In three pages, commencing with the center column on the front page of the New York Times, Debbie Almontaser is featured as Queen for a Day, with an accompanying photo of this smiling, head-wrapped woman walking down the aisle of a church like a virginal bride. The headline reads: Her Dream, Branded as a Threat: How A Chorus of Critics Cost A Muslim Principal Her Dream School.” Such innocence on the outside, but turn to page 16 and see the scowling villain - the arch-browed, unsmiling Daniel Pipes, determined to destroy the ingenue of the Times, the newspaper that has morphed into an active arm of CAIR, seeing Islamophobic activity throughout our government and at the core of every neo-conservative Jew.
We learn that Dhabah began calling herself Debbie after her family moved from Yemen to Buffalo when she was three. This seems to have been her only painful concession to assimilation until she was in her twenties and began wearing a veil which she tucked beneath a helmet when she rode on the back of her husband’s motorcycle. “She got used to the stares and learned to be unapologetic,” says the sympathetic feminist reporter as the reader wonders what anyone was staring at - a veil that couldn’t be seen? But wait - according to Debbie’s own previous account in the Gotham Gazette:
”I noticed all over Brooklyn African American Muslims wearing the hijab. I admired them for their grace and beauty in their modest Islamic dress….No one stared at them or made remarks about their appearance….I decided to follow my heart and cover my hair. People recognized and respected me for what I knew, not for my physical presence….I came to realize that New York City is a place that is accepting of all cultures, races, colors and creeds.”
Though the Times portrays Debbie as a brave role model for wearing the veil, Debbie’s self-reporting stresses that she was merely following others and felt no stigma from the public at all.
Debbie became an educator and community activist, eventually getting selected as the first principal of a new charter school created to teach the Arabic language and culture. It was named after Khalil Gibran, an odd choice for an Arabic school since its namesake was a Lebanese Christian who came to this country at the age of twelve and published most of his work in English, much of it dealing with Christianity. There was immediate community opposition to the school, exacerbated by Debbie’s connection to a group that had printed Intifada NYC tee shirts for sale at an Arab-American street fair. When asked to define intifada, Debbie was as high-handed as those apologists who contend that the meaning of jihad is a struggle for one’s personal best. Intifada, the Palestinian armed rebellion against Israel, actually meant “shaking off” according to Debbie - she never elaborated on what it is that young Arab women in New York are supposed to discard - certainly not their hijabs. A group called Stop the Madrassah opposed the school and its insertion in a building which already housed another school. The group was assisted by Daniel Pipes, a noted scholar and expert in Muslim Studies who monitors their influence on American campuses Muslim leaders interpret this as part of a larger scheme to silence critics of our government’s policy towards Israel and the Middle East (a la Walt/Mearsheimer).
Debbie’s disingenuous statements were publicized by an interview in the New York Post, after which Debbie was encouraged to resign her position for the good of the school. Debbie was never fired. She resigned; the school opened and continues to operate, albeit with a different principal. So Debbie did what Americans increasingly do in our democratic society - she sued the Dept of Education and the Mayor for violation of her First Amendment rights. She lost the first go round and its appeal but will proceed to the Federal District Court. She is an odd heroine for a newspaper which editorialized about Geraldine Ferraro and Bill Clinton’s “racist” comments about Obama; words do count, the candidate has assured us and the New York Times agreed. But not when the contest is between an Arab-American woman pitted against a Stop the Madrassah group, aided and abetted by the likes of Daniel Pipes.
So the Times has done Debbie as its first female Arab-American martyr - subjected to the indignity of not being allowed to lie about commonly accepted terms (it depends on what you mean by rock throwing and suicide bombers); of being responsible for what you say in a public interview; of making calculated judgements which you might regret - but as in Queen For A Day, still entitled to a full restoration of her caliphate dream school.
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