Implied in last Monday’s lengthy article in the NY Times on the controversy surrounding Debbie Almontaser, the Yemini-born and US-raised educator who lost her job as the founding principal of the Khalil Gibran International Academy (a New York City public high school dedicated to the study of Arab language and culture), is that she has been hounded and unfairly targeted by extremists organized or encouraged by Daniel Pipes. Dr. Pipes is a right-wing ideologue whose activities profit from his status as a Harvard-credentialed scholar of the Middle East.
I don’t know if a public school of this nature was such a good idea, but Pipes’ efforts against “soft Jihadism” seem dangerously intolerant and paranoid. Almontaser appears to represent exactly the kind of Islamic voice we should be encouraging rather than pushing away.
One egregious example of Pipes’ MO disclosed in this Times article was his distortion of a quotation of Ms. Almontaser regarding the terror attacks of 9/11: He just quotes the first part of her statement that she didn’t see Arabs or Muslims as carrying out the 9/11 attacks while omitting her concluding point that she saw these attackers as betraying their Arab identities and Muslim faith. He is a McCarthyite; he’s out to destroy people’s reputations because he has this malicious notion that moderate Muslims are really “soft jihadis.”
Ralph and I have discussed this a bit in private e-mails, so since he posts his views here I want to give the gist of mine as well.
The Almontaser case is not at all clear-cut. Unfortunately, the merits of the case itself have now become overshadowed by the zealousness of her supporters and detractors.
Among her detractors, Daniel Pipes may well have expressed himself less than judiciously. But it surely does not help judicious discussion to label him “McCarthyite,” nor to speculate on his motives, or that he is “out to destroy people’s reputations because he has this malicious notion…” Nor does it help to label him “a right-wing ideologue.”
In other words, it should surely be possible to disagree with Pipes, or anyone else, without using labels that suggest that he is an enemy.
As a resident of Brooklyn, I have also observed that Almontaser’s defense committee includes, prominently, people who, on their off-days, promote the observation of Nakba Day in this borough.
I hope that Ralph is right that Almontaser “appears to represent … the kind of Islamic voice we should be encouraging.” But the evidence for that is far from clear, given her ambiguous response to the use of intifada tee shirts.
Summary: People of good will (that’s everyone who writes for and reads this blog, obviously) should be more cautious on this thing. See Job 13:5.
I am not someone who uses labels lightly. In the case of Daniel Pipes, both in relation to Ms. Almontaser and on other matters, I stand by my characterizations.
In my posting, I did not pin another criticism on Pipes and the others who attack Almontaser, but it’s politely and benignly raised here by Werner Cohn — that of guilt by association. Werner and I have argued about this in private emails. We agree that leftists often duck legitimate criticism by calling it guilt by association. But this is exactly what Ms. Almontaser faces here. Is she to be condemned because both good liberals and others who may be closer to the far left are rallying to her cause? Or because we may dislike some people in some groups that Ms. Almontaser may have had some involvement with over the years?
No, of course not, Ms. Almontaser cannot be judged by her associations alone. But such associations cannot be simply disregarded either. We are what we are partly, only partly but definitely partly, because of the company we keep.
I must also say that Ralph and I differ about those “good liberals” found on Ms. A’s support list.
I personally would have given a lot more slack to Ms. A. than her right-wing critics did, but I am also much more critical of her than her left-wing defenders are.