March 5, 2008
By Paul Moses
Martin Sheen is getting plenty of recognition for his human rights work: He will receive Pax Christi Metro New York’s 2008 Peacemaker award on Palm Sunday, March 16. So will Debbie Almontaser. And therein lies the story.
It was stunning, since Almontaser is well known among community leaders in Brooklyn for the work she does to encourage ethnic tolerance.
Almontaser, a Muslim who migrated to New York from Yemen at the age of 3, was the victim of what New York Times education columnist Sam Freedman called “a concerted exercise in character assassination” after city school authorities appointed her to be principal of the new Khalil Gibran International Academy in Brooklyn. The Arab-themed public school quickly became controversial, denounced by opponents as a “madrassa.” Rather than engage in legitimate debate about whether the school is a good idea, certain opponents – echoed in two newspapers, The New York Sun and New York Post – smeared Almontaser as un-American. (For some of the ugly details, see Freedman’s article published last Aug. 29.) In the face of nasty press, Almontaser says, city school officials forced her to resign from the post. Read more..