Interfaith Panel Denounces a 9/11 Museum Exhibit’s Portrayal of Islam

April 24, 2014


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 with his voice are explanations of the ideology of the terrorists, rendered 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 suddenly become over the last few weeks 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.

With the museum opening on May 21, it has shown the film to several groups, including an interfaith advisory group of clergy members. Those on the panel overwhelmingly took strong exception to the film and requested changes. But the museum has declined. In March, the sole imam in the group resigned to make clear that he could not endorse its contents.

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 they vetted past several scholars.

The terms “Islamist” and “jihadist” are frequently used in public discourse to describe extremist Muslim ideologies. But the problem with using such language in a museum designed to instruct people for generations is that most visitors are “simply going to say Islamist means Muslims, jihadist means Muslims,” said Akbar Ahmed, the chairman of the Islamic studies department at American University.

“The terrorists need to be condemned and remembered for what they did,” Dr. Ahmed said. “But when you associate their religion with what they did, then you are automatically including, by association, one and a half billion people who had nothing to do with these actions and who ultimately the U.S. would not want to unnecessarily alienate.”

For his part, Bernard Haykel, a professor of Near Eastern studies at Princeton University, defended the film, whose script he vetted.

“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,” Dr. Haykel said.

The museum declined to make the film available for viewing by The New York Times.

The New York Times:

Pamela Geller, Anti-Muslim Activist, Blasts National Geographic Museum Exhibit For Romanticizing Islam

Anti-Muslim organizer Pamela Geller has joined forces with Justice Department attorney and author, J. Christian Adams, in a scathing critique of a National Geographic Museum exhibit on the contributions of Muslim scientists, the Washington City Paper reports.

The exhibit, called “1,001 Inventions: Discover the Golden Age of Muslim Civilization,” debuted at the Washington, D.C. museum in August and will stay through February. Featuring a video starring Academy-Award winning actor Ben Kingsley, as well as various interactive displays, “1,001 Inventions” aims to explore basic science principles in fields such as optics, time-keeping, hydraulics, navigation, architecture, and math, according to its website.

The historical revisionism of the exhibit, Geller states, is effective and dangerous, subversively brainwashing America’s school children, thousands of whom will doubtless flock to the award-winning collection during its stay in the capital.

Kathryn Keane, National Geographic’s vice president of exhibitions, seemed unconcerned by the criticisms when approached by the City Paper for comment.

Hillary Clinton opened the touring exhibit at its last home in Los Angeles, where it was seen by half a million visitors. It was also declared the “Best Touring Exhibit” by the Museum Heritage Awards in 2011.

L.A. exhibit highlights Muslim contributions to science and technology

Bright moments in the Dark Ages
If “1001 Inventions” does nothing else, it teaches that “Dark Ages” is a misguided moniker.
The period between the seventh century and the Renaissance was, in fact, a time of explosive creativity in the expansive Muslim world, which stretched from Spain to China. The breakthroughs in science, math, astrology and medicine continue to be influential.
The “1001 Inventions” exhibit, visited by more than 1 million people during its stops in the United Kingdom, Istanbul and New York, currently resides at the California Science Center. A 376-page companion book includes additional facts about the era.

No, it’s not “Harry Potter.” But this 13-minute film starring Ben Kingsley as a librarian who becomes a famed old-world inventor serves to grab a young person’s attention, and explains in simple terms what the exhibit entails.

At the end of the exhibition’s opening movie, Kingsley says, “Spread the word.” That’s what the creators of “1001 Inventions” hope to accomplish. They want the “Dark Ages” to be relabeled the “Golden Age.”

Smithsonian Museum showcases Iranian Islamic art

About 5000 pieces comprise the Smithsonian Museum’s Islamic Art exhibit, representing the traditions of Iran, Egypt, Turkey, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, and more. The exhibition, running from Oct. 24-Jan 24, features 65 works of art from Istanbul, Paris, Geneva, and Berlin.

Each year, the museum honors one country and features a special exhibit in celebration of its art and culture. This year, the country is Iran.

“What we are trying to do is focus the attention on the arts and cultures of Iran,” says Massumeh Farhad, chief of Islamic art at the Freer and Sackler galleries.

The Smithsonian official denied any association between the focus on the Iranian culture and the ongoing political showdown between the two countries.

Farhad believes that showcasing a unique Islamic culture like Iran’s to Americans should always be apart from any political agendas.

“What we can do is to highlight the aspects of culture, regardless of what happens in politics.”

6th annual Eid in the Cité begins in Marseille

To celebrate Eid al-Kebir, the Union of Muslim Families (UFM or Union des familles Musulmanes) are organizing a large gathering in Marseille over two evenings. Films will be shown to the public, as well as traditional Algerian dancing, Arabic and Berber calligraphy workshop, as well as an art exhibit and story-telling. Last year the festivities drew 25,000 Marseillers of all different faiths.

Barcelona exhibits Islamic art

An exhibit showcasing Islamic art, organized in collaboration with The Aga Khan Trust for Culture, has opened in Barcelona. The CaixaForum exhibition, titled “The Worlds of Islam” runs through January 2010 and showcases, for the first time in Barcelona, 190 pieces bound by “the common denominator of the Arabic language and Muslim religion”, QNA reports.

The exhibit travels to Barcelona from Madrid, where the pieces were seen by 160,000 people. It contains 190 objects spanning 1,400 years of history, “artistic markers of a world that stretches from ancient Al-Andalus to India”.

Berlin gallery in Islam art row

A Berlin gallery displaying an art piece that makes fun of the Islamic shrine of the Kaaba in Mecca, has temporarily closed the exhibit after receiving threats. The exhibit, organized by the Danish group Surrend, is critical of religious extremism. The piece receiving criticism is a poster displaying the Kaaba with the words “stupid stone” superimposed in German.

Living Apart Together

Policy Exchange has released Living Apart Together: British Muslims and the paradox of multiculturalism, a major new survey of the attitudes of Muslims in Britain and the reasons behind the rapid rise in Islamic fundamentalism amongst the younger generation. The research finds that there is a growing religiosity amongst the younger generation of Muslims and that they feel that they have less in common with non-Muslims than do their parents. Significantly, they exhibit a much stronger preference for Islamic schools and sharia law and place a greater stress on asserting their identity publicly, for example, by wearing the hijab.

Le Figaro Review (below)

Selon une étude indépendante, les 16-24 ans sont de plus en plus séduits par les formes politiques de l’islam. Un phénomène qui porte un coup aux politiques multiculturalistes de l’ère Blair.

Charia, écoles coraniques et port du voile : en Grande-Bretagne, de plus en plus de jeunes musulmans se prononcent en faveur d’un islam radical et politisé, révèle une étude de l’institut indépendant Policy Exchange, intitulée «Vivre ensemble séparément: les musulmans britanniques et le paradoxe du multiculturalisme».

Effectuée auprès de 1.003 musulmans de tous âges, cette étude illustre le renforcement de leur identité religieuse dans le pays. Pour 9 personnes sur 10, la foi est la chose la plus importante dans leur existence. Mais les positions se radicalisent chez les plus jeunes : plus d’un tiers des 16-24 ans préfèrent vivre selon la charia, la loi islamique, contre seulement 17% des plus de 55 ans. Autant de personnes interrogées préfèrent envoyer leurs enfants dans des écoles musulmanes, et 74% souhaitent que les musulmanes portent le voile en public. Ces chiffres tombent respectivement à 19 et 28% chez les plus de 55 ans.

Autre phénomène inquiétant : 13% des 16-24 ans, contre 3% des 55 ans et plus, déclarent “admirer des organisations comme al-Qaida qui sont prêtes à combattre l’Occident.”


Pour l’auteure du rapport, Munira Mirza, ces chiffres illustrent l’échec des politiques gouvernementales à l’encontre du 1,8 million de musulmans du pays. «L’émergence d’une identité musulmane forte en Grande-Bretagne est, en partie, le résultat des politiques multiculturelles mises en place dans les années 80, qui ont mis l’accent sur la différence au détriment d’une identité nationale partagée et ont divisé les gens selon des lignes de partage ethniques, religieuses et culturelles», explique-t-elle. «Il y a manifestement un conflit au sein de la communauté musulmane britannique entre une majorité modérée qui accepte les règles de la démocratie occidentale et une minorité croissante qui ne les accepte pas», poursuit-elle.

Face à ce constat, plusieurs personnalités politiques à l’instar du secrétaire à l’Education, Alan Johnson, se prononcent en faveur de la “britishness,” ou “britannitude,” comme un socle de valeurs communes qui fonderaient la société britannique.