Cafe Intifada Commentary:
This article is part of a new thread on this blog: Something about intifada- What’s in a name? It is an examination of the contextual aspect of language, the war against language in the context of imperialism, colonialism and oppression, and the demonization of a language, a culture and a people.
Intifada simply means “to shake off.” In popular terms, it refers to the overthrow of a brutal occupation. So, for example, in Arabic, “Warsaw Ghetto Uprising” would be translated as “Intifada Warsaw.”
And yet, the organization that hosts this blog, as well as any other organization or group or individual that uses the term “intifada” is accused of anything from being anti-Israel, anti-Semitic and even terrorist or extremist.
In the article that follows, a public school principal was fired for wearing a t-shirt that said “Intifada”. and her case against the school district dismissed on the grounds that an employer has the RIGHT to control the speech of its employees.
Two important points!
1. In this “free” country, are we to accept that our constitutional rights are abandoned during the large portion of our lives when we sell our labor to an employer? An employer, who has the constitutional right to then take our surplus labor and “speak freely” with those dollars in the form of advertising, campaign contributions, etc.?
2. Given that THIS employee is an educational worker, what does this say about the free flow of ideas essential in a democracy? What model to we provide the children when adults are dismissed of their duties in an academic setting, for merely expressing an idea?
Published: September 1, 2009
A federal judge on Tuesday ruled against the founding principal of an Arabic-language school who sued the city, claiming that her rights were violated when she was fired in 2007 for defending the word “intifada” on a T-shirt.
The principal, Debbie Almontaser, had argued in her suit that the city violated her First Amendment rights when it fired her for explaining in a newspaper interview that the word had nonviolent origins. Judge Sidney H. Stein, who dismissed the case in Federal District Court in Manhattan, rejected her claims, saying that Ms. Almontaser made her statements in the course of her duties as an administrator — not “as a citizen on a matter of public concern” — and that employers have some rights to control their employees’ words and actions.
Ms. Almontaser participated in an interview “pursuant to her official duties as acting interim principal” of the school, the Khalil Gibran International Academy, the court ruled. “This speech is not protected by the First Amendment.”
The controversy over Ms. Almontaser’s statements began in August 2007, when she wasquestioned by The New York Post about T-shirts that bore the phrase “Intifada NYC.” The shirts were sold by the group Arab Women Active in the Arts and Media, and had no relation to the school. But when Ms. Almontaser defended the meaning of the phrase as literally meaning “shaking off” instead of something more violent, the Education Department was besieged by complaints, and Ms. Almontaser was asked to resign.
Shortly afterward, Ms. Almontaser filed her lawsuit against the Education Department, the chancellor and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, saying that they not only violated her right to free speech but also “conspired to deny her the opportunity to regain her position as principal.”
Alan Levine, a lawyer for Ms. Almontaser, did not immediately respond to a phone message on Tuesday night. In a statement, Paul Marks, a lawyer representing the city in the case, said he was pleased by the dismissal.