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Debbie Almontaser Speaks Out October 26, 2007

Debbie Almontaser publicly spoke out about her forced resignation from Khalil Gibran International Academy, the Arab language school, on October 16th. She said that she is reapplying to be head of the school and is also suing the Department of Education for forcing her resignation. She said her forced resignation was the DOE’s response to smear campaigns against her by writers at the New York Post and the New York Sun, as well as by Daniel Pipe (a Giuliani adviser) on his website, Stop the Madrassa. The audio and a text version of her speech is below.

By: Debbie Almontaser

Good evening. My name is Debbie Almontaser. I am the founding principal of the Khalil Gibran International Academy, which is known as KGIA. Over a two-year period beginning in 2005, I devoted my life to establishing a school that reflected not only my vision, but the ideas of a design team that included other educators, prospective parents, community members, and the Arab American Family Support Center.

In early August of this year, under pressure from the New York Post, the New York Sun, and right-wing bloggers, representatives of the Mayor, the Chancellor, and New Visions demanded that I resign as KGIA’s principal. They threatened to close down KGIA if I refused. The next day, I submitted my letter of resignation. Because I believe that I am the person to carry forward the mission of KGIA, I have today submitted my application to become the principal of KGIA. I have also asked my lawyer to begin preparing a lawsuit against the DOE for violation of my constitutional rights.

When I first discussed with New Visions for Public Schools the creation of an Arabic dual-language public school in New York City, controversy was far from my mind. I was thrilled to create a unique school that would provide a rigorous regents-based curriculum with Arabic language and cultural studies, and that would equip students for work in such areas as international affairs diplomacy and cross-cultural understanding. As with the more than 60 other dual language programs in the city, KGIA was created to foster multilingual and multicultural education. It was also joining many New York City public schools that use theme-based approaches to inform and enrich curriculum across subject areas. As an Arab-American Muslim, born in Yemen and raised in the U.S., establishing KGIA was my American dream. It turned into an American nightmare.

On Feb. 12, 2007 the Department of Education announced the establishment of KGIA. In the days following, right-wing blogs began spinning KGIA as an Islamist school with a radical extremist Jihad principal. And local NYC papers fanned the flames with headlines like: “Holy war! Slope Parents Protest Arabic School Plan,” “A Madrassa Grows in Brooklyn,” and “Arabic School Idea Is a Monstrosity.” From the day the school was approved to the day I was forced to resign, the New York Sun plastered my picture on its website with a link to negative articles about KGIA.

Leading the attack was the “Stop the Madrassa Coalition” run by Daniel Pipes, who has made his career fostering hatred of Arabs and Muslims. The coalition conducted a smear campaign against me and the school that was ferocious. Members of the coalition stalked me wherever I went and verbally assaulted me with vicious anti-Arab and anti-Muslim comments. They suggested that, as an observant Muslim, I was disqualified from leading KGIA, even though the school is rigorously secular, and its namesake, Khalil Gibran, was a Lebanese Christian. To stir up anti-Arab prejudice, they constantly referred to me by my Arabic name, a name that I do not use professionally. They even created and circulated a YouTube clip depicting me as a radical Islamist.

Then in early August, the New York Post and the Stop the Madrassa Coalition tried to connect me to T-shirts made by a youth organization called Arab Women in the Arts and Media. The T-shirts said, “Intifada NYC.” Post reporters aggressively sought my comment. Because the T-shirts had nothing to do with me or KGIA, I saw no reason to discuss the issue with the media.

I agreed to an interview with a reporter from the Post at the DOE’s insistence. During the interview, the reporter asked about the Arabic origin of the word “intifada.” I told him that the root word from which the word intifada originates means “shake off” and that the word “intifada” has different meanings for different people, but certainly for many, given its association with the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, it implied violence. I reiterated that I would never affiliate myself with an individual or organization that would condone violence in any shape, way, or form. In response to a further question, I expressed the belief that the teen-age girls of AWAAM did not mean to promote a “Gaza-style uprising” in New York City.

Although the Post story distorted my words, it accurately reflected my view that I do not condone violence. That should have been the end of the matter. DOE officials should simply have said that it was clear that neither I nor KGIA had any connection to the t-shirts. They should have pointed out that I had devoted my entire adult life to the peaceful resolution of conflict and to building bridges between ethnic and religious communities. In other words, they should have said that the attacks upon me were utterly baseless. Instead, they forced me to issue an apology for what I said. And when the storm of hate continued, they forced me to resign.

In closing, permit me to explain why I am speaking out at this time. While I have been the victim of a serious injustice, the far larger offense has been to the Arab and Muslim communities of New York City. In the years since 9-11, our communities have been the object of the most vile and hateful attacks. The attacks on me are part of a larger campaign to intimidate and silence marginalized communities. Among other strategies, the right-wing is trying to get people from other communities to view Arabs and Muslims as threats to their safety and security. As a result, well-meaning people sometimes act out of fear — not just a knee-jerk anti-Arab, anti-Muslim response, but the fear that, if they do not succumb to right-wing pressure, they, too, will become targets.

Those seeking to harm our communities would like nothing more than for me to remain silent in response to their hate. For the sake of the Arab and Muslim communities and for all marginalized communities, for the sake of the families of KGIA, and for the sake of all of us committed to creating a society that we can be proud to leave to future generations, I stand here today to say that they will not prevail. I will continue to stand against division, intimidation and hatred; I will stand for a society based on mutual respect and understanding and dignity for all our communities. These are values to which I have devoted my entire adult life and career.

I am applying to be the principal of KGIA because, as its founding principal and the person who envisioned the school, I believe I am the person most qualified to be its educational leader. Throughout the planning process, I worked with a wonderful and devoted design team comprised of educators, parents, students, and community members. I would like to continue that work and to build KGIA into a model dual language school that, to quote KGIA’s mission statement, “helps students of all backgrounds learn about the world” and fosters in them “an understanding of different cultures, a love of learning, and desire for excellence in all of its students.”


Go Semi-Organic

Filed under: Uncategorized — shuka @ 4:07 am
Tags: , , , , ,

Going organic is pretty expensive – particularly in NYC. A recent blog in the New York Times gives some advice on how to pick and choose organic groceries so that there isn’t too huge of a dent in your wallet after a grocery run. The blog highlights parts of pediatrician Dr. Alan Greene’s book, “Raising Baby Green.” Some produce, the article says, are more important to buy organic than others. Apples and apple juice, for example, have high levels of pesticides and should be purchased organic. Thick-skinned fruit such as avocados, bananas and oranges are less of a threat because the thick peels don’t allow chemical to seep into the fruit (plus we’re not eating the peels, as opposed to other fruit!). The blog mentions four other items including peanut butter, ketchup and milk.

“When you choose a glass of conventional milk, you are buying into a whole chemical system of agriculture,’’ the Times quotes Dr. Greene. If nothing else, milk is one product that definitely should be purchased organic. Or, more important than organic, there should be a visible sign on the carton that reads, “Does Not Contain rBST.”

rBST is a synthetic version of a specific cow hormone. It is injected into a cow to artificially maintain her milk production. Most countries, including Canada and the European Union, have not approved rbST in milk products for use due to public health and animal welfare concerns. But there has also been testing which suggests that rBST is bad for humans, too.

Despite objections from the Consumers Union, the Cancer Prevention Coalition, and other organizations, the FDA approved the hormone for human use in the U.S. in 1993.

In the mid-90’s two Fox News producers, Steve Wilson and Jane Akre, were fired from the station for attempting to reveal data about the potential side effect of the growth hormone rBST. Health Consultant Jonathan Campbell has details about the case on his website. To sum it up, Mansato, the largest manufacturer of the hormone, submitted there own statistics to Fox and told them to run it. Fox agreed. Wilson and Akre refused and said they were going to report it to the FCC. Ultimately, Fox won the battle on an appeal because the FCC policies on news agencies reporting the truth did not legally require the station to report the truth, because FCC policies are not law.

Aren’t legal technicalities frightening? I think so.


FDA Panel Calls for Ban on Children’s Cold Medicine October 21, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — shuka @ 5:55 pm

An article in today’s New York Times announced that the Food and Drug Administration’s panel strongly recommended the FDA to ban all over-the-counter cold medicine for children under the age of six. The panel also unanimously voted against allowing pharmaceutical companies to market their products as ‘doctor recommended.’

Children’s medicine manufacturers like Consumer Healthcare Products Association are fighing against the FDA panels recommendations. Not a surprise, considering that a ban on such medicine would be a great financial loss for such manufacturers.

Whether or not the ban shall be put in effect is still undecided. What is clear, however, is that panel experts have agreed that over-the-counter medications for colds are not safe for children to use and have not proven to be effective in the healing process. Most succeed in simply knocking the child out. A quick, easy, and dangerous solution.


Please Don’t Drug Your Babies October 12, 2007


A recent article in the New York Times said that companies making infant cold and cough medicines are recalling some of their products after numerous reports of hallucinations, misuse and deaths in children under the age of six who consumed infant decongestants and antihistamines.

Safety reviewers from the Food and Drug Association urged the agency to make a ban on all infant cough and cold medicines, including Robitussin Infant Cough DM Drops, Triaminic Infant and Tylenol Concentrated Infant Drops Plus Cold and Cough. But companies are still selling the drugs, and pharmacies are buying them.

Chances are, the pharmacies will keep buying them until they are banned – if that ever happens. A group of outside experts are going to meet in the next few weeks to give recommendations to the FDA. I have a feeling the drug companies will have a few recommendations of their own. I guess we’ll have to wait and see who’s voice is louder.

Personally, the FDA’s final say on the matter won’t affect my sentiments on the matter. I think you should try your hardest to keep your kids off these drugs. Sometimes, it’s inevitable – usually that’s when you’ve already had to go the pediatrician, however.

The thing is, I remember taking the exact recommended dosage of Robitussin and similar drugs when I used to catch a lot of colds back in high school.

And man, that stuff gets you high.

Another New York Times article discussed how homeopathic, over-the-counter cough and cold medicine is becoming more popular, but consumers should still be careful – many drug companies are giving themselves the label of ‘natural’ without really having anything natural in them. It’s a similar phenomena to the whole organic food situation in the U.S.A today: looking the other way and stamping the seal of approval.

But there are other alternative options to popular infant drops: before Tylenol ruled the drug stores, people used natural, non-hallucinogenic methods to help alleviate their children’s ailments.

Here are a few leads on alternatives:

An article in Mother Nature describes making elder, yarrow root tea to reduce fevers and peppermint tea for upset stomach in children.

Preventative medicine is important for kids too. Herbs for Kids reports that Echinacea root, Hyssop, Lemon Balm, Lemon Thyme, Lemongrass and Ginger root are all beneficial for a child’s immunity to cold’s and coughs (though a recent study from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine say that there is no evidence that Echinacea is beneficial for children.)

There are more remedies, and I will keep adding them to the list. Feel free to add your own.

The most important thing to remember, however, is that there is no cure for the common cold – whether your child is filled with antihistamines or elder flower. All the the remedies can do is knock the kid out or alleviate the pain (p.s. elder flower will not knock out your child. Chamomile, however, has been known to help relax people and therefore lead to better sleep..).

NOTE: The mother of the cute baby boy in the picture posted a lot of useful information about natural remedies to children’s colds. I recommend you read it.


Over-Medicating October 1, 2007

When I was 21 years old I had a strange stomach problem that made me constantly nauseous. I went to my doctor ecounted my stomach ailments to my physician.

After describing my symptoms for about 10 minutes, he said to me, “You have an ulcer.”

He then prescribed Prilosec to me, telling me to take the pills every day for the rest of my life. I didn’t. Instead, I got more testing and found out that I had acquired a parasite in Morocco and it had been living in my stomach for 6 months. I got the proper medication and got rid of it.

As the saying goes, “There’s a pill for every ill.” Popping pills is the quick fix solution for a nation that prefers tanning salons over the sun and microwaves over stoves.

The formula? If there is a problem, find a quick and easy solution. The fewer steps you take to reach your goal, the better. Does your back hurt? Take a Celebrex. Anxious? Xanax. Can’t sleep? Valium. Depressed? Well, there’s a plethora of pills for that one.

Unfortunately, all of these pills have side affects on the body, as all foreign and unnatural substances do. Which is why people should question what doctors are prescribing to them, particularly if the doctor is new and knows little about your health background.

In September of 2007, an article in the New York Times discussed the negative effects of polypharmacies – the medical term for taking various prescriptions pills at once – on older populations. It also proposed various solutions and preventative tips. The article raised a larger point for me: older individuals just have weaker immune systems, but if something is bad for you, it is bad for you regardless of age. It does not comfort me to know that my body is simply better at ‘fighting off’ the negative effects of the medley of drugs some doctor is giving me.

Logically, I should ask my doctor what is right for me. The problem with that is that my doctor may have no idea what is right for me because he was never properly informed. In a Mother Jones’ interview with Dr. Marcia Angell, the author of “The Truth about Drug Companies,” Angell states that pharmaceutical companies spend 2.5 times more on marketing pills than researching them. The doctors don’t know because the companies selling the drugs don’t know.

One online resource, Beliefnet, is available for individuals to check potentially harmful interactions betweens different medications and supplements.