The media should do a better job covering the Muslim-American community.
As I observe the media circus around the Islamic cultural center in lower Manhattan and the treatment of the imam at the center of the storm, I’ve been experiencing deja vu.
That’s because in 2007 virtually the same thing happened to me. I was forced to resign from my post as principal of the first Arabic dual-language public school in the United States because similar forces that have conspired to disseminate disinformation about the imam and the proposed cultural center were behind the unfounded attacks on the school and me. And, just as is the case today, some in the media acted as co-conspirators.
It was said that I was a radical seeking to indoctrinate children to become homegrown terrorists. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, it is said, supports al-Qaida and intends to build a “mega mosque” at Ground Zero proclaiming Islamic triumphalism.
Neither accusation has any truth to it. We are bridge builders who seek to unite diverse communities in the face of efforts to divide us. Especially offensive was the effort to brand me as a “9/11 denier” when my own son was a first responder who, as a member of the U.S. Army National Guard, served his country courageously at ground zero for six months.
We need to be clear about what happened on Sept. 11, 2001. Nineteen hate-filled individuals committed this atrocity. It is irresponsible and grossly unfair to pin this horrific act on the 1.5 billion Muslim people in the world or the millions of Muslim Americans who live, raise families, work and pay taxes here. Like all Americans, we are entitled to enjoy religious tolerance and free speech.
In my case, I was vindicated when the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission determined that the New York City Department of Education discriminated against me by forcing me to resign. The EEOC stated that the department “succumbed to the very bias that creation of the school was intended to dispel, and a small segment of the public succeeded in imposing its prejudices.”
Today, a small segment of the public, and of the media, has succeeded again in spreading prejudice. And opponents of the Islamic cultural center are succumbing to the bias that the development of the cultural center is intended to dispel.
In the years since the Sept. 11 attacks, our communities have been the objects of the most vile and hateful assaults. Many of our mosques have been vandalized. Some have been torched. These stories have not received nearly the attention that the controversy over the Islamic cultural center has.
The right wing and its allies in the media are trying to persuade people to view Arab Americans and Muslim Americans as threats to their safety and security. As a result, misinformed well-meaning people sometimes act out of fear. The antidotes to that are education and dialogue, not distortion and stereotyping. We need to build on the process that peace-seekers and others of good will have been quietly working on in communities around the country.
Now, that is a story the media should pursue.
Debbie Almontaser was the founding principal of the Khalil Gibran International Academy in Brooklyn, N.Y. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can read more pieces from The Progressive Media Project by clicking here.