Khalil Gibran International Academy Controversy Leaves Arab American Community Vulnerable

The controversy that surrounded the Khalil Gibran International Academy (“KGIA”) over the last few months has left me completely dismayed and utterly disheartened. The KGIA was thought to be a remarkable coup for our entire community; amidst all of the negativity thrust upon Arabs in this country over the last few years, an opportunity arose where our culture and language would not only be celebrated, but taught within the New York City Public School system. All students, Arab and non-Arab, would be given an opportunity to learn the splendor of the Arabic language and the beauty of Arabic culture and history, all under the auspices of the NYC Department of Education. What an amazing feat for our entire community.


It was foreseeable that the inception of the school would be met with some resistance. Despite the better efforts of many, ignorance and racism are epidemics that even education doesn’t seem to cure. Whether we like it or not, the word “Arab” used in any context can be cause for alarm in even the most well minded individual. Also, the image of Arabs painted by modern-day media isn’t the most positive likeness of our people. And as we got closer and closer to the start of the semester, the negative media imaging only seemed to get more outrageous and more desperate. Articles in the New York Post painted the school as a training ground for future terrorists. Websites and organizations were developed and devoted to “Stop the Madrassa”. Ignorance and fear, mixed with an extensive smear campaign by “respectable journalists” like the NY Post, resulted in full-on hysteria.


From the outside looking in (or the inside looking out), it was almost comical. All that was left was the image of the mother often seen in episodes of The Simpsons screaming “Won’t anyone think of the children!” Again – it was all foreseeable. The negativity and backlash from the anti-Arab populace was expected. What was not anticipated, and what has left me feeling utterly defeated, is our community’s inability to meet the challenge head on. The gauntlet was thrust upon us, and as a community, we fell remarkably short.

For the last two years, I have met countless community activists and advocates who praise the power of organizing and coming together to achieve our goal. I was told that alone, our voices are weak – but collectively, our voices boom. It might be naive to think that the collective voices of the Arab community would exact the strength and might needed, especially in this instance, but at least that voice would have been heard. It might have fell on deaf ears, but that voice should have been sounded. Where was our voice? In the face of name-calling, finger pointing and ridiculous accusations, where was our collective voice??


Whatever the reasoning behind our community’s inability to come together in this time of need, the result is painfully evident. We are all vulnerable to the endless barrage of negativity imposed upon by the media. The nail was shoved in the coffin with the recent resignation of the school’s principal. In the end, we are left standing with our heads bowed down in defeat as the finger pointing and name-calling continue. Although the future of the school itself is questionable, my faith in our community to unite together has been altogether shattered.


I was raised to believe in the power of an ummuh – a community - the power and strength in fighting for a cause that goes beyond our individual efforts. You know the sayings: “There’s no “I” in team”; “All for one and one for all”; “Together we stand”, etc. Our community was tested and ultimately, we didn’t pass. As the smoke clears, we – as a community – are left vulnerable. We are now in a position where we have to defend ourselves against accusations merely because of our ethnicity. Perhaps we were thrust into that position six years ago, but the fall-out from the KGIA controversy has put us on the defense even more so today.


Despite my current state of disappointment, idealism still breathes deep within. I have faith that in due course, our community will come together and unite and meet these challenges with the passion and fervor that I know dwells within us all. The negative campaigning against KGIA has produced negative campaigning against us, as a community.
The accusations have been ridiculous. I have faith that in the end, our collective voices will be heard and hopefully, we will be the ones laughing ...

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About Eman Ahmed

Born and raised in New York, Eman Ahmed is an Egyptian-American attorney specializing in employment discrimination. She received her B.A. from St. John’s University, Suma Cum Laude, and her J.D. from New York Law School where she also served as an editor at the New York University Law Review. Eman is an active member of the Network of Arab-American Professionals and is a member of the NYSBA Committee on Women in the Law. She appeared in the 2003 edition of Who’s Who Among American Law Students and currently appears in the Madison Who’s Who.

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