New York’s Arabic-themed school divides community

Khalil Gibran demonstrationConcerns have been raised over whether a groundbreaking Arabic-themed school in New York, due to open next week, will be a model of coexistence or a conduit for extremism. Education Department officials have said that religion will not be taught at the Khalil Gibran International Academy, which is set to open on September 4 and will focus on Arab language and Arabic culture.

Such specialised schools are common in New York, and the city’s Department of Education has continued to insist that the school will be no different from Chinese- or Hispanic-oriented public schools. But others fear that the academy may teach students extremist Islamic beliefs.

One local politician, State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, alleged that the school had been endorsed by “radical” groups. “Establishment of an Arab school is a misguided and dangerous idea,” the Democratic politician – who represents a large Jewish constituency – told the JC. “It will not, as suggested, be a hope for peace; it is a blueprint for anti-Israel and anti-US extremism.”

Conservative commentator Daniel Pipes has slammed the project as “a Public Jihad School” where “imbuing pan-Arabism and anti-Zionism, proselytising for Islam, and promoting Islamist sympathies will predictably make up the school’s true curriculum”.

Supporters of the school – named after a Lebanese Christian poet – have vigorously denied such allegations. In a recent demonstration supporting the school, a mix of Jews and Muslims carried signs that read “NYC needs multi-cultural education” and “The Torah and the Koran both teach peace”. Speaking at the rally, Rabbi Michael Feinberg of the Greater NY Labour-Religion Coalition said elected officials should come forward to defend the school.

Jewish Chronicle, 31 August 2007