School controversy continues

By Vic Rosenthal

Yesterday I wrote about accusations of “hateful” speech by a teacher in an elementary school nearby. The teacher, Randy Ingram, was not in school on Friday and school authorities are “looking into” (they would not use the word ‘investigating’) the allegations, made by ethnic Iranian parents and Kamal Abu-Shamsieh, director of the local Islamic Cultural Center.

What, exactly, did Ingram say? At this point only he knows, because the news reports (here, here, and here) are based on what a sixth-grader told his parents, who then told Mr. Abu-Shamsieh, who went to the school authorities and the media. It seems to be true that during a lesson on ancient cultures, the teacher made some comments about present day Iran as well as “extremist Muslims”.

The two Fresno Bee reports do not even agree about what Mr. Abu-Shamsieh said. On Friday, the Bee wrote:

Abu-Shamsieh said the teacher told students that Iranians are enemies of Americans and that they want to destroy Israel. The teacher also said that extreme Muslims and Iranians want to take over the United States, kill teachers and hire their own teachers for schools, Abu-Shamsieh said.

On Saturday, this became:

Kamal Abu-Shamsieh, director of the Islamic Cultural Center of Fresno, said that the teacher, during a lesson about the ancient Israelites, said Iranians are America’s enemy because they want to destroy Israel. He also said that extreme Muslims and Iranians want to take over the United States, kill the teachers and hire their own teachers, Abu-Shamsieh said.

The addition of the word ‘because’ changes the meaning significantly. But more importantly, do we know that Mr. Ingram said that ‘Iranians’ are enemies of the United States? Is it not more likely that he said “Iran is an enemy of the United States”? Yesterday I pointed out that the statements, “Iran is an enemy of the United States”, “Iran wants to destroy Israel”, and “extreme Muslims (some of whom are Iranians) want to take over the United States” are arguably true and are not hateful.

Mr. Ingram is well-liked by many. The Bee reported Saturday that one parent said

…her 12-year-old daughter, who is in Ingram’s class, had a different recollection of his remarks.

“He said you don’t have to be afraid of Muslims. It’s the super-extreme Muslims who would want to hurt the United States…”

Seyed Ali Ghazvini, Imam of the Islamic Cultural Center wants a ‘hotline’ for parents to report “discrimination or other social concerns”. At a news conference held at the Center, Abu-Shamsieh, Ali Ghazvini, the parents, and religious leaders of other faiths (including the rabbi of the local Reform Temple) called for “tolerance of other religions and cultures, and vigilance against bigotry”.

Now hold on a moment, everybody.

There is no evidence that there is any bigotry or intolerance on the part of Mr. Ingram. What we have is a third-hand “broken telephone” account of what one sixth-grader heard a teacher say.

Yet Mr. Ingram’s name has appeared in the newspaper and on television, where he has been accused in public of the crime of ‘bigotry’, which in this day and age is tantamount to the 15th century crime of heresy, and can metaphorically get one burned at the stake.

Who is acting improperly here are Mr. Abu-Shamsieh, who brought the flimsy allegations to the media, the media who published Mr. Ingram’s name, and the local clergy who are so obsessed with the possibility that someone may be anti-Muslim that they lose sight of reality. Mr. Ingram is owed an apology.

One of the clergymen said at the press conference mentioned above, “ethnic and religious intolerance can destroy a cohesive community…this is not something we can ever take lightly”. I would add that this goes for incitement and character assassination as well.I have emailed Mr. Abu-Shamsieh again and asked for his response.

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