By Deborah Weiss
Amidst a barrage of controversy and criticism, the 9/11 museum officials stand firm in their decision to air a documentary on Al-Qaeda without censorship of Islam-related language.
The 911 Museum will open to the public on May 21, 2014, with a preview period for 9/11 families and survivors from May 15, 2014 to May 20, 2014.
Included is a 7-minute documentary titled, “[T]he Rise of Al-Qaeda.” It shows footage of Al-Qaeda’s journey over the prior several years on the way to 9/11, from its training camps to a series of terrorist attacks. The film will be adjacent to a room displaying photos of the 9/11 hijackers.
The film portrays the 9/11 hijackers as “Islamists” who viewed their mission as a “deadly jihad.” After all, in the words of the hijackers: “[M]any thanks to Allah for his kind gesture and choosing us to perform the act of jihad for his cause and to defend Islam and Muslims.” So, it was the hijackers themselves that believed they were on a jihadi mission for the cause of Islam.
The film has been thoroughly vetted and its accuracy is not in dispute. But an advisory panel of interfaith clergy who previewed the film is complaining about the use of the words “Islamist” and “jihad,” insisting that the jihadists should be shown in a greater “context” that portrays most Muslims as peaceful.
Reverend Chloe Breyer (Justice Breyer’s daughter), who preaches at Saint Philips Church in Harlem, wants the video to show Islam as a peace-loving religion where only a few outliers like the 9/11 hijackers are violent. She believes that the word “jihad” is an Islamic struggle to do good and that the film in its current form may justify bigotry or violence unless accompanied by a disclaimer.
Sheikh Mostafa Elazabawy, the only Imam on the advisory panel, made a splash when he quit the panel in response to the film, stating that “unsophisticated visitors who don’t understand the difference between Al-Qaeda and Muslims may come away with a prejudiced view of Islam, leading toward antagonism and even confrontation toward Muslim believers near the site.” He went on to say that “the screening of the film in its present state would greatly offend our local Muslim believers as well as any foreign Muslim visitor to the museum.”
Akbar Ahmed, Chair of Islamic Studies at American University, protested that most museum visitors will assume that the language refers to all Muslims. He argues that one shouldn’t associate the terrorists with their religion because doing so implicates 1.5 billion Muslims by association.
John Esposito, an apologist for Islam at the Saudi-funded Prince Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, generally prefers the phrase “Muslim terrorism” to “Islamic terrorism” in order to dissociate the motivating ideology from the terrorist behavior, and instead give the impression that the terrorist conduct is just coincidently committed by Muslims.
Others want the museum to go out of its way to show Muslims mourning over the 9/11 attacks to “balance out” images of Islam. Ibrahim Hooper, spokesperson for CAIR, a group which holds itself out as a Muslim civil rights organization but which in reality has many terrorist ties of its own, insisted that the film will reinforce “stereotypes” of Muslims as terrorists. He emphasized: “it’s very important how Islam is portrayed.”
But the film is not about Islam. The purpose of the museum is to educate the public on the events of 9/11, including who committed it and what their motivation was. The focus should be on the atrocity that murdered almost 3000 people in cold blood, not a PC version of feel-good Islam.
Joseph Daniels, the museum’s Executive Director, said that museum officials “stand by the scholarship that underlies the creation of this video.” NBC News Anchor, Brian Williams, who narrates the film explained, “[w]e have a heavy responsibility to be true to the facts, to be objective.” He asserted that the film in no way smears a whole religion, but instead talks about Al-Qaeda, a terrorist group. And, the film clearly acknowledges that Muslims were among the 9/11 victims, mourners, and recovery workers.
So the issue is how the terrorists are characterized and whether the public can discern the difference between Al-Qaeda and those who identify themselves as Muslim but are peaceful and law-abiding.
First, it is a fact that Al-Qaeda’s interpretation of Islam motivated the 9/11 attacks. To say that acknowledging Al-Qaeda’s motivational ideology indicts 1.5 billion Muslims is to say that all 1.5 billion Muslims agree with Al-Qaeda’s interpretation of Islam. If they do, they should be indicted. If they don’t, they shouldn’t be offended because the statements don’t apply to them.
Second, it’s unlikely that the Imam on the advisory panel speaks for all local and foreign Muslims, whom he claims to know will all be offended. If all Muslims should be painted with this broad brush, then the offense is deserved. If they are not a monolith, they shouldn’t be offended. On the contrary, they should be insulted that some unknown Imam thinks they can’t handle the truth.
Third, to claim that 9/11 or any other Islamic terrorist attack was just terrorism that incidentally was committed by Muslims is just a lie. It is the terrorists, not the reporters, who assert that they are motivated by their faith. Those who disagree with the terrorists’ interpretation of their faith should take it up with the terrorists, not those observing and reporting the facts. The same goes for terrorists who are members of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Boko Haram, Hezbollah and others.
Fourth, CAIR is an unindicted co-conspirator in the largest terror financing trial in the history of the United States and has many terrorism ties. It is on a mission to stamp out all criticism of anything Islam-related, even if it’s true. Indeed, there’s nary a terrorist that CAIR doesn’t defend. Asserting that the 9/11 hijackers were Islamic terrorists is factual reporting, not “stereotyping.” But CAIR wants the public to believe that anybody except for Muslims can be terrorists. Besides, CAIR has no credibility and should not be given legitimacy by accommodating its gripes.
Fifth, the film is not a theological documentary about Islam; it’s about the events of 9/11. The documentary needn’t endorse or oppose Islam, nor evaluate the theological accuracy of the hijackers’ beliefs. It merely reports what their beliefs were; how the hijackers viewed themselves.
Sixth, it is not the museum’s job to soothe the feelings of hypersensitive Muslims. The museum should not go out of its way to portray a disproportionate number of Muslim mourners or recovery workers to “balance” things out.
Seventh, it’s ludicrous to believe that the general public is so stupid that it can’t distinguish between Al-Qaeda members and law-abiding Muslims. There is no reason to believe that learning about Al-Qaeda will lead the general citizenry to become bigots.
But even if it did, it is a falsity to claim that this bigotry would necessarily lead to actual violence. There is no evidence whatsoever that so-called anti-Islam sentiment leads to violence. This argument is disingenuously used to stifle criticism of Islam and shut down the debate. On the contrary, it is primarily in the Muslim world where offense leads to violence. It is “blasphemy” or insults to Islam that Muslims use to justify their violence, blaming the victims and evading personal responsibility. But in the West, one can have an emotion, even hatred, without acting on it. When someone does act violently, it’s illegal. So, there is no basis to conclude that Islam-hating infidels will assault and batter Muslims at the 9/11 memorial site, which will also be heavily policed.
Most importantly, it’s critical that the motivation of the hijackers be accurately conveyed. Their ideology must not be whitewashed, for fear of deleting history altogether, depriving future generations of an education regarding the largest terrorist attack on US soil, and increasing the likelihood that history will repeat itself.
Some 9/11 families and survivors believe that the truth should take priority over “sensitivity.” The museum officials should be saluted for standing firm under a storm of criticism and for holding to the facts.
After all, only the truth shall set us free.