Film at 9/11 Museum Sets Off Clash Over Reference to Islam

Past the towering tridents that survived the World Trade Center collapse, adjacent to a gallery with photographs of the 19 hijackers, a brief film at the soon-to-open National September 11 Memorial Museum will seek to explain to visitors the historical roots of the attacks.

The film, “The Rise of Al Qaeda,” refers to the terrorists as Islamists who viewed their mission as a jihad. The NBC News anchor Brian Williams, who narrates the film, speaks over images of terrorist training camps and Qaeda attacks spanning decades. Interspersed are explanations of the ideology of the terrorists, from video clips in foreign-accented English translations.

The documentary is not even seven minutes long, the exhibit just a small part of the museum. But it has over the last few weeks suddenly become a flash point in what has long been one of the most highly charged issues at the museum: how it should talk about Islam and Muslims.

“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,” Sheikh Mostafa Elazabawy, the imam of Masjid Manhattan, wrote in a letter to the museum’s director. “Unsophisticated visitors who do not understand the difference between Al Qaeda and Muslims may come away with a prejudiced view of Islam, leading to antagonism and even confrontation toward Muslim believers near the site.”

Museum officials are standing by the film, which they say was vetted by several scholars of Islam and of terrorism. A museum spokesman and panel members described the contents of the film, which was not made available to The New York Times for viewing.

The question of how to represent Islam in the museum has long been fraught. It was among the first issues that came up when the museum began asking for advice in about 2005 from a panel of mostly Lower Manhattan clergy members who had been involved in recovery work after the attacks.

Peter B. Gudaitis, who brought the group together as the chief executive of New York Disaster Interfaith Services, said the museum had rejected certain Islam-related suggestions from the panel, such as telling the story of Mohammad Salman Hamdani, a Muslim cadet with the New York Police Department who died in the attack and was initially suspected as a perpetrator.


CAIR’s response:


A coalition of American Muslim and Arab-American organizations (see list below) today urged the National September 11 Memorial Museum to consider editing a planned film presentation, “The Rise of Al Qaeda,” because it may lead viewers to wrongly conclude that that the entire faith of Islam is responsible for the 2001 terror attacks.

In an open letter to museum President Joe Daniels and Director Alice Greenwald, the organizations wrote in part:

“We have learned that you have been aware, since at least June 2013, that viewers have found this video confusing and possibly inflammatory. The museum’s own interfaith religious advisory group has repeatedly asked that this video be edited, with their concerns being dismissed.

“According to their testimony, the video:

  • Deploys haphazard and academically controversial terminology, in particular ‘Islamic’ and ‘Islamist’, to generalize, unnecessarily, about al-Qaeda’s acts of terrorism.
  • Does not properly contextualize al-Qaeda as a small organization in comparison to the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims.
  • Uses stereotypical, accented English for speakers of Arabic in translation.
  • May give some viewers, especially those not familiar with the subtleties of the terminology being used, the impression that Islam, as a religion, is responsible for September 11.

Signatories to the letter include:

  • Samer Khalaf, President, American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC)
  • Lena Alhusseini, Executive Director, Arab-American Family Support Center (AAFSC)
  • Maya Berry, Executive Director, Arab American Institute (AAI)
  • Nihad Awad, National Executive Director, Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)
  • Salam Al-Marayati, President, Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC)
  • Nadia Tonova, Director, National Network for Arab American Communities (NNAAC)
  • Sarab Al-Jijakli, President, Network of Arab-American Professionals (NAAP)

Cultural Clash Fuels Muslims Raging at Film

CAIRO — Stepping from the cloud of tear gas in front of the American Embassy here, Khaled Ali repeated the urgent question that he said justified last week’s violent protests at United States outposts around the Muslim world.

“We never insult any prophet — not Moses, not Jesus — so why can’t we demand that Muhammad be respected?” Mr. Ali, a 39-year-old textile worker said, holding up a handwritten sign in English that read “Shut Up America.” “Obama is the president, so he should have to apologize!”

When the protests against an American-made online video mocking the Prophet Muhammad exploded in about 20 countries, the source of the rage was more than just religious sensitivity, political demagogy or resentment of Washington, protesters and their sympathizers here said. It was also a demand that many of them described with the word “freedom,” although in a context very different from the term’s use in the individualistic West: the right of a community, whether Muslim, Christian or Jewish, to be free from grave insult to its identity and values.

In a context where insults to religion are crimes and the state has tightly controlled almost all media, many in Egypt, like other Arab countries, sometimes find it hard to understand that the American government feels limited by its free speech rules from silencing even the most noxious religious bigot.

Some commentators said they regretted that the violence here and around the region had overshadowed the underlying argument against the offensive video. “Our performance came out like that of a failed lawyer in a no-lose case,” Wael Kandil, an editor of the newspaper Sharouq, wrote in a column on Sunday. “We served our opponents something that made them drop the main issue and take us to the margins — this is what we accomplished with our bad performance.”

Clash between anti-Muslim radicals and counter protesters in Manchester

Police stood between hundreds of anti-Islam protesters and anti-racist counter-demonstrators in the English city of Manchester on Saturday, arresting 48 people in a bid to keep the peace. A group called the English Defense League, which says it opposes militant Islam, squared off against a larger group of counter-demonstrators from the group Unite Against Fascism.

Troubles also have occurred in Luton, Birmingham and London in the last few months involving a loose collection of far-right groups, including the little known English Defense League. The league rejects the fascist label, arguing that it only opposes militant Islam. But several of its supporters made Nazi salutes during Saturday’s protest.

In Dresden, High Culture and Ugly Reality Clash

In early July thousands of mourners took to the streets in Egypt, chanting “Down with Germany.” Thousands more Arabs and Muslims joined them in protests in Berlin. In Iran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad added to the outcry by denouncing German “brutality.” The provocation was the murder on July 1 of Marwa al-Sherbini, a pregnant Egyptian pharmacist here. She was stabbed 18 times in a Dresden courtroom, in front of her 3-year-old son, judges and other witnesses, reportedly by the man appealing a fine for having insulted Ms. Sherbini in a park. Identified by German authorities only as a 28-year-old Russian-born German named Alex W., he had called Ms. Sherbini an Islamist, a terrorist and a slut when she asked him to make room for her son on the playground swings. Ms. Sherbini wore a head scarf. The killer also stabbed Elwi Okaz, Ms. Sherbini’s husband and a genetic research scientist, who was critically wounded as he tried to defend her. The police, arriving late on the scene, mistook him for the attacker and shot him in the leg. More than a week passed before the German government, responding to rising anger across the Arab world, expressed words of sorrow while stressing that the attack did occur during the prosecution of a racist and that the accused man was originally from Russia. Dresden is one of the great cultural capitals of Europe. It is also the capital of Saxony, a former part of East Germany that, along with having a reputation as Silicon Saxony, has made more than a few headlines in recent years for incidents of xenophobia and right-wing extremism. One wonders how to reconcile the heights of the city’s culture with the gutter of these events. MICHAEL KIMMELMAN reports.

Christian Science Monitor explores 10 terms not to use with Muslims

Chris Seiple of the Christian Science Monitor writes in this piece of ten terms in which we ought to “be very careful about how we use them, and in what context.” The terms, Seiple says, are stemmed from his travels and discussions with Muslims in which such phrases and words are not aiding the building of solid relationships with the Muslim world and community. They are the following: The Clash of Civilizations, Secular, Assimilation, Reformation, Jihadi, Moderate, Interfaith, Freedom, Religious Freedom, and Tolerance.

Seiple acknowledges that such words and phrases will differ and change over the years according to cultural and ethnic context and (mis)perceptions, but argues that earnestly listening to understand each other better is the chief goal.

The Clash

It would have been unlike Samuel P. Huntington to say “I told you so” after 9/11. He is too austere and serious a man, with a legendary career as arguably the most influential and original political scientist of the last half century – always swimming against the current of prevailing opinion.

In the 1990s, first in an article in the magazine Foreign Affairs, then in a book published in 1996 under the title “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order,” he had come forth with a thesis that ran counter to the zeitgeist of the era and its euphoria about globalization and a “borderless” world. After the cold war, he wrote, there would be a “clash of civilizations.” Soil and blood and cultural loyalties would claim, and define, the world of states.

Police Clash with immigrants at shantytown

Dozens of people were injured on Thursday in a clash between immigrant families and Spanish police trying to bulldoze homes built illegally in the _Canada Real’ shantytown in Madrid. Fighting with sticks and stones, the police fired back with plastic bullets and teargas. The shantytown houses some 30,000 people, mostly of Moroccan and Romanian immigrants.

Pope Worries About Clash with Islam

Pope Benedict XVI on Friday urged intensified dialogue with Islam, saying in a Christmas speech that 2006 will be remembered as a year marked by the danger of a clash between cultures and religions. Benedict compared the situation in the Muslim world to that faced by Christians beginning in the Enlightenment, the 18th-century movement to promote individual rights, including freedom of religion. “We Christians feel close to all those who, on the basis of their religious conviction as Muslims, commit themselves against violence,” the pope said.

Islamic Bank Customers Share Risks And Rewards

MANCHESTER – Two years after its launch, the country’s first fully Islamic retail bank cannot yet offer traditional products like mortgages, but Muslim clients say they feel more at home there. “You feel you’re putting your money in the right place,” said Kuwaiti-born Mona Aabbassi as she walked into the Islamic Bank of Britain ( IBB.L ). Behind the bank’s glass walls, engraved with Arabic calligraphy, the staff can speak Arabic, Urdu, Bengali and Punjabi as well as English. Licensed in August 2004 by the Financial Services Authority (FSA), IBB has its headquarters in Birmingham and opened its seventh branch in Manchester in January. It aims to expand further in northwest England before moving into mainland Europe. According to the most recent census in 2001, around 13 percent of the country’s 1.6 million Muslims live in the northwest. Islam prohibits paying or receiving interest, “riba” in Arabic, considering it immoral to profit from money alone. Islam allows people to make a profit only if they bear the risk of an investment — as with equity in traditional western finance. Aabbassi feels comfortable with the way other customers at IBB share her values. “Some money went missing from my account but I recovered it because the person who got it by mistake phoned the bank,” she said. “It is because people here put Allah before themselves.” IBB aims to compete with conventional banks but to comply with Islamic principles, to ensure Muslims do not break the rules of their religion when they open a bank account. “Muslims want a good return,” said IBB Managing Director Michael Hanlon, who came to the bank after 34 years at Barclays ( BARC.L ). “But their faith might not necessarily drive them down the route of accepting the benefits regardless of what is available.” To offer a return on deposits, Islamic banks must share with customers any profits — and any risks — arising from trades the banks carry out with clients’ cash. “We generate profits from commodity trading activities and then we seek to pay our customers profits that are consistent with market rates generally,” Hanlon said. CLASH OF CONCEPTS To get its licence, IBB worked closely with the FSA as under British law, banks must guarantee that depositors receive their money back in full — a concept which clashes with the Islamic principle of risk-sharing. The solution was to offer a full guarantee for clients’ deposits, but let them choose whether to share any losses the bank may make. While trying hard to rival conventional banks, IBB is counting on its clients’ willingness to accept that returns may be lower for the sake of their faith. It recently launched a young persons’ savings account offering a target return of 3 percent before tax. This compares with a current 4.43 percent gross from Natwest’s ( RBS.L ) children’s savings accounts. “Only retail customers are attached to the religious argument,” said Standard & Poor’s analyst Anouar Hassoune. “Corporate borrowers and depositors usually do not care about religion: they ask for price and service.” Estimates of assets controlled by Islamic banks globally range between $200 billion (106 billion pounds) and $500 billion, growing at a pace of 10 to 15 percent per year, the FSA said. But IBB, which said it had some 14,000 customers at enD-2005, faces competition from conventional banks which are also offering services compliant with Islamic law, or Sharia. HSBC ( HSBA.L ) first introduced Sharia-compliant current accounts and home-finance schemes in July 2003 through its Islamic finance division. HSBC Amanah now has around 2,000 accounts and has financed as many home purchases. Lloyds TSB ( LLOY.L ) followed suit early last year and Lloyds’ Islamic services are now available at around 35 branches with more planned across the country, a spokesman said. Islam also bans investments in industries such as tobacco, alcohol, pornography, gambling and arms, so special committees have been set up to monitor banks’ Islamic products and services. Each bank has its own Sharia Supervisory Committee, employing experts in Islamic finance to ensure that all the bank’s products and transactions comply with Sharia.