There was a very interesting New Yorker article last week by the reliable Joan Acocella about Khalil Gibran. He is the third-best selling poet of all-time, after Shakespeare and Lao-tzu. My parents have two books of his; at various points in my life I’ve had up to three copies of “The Prophet” (all gifts). But I knew nothing much about him. Turns out he was from what is now Syria; his mother brought him and her other children to Boston’s South End (where Chinatown is now).
The place where I see his name most frequently these days is in reference to the public Arab school in Brooklyn, officially known as the Khalil Gibran International Academy. The previous, founding principal, Dhaba “Debbie” Almontaser, was fired after controversy surrounding her wearing a t-shirt that said Intifada NYC on it.
Be that as it may, there’s been a lot of press coverage of her, the school, reactions of parents, etc. There is also an underlying assumption that Arab school, in this case, equals Muslim school. Many female students and mothers wear scarves on their heads. So I was more than a little surprised when I read in the Acocella article that Khalil Gibran and his family were Maronite Catholics. One source I read said his grandfather was a Maronite priest. It doesn’t surprise me that there are Arab Christians- I certainly knew more Arab Christians than Arab Muslims when I was growing up. But it does surprise me in our religiously polarized world that a, at the very least, nominally Catholic poet’s name is on the front of the Arab school. The woman who replaced Almontaser is Holly Anne Reichert, who has taught in the Middle East, and previously had mentored ESL teacher.