By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
A Catholic law firm specializing in religious freedom has agreed to represent the opposition to a charter school in Brooklyn offering instruction in Arab language and culture, which critics say is a potential laboratory for Islamic radicalism.
Another prominent Catholic lawyer who works on religious freedom issues, however, told NCR that the school passes constitutional muster and should be given a chance.
The Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Thomas More Law Center announced yesterday that it will act as co-counsel for critics of the Khalil Gibran International Academy, a new charter school scheduled to open next Tuesday. The school is supported by a wide swath of clergy and civic leaders in New York, where several charter schools already focus on other languages and cultures, including Spanish and Chinese. Proponents say the school will not teach religion.
A grassroots local movement called “Stop the Madrassa” is attempting to block the school. It has attracted the support of prominent critics of Islam, including Daniel Pipes, who warns that Arab-language instruction will become a pretext for indoctrination in a militant version of Islam.
Richard Thompson, President of the Thomas More Law Center, said yesterday that he shares those concerns.
t“This proposed public school is nothing more than an incubator for the radicalization that leads to terrorism,” Thompson said. “As uncomfortable as it makes one feel, we must understand that the political goal of radical Islam is to destroy our Judeo-Christian culture. And the KGIA is a Trojan Horse New York City is building for radical Islam with taxpayer money. That the Quran calls for Muslims to subjugate the world, especially Christians and Jews, is a fact that anyone can look up.”
In 2002, the Thomas More Law Center filed a federal lawsuit against California’s Byron Union School District because of its three week intensive course to teach seventh graders how to become Muslims. More recently, the center claims that its criticism forced California’s Carver Elementary School to change a policy designating a special time and room so that the Muslim students could pray during school hours.
Another Catholic litigator, however, is more favorable. Kevin Seamus Hasson of the Washington, D.C.-based Beckett Fund for Religious Liberty says that since the academy does not establish Islam as the state religion, it does not pose a Constitutional problem.
Further, Hasson argues, there are compelling reasons to foster experiments that could encourage Muslims to embrace pluralism and democracy.
“Even taking a low-end estimate for the number of Muslims in America, we’re talking about maybe 3 million people,” he said. “The prospect of surrendering that many people to an ideology that wants to destroy us is stupid.”
Imam Shamsi Ali of the Islamic Cultural Center of New York, an informal advisor to the school, told NCR that the school’s critics may be unwittingly encouraging the very radicalism they’re trying to contain.
“These people should understand that what they’re doing may fan the flames of extremism,” said Ali, an Indonesian who has spent the last decade in the United States. “Exaggerated fears on one side tend to provoke a hard-line response on the other.”
The school's namesake, Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran, was a Maronite Catholic denounced by both Christian and Muslim religious authorities in his day for strident criticism of institutional religion and the Ottoman Empire.