Muslims in the West (Illustration)
Muslims in the West (Illustration) Reuters

It was supposedly a move celebrating language and diversity, but reading the pledge of allegiance in Arabic at a US high school sparked a furious backlash in upstate New York given the wave of Islamist Arab terrorism rising worldwide in recent years.

Wednesday's incident at Pine Bush High School, 80 miles (128 kilometers) northwest of New York City, angered students, parents, residents as well as those who lost loved ones in Afghanistan, reports AFP.

The initial plan to celebrate National Foreign Language week was that students would read the daily American pledge of allegiance in a different
language each day.

But when an Arabic-speaking pupil did so, she was reportedly harassed and called a terrorist, according to senior class president Andrew Zink, 18, who approved the reading.

Zink, who stood by his decision, told AFP he had received threats on Twitter. Veterans who live in the area told US media they opposed the pledge being read in any language other than English.

Local newspaper the Times Herald-Record said school superintendent Joan Carbone received complaints from residents who had lost relatives who were fighting Muslim terrorists in Afghanistan - which as it happens is a non-Arab country whose main languages are Pashto and Dari - and from Jewish parents.

Pine Bush Central School District apologized and said that from now on, the pledge of allegiance will be recited only in English.

A statement on its website said the intention had been to celebrate Foreign Language Week and "the many races, cultures and religions that make up this great country and our school district."

"We sincerely apologize to any students, staff or community members who found this activity disrespectful," it said.

Teaching "a culture of hate"

But not all have taken the apology well, with Zink and several others arguing language doesn't necessarily have to do with Islamist ideologies rampant in the Arabic-speaking world, a connection that apparently caused the uproar in the first place.

"Many people were angered about reading, but an equal amount are angered by the apology, so now everyone's mad," Zink said. "America or even American isn't defined in what language you speak in, but the ideas you believe in."

Zink, who described Pine Bush as predominantly white, claimed the incident showed the small town is "not willing to accept other groups of people."

Sadyia Khalique, a spokeswoman for the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), also criticized the backlash.

"To see the language of Arabic ostracized and being used as a way to target communities or even lead to hate speech is something which is not a goal... of National Language Week," she told AFP.

CAIR noted this was not the first time that Arabic had caused "prejudiced sentiment" in an American high school, after parents complained following a recitation of the pledge of allegiance in Arabic in 2013 in Colorado.

The same year, parents at a high school in Alabama opposed the introduction of Arabic lessons, claiming they would cause students to "learn a 'culture of hate,'" CAIR said.

However, CAIR may not be able to brush off those accusations of teaching "hate" so lightly - back in 2014, Former FBI Counterterrorism expert John Guandolo revealed to Arutz Sheva that he had discovered a connection between CAIR and the Hamas terrorist organization, which has the genocide of all Jews written in its charter.

Guandolo traced how CAIR was established by radical Islamists closely linked to the Muslim Brotherhood - of which Hamas is an offshoot - as a means to expand the group's radical Islamist ideology in America through the means of cultural interaction.

During Hamas's latest terror war against Israel in Gaza last summer, a CAIR representative refused to call the group a terrorist organization on TV.