Times Ignores Anti-War, Anti-Bush Rants of Arabic School Leader

For Friday's Metro section, reporter Julie Bosman went to the liberal nabe of Park Slope, Brooklyn, to cover the controversy over a proposed public school dedicated to the study of Arabic ("Plan to Open an Arabic School In Brooklyn Arouses Protests").

The planned school and its principal Debbie Almontaser was portrayed as an innocent victim of misunderstanding and prejudice, and the story's slant came through in the text box: "Where some see a bridge between cultures, others see an 'Islamist agenda.'"

Those warning sign quotation marks are the Times' way of telling you which way you should see the issue.

"The Khalil Gibran International Academy was conceived as a public embrace of New York City's growing Arab population and of internationalism, the first public school dedicated to the study of the Arabic language and culture and open to students of all racial and ethnic backgrounds.

"But nearly three months after plans for the middle school were first announced, a beleaguered Department of Education is fending off attacks from two angry camps: parents from Public School 282, the elementary school in Park Slope, Brooklyn, that was assigned to share building space with the Khalil Gibran school, and a handful of columnists who have called the proposed academy a madrassa, which teaches the Koran.

"Now the chancellor of schools, Joel I. Klein, is considering other locations for the school, or even postponing the opening for a year, according to several people involved in the discussions, and the whole endeavor has been turned into a test of tolerance - and its limits - in post-9/11, multiethnic New York.

"The principal, Debbie Almontaser, who came to America from Yemen at age 3 and who organized peace rallies and urged tolerance after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has been vilified on Web sites as having an 'Islamist agenda.'

"Ms. Almontaser said she was prepared for the reaction. 'Quite frankly, I don't let it bother me,' she said. 'I don't lose sleep over it. My main objective is the opening of the school.'

"Friends of the teacher, who is known as a moderate active in interfaith groups, call the accusation preposterous.

"'It's tragic that they should be targeting her,' said the Rev. Dr. Daniel Meeter, pastor of Old First Reformed Church in Park Slope.

"Some call the controversy over the school heartbreaking. 'Now is the critical time to teach young people Arabic,' said Eileen F. Reilly, a director at Camba, a Brooklyn social services agency, and a friend of Ms. Almontaser's. 'If a school like this can't happen in Brooklyn, where can it happen?'"

Bosman again portrayed Almontaser as a gentle moderate: "Ms. Almontaser had become a high-profile figure in Brooklyn after 9/11 and had spoken in interviews about her embrace of Muslim customs, including wearing a hijab, and how she was a part of the American melting pot."

But Bosman skipped over some less-than-moderate statements from Almontaser's anti-war activist past. Here's how she was quoted in a 2002 interview by the Norwegian branch of Amnesty International: "President Bush is trying to destroy the United States that I love and of which I am a result. He has abandoned our forefather's ideals of a society of freedom; democracy and pluralism build by immigrants. He is a nightmare."