In newspaper articles and Internet postings, on television and talk radio, Ms. Almontaser was branded a "radical," a "jihadist" and a "9/11 denier." She stood accused of harboring unpatriotic leanings and of secretly planning to proselytize her students. Despite Ms. Almontaser's longstanding reputation as a Muslim moderate, her critics quickly succeeded in recasting her image.
The conflict tapped into a well of post-9/11 anxieties. But Ms. Almontaser's downfall was not merely the result of a spontaneous outcry by concerned parents and neighborhood activists. It was also the work of a growing and organized movement to stop Muslim citizens who are seeking an expanded role in American public life. The fight against the school, participants in the effort say, was only an early skirmish in a broader, national struggle.
"It's a battle that's really just begun," said Daniel Pipes, who directs a conservative research group, the Middle East Forum, and helped lead the charge against Ms. Almontaser and the school.
In the aftermath of Sept. 11, critics of radical Islam focused largely on terrorism, scrutinizing Muslim-American charities or asserting links between Muslim organizations and violent groups like Hamas. But as the authorities have stepped up the war on terror, those critics have shifted their gaze to a new frontier, what they describe as law-abiding Muslim-Americans who are imposing their religious values in the public domain.
It's not enough to go after terrorists, now they have to harass and intimidate perfectly law-abiding Muslims who just want to practice freedom of religion. It's like they think that's enshrined in the supreme law of the land, or something!
Mr. Pipes and others reel off a list of examples: Muslim cabdrivers in Minneapolis who have refused to take passengers carrying liquor; municipal pools and a gym at Harvard that have adopted female-only hours to accommodate Muslim women; candidates for office who are suspected of supporting political Islam; and banks that are offering financial products compliant with sharia, the Islamic code of law.
Muslim cabdrivers who refuse to take passengers carrying liquor... well, I agree that's stupid--pretty much as stupid as saying a pharmacist can refuse to give out birth control because they're Christian. But I suspect Pipes wouldn't agree. Nor would he give a damn about political candidates who support political Christians, like Dobson or Hagee, nor would he care if an institution went out of its way to accommodate Christians. He also probably wouldn't recognize that it is due to Christians demanding accommodations for their religion that set the precedent that allows Muslims to do so, as well. But that's because he's a misanthropic twit.
Muslim leaders, academics and others see the drive against the school as the latest in a series of discriminatory attacks intended to distort the truth and play on Americans' fear of terrorism. They say the campaign is also part of a wider effort to silence critics of Washington's policy on Israel and the Middle East.
"This is a political, ideological agenda," said John Esposito, a professor of international affairs and Islamic studies at Georgetown University who has been a focus of Mr. Pipes's scrutiny. "It's an agenda to paint Islam, not just extremists, as a major problem."
That portrait, Muslim and Arab advocates contend, is rife with a bias that would never be tolerated were it directed at other ethnic or religious groups. And if Ms. Almontaser's story is any indication, they say, the message of her critics wields great power.
Of course. Because these people don't see any difference between "Islam" and "extremists".