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Month: March 2010

madrassa house rock

Six days after I moved to New York in August 2007, Debbie Almontaser — an educator, inter-faith worker, and founding principle of the city’s first dual-language Arabic public school, the Khalil Gibran International Academy — was forced out of her job. Her employers at the New York City Department of Education had succumbed to a months-long smear campaign led by the NY Post and a swelling group of critics who called themselves the Stop the Madrassa Coalition. Terrorist, radical, Islamist, indoctrinator. “Dhabah,” they called her, attempting to paint her and the others who helped guide the school as alien and enemy.

As this was happening, a very different story was developing. Arabic, the language under siege by those opposed to the dual-language academy, had become the fastest-growing language in the United States. According to a November 2007 report by the Modern Languages Association, there was a 127% jump in Arabic class enrollment between 2002 and 2006, pushing it into the number ten spot.

Almontaser’s case dragged on. After a painful stretch with no movement and no news, earlier this month, a gleam in the distance: the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that the New York City Department of Education had discriminated against Almontaser “on account of her race, religion and national origin” when they forced her to resign in 2007. Days later, the current principal stepped down.

I wrote about the Khalil Gibran saga over one year. Here’s an excerpt. Better brew some tea, it’s a hefty one.

the never-written that could be, etc


Ryszard Kapuscinski, lonely in Lagos with “some sort of tropical infection, blood poisoning or a reaction to an unknown venom, and it is bad enough to make me swell up and leave my body covered with sores, suppurations and carbuncles,” fought his hot, sweaty affliction with Claude Lévi-Strauss. Ryszard quoted Claude, and now I quote both:

By whom or by what had I been impelled to disrupt the normal course of my existence? Was it a trick on my part, a clever diversion, which would allow me to resume my career with additional advantages for which I would be given credit? Or did my decision express a deep-seated incompatibility with my social setting so that, whatever happened, I would inevitably live in a state of ever greater estrangement from it? Through a remarkable paradox, my life of adventure, instead of opening up a new world to me, had the effect rather of bringing me back to the old one, and the world I had been looking for disintegrated in my grasp.

Then then he went back to Poland, where he no longer existed. Friends would pass him in the streets, looking quizzically at the apparition. What are you doing here, stranger? You’re supposed to be gone, off reporting from somewhere tropical, alive in your dispatches. Existing in abstract. He went away again and was revived.

Realness is a slippery eel.