Thursday, May 22, 2008

Debbie and "Sue" on Paranoid Fantasy Island

On site reporting and insightful analysis by Phil Orenstein at FrontPage Magazine. Please read the entire piece.

Fantasizing “The New McCarthyism”

By Phil 5/22/2008

"After the lengthy front page tribute in the New York Times treating Deborah Almontaser, founder and former principle of the Khalil Gibran International Academy (KGIA), as the later day Mother Theresa, I thought the public forum she would be addressing later that evening, alongside her embattled sister in solidarity, City University of New York (CUNY) faculty union official Susan O’Malley, would be thronged by numerous admirers and reporters. But there were no such crowds or media. Wandering the endless corridors of the CUNY Graduate Center in Manhattan, I bumped into the panelists Susan O’Malley and Ms. Almontaser, who were just as lost as I was, looking for the classroom where the public forum, “Academic Freedom and the Attack on Diversity at CUNY,” was to be held.

A little more than 20 people including CUNY faculty, students as well as the speakers showed up. The poor attendance may be due to the fact that the CUNY Senate Forum email list received the announcement on Sunday after 10 PM, the day before the event. I was the only person at this “public” forum sponsored by the Middle East Student’s Association (MESO), who attempted to speak up to dispute the cunning agenda and break through the monolithic conformity of the group.

Billed as an important forum to address the issues of Islamophobia at CUNY, the email announcement stated: “Around the country, Islamophobic and Anti-Arab attacks on professors have increased, most notably at Columbia and Barnard. This movement to attack and discredit dissent has been called "the New McCarthyism" – shutting down reasoned debate on important issues….. Ms. Almontaser will appear on this panel along with CUNY Professor Susan O' Malley and others working to expose the attack on academic freedom across the nation…There is some urgency here as these attacks are one tip of a vast ideological iceberg that is also threatening to impact the current election campaign.”

Although the issue of the “anti-Arab attacks” at Columbia and Barnard was not broached in the forum they were most likely referring to the recent public uproar of Columbia and Barnard alumni over the ill-advised tenure decision of Professor Nadia Abu El-Haj granted by virtue of her unimpressive scholarship of one book Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society based on flimsy evidence and hearsay, which purports that the historical origins of the State of Israel are fictitious.

What I witnessed was a closed forum dedicated to a veiled radical agenda, riddled by hysterical paranoia, name-calling, slanderous accusations against prominent scholars and city officials, and strategies for their ouster, where the panelists professed that “attacks” against Arabs and professors are a coordinated right wing smear campaign launched by Daniel Pipes, CUNY trustee Jeffrey Wiesenfeld and their ilk, which they dubbed the “New McCarthyism.” But Mr. Pipes and company whom they demonized with such venom, have simply exercised their First Amendment rights of critical journalism and free speech, civilly exchanging opinions and information in online magazine articles, speeches, op-eds and blogs, where all sides of the issues were often given a fair hearing in the media.

I was confused as to the reasons for their excessive paranoia. How are Pipes and company threatening their academic freedom? The so-called “New McCarthyites” have been vociferous, no doubt, but they demonstrated nothing resembling the violent student mob attacks at Columbia University on Minuteman founder Jim Gilchrist, because he expressed disagreeable views. Mr. Pipes and a few opinionated bloggers, including myself, are not U.S. Senator Joe McCarthy. What is this “vast ideological iceberg” that is “threatening to impact the current election campaign” of which the so-called attacks on academic freedom are only the tip?

....I waited until the end of the forum and approached Ms. Almontaser civilly and asked her a number of questions. I said to her that I am opposed to the KGIA, because public schools in the U.S. funded by the taxpayers, should not teach students in Arabic or in any one particular language other than English. She answered that there are dual language public schools that focus on Spanish language, or Chinese so there ought to be a school which immerses the student in Arabic language study, especially since there is such an urgent need for Arabic translators and diplomats. I replied that public schools should offer Arabic, Spanish, French and other languages as electives, but only English should be the standard in American schools. But she countered that the elective program is not good enough. We need a more comprehensive language program.

I asked her why she placed Muslim imams on the school’s advisory board and why was everyone involved so secretive. The difficulty of obtaining inside information to keep the academy transparent to the public was naturally a cause for concern. The names of the clerics, on the advisory board for instance, were only later revealed in a letter to the New York Sun. She blamed the Department of Education for the lack of transparency and claimed she was always forthcoming about the curriculum, the books, and the teachers, but DOE never put it on their website. However, sources from STM claim that queries submitted to the DOE suggest that there was no indication on Almontaser’s part that she was seeking transparency concerning the curriculum.Regarding the imams on her board, she answered that when she was designing the school she was seeking advice from her friends in the community and these imams were eager to offer help. Anyway, as Almontaser declared, the board has already been disbanded by the Department of Education. But Imam Abdur-Rashid, a board member who has written in a radical vein “on the way white Americans "robbed" Africans and Muslims of their heritage,” hasn’t heard the news of the board’s demise according to Andrea Peyser of the New York Post.

A bystander listening to our conversation interjected that rabbis and reverends were on the board as well as imams – all the major beliefs were represented. I replied that I am opposed to having any religious clerics, of any faith sit on a public school’s advisory board. It’s illegal, unconstitutional and breaks the separation of church and state. It’s fine for a private Yeshiva, Christian or Islamic school to employ religious figures, but not in a public school. I asked Ms. Almontaser why not launch a private school to immerse the student in Arabic language and culture, or a public school with a better Arabic elective program? She answered that she was no longer a principle and cannot make decisions. I thanked her for her open and honest answers and mentioned that I would investigate further.

What was most disturbing about the whole issue of the Arabic themed school, was the total lack of any American themed plans for a school where pride in country, patriotism and respect for our flag would be instilled in our youth. Instead of focusing on cultural immersion into balkanized entities of Arabic, Chinese or Spanish traditions and languages, the most pressing need today is teaching our children about the greatness of our common American heritage. The focus of education should be imparting a first-class knowledge of United States history. The history of America is the history of all people, all races, ethnicities and religions. The people of numerous cultures and national origins that immigrate to our shores in order to share in the bounties of the great American experiment must assimilate to American culture first, rather than the other way around. The moral rot of multiculturalism dictates that the assimilation process should proceed the other way around. They want to tear apart our country into disconnected identity groups, which will ultimately bring our nation to ruin. Instead of using the classroom to teach minority students and new immigrants that Western Civilization is the villain and they are its victims, teachers should be imparting the basic principles of assimilation into the fabric of American society. Teach the core values and ideals of America – courage, honor, honesty, religious freedom, individual rights, civics education, free enterprise, work ethic, etc. It is imperative for teachers to respect the flag, respect our country and be proud Americans. The heart of the problem in education today that is poisoning our next generation is that too many teachers and academics are just the opposite. That travesty was demonstrated in every spoken word at the forum and that is why the KGIA is such a dangerous idea that must be stopped.

....The third and final panelist was CUNY faculty union official Susan O’Malley, who has filed an ongoing $2 million defamation lawsuit against Professor Emeritus Sharad Karkhanis, for his audacity to state that it’s not appropriate to place convicted terrorists, Mohamed Yousry and Susan Rosenberg on the CUNY payroll. In his introduction, the moderator stated O’Malley has been “attacked” as a “so-called terrorist sympathizer” as he listed her credentials. She defended herself with the same cries of Islamophobia and racism as Almontaser but only O’Malley’s persecution came from a “crazy man” and his conservative allies. She cried that in her case, for at least 13 years she has been “attacked by a crazy man named Sharad Karkhanis.”

To explain the methods Karkhanis and his friends used to “attack” her, she expounded on the “craziness” of guilt by association that was used to smear KGIA and its founder, Ms. Almontaser. The same strategy is being used to attack Senator Obama, by associating him with controversial figures, Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers, the unrepentant former leader of the Weather Underground. The method is to take something irrelevant out of context and repeat it over and over again until it is cited as established fact. This leads to the “establishment of lies” which inadvertently appear in everyday conversation, as people rehash them as household words. That is how she was smeared by Karkhanis and she proceeded to tell her tale of anguish.

Karkhanis put out a newsletter, The Patriot Returns, which he distributes to 13,000 CUNY faculty, in which she’s been “red-baited, lesbian-baited and everything-baited,” called “a terrorist” and a “friend of terrorists,” and even declared that she was “at an al-Qaeda training camp.” She claimed to have endured “about 50 attacks” from the various issues of the newsletter. He doesn’t do it alone, she explained. It’s an effort of a group of rightwing conservatives, probably including Daniel Pipes, from whom she’s received emails. Jeffrey Wiesenfeld was also closely “connected with these attacks.”

O’Malley continued, saying he put out these “attacks” over and over, for such a long period of time that everywhere she went, even up in Albany, “people knew her as the butt of this person’s attacks” and were afraid to associate with her. The attacks became such a nightmare and she “started really freaking out.” She feared boarding an airplane one day and being turned away because she’s a terrorist. She said she would have loved to respond to his accusations, but it was just impossible, so she had her lawyer friend send a letter to Karkhanis asking him to “please stop attacking her, and he said he would not.” She wanted it to stop, she wanted quiet and since she was no longer head of the CUNY University Faculty Senate (UFS), she filed a libel suit against him.

She continued in defense of her actions to try to hire Mohamed Yousry and Susan Rosenberg. She explained that the “attacks” on her became most virulent after 9/11 when Yousry, an adjunct at York College was removed from the classroom without discussion or due process rights, after he was convicted for aiding terrorism. As UFS chair she was in a position to protect faculty, especially adjuncts whose “academic freedom and right to due process were limited.” After calling her UFS office in desperation since he couldn’t find work, she tried to find a teaching position for him since his academic career and his life were destroyed after his dismissal. She knew Yousry to be “very fine teacher” and a “man of stature.” She rationalized that he should be considered “innocent until proven guilty which is part of the law in this country.”

Essentially, Ms. O’Malley is either unfamiliar with the U.S. legal system or is feigning ignorance as a cover for her actions in her capacity as CUNY union official. Yousry was convicted along with co-conspirator Lynne Stewart in federal court and found guilty as charged for providing material support for terrorism and defrauding the government. How could a man with a terrorist conviction be “a man of stature?”

O’Malley conveniently forgot to mention a few things about Mohamed Yousry. He was removed from his adjunct position only after he was indicted, but was paid salary for the entire semester. O’Malley should also be grateful that Yousry did indeed receive contractual and legal rights of due process as his grievance followed all the proper channels from “step one” at the college level all the way up to arbitration with all expenses paid by dues paying union members. Mr. Yousry lost his case. This was all spelled out in plain English in The Patriot Returns 35.4. What makes her think that “the CUNY administration was going to roll out a welcome mat in CUNY for this terrorist and put him back on the payroll after his conviction in Federal Court and after CUNY prevailed in arbitration?”

She has yet to answer the following question raised in the same issue of The Patriot Returns: “Has Queen O'Malley ever made a "Job Wanted" announcement like this for a non-convicted, non-violent, peace loving American educator for a job in CUNY? There are hundreds of qualified people looking for teaching jobs. Why does she prefer convicted terrorists who are bent on harming our people and our nation, over peace-loving Americans?”

In a similar fashion, O’Malley sought to help find employment for former John Jay College adjunct Susan Rosenberg who was a Weather Underground terrorist convicted as an accomplice in the murder of two police officers and a security guard and for her role in the 1983 bombing of the United States Capitol and was imprisoned for a 58 year sentence for the possession of 700 pounds of dynamite and weapons. She served 16 years of her sentence until she was pardoned by President Bill Clinton.

However, the fact is that out of a total of 40 issues of The Patriot Returns, Karkhanis published over a 15 year span, only nine actually mentioned Susan O’Malley by name, and nowhere did Karkhanis state that she was a “terrorist” or that she was “at an al-Qaeda training camp.” He simply reported the facts and voiced his objections, often satirically, regarding her compulsive efforts to find teaching jobs for convicted terrorists, in her capacity as UFS/CUNY chair, Trustee ex-officio and PSC Executive Committee member. He exposed O’Malley’s letters to the New York Post and the Daily News defending Rosenberg’s right to teach, her postings on the CUNY /UFS Discussion Forum seeking teaching opportunities at CUNY for Yousry and Rosenberg, her appeals to the staff at a UFS Plenary Session for CUNY to hire Yousry, and other indications of her obsession to employ convicted terrorists. In their defense she downplayed the gravity of their convictions arguing in Yousry’s case, “it's becoming increasingly clear that he really did just about nothing.” In Rosenberg’s defense she argued in her letters from the standpoint that rehabilitation is one of the goals of the U.S. criminal justice system. Susan Rosenberg, having served her time, and having been “evaluated satisfactorily by her department,” should now “be integrated back into society” with a suitable teaching assignment as planned by John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

The Patriot Returns focused on numerous CUNY union officials who had a penchant for idolizing criminals and terrorists, of whom O’Malley was a mere lightweight. The few times Karkhanis wrote about O’Malley, he would typically engage in collegial satire referring to her as the “Queen of Released Time” for seeking way too many CUNY leadership positions in lieu of teaching assignments. In the “Rumor Column,” he wondered whether the “Queen” would abdicate her throne to take the Harvard presidency after Larry Summers resigned. Typically, The Patriot Returns expends the most ink excoriating the PSC leadership for spending the faculty member’s union dues on inappropriate political causes while they repeatedly failed to deliver a beneficial contract. While they were actively mobilizing the CUNY membership to march against the Republican Party, organizing anti-war campus teach-ins after 9/11, donating the member’s dues money to support the legal defense of imprisoned terrorists Lori Berenson and Sami al-Arian and a host of other radical causes too numerous to mention here, the member’s health and welfare fund of $15 million dwindled to just about nothing. PSC/CUNY, of which O’Malley is an Executive Committee member, issued a Delegate Assembly Resolution donating $5000 and demanding the immediate release of Lori Berenson, currently serving a 20 year prison term in Peru on terrorism charges.

O’Malley had plenty of opportunities to take on Dr. Karkhanis and refute his accusations. She could have responded in the Clarion, the CUNY faculty union newspaper or the UFS faculty newsletter, which at one point she was an editor. Instead she chose to hire a lawyer and sue Karkhanis in New York State Supreme Court in order to silence his critical tongue and shut down The Patriot Returns. The poor retired professor, Dr. Karkhanis’s First Amendment rights have been threatened more than anyone of the fakers in the room.

Meanwhile, Prof. O’Malley continued to lecture on the “New McCarthyism,” the vast movement targeting her and her comrades through email harassment, blogs and other forms of “bullying through the internet.” This vast movement holds an ideology that seeks to destroy rather than talk. She then directed her venom toward CUNY trustee Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, a STM advisor whom she described as so anti-Muslim that it’s a contradiction for him to be on the CUNY board. She mentioned her discovery in the New York Times article that he worked for the FBI. While she knew that “he has been very, very conservative,” this was the “hole in his career” that she didn’t know about, in trying to “piece together his life.” She had spent a number of years as the faculty representative on the CUNY Board of Trustees and debated with him constantly. A number of panelists and people in the audience broke into an emotional discussion about the CUNY board and why they should remove Wiesenfeld. One person said Wiesenfeld was behind the “attacks” on KGIA and as part of “a vigilante squad, a hate group” agreeing with O’Malley that his anti-Muslim credentials make it a contradiction for him to be on the board. Another described the makeup of the board as mostly conservative, having been appointed by a Republican administration, and therefore doesn’t care too much about the students. Naturally, Wiesenfeld is the loudest. They continued to demonize Wiesenfeld, reciting a laundry list of character faults and random insults without an intelligible word about the substance of what he had to say. His “devious personal attacks make any kind of constructive debate impossible,” as he “screams louder than you,” to show he is “more powerful than you.”

Later on the discussion came back to Wiesenfeld, as someone in the room requested that they return to their favorite topic, how to get him off the CUNY board. This person said she wrote to the CUNY board about Wiesenfeld regarding a “vile interaction” she observed between him and someone else in what was a “major, major attack,” that was “really outrageous.” They basically denied it saying “he didn’t do it in his capacity on the Board of Trustees.” She described being “shocked” meeting him. “He walked by me, pushed me, and cursed me out.” She questioned “if it is so difficult to get him off the board” and “what more is there for us to do,” to speak out as a community, that “we won’t stand for it.” The room then launched into a brainstorming session for Wiesenfeld’s ouster. Some suggested writing letters, a good article in Inside Higher Ed, or local press. One said that the only way would be through the chair, Benno Schmidt since Wiesenfeld was appointed by the governor and has to finish out his term. O’Malley added that Wiesenfeld and the rest of his coordinated movement have been making the rounds of the Republican political circuit, speaking out against Muslims and the KGIA, honoring Dr. Karkhanis as Educator of the Year, and controlling the microphone and media. As they strategized how to take back the microphone and the press, they conveniently forgot to mention the sympathetic article in the morning New York Times, and the knee-jerk reaction of eight million New Yorkers to venerate anyone who paints themselves as a victim of intolerance and hatred. Hopefully, as one person mentioned, the new governor David Paterson could remove CUNY chairman Benno Schmidt and their group could become more active in the vetting process for trustees. Perhaps Paterson would help their cause and bring back CUNY to its original mission, returning to the policies of open admissions and affirmative action to serve all New Yorkers regardless of their racial status or aptitude. This last comment received a generous round of applause.

Actually, trustee Wiesenfeld is a hero to many New Yorkers for his efforts in bringing higher academic standards to CUNY. As a result of abolishing the failed policies of open admissions and remedial education that turned the once great academic institution into a worthless “diploma mill,” CUNY now is experiencing a wonderful renaissance, where even minority enrollment is up and their diplomas have real value.

At one point in the discussion the true condescending nature toward “people of color” slipped out accidentally. Almontaser described the KGIA as a school that caters to children of Arab descent immersed in their own culture, but welcomes students of all backgrounds and ethnicities as well. But only a dozen of the 60 students presently enrolled are Arab. Her dream that this school would function as a home to Arabs and Muslims was shattered, and now regrettably the school caters mostly to non-Arabs. One person in the audience said that mostly African Americans and Puerto Ricans enrolled their kids at KGIA because they think it would lead to a great job as a translator, as others in the room seemed to agree and chuckle quietly. How telling that they should look down their noses at the very people they claim to protect and defend, for attempting to rise above their surroundings and strive to build valuable marketable skills.

While posing as the paragons of diversity and multiculturalism, Ms. Almontaser and Prof. O’Malley betray a patronizing nature that they try to conceal. They demonize their critics in order to bully them into silence, while posturing as hapless victims of a hateful “vigilant squad” of anti-Muslim “attacks.” The same type of scrutiny that they christen “guilt by association” that is used to vet politicians running for the highest offices must be utilized to examine the actions of lesser public officials.

No one who chooses a leadership role is immune from scrutiny. Echoing the sentiments of President Harry Truman, Hillary Clinton admonished Senator Obama: “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” If a public official were to associate with David Duke, participate in Stormfront rallies and condone the message of “White Pride” T-shirts, there would be universal condemnation and justified public outrage. Whether this person was a public school principle, a CUNY union official or Barack Obama, he or she would summarily be toast. Any teacher will tell you that a student caught hanging out with troublemakers would be severely reprimanded. These lesser public officials likewise should continue to be rigorously vetted and judged by virtue of the troublemakers they associate with and recruit. Any attempt to thwart the process of freedom of criticism via the courts or any other forms of intimidation or censorship, will be viewed as a direct threat to the First Amendment rights of all and a danger to our national security at a time of global crisis and Islamic terrorism."

Give 'em hell, Phil! And keep it coming!!


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