NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – Just weeks before it opens its doors, the National September 11 Memorial Museum is dealing with complaints and a controversy over a 7-minute film that will be shown at the museum.
As CBS 2’s Lou Young reported, this time, the flap has nothing to do with human remains, or how the dead are listed, but rather how the terrorists responsible are characterized in a video exhibit.
Some clergy members have written letters demanding the museum change the documentary, which they say unfairly links Islam and terrorism.
“The Rise of Al Qaeda,” a brief documentary narrated by NBC anchor Brian Williams, shows the growth of international terrorist groups in the years leading up to the 2001 attacks. The film has not been publicly released, but museum officials have screened it for groups including an interfaith clergy advisory panel.
Members of the clergy group sent a letter to museum officials this week asking that the film be re-edited to make it clear that not all Muslims support the terrorists who destroyed the World Trade Center.
“We continue to posit that 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 (e.g., Sikhs),” the clergy members wrote. The signers included Peter B. Gudaitis, chief executive of New York Disaster Interfaith Services, and the Rev. Chloe Breyer, executive director of the Interfaith Center of New York.
PHOTOS: 1 WTC And 9/11 Memorial & Museum
Officials at the Sept. 11 museum, which opens to the public May 21 at the trade center site, said the film doesn’t suggest that all Muslims are terrorists.
“Our No. 1 standard is, are we objectively telling the story of what happened? And we feel like we’ve satisfied that,” the museum’s executive director, Joe Daniels, said Thursday. He said museum officials “stand by the scholarship that underlies the creation of this video.”
An imam, Sheikh Mostafa Elazabawy of the Masjid Manhattan mosque, resigned from the museum’s advisory panel last month to protest the film. He said in a separate letter to the museum’s director that the film “in its present state would greatly offend our local Muslim believers as well as any foreign Muslim visitor to the museum.”
The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee called concerns expressed about the documentary “extremely worrisome.”
Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said museum officials should not reinforce negative stereotypes of Muslims as terrorists.
“Generations of visitors to this facility will be influenced by the contents of the displays and the presentations,” Hooper said. “It’s going to be very important how Islam and the American Muslim community are portrayed.”
Visitors to the memorial are anxious to see what the controversy is about.
“I feel like many of us today are much too quick to worry about what’s politically correct,” visitor Linda Kenny told Young.
“You should look at it from a grander perspective perhaps than just the people who lost their lives, which is a terrible thing. But also look at it from the point of view of the ordinary Muslim,” another visitor added.
Jim Riches, who lost his son on Sept. 11, said there’s plenty he doesn’t like about the memorial, but said ultimately the truth should trump sensitivity.
“We’re going to tell history the way it happened. Nineteen Muslims crashed their planes into the building and 3,000 Americans died that day and that’s what happened. That’s the facts and that’s the way it is. You can’t change history,” he told Young.
The 9/11 memorial museum opens May 15 for survivors and families of the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.
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