principal Almontaser and her rightful fief, based on white male fears about her loyalties. This is feudalism! (as defined here on 24 April 08)
AMY GOODMAN: Daniel Pipes, being interviewed by the New York Times reporter who did the major piece on Sunday, Andrea Elliott. Debbie Almontaser, your response? “Madrassa”?
DEBBIE ALMONTASER: Well, “madrassa” is simply “school.” It is the translated word in Arabic, and it’s unfortunate that it’s developed a negative connotation in this day and age based on the fact that there are madrassas in Afghanistan and Pakistan and what have you that, you know, teach a certain ideology. And certainly the Khalil Gibran International Academy was not going to teach any ideology. It was a school that was going to be teaching young people to become global citizens, teaching them tolerance and cultural diversity, and helping them to develop for the twenty-first century work force, where there will be plenty of opportunities on an international level for them to compete for the most competitive jobs.
AMY GOODMAN: And the other allegations of Daniel Pipes?
DEBBIE ALMONTASER: Well, there are many that he was able to put together by distorting quotes that I was quoted in multiple newspapers; the award, you know, from CAIR; the allegation that I’m connected, you know, to a terrorist organization such as CAIR. And quite frankly, these are all allegations that are moot and really have no basis whatsoever.
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. There is a national growing trend of anti-Arab, anti-Muslim sentiment that is targeting, you know, Arabs and Muslims across the country. If I can be a target—you know, someone who has developed many relationships across the city, across the country—anybody could be a target.
AMY GOODMAN: In this clip on the New York Times website, the New York Times reporter Andrea Elliott questions Daniel Pipes about his accusations of calling you an apologist for the 9/11 attacks.
DANIEL PIPES: I was worried about Ms. Almontaser because of statements she’d made and affiliations she had, all of which suggested to me that she is someone sympathetic to radical Islam or is herself an Islamist.
ANDREA ELLIOTT: You have referred to her as a 9/11-denier on the basis of a quote she gave, which was, quote, “I don’t recognize the people who committed the attacks as Arabs or Muslims." You did not cite the second part of the quote, which was “Those people who did it have stolen my identity as an Arab and have stolen my religion.” Why didn’t you include the second part?
DANIEL PIPES: I think—I’d be happy to include the second part. I think all of it is of a piece of denial. They have not stolen her identity. They have not stolen her religion. She needs—what she needs to do is denounce them and say that what they represent is Islam in its worst form. They are not non-Islam. To deny that Osama bin Laden is a Muslim is sheer hypocrisy. Osama bin Laden is a Muslim. And to say that he has stolen Islam or hijacked Islam or is not a Muslim is false.
AMY GOODMAN: Debbie Almontaser, your response?
DEBBIE ALMONTASER: My response to that is, I chose to be an educator, not a politician to create a platform that I need to condemn every little thing or huge thing that happens across the world. This school was about bringing young people together, providing them with a high-quality education to become global leaders.
For Mr. Pipes to use that quote, as I had mentioned earlier, this is a prime example of the distortion, and to make it seem that I’m a sympathizer is quite ridiculous.