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)

Iftar at the White House- Navigating Power, Privilege & Justice in Ramadan

Last week, I was among several dozen Muslims who attended an iftar at the White House with President Obama. This has now become an annual tradition where the President extends greetings to the Muslim community and occasionally chooses to speak to other relevant issues. Two years ago, for example, President Obama selected this occasion as a platform to weigh in on the sensational anti-Muslim hysteria taking place in the debate around the proposed Cordoba House project in Lower Manhattan, otherwise known as the Ground Zero Mosque. At the time, the critique was mainly from extreme edges of the right wing who managed to make some noise about the President’s alleged “pro-Muslim” leanings.

This time around, most of the push back regarding the iftar I heard was coming from voices within the Muslim community.

-So why did I attend?
I am the executive director of a nonprofit organization that organizes around a number of key issues impacting low-income communities of color while providing direct services to those same community members.

I went because I believe in the process of critical engagement which I define as a long-term commitment to shape, deeply inform and/or passionately contest the often disparate policies and conditions that govern our lives or sustain profound inequalities in the world. Such a process carries with it an admission that we certainly will make mistakes along the way and perhaps even fail to insert ourselves more forcefully around an issue or two.

Ramadan is an ideal time to interrogate how far our private and public actions are from the loftier ideals that our faith traditions call us to. It is a perfect time to scrutinize the privilege that some of us disproportionately benefit from and to honestly consider all the types of unjust power structures and policies we contribute to through our tacit support or deafening silence.

Ex-Leader of Planned Mosque Near Ground Zero Settles Suit With Donor

The former leader of a proposed Muslim community center and mosque near ground zero in Lower Manhattan has settled a lawsuit in which a donor accused him of spending charitable contributions on himself, both sides confirmed on Friday.

The donor, Robert Leslie Deak, had accused the former leader, Feisal Abdul Rauf, of diverting millions of dollars in charitable donations – meant for the Cordoba Initiative, founded by the imam, as well as the American Society for Muslim Advancement, which is led by the imam’s wife, Daisy Khan – to buy real estate, luxury vacations and a fancy car. It also accused Mr. Abdul Rauf of failing to report approximately $3 million in donations from the Malaysian government.

Mr. Deak, in a statement, said of Mr. Abdul Rauf: “We are now satisfied that neither he nor his wife were involved in any wrongdoing and that the charitable contributions made to the Cordoba Initiative and ASMA were used for proper, charitable purposes. Notwithstanding our differences, we respect the work being carried out by Imam Feisal and Daisy Khan.”

Mr. Abdul Rauf was the spiritual leader of a proposed 13-story Islamic center on Park Place that became a touchstone of post-Sept. 11 controversy, as opponents argued that its proximity to the site of the former World Trade Center was disrespectful to those who died there. Mr. Abdul Rauf stepped down as its leader in 2011 after a falling out with the center’s developer. While the building has recently served as a prayer space, the full center has not been built.

Mosque construction continues to attract opposition across U.S.

CHICAGO — In the decade since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, animosity toward Muslims sometimes has taken the form of opposition to construction of mosques and other Islamic facilities. National debate erupted over plans for an Islamic community center that became known as the “Ground Zero mosque” in Lower Manhattan.
In the last five years, there has been “anti-mosque activity” in more than half of U.S. states, according to the ACLU. Some mosques were vandalized — a $5,000 reward is being offered in a 2011 Wichita mosque arson case — and others were targets of efforts to deny zoning permits .
Mosque opponents often raise concerns about traffic and parking, but Daniel Mach, director of the ACLU’s freedom of religion program, says they can be “sham arguments” that mask anti-Muslim sentiment.
“I hope that eventually there will be greater acceptance for all faiths, including Islam,” Mach said.
One thing is clear: The number of mosques is on the rise. In 2010, there were 2,106 mosques in the U.S., up from 1,209 in 2000, according to a study by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research and other groups. A 2011 survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life estimated there are 2.75 million Muslims in the U.S.

Occupy Wall Street Meets Tahrir Square

At the risk of being obvious, let us list the ways that Occupy Wall Street is not like Tahrir Square: no protesters have been killed, there have been no demands for the president to step down and no crowds swelling above six figures. The protesters are in far less danger, and seem to pose far less danger to the powerful, than in Egypt.

BUT it’s worth pausing for a moment on this point: Here in Lower Manhattan, and around the country, protesters have embraced a movement springing from the Arab world as a model of freedom, democracy and nonviolence.

“Are you ready for a Tahrir moment?” an initial call to action demanded. Now, newcomers to Zuccotti Park are given leaflets explicitly connecting the movements: “We are using the revolutionary Arab Spring occupation tactics to achieve our ends and we encourage the use of nonviolence to maximize the safety of all participants.”

Two blocks from ground zero — the same distance, though in a different direction, as the proposed Muslim community center and mosque that raised a ruckus last year — a subtle change in the Arab world’s image, wrought by the events of recent months, is on display.
In a place so sensitized, the big news, perhaps, is that the Tahrir references are taken almost for granted. A movement born in a Muslim country is seen neither as threatening nor as exotic but simply as universal.

“I think Tahrir is an Arabic word, but that doesn’t make it a particularly Arab or Muslim thing,” said Daniel Kurfirst, a musician, after Muslims held Friday prayers in the park for the first time last week.
Progressive Muslim activists, many of them born in New York, have been coming to the park from the beginning. They said they hoped the prayers, organized by the Muslim Leadership Council of New York, would get more Muslims interested in the movement.

But they face ambivalence from their parents’ generation, from immigrants like Mr. Sami, the falafel chef.
It’s good to see Americans recognize that poverty is a problem, he said. But while Tahrir could be summed up in a few words — “Mubarak, leave!” — he found Occupy’s diffuse causes “confusing.” His coworker, who did not want to give his name, said the protesters were “not serious.”

Islamic center near ground zero opens its doors; developer acknowledges ‘incredible mistakes’

A year after controversy engulfed plans to build a Muslim community center and mosque in Lower Manhattan, the project’s developers are quietly moving ahead: In recent months they have hired a paid staff, started fund-raising drives and continued holding prayers and cultural events in their existing building two blocks from ground zero.

The developer of an Islamic cultural center that opened Wednesday evening near the site of the terrorist attacks that leveled the World Trade Center says the biggest error on the project was not involving the families of 9/11 victims from the start.

El-Gamal said the overall center is modeled after the Jewish Community Center on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, where he lives. The center is open to all faiths and will include a 9/11 memorial, El-Gamal said. He called opposition to the center — which prompted one of the most virulent national discussions about Islam and freedom of speech and religion since Sept. 11 — part of a “campaign against Muslims.”

Last year, street clashes in view of the trade center site pitted supporters against opponents of the center.

El-Gamal told the AP that fundraising is under way to complete a 15-story building that will also include an auditorium, educational programs, a pool, a restaurant and culinary school, child care services, a sports facility, a wellness center and artist studios. The mosque is especially needed in lower Manhattan, he said, because thousands of Muslims either work or live in the neighborhood, “and in our religion, we must pray five times a day.”

At the opening, an ebullient El-Gamal told reporters the project had been framed by others throughout the debate over its existence.

“Today, for the first time, everyone gets a little bit of a glimpse into the future of what Park51 is going to offer New York,” he said.

No Room for Tolerance (NY Times Editorial)

There have been a slew of local controversies in the past decade over the proposed construction of mosques and Islamic community centers. Mayor Michael Bloomberg rightly stood up for religious liberty against vitriolic opposition to the construction of an Islamic center in Lower Manhattan. With the mayor’s support, the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission unanimously allowed the project to proceed and it is, slowly.

Such good sense is not as common as it should be. This spring, officials in Bridgewater, N.J., opposed a plan to turn an old inn, formerly used for weddings and political events, into the town’s only mosque. Rather than stand up to the opposition, stirred up partly by the Tea Party, the mayor, the township council and the planning board raced to change the zoning rules so that a house of worship would no longer be a permitted use on the inn’s property.

Muslim Cultural Center in Chicago area appears near approval

A long battle over a proposed mosque in DuPage County is approaching a turning point, and although anti-Muslim sentiment and resistance to mosques in the Chicago area are hardly going away, Muslims appear to be winning this time.

The Muslim Educational and Cultural Center of America, or Mecca, wants to construct a 47,000-square-foot building in Willowbrook, one that includes a school, a recreational center and a 600-person prayer hall. The plan has been scaled back since a county committee rejected an earlier proposal in January, and the smaller building is considered likely to be approved by the DuPage County Board, which has the final say.

The tensions in DuPage reflect wide-ranging antagonism toward Muslim-Americans. Last year, local residents battled mosque proposals in Tennessee, Wisconsin, California and other states. There was a contentious nationwide debate over a proposed Islamic cultural center near ground zero in Lower Manhattan.

Islamic Center Near Ground Zero Has New Imam

Amid rift, Imam’s role in Islam Center is sharply cut. Long-simmering tensions between co-founders of the proposed Islamic center and mosque near ground zero led to a parting of the ways on Friday that sharply reduced the role of one: the imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, long the project’s public face.

To Mr. Abdul Rauf’s surprise, the split was announced unilaterally by Sharif el-Gamal, the real estate investor who owns the former coat store at 51 Park Place where the 13-story center is planned. “While Imam Feisal’s vision has a global scope and his ideals for the Cordoba movement are truly exceptional, our community in Lower Manhattan is local,” said Mr. Gamal, referring to the imam’s longstanding work in promoting interfaith understanding. “Our focus is and must remain the residents of Lower Manhattan and the Muslim American community in the greater New York area.”

The break-up sent ripples of uncertainty through a community of religious and political leaders in New York who rallied last summer to the side of Mr. Abdul Rauf and his wife, Daisy Khan, when opponents assailed the plan to build near the site of the 9/11 attacks.

But the divide was most apparent in the different names each leader has used for the project. The imam has always referred to the proposed Islamic center and mosque as the Cordoba House. To Mr. Gamal, a businessman and real estate developer, it is Park51.

Islamic Center seeks 9/11 recovery grants for lower Manhattan

The directors of the planned Islamic community center and mosque near ground zero have applied for grants from an agency tasked with helping Lower Manhattan recover from the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Mr. Gamal has said he plans to raise the $140 million required to build the center by tapping small donors, enlisting paying members and courting corporations and philanthropists. Nothing has been raised yet, but the developers insist that their fund-raising efforts are going according to plan and that they have found interested donors.

In a statement, the developer, Sharif el-Gamal, said that the board of Park51, as the center is known, asked for about $5 million financing from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation about two weeks ago. The money, which would come from a pool of $2 billion in federal financing administered by the corporation, would be used for domestic violence prevention programs, language classes, art exhibitions and other social services at the center.