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Debbie Almontaser to speak on Friday

The Brooklyn Paper
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Many people have been stunned by the furor over the so-called Ground Zero mosque, but anyone living in Brooklyn saw it coming three years ago.

That’s when the saga of the Khalil Gibran Academy — an Arabic language school — played out, first in Park Slope and then in Boerum Hill.

A new documentary about Debbie Almontaser, the school’s vilified Arab-American founder, doesn’t quibble about its heroes (Almontaser and her supporters) and villains (the naysayers and demagogues who participated in a whirlwind of misinformation and fear).

The film, “Intifada NYC,” will be screened on Friday at Park Slope United Methodist Church — and Almontaser will be there to take questions, breaking a long silence about a saga that began when she founded the Khalil Gibran Academy, which was slated to share space with a Sixth Avenue elementary school.

Parents there objected — over space concerns, they said — but that simple campaign turned into a 21st-century crusade against the innovative Arabic language and culture school and its founder.

Quickly, the well-respected educator was accused of wanting to open a “madrassa” that would churn out terrorists.

But Almontaser didn’t do herself any favors, either. In the middle of the controversy, she was quoted in the Post defending a T-shirt with the words “Intifada NYC,” and suddenly, she was being accused of being soft on terror (sound familiar?).

She resigned shortly after the story was published, though last year, a federal agency ruled that Almontaser was wrongfully ousted from her job by the city.

“The right-wing bloggers fanned people’s fears,” said Judy O’Brien, a friend of Almontaser’s and a parishioner of the church. “There was a lot of misunderstanding about the school. It wasn’t about religion or indoctrinating students into a certain political philosophy — it was a dual-language school!”

O’Brien said she hears the same echo every time she hears the inaccurate turn “Ground Zero mosque.”

“It just gets repeated until there is a total misconception of what the project is about — the same thing happened with Debbie,” she said.

“Intifada NYC” at Park Slope United Methodist Church [410 Sixth Ave. at Eighth Street in Park Slope, (718) 768-3093] on Nov. 5 at 8 pm.

Updated 5:21 pm, July 9, 2018
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