“You better not tell anyone what you found on Google. Your job may be in jeopardy here,” said Judge Jon Newman to NYC Department of Education lawyer Drake Colley, who reluctantly admitted to an appeals courtroom on February 5th that, according to the results of his recent Google search, Debbie Almontaser had, in fact, correctly defined the word “intifada” when she said it meant “a shaking off.”

The laughter that the judge’s joke elicited from Almontaser’s supporters in the courtroom was more than an appreciation of the judge’s joke–it was a sigh of relief, a release of tension, and an expression of satisfaction. The laughter said “Finally! Someone is recognizing what is actually going on here!”

Judge Newman also remarked “So if a city employee speaks to the press, they’re at risk that the press garbles their remarks, and then they get fired? That’s quite a position for the city of New York.”

Those of us in the courtroom that day assumed that yelling out “yes, exactly!” or “right on, your honor!” would probably be considered inappropriate courtroom behavior, so we answered this comment with laughter as well. Now, we continue to wait for the official decision on the appeal of Debbie Almontaser’s case, which we should find out in the next couple of weeks. Last week, on March 3rd, Almontaser filed an amended complaint that the Department of Education officials discriminated against her based on race, religion and national origin.

The court hearing occurred less than a week after Communities in Support of the Khalil Gibran International Academy (CiS KGIA) held an event entitled “Seeking Justice, Speaking Truth” with performers and speakers who did just that. The event also featured KGIA teachers who spoke out about the NYC Department of Education’s continued refusal to provide needed resources to the school- everything from walls, to special education services, to adequate leadership following the forced resignation of founding principal Debbie Almontaser.

Even more devastating, one teacher spoke about how, after Almontaser was forced to resign for giving the Arabic definition of “intifada” to a NY Post reporter, teachers and students were left feeling frightened that any incorporation of Arab culture into the school could be twisted and manipulated by the media and used to force someone else out of their position, or worse, to close the school.

Throughout the month of Ramadan, there was no mention of the holiday at KGIA. Teachers still hesitate to order Arabic textbooks, out of fear that those books will feature an image of a mosque or another image the school’s opponents could use to create another media uproar. Slowly, the school is losing its focus, not only on Arab culture but also on the language. Arabic classes have already been cut from five times a week, to three.

This story is exemplary of what we often refer to as a “climate” of anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia.

This “climate” has also resulted in the denial of tenure to Barnard Professor Nadia Abu-El Haj as well as hundreds of illegal detentions of Arabs and Muslims in the United States. Personally, I don’t like the term “climate,” because it implies that this is natural, like a heat wave or a snowstorm; And it isn’t. This “climate” has very specific ideologies and institutions at its root. Then again, we are in the middle of (human-induced) global climate change, and we do know that Hurricane Katrina was also a man-made disaster, so maybe the analogy isn’t so far off after all.

But if these crises are the “downs” of the ups-and-downs and the lows on the roller-coaster ride, the resistance and movement building that’s happened in response are the hopeful “ups” and high points. “Seeking Justice, Speaking Truth” on January 29th was a momentary manifestation of Debbie Almontaser’s vision for KGIA: a diverse community celebrating Arab culture, language, and identity, sharing songs, stories, and political vision. In addition to the sponsoring groups of Communities in Support of KGIA, which include Arab Women Active in the Arts & Media, Center for Immigrant Families, Greater NY Labor-Religion Coalition, Jews for Racial & Economic Justice, and Muslim Consultative Network, the event brought out break-dancers from El Puente, a youth organizer from Desis Rising Up & Moving who spoke about similar struggles faced in the South Asian community, and spoken word artists from Urban Word.

Of course the goal is for that vision to be manifested not only for one evening, but every day at the Khalil Gibran International Academy. And maybe it still will be. Until then, we’ll keep seeking justice, speaking truth, and building movement(s) towards a whole new kind of “climate change.”