Why would CNN, Reuters, a French television crew and more than a dozen other reporters come to a protest in City Hall to watch 25-odd protesters yell about a little school in Brooklyn?
Because it has everything needed to make it a big, sensational story.
Arabs. Jews. 9/11 families. Angry Catholics. And fear of terrorism.
It all revolves around the city’s first Arabic-themed public school, named after Khalil Gibran, the Lebanese poet. The school made news in August when its first principal resigned after she was linked to a company that produced T-shirts with the logo “Intifada NYC.”
That principal’s removal didn’t stop critics of the school from making the issue about something much bigger—and more sinister—by injecting imagery of September 11 and Islamic terrorism, and by likening it to a Muslim fundamentalist madrassa.
“Part of the madrassa will express things that are contrary to all that we in America believe,” said Aryeh Spero, president of the Caucus for America and columnist for Human Events, a conservative Web site.
“By allowing this madrassa, what you are doing, Mr. Mayor and Mr. Chancellor, is balkanizing America. This is not multiculturalism. What you will do is allow the raising of a generation that will not identify with America. They will be hostile to America.”
And once it starts here, it’ll spread nationwide, according to the group of Jews and Catholics who staged the press event, calling themselves Stop the Madrassa Community Coalition.
“How can any school system resist when Islamists come to them and say, ‘We just want to provide them the same educational opportunities that are being given to school children in New York City?” said Frank Gaffney of the Center for Security Policy.
“This will be more about promoting an Islamist agenda than the not only innocuous but laudable objective of teaching Arabic,” Mr. Gaffney said.
Bill Donohue, the outspoken president of the Catholic League, said, “Why is it in this city I’ve had to sue, through the Thomas Law Center, to get a nativity scene put in the classroom? Muslims just got off the plane and they’ve got an opportunity to put up their religious symbol, the Islamic Star and Crescent. If Muslims get the religious symbol, we want a nativity scene.”
Though the fate of the school actually stands to affect a relatively small number of students—there are only a few dozen enrollees—and despite the usual-suspects quality of the opposition, its scheduled opening and the attendant protests has become big news far from New York.
“I think it’s an interesting story even if you’re not Arab,” said Hoda Osman, a reporter with France 24 and vice president of the Arab and Middle Eastern Journalist Association. “If you are, it’s even more interesting.”
Asked if it made a difference to the resonance of the story that it was taking place in New York, the site of the attacks of Sept. 11, Ms. Osman said, “Of course it makes a difference. There were a lot of emails with members about this.”
The New York City Board of Education, meanwhile, had this to say: “Khalil Gibran International Academy’s first day went smoothly and without incident. Students will be receiving a unique, high-quality education irrespective of the preposterous distortions of the school made by some of its critics and probably long after they are forgotten.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated that the original principal of the school “was removed” after being linked to a controversial T-shirt company. In fact, she resigned.