Friday, August 17, 2007

Where do we stand?

The following is a letter I was forwarded from a member of the ICOPE listserv. I think the New York Times and all the media coverage missed the point Sean is trying to make. I am re-publishing the letter here with Sean's permission.

To: Ms Randi Weingarten, President UFT, Local 3, AFT
From: Sean Ahern, Teacher
Re: Kahlil Gibran School controversy
Date: August 15, 2007
Dear Sister Weingarten,

I am a UFT member and I am writing to register my criticism of your role in the forced resignation of Debbie Ammontaser, former Principal of the Kahlil Gibran School. ("Randi Rips Intifada Principal" Yoav Gonen, NY Post 8/9/07).

Why have you followed the lead of Daniel Pipes, the NY Post and the Sun on this matter? Is Labor to lay down with the Likud in New York as well as Tel Aviv? This is a self defeating proposition for us in New York and a recipe for perpetual war and occupation in the Middle East. The issue at the center of this controversy is the defense of civil liberties for all. Free speech is the 'canary in the mine' in this time of creeping totalitarianism at home and abroad. What are you thinking?

Who but a soul mate to Torquemada and Stalin demands a recantation and then deems their victim's own self abnegation inadequate? Defend free speech in the face of these budding Inquisitors! Lamentably, your remarks as reported by the NY Post have lent support to a witch hunt which you could have stopped.
The remarks attributed to you effectively damn "Intifada" as a new "politically incorrect" word. Step by step, inch by inch… When do we damn the politically incorrect books and their authors? When do we burn them? You have turned a word into a leper's shroud and draped it over human suffering. What's to become of empathy and solidarity if inquiry is pre empted by fear?

Literally translated from the Arabic, we are told that "intifada" refers to a tremor or a shaking off. I suggest that our own term "Movement" ( as it is commonly appended to Labor, Women's, Civil Rights, Black Liberation, Black Consciousness, Zionist, Populist, Gay and Lesbian, Fascist, Communist, Socialist, Anarchist, Nationalist, etc) captures the contextual and is pretty close to the literal meaning. My concern is that educators should not rest content when a "Movement", "uprising", "rebellion" or "Intifada" of Palestinian youth is proscribed and thereby removed as a topic for rational discourse and inquiry.

One's views on the term "intifada" or more specifically, the civil resistance to Israeli occupation to which it refers, are matters to be openly studied, considered and discussed both outside and inside the classroom in an age appropriate and balanced fashion. No understanding or resolution of the conflict in the Middle East and our own role there is possible without such a discourse.

In closing I request that you provide a suitable forum in the pages of the NY Teacher to allow for a open exchange on this matter by members so inclined. Ms Ammontaser seems to be viewed by all but her inquisitors at the Post and Sun as a bridge builder, peace maker and dedicated pedagogue. Unwarranted notoriety and political cowardice on the part of those who should be her advocates has interrupted her career and disrupted the Kahlil Gibran school community. I urge you to seek out Ms Ammontaser and use the weight of your office to heal this breech. and repair the harm done to this school.

Sean Ahern

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