A school board member whose father was on the board of the mosque attended by 9/11 hijackers and hired as imam a top Al-Qaeda operative on Wednesday forcefully opposed a resolution honoring the victims of the attacks.
Abrar Omeish is on the school board of Fairfax County Public Schools, near the Pentagon. She lives with her father Esam, who was a director of the Dar al-Hijrah mosque in Falls Church, Virginia, and hired as its imam Anwar al-Awlaki, who President Barack Obama later ordered killed by drone strike. The mosque was attended by two of the 9/11 hijackers as well as the shooter in the 2009 attack on Fort Hood, Texas.
She said a school board resolution calling for a moment of silence marking the twentieth anniversary of 9/11 was not “anti-racist.”
While 9/11 was “jarring” and a “historic turning point in our nation’s history,” she said, the resolution failed to address “state-sponsored traumas” to Muslims. “Just two years ago, even I was profiled as a threat, in one of the most traumatic experiences of my life,” she said.
That refers to an incident in which she was pulled over by the police for running a red light, then removed from her car for repeatedly refusing to show her license. Video shows an obvious traffic infraction and that the officer could not see her appearance when he pulled her over.
She called for a school system “where all pain and trauma is acknowledged as legitimate and worthy of recognition.”
“I vote against this today because our omission of these realities causes harm. We are elevating a traumatic event without sufficient cultural competence,” she said.
She said she trusts that Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS)’s “equity team will follow up with Dr. Amaarah Decuir and other state advisors whose expertise enlightens us on this topic. I hope we can include these components in our broader anti-racist, anti-bias work.”
Decuir produced a video for the Virginia Department of Education, which is led by Atif Qarni, instructing educators on how to teach about 9/11, which said:
We are not going to reproduce a false assumption of Muslim responsibility for 9/11. We’re just going to begin right there and name that there is no responsibility… We’re also not going to reproduce what’s understood as American exceptionalism… You name what happened and that’s it. There’s no need to further describe it, embellish it, name them, provide details. That’s not relevant… Don’t reproduce a single American narrative, that there’s only one way to understand 9/11.
In June, Omeish gave a graduation speech in which she told a mainly-immigrant class of high schoolers that they were entering a world filled with “white supremacy” and encouraged them to remember their “jihad” and reject the concepts of objectivity and neutrality. A photograph shows her as the only person without her hand over her heart during the pledge of allegiance at another graduation ceremony.
The resolution to which Omeish objected said that in recognition of “the 20-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center towers in New York City, the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, and United Airlines Flight 93,” and while rejecting “fear and oppression,” a “moment of silence will be observed in every Fairfax County Public School” and that teachers should “share the history and lessons learned from this tragic day with their students and to correct misconceptions and stereotypes about all cultures and religions in a sensitive manner.”
Why can we not also explicitly recognize the extensive and unwarranted structural discrimination and ethnic and religious profiling following 9/11 that tens of thousands of FCPS students experience on a daily basis. The pain that trillions of dollars have gone into creating and perpetuating, and that continues in our very classrooms today. As patriots we must confront our realities so that we can build better together. Indeed, love of country, of county, of community demands it.
Last board meeting, we acknowledged the heartbreak of our children abroad in Afghanistan and our spirit to welcome the many refugees fleeing the aftermath. These pieces are all related. The harms stem from the same problem. The reality is that 9/11 has caused these layers of state-sponsored traumas from discrimination, xenophobia, and ostracization that hits home for our students. It led to an erosion of due process in the law that harmed all of us. It justified wars including what we now know to be a failed war on terror. And fomented targeting like the Patriot Act, countering violent extremism efforts, that we live with today and that I know the harms of way too personally.
Why is this relevant? These realities have justified media narratives, messages and tropes that have led all of us to hold deep biases that continue to harm our community and that have reflected themselves in this resolution today. …
On September of 2001, a Sikh man, Sikh being the religion, was discriminated against at a restaurant right here in Springfield.
[This resolution] ignores the surveillance, the targeting, the profiling, the entrapment, and the other state-sponsored discrimination against our constituents right here in Fairfax until today as a result of that day.
Our job as board members is to advance what’s best for our students and their academic and mental and social-emotional success. The American Psychological Association documents that post-9/11 sentiments are among the most significant mental health barriers to learning. …
A survey of parents finds the same result and adds that 1 out of every 3 incidents involves a school official perpetuating it. Right here in northern Virginia, early findings of a study presented to the Department of Education shows that students experience targeting bullying during 9/11 lessons. Throughout this week we have the risk of this happening. And that these trends of religious and ethnic based bullying are experienced by FCPS students, families and staff on a daily basis through our curriculum. …
My own brother in FCPS sent a message to our family WhatsApp group telling us he’s sitting through harmful content in what’s being presented. And last year he had to sit through watching a video of “why they hate us.” …
The token phrasing around 9/11 is never forget. As a nation we remember a jarring event, no doubt. But we choose to forget, as this resolution does, the fear, the ostracization and the collective blame.
Immediately after Omeish’s speech, a woman in the audience stood up and shouted: “Can I just say that no parent can speak up to this? We are restricted about how we can — ” A school board member talked over her, telling her “Sit down and stay quiet.”
Facing increased criticism, the school board made its policy on public comment more restrictive. “It’s a sham, it’s a show,” she said, to applause from other audience members. “You should be ashamed.”
But some school board members, who are all Democrats and who have frequently worked with Omeish in promoting what they call “equity,” had their own words for Omeish.
Ricardy Anderson, a previous chair of the board, said an “alternative” resolution that Omeish was angry they did not adopt was only shown to them shortly before the meeting. “Your failure to communicate with this board does not give you the right to chastise us in this session,” she said. Parents clapped.
Omeish’s remarks derailed the school board into a lengthy debate, distracting from the intended message of the 9/11 resolution and delaying discussions related to returning to school after nearly a year of coronavirus closure.
Member Karen Keys-Gamarra said in what seemed to be a pointed reference to Omeish: “I want to make sure that this recognition of this solemn moment is not lost in this conversation… I know that there are many cultural issues or concerns, but when I think of 9/11 what stands out most in my mind is people who didn’t just think of themselves.”