A film shown at the National September 11 Memorial Museum in New York launch last month has faced heavy criticism for condemning Islam as the reason for the terrorist attack.
The 6-minute-film, “The Rise of al Qaeda” described the attackers as “Islamist jihadists”.
“The film ignorantly implies a religion, rather than a group of criminals, was to blame for the September 11 attacks,” said, Board Member of Council on American-Islamic Relations, Zead Ramadan.
Leading the critic is Rockwood Human Rights and National Security Reform Fellow, Talat Hamdani. The Pakistani-born American previously campaigned for her son’s remembrance as a 9/11 hero.
Mohammad Salman Hamdani, a trained emergency technician who had served as a cadet with the New York City Police Department, was killed as he entered the World Trade Centre in an attempt to help the trapped victims of the attacks. But his heroism was diminished by a New York Post article the following month: “Missing – Or Hiding? – Mystery Of NYPD Cadet From Pakistan.”
The article cast Hamdani as a suspect in the 9/11 attacks and his name was left off both the NYPD’s official 9/11 memorial and the list of 441 first responders on the National September 11 Memorial in lower Manhattan.
“I was fighting for my son’s name but now I am fighting for the community,”Talat Hamdani told The Muslim News. Criticising the management of the National September 11 Memorial Museum, she said: “There are fifty board members, yet not a single Muslim is on the board. That speaks volumes by itself about their perspective. People of all faith, race and ethnicity died that day. Therefore, the museum needs to represent that. Many Muslims also died that day and the museum does not focus on this fact.”
She continued, “Let the 9/11 Museum not divide us, but be the commencement of healing the nation.”
Talat has received the support of several interfaith organisations and religious leaders, who argue that the museum’s video encourages visitors to conflate terrorism with Islam. A spokesperson from The New York Disaster Interfaith Services said: “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.”
Executive Director of Interfaith Centre of New York, Rev Chloe Breyer, explained that the film perpetuates an attitude of “who to blame” for the attacks that is directed towards Islam. “It is critical that the film not use terminology in a context… that could suggest collective responsibility of Muslims and Islam for September 1.” Chief Executive of the New York Disaster Interfaith Network, Peter Gudaitis, said the film was “reckless” in its lack of distinction between mainstream Islam and Al Qa’ida.
In response to mounting criticism, museum officials say the video “does not purport to be a film about Islam or in any way generalise that Muslims are terrorists.” They also note that the film does not use the term “Islamic terrorism” and describes the 9/11 terrorists as “fringe elements.”
Debra Burlingame, one of the 11 members of the museum’s program board, has previously been accused of perpetuating Islamophobia.
The sister of Charles Burlingame, the pilot of the American Airlines planes that was crashed into the Pentagon on September 11 2001, publically denounced President Obama’s support of the Ground Zero community centre in 2010. She claimed the centre would impose Shari’ah law across the US and cause the “subjugation of all free people, including secular Muslims who come to this country fleeing that medieval ideology, which destroys lives and crushes the human spirit.”