This is part of 45-minute segment titled "English-Arabic School Faces Harsh Critics" that included separate discussions first with Andrea Elliott (the New York Times reporter who wrote a long, front-page article on the topic on April 28), then Daniel Pipes, and finally Dhabah ("Debbie") Almontaser (the school's former principal-designate)
Host: So, what's the objection [to the Khalil Gibran International Academy]?
The objection, contrary to what Noah Feldman said at the top of the hour, has nothing to do with Arab culture or language.
I, indeed, from the very get-go said I love the idea. I think it's marvelous that there would be intense Arabic instruction. Now, there are others who would disagree with me on this, but my position - as one who has studied Arabic from the age of 19, who would have loved to have started at the age 12, is this; I think it's a great idea.
My problem, in the abstract, was that I've seen over and over again that the instruction of Arabic implies either a political or a religious agenda. I've documented this [taking place] in various places, such as Middlebury College in Vermont or in Algeria, or a whole range of schools around the country. So, great idea, but it has to be implemented properly.
Then we began to learn not about the curriculum, not about the textbooks, not about the details [of KGIA] but we began to learn about Ms. Almontaser. Unfortunately, the details of the school have been kept from us; there's a kind of military security that was in place a year ago and that is still there now. As you heard [in a prior segment,] Ms. [Andrea] Elliot was not allowed in the school.
So, we had to focus about what we knew and much of that was the principal-designate and the advisory board and the summary of plans – you know, bits and pieces. What I saw disturbed me because, in fact, it confirmed my concern, that it [KGIA] would have an Islamist agenda.
Host: I wanted you to expand on a idea or a phrase, that I heard quoted, from you in the New York Times article, about this - "lawful Islamists"- what does that mean and how does this affect this controversy?
This little controversy is part of a much larger question that has to do with the role of Islam, the role of Islamic law. 9/11 focused attention on terrorism, and that was very important, but terrorism is just one way of promoting the goals of radical Islam, radical Islam being defined as an effort to apply the Shari‘a in its fullness.
There are other ways and, in particular, I think the most significant way is to work through the system, through the educational system, the political system. the religious hierarchy, social institutions, in a legitimate, political, nonviolent way. I see the Khalil Gibran International Academy as just one such example, and I think in the long term, that has more potential than violence, criminality and terrorism.
Host: But you've also just described it as legitimate.
It is legitimate ... it's legitimate to try to create a an Islamist school, and its legitimate for me to try to stop it, so it's a political argument.
How do we want to see this country? Do we want to see this country give special dispensation to the Shari'a, to Islamic law, or indeed even have Shari'a law applied? Or do we not want it?
And that is the political battle, and which Ms. Almontaser is on one side and I'm on the other. She wants that law, I don't want that law.
[An abusive call follows.]
Host: Was this [effort of yours] a witch hunt?
Let me very clear about what I was trying to do. I believe in the instruction of Arabic. I myself learned Arabic at the university. I've spent years of my life learning Arabic. I think it's a great thing to do. I love the Arabic language. I love Middle Eastern culture. This has been a substantial part of my life for 40 years.
However, in the instruction of Arabic, there is also implicit, often implicit, the notion that one should become a Muslim, that there is an Islamic agenda. I've see this happen myself, and I give in my writings a number of documentations of this, not to say it's inevitable but it's something to be concerned about. There are plenty of instructors who do not do this. Indeed, my own instructor of Arabic in the late 60s was not doing this.
But as we can see in case after case, Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy in the Minneapolis area...a school in San Diego, in Somerville, Massachusetts, in the Atlanta area, several in Ohio…case after case, we find Arabic instruction also implies a push towards Islam, and indeed towards radical Islam.
That's not a witch hunt. That's noting something and criticizing it, and I wish my critics had the decency to respond to what I'm saying, rather than abuse me and call me names.
Host: ... it's clear this is an emotional and controversial issue, where emotional terms get thrown around quite a bit. Do you think it was fair, ultimately, for Debbie Almontaser to be branded as a jihadist and an Islamic radical?
I never called her a jihadist, I never...
Host: I know you didn't.
I never called her a terrorist. Well, I am not responsible for what others say. No, I don't think she's a jihadist. I don't think she's a terrorist. I do think that - what I know of her record suggests that she is someone who supports radical Islam, that is to say, supports bringing in elements of the Shari`a, of Islamic law, whether it be by bringing in imams onto the advisory board or having lunch that is served according to Islamic regulations or receiving an award from, as Ms. Elliot noted earlier, the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Let me just note one thing, that the long-time national spokesman of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said back in 1993, that "I don't want to create the impression that I wouldn't like the government of the United States to be Islamic sometime in the future, but I'm not going to do anything violent to promote that. I'm going to do it through education." So the long term plan of CAIR and other institutions has been to work with education.
Let me also note that back in 2003, Ms. Almontaser took part in something called the "Grand Display of Muslim Unity" at Madison Square Garden, organized with the Islamic Internet University, and the mission of that university is to establish and support, "the Islamic institutions, particularly Islamic educational institutions, in this land."
So I see from various points of view that Ms. Almontaser seems to have an agenda of creating Islamic institutions. She happens to have received public monies, taxpayer monies for this. I'm against that. She can create a private institution but not a public one.