I am opposed to Islamic schools whether they are in Lodi or any other city in the United States.
But I am not against them because their students are Muslims. I would be equally opposed to Mexican, Chinese, and, yes, even Italian schools for the simple reason that they promote separatism.
What I support is America. And what I want is for everyone who comes to the United States to support America with the same passion and fervor that I do.
I want immigrants to assimilate and to embrace everything American—our history, holidays, traditions, and values.
But what I see instead is something quite different.
Ethnic schools do not advance American ways. What an ethnic school symbolizes is what is so wrong with immigration today.
By building and attending an ethnic school, immigrants are saying, "Well, I am happy enough to live in America, to work here and to give my children greater economic opportunity. But as far as truly becoming an American, I don't think so."
My grandmother, who immigrated to the U.S. in the late 19th Century, would never have considered enrolling her children in an all-Italian ethnic school. The only days more important in my grandmother's life than the day she became an American citizen, she once told me, were the three days her children were born.
We're a long way from that today. Instead of traditional assimilation—E Pluribus Unum; from the many one—we too commonly have what Robert S. Leiken, Director of the Immigration and National Security Center at the Nixon Center—calls "adversarial immigration."
Writing in Foreign Affairs magazine, Leiken defines adversarial immigration as "integration into the host country's adversarial culture." ["Europe's Angry Muslims," Robert Leiken, Foreign Affairs, July/August]
And that is what an Islamic school in Lodi might represent…a haven for anti-Americanism. Why gamble?
Naturally, the school's supporters deny this. They claim, as my fellow Lodi News-Sentinel columnist Taj Khan recently did, that the Islamic school will simply be "a place…to get secular education and learn about Islam and other faiths."
Khan's theory has been a hard sell in Lodi. One reason is that its main salesman, Khan, is not credible. Through his News-Sentinel column, Khan is perceived by Lodians as the voice of local Muslims. And that's a shame because the Muslim community deserves a responsible representative.
In one of my recent columns, I suggested that Khan owed the people of Lodi an apology for the misleading statements he made about the immigration status of the two imams, Shabbir Ahmed and Mohammad Adil Khan.
Early in the investigation, Taj Khan insisted that no violations occurred. And to this day, Khan persists even though both imams have agreed to be deported rather than go to trial. ["Another Suspect in Lodi Case Will Be Deported," Demian Bulwa, San Francisco Chronicle, August 16, 2005]
Yet Khan made no apology. And he never will.
More troubling is that Khan refuses to back down from his earlier statement quoted by Lodi News-Sentinel reporter Ross Farrow regarding Imam Shabbir.
Said Khan: "Shabbir…would never, never, never preach violence." ["Breakthrough Project Call Emergency Meeting; Hears About F.B.I. Probe in Lodi," Ross Farrow, Lodi News-Sentinel, June 14, 2005] In the light of Shabbir's own admission that he once called for Pakistanis to join Al-Queda in Afghanistan to kill Americans, it is a mystery why Khan cannot—as adults often do— confess his error.
Instead, Khan testified glowingly about Shabbir during the imam's recent immigration hearing reiterating that he had been a good leader for the community.
But despite Khan's endorsement of the imam, Immigration Judge Anthony Murray declined to set bail for Shabbir saying, "I am compelled to find you are both a flight risk and a danger to the community."["Agent Says School Near Lodi Would Breed Terrorists," Layla Bohn, Lodi News-Sentinel, August 9, 2005] Who should we believe, Khan or the immigration judge acting on copious evidence presented to him by the F.B.I.?
And speaking of the F.B.I., Khan promised to support the agency. Yet he has not missed a chance to belittle its efforts. The News-Sentinel, by providing Khan editorial space every other week, gives him an excellent opportunity to generate good will for Muslims. Khan, however, routinely squanders that chance.
Last week, in his column "Why Guzzardi is Wrong about the Islamic School," Khan embarrassed himself with the unfortunate, unfounded and unprofessional claim that I hate Muslims and am "ready to hang" the two imams. ["Why Guzzardi is Wrong on the Islamic School," Taj Khan, Lodi News-Sentinel, August 16 2005]
Sadly, Khan does not realize that enlightened readers are not persuaded by name-calling. In fact, readers recognize that journalists resort to making scurrilous charges only when their intellectual tank is empty.
To restore his now tarnished image Khan should acknowledge that his judgment about the imams' character was wrong. Even Lodi mosque members urge him to do so.
But instead Khan, sticking to his guns, said that he was "surprised the judge thought he [Shabbir] was a flight risk." ["Former Lodi Cleric Chosses Deportation Over Legal Fight," Layla Bohm, Lodi News-Sentinel, August 16, 2005]
Khan can redeem himself in his very next column. And he should. Even the imams, by agreeing to deportation, admit defeat.
Only the delusional Khan holds out.
Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.