A short video that will be displayed in New York City’s 9/11 Memorial Museum has set off a firestorm of debate, as critics claim that the nearly 7-minute documentary holds the power to reinforce negative perceptions of Islam.
Despite the controversy surrounding the video, titled, “The Rise of al-Qaeda,” the museum is standing by it, explaining in a statement to TheBlaze that the clip “does not purport to be a film about Islam” and is, instead, a historical account of what led to the terror attack.
“A major part of preserving the history of September 11 is to show who was responsible for the monstrous attack on America that led to the deaths of thousands of innocent people of various ethnicities and religious beliefs,” the statement read. “This brief film, within the context of surrounding exhibits, focuses on the roots of al-Qaeda with the express purpose of helping visitors understand who perpetrated the 9/11 terrorist attacks.”
It continued, delivering perhaps its strongest line of defense: “It does not purport to be a film about Islam or in any way generalize that Muslims are terrorists.”
Considering the emotions associated with the Sept. 11 attacks, there’s no doubt the museum has been tasked with a difficult responsibility — telling the story of what unfolded while carefully considering how to address Islam in the process.
Part of the debate surrounding the video has focused on whether it’s appropriate to use terms like “jihad” and “Islamist” when discussing the attacks, the New York Times reported.
Both terms are affiliated with the Islamic faith and, without proper context, critics say they could lead to some problems when it comes to perception.
In consulting with a diverse pool of faith leaders, the 9/11 Memorial Museum screened the “The Rise of Al Qaeda” in an effort to receive feedback from those involved. According to the Times, some individuals on an interfaith advisory council “took strong exception to the film,” feeling as though it showed Muslims in a negative light.
While it’s unclear how many faith leaders felt this way, recommendations for changes to the film were reportedly made, and Sheikh Mostafa Elazabawy — the lone imam on the panel — subsequently resigned when the museum declined to amend the video.
“The screening of this film in its present state would greatly offend our local Muslim believers as well as any foreign Muslim visitor to the museum,” he wrote in a letter to the museum director, according to the Times.
Elazabawy, the head of Masjid Manhattan, said that some visitors might confuse al-Qaeda and Muslims and leave the museum with a bias against the Islamic faith.
In a separate letter, members of the New York Disaster Interfaith Services, a group that screened the movie, added, “We continue to posit that the video may very well leave viewers with the impression that all Muslims bear some collective guilt or responsibility for the actions of al-Qaeda, or even misinterpret its content to justify bigotry or even violence toward Muslims or those perceived to be Muslim (e.g., Sikhs).”
Elazabawy was a signatory to that letter as well.
Despite the push-back, the 9/11 Memorial Museum has thus far stuck by the video, which is narrated by NBC News anchor Brian Williams, claiming that experts were brought in to help assemble its contents.
The museum has said that images and content included in the museum collectively show how Muslims also suffered as a result of the Sept. 11 attacks. Additionally, other artifacts clearly denote that al-Qaeda is a fringe group, and, thus, separate and distinct from Islam as a whole.
Though the six minute, 45 second film was not made available to TheBlaze for viewing, museum spokesman Michael Frazier shared language that appears at the beginning of the documentary — explanatory comments that help to frame its context.
Nowhere does this language mention faith or Islam more specifically. Instead, it focuses on Al Qaeda’s historical origins.
“This program describes the emergence of the terrorist organization that carried out the 9/11 attacks,” the text reads. “It concentrates on a period of roughly 15 years, beginning with al-Qaeda’s founding during the Soviet-Afghan War and concluding with its rationale and planning for the attacks of 2001.”
It continues, “The program tracks al-Qaeda’s embrace of violence and the decision of its leadership to commit mass murder, at the dawn of the 21st century.”
Among those who vetted the script, Princeton University professor Dr. Bernard Haykel has defended its contents.
“The critics who are going to say, ‘Let’s not talk about it as an Islamic or Islamist movement,’ could end up not telling the story at all, or diluting it so much that you wonder where al-Qaeda comes from,” he told the Times.
There’s no telling how the story will end, but for now the 9/11 Memorial Museum is standing by the video.
(H/T: New York Times)