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Militant Islam Monitor > Articles > Fantasizing "The New McCarthyism" -Dhabah Almontaser's hysteria and conspiracy theories

Fantasizing "The New McCarthyism" -Dhabah Almontaser's hysteria and conspiracy theories

May 25, 2008


Fantasizing "The New McCarthyism"

By Phil Orenstein
FrontPageMagazine.com | 5/22/2008

After the lengthy front page tribute in the New York Times treating Deborah Almontaser, founder and former principle of the Khalil Gibran International Academy (KGIA), as the later day Mother Theresa, I thought the public forum she would be addressing later that evening, alongside her embattled sister in solidarity, City University of New York (CUNY) faculty union official Susan O'Malley, would be thronged by numerous admirers and reporters. But there were no such crowds or media. Wandering the endless corridors of the CUNY Graduate Center in Manhattan, I bumped into the panelists Susan O'Malley and Ms. Almontaser, who were just as lost as I was, looking for the classroom where the public forum, "Academic Freedom and the Attack on Diversity at CUNY," was to be held.

A little more than 20 people including CUNY faculty, students as well as the speakers showed up. The poor attendance may be due to the fact that the CUNY Senate Forum email list received the announcement on Sunday after 10 PM, the day before the event. I was the only person at this "public" forum sponsored by the Middle East Student's Association (MESO), who attempted to speak up to dispute the cunning agenda and break through the monolithic conformity of the group.

Billed as an important forum to address the issues of Islamophobia at CUNY, the email announcement stated: "Around the country, Islamophobic and Anti-Arab attacks on professors have increased, most notably at Columbia and Barnard. This movement to attack and discredit dissent has been called "the New McCarthyism" – shutting down reasoned debate on important issues….. Ms. Almontaser will appear on this panel along with CUNY Professor Susan O' Malley and others working to expose the attack on academic freedom across the nation…There is some urgency here as these attacks are one tip of a vast ideological iceberg that is also threatening to impact the current election campaign."

Although the issue of the "anti-Arab attacks" at Columbia and Barnard was not broached in the forum they were most likely referring to the recent public uproar of Columbia and Barnard alumni over the ill-advised tenure decision of Professor Nadia Abu El-Haj granted by virtue of her unimpressive scholarship of one book Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society based on flimsy evidence and hearsay, which purports that the historical origins of the State of Israel are fictitious.

What I witnessed was a closed forum dedicated to a veiled radical agenda, riddled by hysterical paranoia, name-calling, slanderous accusations against prominent scholars and city officials, and strategies for their ouster, where the panelists professed that "attacks" against Arabs and professors are a coordinated right wing smear campaign launched by Daniel Pipes, CUNY trustee Jeffrey Wiesenfeld and their ilk, which they dubbed the "New McCarthyism." But Mr. Pipes and company whom they demonized with such venom, have simply exercised their First Amendment rights of critical journalism and free speech, civilly exchanging opinions and information in online magazine articles, speeches, op-eds and blogs, where all sides of the issues were often given a fair hearing in the media.

I was confused as to the reasons for their excessive paranoia. How are Pipes and company threatening their academic freedom? The so-called "New McCarthyites" have been vociferous, no doubt, but they demonstrated nothing resembling the violent student mob attacks at Columbia University on Minuteman founder Jim Gilchrist, because he expressed disagreeable views. Mr. Pipes and a few opinionated bloggers, including myself, are not U.S. Senator Joe McCarthy. What is this "vast ideological iceberg" that is "threatening to impact the current election campaign" of which the so-called attacks on academic freedom are only the tip? Here now are the panelists, their background, some of their words and the answers to these questions.

Mona Eldahry: Founder and Director of AWAAM

One of the panelists, Mona Eldahry was a recent focus of the contentious media debate over the Arabic language public school in Brooklyn, the KGIA, and her relationship with its founder and former principle, Deborah Almontaser. KGIA is a dual-language public school focusing on Arabic language, culture and history that opened last fall in a storm of controversy and protests from parents and Brooklyn residents. Ms. Eldahry is the founding director of Arab Women Active in Arts and Media (AWAAM), who's sponsoring organization, Yemeni American Association was founded and directed by Almontaser.

AWAAM is the Arab young women's leadership group that marketed the inflammatory T-shirts with the slogan "Intifada NYC" that ultimately led to the resignation of Almontaser. Awaam is written on the T-shirts as quwwam in Arabic script which translates as rebel or insurgent. Ms. Eldahry is active in the pro-Palestinian group, al-Awda. According to the Anti-Defamation League, al-Awda, whose T-shirt slogan is "Intifada! Palestine Will Be Free From the River to the Sea," actively supports the terrorist groups, Hezbollah and Hamas, opposes Israel's right to exist and openly demonstrates to promote boycott, divestment and the destruction of Israel in street rallies and academic conferences.

Ms. Eldahry described AWAAM's initial activities protesting the unjust profiling, detentions and hate crimes against Arabs and Muslims in solidarity with Almontaser who joined together in demonstrations every Saturday at a detention center in Brooklyn. She vividly described the numerous "attacks" on AWAAM by tabloids and rightwing blogs. AWAAM was organized to give a voice to the voiceless in the Arab community. After 9/11 Arabs and Muslims had to hide their identities since they were the victims of numerous "attacks" for who they were. "Muslim haters" like Daniel Pipes and company now have the microphone and use the media as a tools. Arabs need to speak out louder than Pipes and his ilk who have the ear of Mayor Bloomberg which is why he and the Department of Education forced Deborah Almontaser out. She maligned Pipes and the Stop The Madrassa (STM) coalition as racist, anti-Muslim, anti-women, anti-black and anti-gay. He initiated the campaign of intolerance and anti-Muslim hatred aimed at closing KGIA.

I questioned her on the accuracy of her accusations, since Daniel Pipes is an Islamic scholar well known for his respect and defense of the majority of peaceful Muslims, often asserting that while radical Islam is the problem, moderate Muslims are the solution. She claimed Pipes wrote that the enfranchisement of the Muslim community in America is a serious problem for the Jewish people. When I tried asking for the source of such statements, I was curtly interrupted, and told "we have to move on now."

Nevertheless, the cries of widespread Islamophobia are false alarms according to FBI data which shows that hate crimes against Muslims have plummeted since 2001 and account for a fraction of overall religious hate crimes. In fact, in 2006, there were six times as many religiously motivated attacks on Jews as there were against Muslims in America, although Jewish and Muslim populations are about the same size. While American citizens are showing more tolerance and respect toward Muslims than any other religious group, Eldahry, Almontaser and other self-proclaimed champions of diversity are crying "Islamophobia" in response to reasonable questions and concerns about the spread and infiltration of radical Islam in our public schools and colleges. Meanwhile they hide their true agenda under the cloak of multiculturalism and diversity allowing intolerance and disrespect toward America and Israel to prevail in the classroom. As one panelist put it, "we don't want to talk about Israel - the elephant in the middle of the room."

Deborah Almontaser: Founder and Former Principle of KGIA

One of the featured panelists was Deborah Almontaser, who resigned as principle of KGIA after she stirred up controversy over her misleading explanation of the term "intifada" as "shaking off of oppression" in response to a reporter's question about the inflammatory "Intifada NYC" slogan on the AWAAM organization's T-shirts. She recently filed a lawsuit against the New York Department of Education and Mayor Bloomberg, charging that her First Amendment rights were violated when she was wrongfully forced to resign. A federal appeals court ruled that she will not be reinstated as principle and she is now appealing. In the words of a sympathetic anti-bigotry activist present at the forum, Almontaser is "a traditionalist-leaning Muslim and as such, has ties to the more fundamentalist Muslim groups," thus apparently not a moderate Muslim as many supporters claim. Almontaser and the KGIA public school are enthusiastically supported by a number of radical individuals and Islamic groups such as AWAAM, CAIR -- currently under federal investigation as an unindicted co-conspirator for terrorist financing, the American Muslim Association of Lawyers (AMAL) – which defended the notorious "6 imams" who threatened to sue passengers for profiling, cop-killer Mumia Abu Jamal, unrepentant former Weather Underground terrorist William Ayers, anti-Israel Columbia professor Rashid Khalidi, and others. Three radical Imams are on KGIA's board of advisors composed of 12 Islamic, Jewish and Christian religious leaders. Almontaser has expressed virulent blame America attitudes in the past making statements in interviews such as: "I have realized that our foreign policy is racist; in the ‘war against terror' people of color are the target….the terrorist attacks have been triggered by the way the USA breaks its promises with countries across the world, especially in the Middle East."

In her talk, she described her activities for tolerance and understanding in the wake of the terrorist attacks on September 11th. She visited synagogues, churches and mosques lecturing on religious and cultural sensitivity, spreading the message that Islam is a religion of peace. In a post 9/11 world of anti-Muslim backlash and discrimination, she described the lack of understanding of what her people were faced with and her contributions to a "September 11th Curriculum Project" to alleviate the backlash and discrimination in the New York public school system, training teachers and students in cultural sensitivity. She spoke of the weekly protest efforts together with Mona Eldahry seeking justice for Arab and Muslim detainees some of whom "suffered abuses in the name of our country."

She described how people lobbied and a movement was mobilized against the KGIA. Almontaser was the unfortunate victim of a movement by a "loud minority of voices" which she dubbed "McCarthyism of 2008." One writer to the New York Times called this movement of Daniel Pipes, Jeffrey Wiesenfeld and company, "the thought police." The moderator asked why this is happening to you, why are you so under attack? In answer, she described the role played by cultural tolerance and understanding in bridging the gap between East and West and opening doors to peace, so you don't need war anymore. The purpose of KGIA is to create "ambassadors of peace and hope," as the New York Times article mentioned. She said "the school is aiming to humanize the enemy" we're supposed to be at war with. This is a threat to many people who claim that "we're at war" and "we need to keep the war going" in order to thrive. "If you don't have an enemy, you can't keep Lockheed in business." She clarified.

She further characterized her "attackers" as those who feel "we need to have an enemy, a bad guy." What they find threatening is the whole notion of "learning the language and culture of people that we should be hating because we're at war with them." Members of the audience contributed to the theme that "this country is engaged in an imperial war and needs to build up an enemy." Someone elaborated that conservatives, by the same token need to build an enemy on a smaller scale so they target local Muslims, Arabs and the KGIA, and Wiesenfeld lashes out at CUNY and public education, to fulfill their need for an enemy and someone to hate, in order to ultimately support the imperial war.

A little latter someone in the audience continued on this theme, mentioning that anyone who visits the Stop the Madrassa website will notice that they "subscribe to an extreme version of the ‘Clash of Civilizations,'" and they see the battle to close the KGIA as "one local fight in a broad national battle against Islam" and what they call the "Islamization of America." They see the same Islamic colonizing phenomena that produced "Eurabia" slowly happening here and "they are drawing battle lines wherever they can." They see themselves as "great crusaders or heroes protecting Christendom and Western Civilization" against barbarians. They will "lie, distort, smear and destroy careers and people themselves," and they will do "anything and everything to further their cause. "They are not a civil debating society." They are not interested in ideas. That's why you can't sit down and talk to them or have a civil debate.

Although I witnessed a paranoia which reached astonishing new levels of hysteria, I would imagine that the morning New York Times article must have taken some of the wind out of their sails, for how could they complain about intolerance and anti-Muslim "attacks" when such a display of sympathy and veneration in pictures and words on page one of the newspaper of record limits their outrage to just a handful of critics like myself who disagree with their outlandish premises and challenge their dubious motives?

Later during the question and answer session, I tried to challenge their outlandish premises and dubious motives. I said that we recently witnessed the obliteration of 3000 fellow New Yorkers murdered in the worst attack in our country's history and we see Muslim terrorist attacks throughout the world targeting men women and children in the name of your religion. But I haven't heard anyone condemning them. All I have heard is everyone here sniping at Daniel Pipes and Jeffrey Wiesenfeld for being anti-Muslim, as if they were the enemy. When will you identify the real enemy who wants to kill all of us and condemn the radical Islamic groups like Hamas and Hezbollah who murder innocent people in the name of Islam?

I also asked why they seem to embrace every type of diversity under the sun, including racial, gender, ethnic, sexual, except for intellectual diversity. Why do you often shun a diversity of viewpoints and decline to share a public forum with conservatives? Why not invite staunch conservatives like Dr. Karkhanis or Jeff Wiesenfeld to a CUNY forum to present their side of the issues? The moderator said that this was not a Left vs. Right debate, he would consider it in the future but only if they would act civilly, stop "repeating lies" or carrying on a "witch hunt" like STM is doing, but not if they continue to act like "bulldozers." One person in the room said that once he did indeed condemn terrorists as mass murderers at a CUNY anti-war teach-in sponsored by the PSC, but he claimed the New York Post reported that he called them freedom fighters. Other responses as well blamed the media and Daniel Pipes for distorting their remarks to appear as if they support terrorism or 9/11 conspiracy theories.

I tried to continue to speak up further and raise my hand, but to no avail. At that point everyone in the room was glaring at me, so in order not to appear like a bulldozer, I held my tongue. I waited until the end of the forum and approached Ms. Almontaser civilly and asked her a number of questions.

I said to her that I am opposed to the KGIA, because public schools in the U.S. funded by the taxpayers, should not teach students in Arabic or in any one particular language other than English. She answered that there are dual language public schools that focus on Spanish language, or Chinese so there ought to be a school which immerses the student in Arabic language study, especially since there is such an urgent need for Arabic translators and diplomats. I replied that public schools should offer Arabic, Spanish, French and other languages as electives, but only English should be the standard in American schools. But she countered that the elective program is not good enough. We need a more comprehensive language program.

I asked her why she placed Muslim imams on the school's advisory board and why was everyone involved so secretive. The difficulty of obtaining inside information to keep the academy transparent to the public was naturally a cause for concern. The names of the clerics, on the advisory board for instance, were only later revealed in a letter to the New York Sun. She blamed the Department of Education for the lack of transparency and claimed she was always forthcoming about the curriculum, the books, and the teachers, but DOE never put it on their website. However, sources from STM claim that queries submitted to the DOE suggest that there was no indication on Almontaser's part that she was seeking transparency concerning the curriculum.

Regarding the imams on her board, she answered that when she was designing the school she was seeking advice from her friends in the community and these imams were eager to offer help. Anyway, as Almontaser declared, the board has already been disbanded by the Department of Education. But Imam Abdur-Rashid, a board member who has written in a radical vein "on the way white Americans "robbed" Africans and Muslims of their heritage," hasn't heard the news of the board's demise according to Andrea Peyser of the New York Post. A bystander listening to our conversation interjected that rabbis and reverends were on the board as well as imams – all the major beliefs were represented. I replied that I am opposed to having any religious clerics, of any faith sit on a public school's advisory board. It's illegal, unconstitutional and breaks the separation of church and state. It's fine for a private Yeshiva, Christian or Islamic school to employ religious figures, but not in a public school. I asked Ms. Almontaser why not launch a private school to immerse the student in Arabic language and culture, or a public school with a better Arabic elective program? She answered that she was no longer a principle and cannot make decisions. I thanked her for her open and honest answers and mentioned that I would investigate further.

What was most disturbing about the whole issue of the Arabic themed school, was the total lack of any American themed plans for a school where pride in country, patriotism and respect for our flag would be instilled in our youth. Instead of focusing on cultural immersion into balkanized entities of Arabic, Chinese or Spanish traditions and languages, the most pressing need today is teaching our children about the greatness of our common American heritage. The focus of education should be imparting a first-class knowledge of United States history. The history of America is the history of all people, all races, ethnicities and religions. The people of numerous cultures and national origins that immigrate to our shores in order to share in the bounties of the great American experiment must assimilate to American culture first, rather than the other way around. The moral rot of multiculturalism dictates that the assimilation process should proceed the other way around. They want to tear apart our country into disconnected identity groups, which will ultimately bring our nation to ruin. Instead of using the classroom to teach minority students and new immigrants that Western Civilization is the villain and they are its victims, teachers should be imparting the basic principles of assimilation into the fabric of American society. Teach the core values and ideals of America – courage, honor, honesty, religious freedom, individual rights, civics education, free enterprise, work ethic, etc. It is imperative for teachers to respect the flag, respect our country and be proud Americans. The heart of the problem in education today that is poisoning our next generation is that too many teachers and academics are just the opposite. That travesty was demonstrated in every spoken word at the forum and that is why the KGIA is such a dangerous idea that must be stopped.

Susan O'Malley: CUNY Trustee Ex-officio and PSC Executive Committee Official

The third and final panelist was CUNY faculty union official Susan O'Malley, who has filed an ongoing $2 million defamation lawsuit against Professor Emeritus Sharad Karkhanis, for his audacity to state that it's not appropriate to place convicted terrorists, Mohamed Yousry and Susan Rosenberg on the CUNY payroll. In his introduction, the moderator stated O'Malley has been "attacked" as a "so-called terrorist sympathizer" as he listed her credentials. She defended herself with the same cries of Islamophobia and racism as Almontaser but only O'Malley's persecution came from a "crazy man" and his conservative allies. She cried that in her case, for at least 13 years she has been "attacked by a crazy man named Sharad Karkhanis."

To explain the methods Karkhanis and his friends used to "attack" her, she expounded on the "craziness" of guilt by association that was used to smear KGIA and its founder, Ms. Almontaser. The same strategy is being used to attack Senator Obama, by associating him with controversial figures, Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers, the unrepentant former leader of the Weather Underground. The method is to take something irrelevant out of context and repeat it over and over again until it is cited as established fact. This leads to the "establishment of lies" which inadvertently appear in everyday conversation, as people rehash them as household words. That is how she was smeared by Karkhanis and she proceeded to tell her tale of anguish.

Karkhanis put out a newsletter, The Patriot Returns, which he distributes to 13,000 CUNY faculty, in which she's been "red-baited, lesbian-baited and everything-baited," called "a terrorist" and a "friend of terrorists," and even declared that she was "at an al-Qaeda training camp." She claimed to have endured "about 50 attacks" from the various issues of the newsletter. He doesn't do it alone, she explained. It's an effort of a group of rightwing conservatives, probably including Daniel Pipes, from whom she's received emails. Jeffrey Wiesenfeld was also closely "connected with these attacks."

O'Malley continued, saying he put out these "attacks" over and over, for such a long period of time that everywhere she went, even up in Albany, "people knew her as the butt of this person's attacks" and were afraid to associate with her. The attacks became such a nightmare and she "started really freaking out." She feared boarding an airplane one day and being turned away because she's a terrorist. She said she would have loved to respond to his accusations, but it was just impossible, so she had her lawyer friend send a letter to Karkhanis asking him to "please stop attacking her, and he said he would not." She wanted it to stop, she wanted quiet and since she was no longer head of the CUNY University Faculty Senate (UFS), she filed a libel suit against him.

She continued in defense of her actions to try to hire Mohamed Yousry and Susan Rosenberg. She explained that the "attacks" on her became most virulent after 9/11 when Yousry, an adjunct at York College was removed from the classroom without discussion or due process rights, after he was convicted for aiding terrorism. As UFS chair she was in a position to protect faculty, especially adjuncts whose "academic freedom and right to due process were limited." After calling her UFS office in desperation since he couldn't find work, she tried to find a teaching position for him since his academic career and his life were destroyed after his dismissal. She knew Yousry to be "very fine teacher" and a "man of stature." She rationalized that he should be considered "innocent until proven guilty which is part of the law in this country."

Essentially, Ms. O'Malley is either unfamiliar with the U.S. legal system or is feigning ignorance as a cover for her actions in her capacity as CUNY union official. Yousry was convicted along with co-conspirator Lynne Stewart in federal court and found guilty as charged for providing material support for terrorism and defrauding the government. How could a man with a terrorist conviction be "a man of stature?"

O'Malley conveniently forgot to mention a few things about Mohamed Yousry. He was removed from his adjunct position only after he was indicted, but was paid salary for the entire semester. O'Malley should also be grateful that Yousry did indeed receive contractual and legal rights of due process as his grievance followed all the proper channels from "step one" at the college level all the way up to arbitration with all expenses paid by dues paying union members. Mr. Yousry lost his case. This was all spelled out in plain English in The Patriot Returns 35.4. What makes her think that "the CUNY administration was going to roll out a welcome mat in CUNY for this terrorist and put him back on the payroll after his conviction in Federal Court and after CUNY prevailed in arbitration?"

She has yet to answer the following question raised in the same issue of The Patriot Returns: "Has Queen O'Malley ever made a "Job Wanted" announcement like this for a non-convicted, non-violent, peace loving American educator for a job in CUNY? There are hundreds of qualified people looking for teaching jobs. Why does she prefer convicted terrorists who are bent on harming our people and our nation, over peace-loving Americans?"

In a similar fashion, O'Malley sought to help find employment for former John Jay College adjunct Susan Rosenberg who was a Weather Underground terrorist convicted as an accomplice in the murder of two police officers and a security guard and for her role in the 1983 bombing of the United States Capitol and was imprisoned for a 58 year sentence for the possession of 700 pounds of dynamite and weapons. She served 16 years of her sentence until she was pardoned by President Bill Clinton.

However, the fact is that out of a total of 40 issues of The Patriot Returns, Karkhanis published over a 15 year span, only nine actually mentioned Susan O'Malley by name, and nowhere did Karkhanis state that she was a "terrorist" or that she was "at an al-Qaeda training camp." He simply reported the facts and voiced his objections, often satirically, regarding her compulsive efforts to find teaching jobs for convicted terrorists, in her capacity as UFS/CUNY chair, Trustee ex-officio and PSC Executive Committee member. He exposed O'Malley's letters to the New York Post and the Daily News defending Rosenberg's right to teach, her postings on the CUNY /UFS Discussion Forum seeking teaching opportunities at CUNY for Yousry and Rosenberg, her appeals to the staff at a UFS Plenary Session for CUNY to hire Yousry, and other indications of her obsession to employ convicted terrorists. In their defense she downplayed the gravity of their convictions arguing in Yousry's case, "it's becoming increasingly clear that he really did just about nothing." In Rosenberg's defense she argued in her letters from the standpoint that rehabilitation is one of the goals of the U.S. criminal justice system. Susan Rosenberg, having served her time, and having been "evaluated satisfactorily by her department," should now "be integrated back into society" with a suitable teaching assignment as planned by John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

The Patriot Returns focused on numerous CUNY union officials who had a penchant for idolizing criminals and terrorists, of whom O'Malley was a mere lightweight. The few times Karkhanis wrote about O'Malley, he would typically engage in collegial satire referring to her as the "Queen of Released Time" for seeking way too many CUNY leadership positions in lieu of teaching assignments. In the "Rumor Column," he wondered whether the "Queen" would abdicate her throne to take the Harvard presidency after Larry Summers resigned. Typically, The Patriot Returns expends the most ink excoriating the PSC leadership for spending the faculty member's union dues on inappropriate political causes while they repeatedly failed to deliver a beneficial contract. While they were actively mobilizing the CUNY membership to march against the Republican Party, organizing anti-war campus teach-ins after 9/11, donating the member's dues money to support the legal defense of imprisoned terrorists Lori Berenson and Sami al-Arian and a host of other radical causes too numerous to mention here, the member's health and welfare fund of $15 million dwindled to just about nothing. PSC/CUNY, of which O'Malley is an Executive Committee member, issued a Delegate Assembly Resolution donating $5000 and demanding the immediate release of Lori Berenson, currently serving a 20 year prison term in Peru on terrorism charges.

O'Malley had plenty of opportunities to take on Dr. Karkhanis and refute his accusations. She could have responded in the Clarion, the CUNY faculty union newspaper or the UFS faculty newsletter, which at one point she was an editor. Instead she chose to hire a lawyer and sue Karkhanis in New York State Supreme Court in order to silence his critical tongue and shut down The Patriot Returns. The poor retired professor, Dr. Karkhanis's First Amendment rights have been threatened more than anyone of the fakers in the room.

Meanwhile, Prof. O'Malley continued to lecture on the "New McCarthyism," the vast movement targeting her and her comrades through email harassment, blogs and other forms of "bullying through the internet." This vast movement holds an ideology that seeks to destroy rather than talk. She then directed her venom toward CUNY trustee Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, a STM advisor whom she described as so anti-Muslim that it's a contradiction for him to be on the CUNY board. She mentioned her discovery in the New York Times article that he worked for the FBI. While she knew that "he has been very, very conservative," this was the "hole in his career" that she didn't know about, in trying to "piece together his life." She had spent a number of years as the faculty representative on the CUNY Board of Trustees and debated with him constantly. A number of panelists and people in the audience broke into an emotional discussion about the CUNY board and why they should remove Wiesenfeld. One person said Wiesenfeld was behind the "attacks" on KGIA and as part of "a vigilante squad, a hate group" agreeing with O'Malley that his anti-Muslim credentials make it a contradiction for him to be on the board. Another described the makeup of the board as mostly conservative, having been appointed by a Republican administration, and therefore doesn't care too much about the students. Naturally, Wiesenfeld is the loudest. They continued to demonize Wiesenfeld, reciting a laundry list of character faults and random insults without an intelligible word about the substance of what he had to say. His "devious personal attacks make any kind of constructive debate impossible," as he "screams louder than you," to show he is "more powerful than you."

Later on the discussion came back to Wiesenfeld, as someone in the room requested that they return to their favorite topic, how to get him off the CUNY board. This person said she wrote to the CUNY board about Wiesenfeld regarding a "vile interaction" she observed between him and someone else in what was a "major, major attack," that was "really outrageous." They basically denied it saying "he didn't do it in his capacity on the Board of Trustees." She described being "shocked" meeting him. "He walked by me, pushed me, and cursed me out." She questioned "if it is so difficult to get him off the board" and "what more is there for us to do," to speak out as a community, that "we won't stand for it." The room then launched into a brainstorming session for Wiesenfeld's ouster. Some suggested writing letters, a good article in Inside Higher Ed, or local press. One said that the only way would be through the chair, Benno Schmidt since Wiesenfeld was appointed by the governor and has to finish out his term. O'Malley added that Wiesenfeld and the rest of his coordinated movement have been making the rounds of the Republican political circuit, speaking out against Muslims and the KGIA, honoring Dr. Karkhanis as Educator of the Year, and controlling the microphone and media. As they strategized how to take back the microphone and the press, they conveniently forgot to mention the sympathetic article in the morning New York Times, and the knee-jerk reaction of eight million New Yorkers to venerate anyone who paints themselves as a victim of intolerance and hatred. Hopefully, as one person mentioned, the new governor David Paterson could remove CUNY chairman Benno Schmidt and their group could become more active in the vetting process for trustees. Perhaps Paterson would help their cause and bring back CUNY to its original mission, returning to the policies of open admissions and affirmative action to serve all New Yorkers regardless of their racial status or aptitude. This last comment received a generous round of applause.

Actually, trustee Wiesenfeld is a hero to many New Yorkers for his efforts in bringing higher academic standards to CUNY. As a result of abolishing the failed policies of open admissions and remedial education that turned the once great academic institution into a worthless "diploma mill," CUNY now is experiencing a wonderful renaissance, where even minority enrollment is up and their diplomas have real value.

At one point in the discussion the true condescending nature toward "people of color" slipped out accidentally. Almontaser described the KGIA as a school that caters to children of Arab descent immersed in their own culture, but welcomes students of all backgrounds and ethnicities as well. But only a dozen of the 60 students presently enrolled are Arab. Her dream that this school would function as a home to Arabs and Muslims was shattered, and now regrettably the school caters mostly to non-Arabs. One person in the audience said that mostly African Americans and Puerto Ricans enrolled their kids at KGIA because they think it would lead to a great job as a translator, as others in the room seemed to agree and chuckle quietly. How telling that they should look down their noses at the very people they claim to protect and defend, for attempting to rise above their surroundings and strive to build valuable marketable skills.

While posing as the paragons of diversity and multiculturalism, Ms. Almontaser and Prof. O'Malley betray a patronizing nature that they try to conceal. They demonize their critics in order to bully them into silence, while posturing as hapless victims of a hateful "vigilant squad" of anti-Muslim "attacks." The same type of scrutiny that they christen "guilt by association" that is used to vet politicians running for the highest offices must be utilized to examine the actions of lesser public officials.

No one who chooses a leadership role is immune from scrutiny. Echoing the sentiments of President Harry Truman, Hillary Clinton admonished Senator Obama: "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen." If a public official were to associate with David Duke, participate in Stormfront rallies and condone the message of "White Pride" T-shirts, there would be universal condemnation and justified public outrage. Whether this person was a public school principle, a CUNY union official or Barack Obama, he or she would summarily be toast. Any teacher will tell you that a student caught hanging out with troublemakers would be severely reprimanded. These lesser public officials likewise should continue to be rigorously vetted and judged by virtue of the troublemakers they associate with and recruit. Any attempt to thwart the process of freedom of criticism via the courts or any other forms of intimidation or censorship, will be viewed as a direct threat to the First Amendment rights of all and a danger to our national security at a time of global crisis and Islamic terrorism.

Phil Orenstein is a manufacturing systems manager at Orics Industries Inc. based in Queens, NY, and formerly an adjunct lecturer of Computer Aided Manufacturing at Queensborough Community College and Farmingdale State University.


MIM: An article from 2001 reveals that Dhabah Almontaser's daughter is a student at the radical Islamist Al Noor School.

According to a New York Times article written shortly after 9/11: (complete article below)

In extended conversations last week, high school students at Al Noor spoke of their empathy for the young Muslims around the world who profess hatred for America and Americans, saying the hostility is an outgrowth of American support for Israel.

They said they did not believe that the hatred extended to them. "Muslims are all one," said Fariah Amin, who is also 16. "They kind of think of us as just living in America."

The students complained that the United States threw its weight around too much in the world, but that it also was not active enough in support of what they called freedom-seeking Muslims in Chechnya and the "true" Muslims who oppose the rulers of Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

"Isn't it ironic that the interests of America are always against what Muslims want?" said Fami Fozi, a 17-year-old student who said he would rather go to jail than fight in the United States Army against Muslims.

The students also said the Koran, which Muslims consider the literal word of God, provides a perfect blueprint for their lives. Their ideal society would follow Islamic law and make no separation between religion and state. ..

The students at Al Noor are reluctant to accept that the terror attacks were carried out by anyone of their religion. They draw on their deeply felt belief that Americans are biased against Islam and Muslims and that Muslims are victims of a prejudiced news media. Like many Muslim Americans, they said they believed that non-Muslims did not understand them and their choices.

These are also children whose parents made a conscious decision by sending them to a private Islamic school to shield them, at least during the school day, from the secularism of their adopted American culture. Girls at Al Noor must wear a loose-fitting robe and a tight-fitting scarf to cover their hair and necks. Except for the youngest children, boys and girls are separated during the school day.


November 21, 2001

Thanksgiving In a Time of Fasting; In Brooklyn, Healing Rhythms of Ramadan


Wisps of gloom have settled in the Almontaser home these first days of Ramadan.

For the first time, the older son, Yousif, was not at the table to break the fast. He is a national guardsman, called up after Sept. 11. The second son, Mohammed, spent most of the evening in his room. The attack crushed his spirit and he dropped out of his senior year of high school. Their mother, Debbie, is saddened by the death of a close friend's brother in the World Trade Center.

The terrorist attacks weighed heavily on this Arab-American home in West Midwood, Brooklyn. But sitting around a food-laden table on Sunday, the family talked about how the disaster had also made their observance of Islam's holiest month that much more intense. They said that it had made them extra thankful at a time when Americans are about to celebrate Thanksgiving.

"This is a healing point for us," said the father, Naji Almontaser, 42. "It's a chance to reflect, a chance to be grateful. Now that Sept. 11 has passed, we're more aware of what we have, more thankful, more understanding, more compassionate."

Amid the gloom, the Almontasers are moving into the rhythms of Ramadan, the month when, Muslims believe, God revealed the first verses of the Koran to the prophet Muhammad 13 centuries ago. From sunup to sundown during the month, Muslims fast, drink no liquids, refrain from smoking and sex, and live in a spirit of self-denial to focus the mind on the suffering of others. Ramadan is also occasion for extra charity and special prayers.

The pressures can mount for Muslims living in Western countries, and the Almontasers live the month with a striking mix of Islamic precepts and hectic 21st-century life in New York. It is a time of listening to Koranic verses in the mosque while going without Britney Spears at home, of denying oneself food and drink while taking in the good-natured ribbing from co-workers eating lunch on the job, of focusing on the spirit while running from job to class to community meeting.

The family consists of Mr. Almontaser, a former restaurateur who works as a banquet server at the New York Hilton and Towers; Mrs. Almontaser, 35, a special education teacher at Public School 261 in Brooklyn; Yousif, 19, a fire safety official at the New York Hilton Times Square now on guard duty; Mohammed, 17, the high school student; a daughter, Shifa, 13, who is in eighth grade at al Noor, an Islamic school in Sunset Park; and Mr. Almontaser's mother, Haylah Almontaser, 62, who left Yemen with Mr. Almontaser in 1965, two years after her husband and his father, Ahmed.

The Almontasers are prominent in Arab and Muslim circles in Brooklyn. The family owned the well-known Moroccan Star restaurant on Atlantic Avenue from 1977 to 1991. They seem to feel the responsibility of serving as an example of what it means to be a Muslim in America.

It wasn't always that way. Their parents were not observant as they were striving to assimilate. After a struggle to find a spiritual path, Mr. Almontaser said he rediscovered his faith at age 19. Mrs. Almontaser, originally from Buffalo, also grew more observant as an adult. They are raising their children in the faith, and Ramadan is a prime occasion for that.

Ramadan begins with the sighting of the new moon, as determined by local religious authorities. In practice, Muslims in non-Muslim countries decide when to start the month with a variety of means -- calls or e-mail messages from relatives abroad or at home, their local mosque, or Islamic Web sites. Mr. Almontaser received a call from a friend, the director of a mosque, on Thursday. The fast is broken, usually with a snack or a drink, at sundown.

This was Sunday, a rare time of quiet for this busy family, and the Almontasers were ready to eat the main fast-breaking meal, or iftar, immediately. The table had Ramadan delicacies typical of Yemen: shurba, a stew of bulgur wheat and lamb; sambosa, ground meat in fried filo dough; and shafout, a spicy yogurt with pieces of pita bread, cilantro, cumin and garlic. There were dates, which Muslims commonly eat as a symbolic breaking of the fast, and sweetened milk with almonds.

"Is it time already?" Mrs. Almontaser asked. "O.K., guys, yallah," she told the children, using the Arabic for "Let's go."

The conversation turned to Yousif. He was immediately dispatched to the rescue operation at the World Trade Center and spent 10 days digging through debris. His absence was depressing, "but I know a member of this family, who represents us, is there," Mr. Almontaser said proudly.

Yousif, at the 67th Street armory, was also fasting. He is a specialist assigned to the 230th Signal Battalion of the Army National Guard, keeping track of communications equipment. He broke fast with a bottle of water, and then waited to eat at the mess.

"It brings me closer to myself; but struggle? I've been struggling since Sept. 11," he said later by telephone. "This is nothing new for me."

At the Almontaser table, the talk inevitably turned to the World Trade Center attack and the war in Afghanistan. The suffering of families from both events has struck home even more sharply during Ramadan, Mrs. Almontaser said. "It's really given me a chance to reflect on everything," she said. "I'm really thankful my family is O.K."

Shifa, who wears braces and a white head scarf, began fasting on Ramadan in fourth grade. Now she has extended the spirit of self-denial, cutting back on television and pop music.

Mohammed made a fleeting appearance at the table, and went back inside his room, an inner sanctum. He has been spending a lot of time there after being taunted at school for his Arab roots after Sept. 11.

In a later conversation, he said fasting could be tough. "There's always a temptation to eat, but I don't give in," he said, partly to avoid upsetting his parents. But he allowed that fasting was like "finding yourself." He has cut way back on his Internet time, which reaches five hours a day.

Mr. Almontaser is an old hand at dealing with the fast, particularly after years in the restaurant business.

"It's rough growing up in New York City as far as fasting is concerned," he said, "because it's a race that never stops. You're always hustling. That's just the way it is."

With the end of the feast, it was time to head to the mosque for evening prayers. Mohammed stayed at home to take care of his grandmother. "I pray, but I'm not the best at it," he conceded.

At the Nur al-Islam mosque on Church Avenue, there are Muslims from many countries. Most wore casual Western clothes or the tunic and pajama-style pants of South Asia. Mr. Almontaser stood out in his neat slacks, blue pin-striped shirt and red tie.

The prayers lasted an hour and a half. In addition to evening prayers, worshipers also prayed during a recitation of the Koran, which will be finished by the end of Ramadan. Afterward, the Almontasers boarded their blue Chevrolet Astro minivan and headed home.

Monday and a new week arrive.

Mr. Almontaser had planned to deliver dates to mosques, but a cold kept him at home. In the evening, he served a banquet at the Hilton, reminded of sundown by an alarm in his beeper. He drank a half glass of water, and ate in the employees' cafeteria at about 6 p.m.

Mrs. Almontaser had a long day of teaching, and then an evening class at Baruch College in a school administration program. Shifa went to school and Mohammed stayed in the house. Yousif was at the armory doing paperwork and later distributed cellphones to National Guard members at ground zero.

The family will not be eating a Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow, Mr. Almontaser said. They usually do not. "I try to teach my kids that we should be thankful all the time," he said.

The New York Times
October 7, 2001, Sunday, Late Edition - Final

The 2 Worlds of Muslim American Teenagers


They are Americans who feel duty-bound by Islam to obey American laws. But some of them say that if their country called them to war against a Muslim army, they might refuse to fight. They cannot be shaken from the conviction that America is intrinsically anti-Muslim. Yet they see it as the one place where Muslims are free to be themselves.

To be young and Muslim in the United States today, to hear students at Al Noor School in Brooklyn tell it, is to be both outsider and insider, to revel in both roles but see neither as the ideal. It is to be consumed by causes abroad and removed from politics at home, to feel righteous and also confused, to alternate between gratitude and resentment toward the world outside their classrooms. As any parent knows, this is the paradoxical planet inhabited by many teenagers, whether they are Muslim or not. But in a country wounded by terrorists and preparing for war, young Muslim Americans are finding that real life has raised especially acute questions for them about competing values of allegiance and faith.

"We have a burden on us," said Andira Abudayeh, who is 16 and attends Al Noor. "We're Muslims, and we feel like other Muslims around the world do. And we're Americans."

In extended conversations last week, high school students at Al Noor spoke of their empathy for the young Muslims around the world who profess hatred for America and Americans, saying the hostility is an outgrowth of American support for Israel.

They said they did not believe that the hatred extended to them. "Muslims are all one," said Fariah Amin, who is also 16. "They kind of think of us as just living in America."

The students complained that the United States threw its weight around too much in the world, but that it also was not active enough in support of what they called freedom-seeking Muslims in Chechnya and the "true" Muslims who oppose the rulers of Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

"Isn't it ironic that the interests of America are always against what Muslims want?" said Fami Fozi, a 17-year-old student who said he would rather go to jail than fight in the United States Army against Muslims.

The students also said the Koran, which Muslims consider the literal word of God, provides a perfect blueprint for their lives. Their ideal society would follow Islamic law and make no separation between religion and state.

In the meantime, they said, they want to become doctors and lawyers and teachers in the United States. Even though the American government uses taxes to finance things that are un-Islamic -- licensing the sale of alcoholic beverages, for example -- they said Muslims here should pay taxes and accept the judgments of secular American courts.

"If you want to survive in freedom, I guess you just have to pay taxes to get the benefits from America," said Ahmad Odetalla, 14. "You know you're not going to be the one who buys alcohol. So as long as you stay away from what is forbidden in religion, I guess we have to pay taxes."

The students at Al Noor may not be a scientific sampling of Muslim American youth. But their comments are similar to those posted by Muslim Americans on the numerous Internet chat rooms and message boards about Islam, and their outlook is similar in some ways to that of other newcomers.

Immigrants and their children often feel the strain between the adopted and the native culture. Their political interests may focus on the topics and debates in their homeland. In the case of these Al Noor students, they are children of immigrants from places like Pakistan, Egypt, the occupied Palestinian territories and Yemen, which have been preoccupied for years by the efforts of Islamic fundamentalist movements to gain power through violence or the ballot box.

Still, some of their comments reflect what they have been reading and exposed to in the United States, where some Muslim clerics say openly what is said underground in Muslim countries: that the United States is to blame for the ills of the Muslim world through its support of more secular Muslim rulers.

Some of the students, for example, said they would support any leader who they decided was fighting for Islam. Among those who do not fit that definition, they said, are the rulers of just about every Arab and Muslim country.

Mr. Fozi, for instance, said that he would support any leader he determined to be an observant Muslim who is fighting for an Islamic cause, and that he would do so even if it meant abandoning the United States. "I would support him with my life," he said. How would he know who is a true Muslim? "I use my understanding of Islam and see what the person is doing," Mr. Fozi said.

Several of the young men said they could fight against a Muslim if they were convinced that the Muslim had committed a crime. They all said they were not convinced that Osama bin Laden -- or any Muslim, for that matter -- was behind the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, attacks that they condemned as violating all precepts of Islam.

"It comes down to the proof," said Mazen Kased, 17. "If you prove a Muslim did it, that's a different story."

Another 17-year-old student, Ammar Arif, agreed. "If you prove it's Osama bin Laden and I was in the Army, I would go to fight," he said. "That's my duty to my country and my religion as well."

The students at Al Noor are reluctant to accept that the terror attacks were carried out by anyone of their religion. They draw on their deeply felt belief that Americans are biased against Islam and Muslims and that Muslims are victims of a prejudiced news media. Like many Muslim Americans, they said they believed that non-Muslims did not understand them and their choices.

These are also children whose parents made a conscious decision by sending them to a private Islamic school to shield them, at least during the school day, from the secularism of their adopted American culture. Girls at Al Noor must wear a loose-fitting robe and a tight-fitting scarf to cover their hair and necks. Except for the youngest children, boys and girls are separated during the school day.

They feel their separateness keenly. Since Sept. 11, rumors have raced through the school that Muslims have been shot and beaten in Brooklyn, and that it is not safe to walk the streets because of revenge attacks by Americans against Muslims.

They believe the rumors -- which have not proven true -- because they said it fits with their experience of seeing negative images of Islam in films and articles that they find disrespectful of Islam.

"A lot of newspapers write negative things, and we get so upset," said Mona Widdi, 16.

But few students said they thought that newspapers should be forbidden to write things about Islam, the prophet Muhammad or the Koran, topics that writers in most of the Muslim world stay away from out of fear of offending Muslim clerics.

"America does have freedom of speech, and it's one of the basic things," Miss Amin said. "I was taught about it since kindergarten. You can't tell someone that they can't write that. But if they can't prove it, they shouldn't put it in the paper as some kind of hatred against us."

None of the students said they had experienced any harassment since Sept. 11. Their school has received offers of guidance counselors from local hospitals, visits of support from state education officials, offers of interfaith exchanges from nearby Catholic schools and a constant stream of calls offering assistance from political figures in Brooklyn.

The principal, Nidal Abuasi, acknowledged that the students' assumption of a backlash might be misplaced.

"Maybe," he said, after recounting the number of calls from the neighborhood expressing good will, "we are too paranoid."

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