Manhattan Muslim cleric blasts 9/11 museum video on Al Qaeda
Sheik Mostafa Elazabawy, imam of Masjid Manhattan, resigned from the Lower Manhattan Clergy Council after the 9/11 Memorial Museum rejected the group’s suggestion to change to film to avoid alienating Muslims.
A prominent Muslim cleric is ripping the 9/11 Memorial Museum for planning to show visitors a short film on terrorists that will “greatly offend” members of his faith.
Sheik Mostafa Elazabawy, the imam of Masjid Manhattan, blasted the seven-minute documentary — narrated by NBC news anchor Brian Williams — in a letter to the museum’s director.
After attending a screening of the film — “The Rise of Al Qaeda” — the religious leader objected to how it called the terrorists “Islamists” and described their killer mission as “jihad.”
“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,” Elazabawy wrote in his letter. (Would those foreign visitors be the same ones who danced in the streets and handed out candy?)
Elazabawy immediately resigned from the Lower Manhattan Clergy Council, a group advising the museum, when officials rejected the group’s suggestions to change the film.
“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,” Elazabawy wrote in his letter obtained by The New York Times.
The film, according to those who have seen it, focuses on a 15-year span between Al Qaeda’s founding during the Soviet-Afghan War and the 9/11 attacks.
Williams narrates over images of terrorist training camps and footage from prior Al Qaeda atrocities. The film also includes interviews with sources that are translated in heavily foreign-accented English.
“Brian did not take the request to narrate this film lightly and, after receiving a script from the museum, asked two leading experts to carefully review the wording,” a spokeswoman for Williams told The News. “He was not involved in the editing of the film and has not yet seen a final version.”
Michael Frazier, a spokesman for the museum, said great efforts were made to distinguish the terrorists from mainstream Muslims — including those killed during 9/11.
“This brief film, within the context of surrounding exhibits, focuses on the roots of Al Qaeda with the express purpose of helping visitors understand who perpetrated the 9/11 terrorist attacks,” Frazier said. “It does not purport to be a film about Islam or in any way generalize that Muslims are terrorists.”
The Lower Manhattan Clergy Council as a whole raised concerns that the film did not go far enough to distinguish the Muslim faith from the radical violence advocated by Osama Bin Laden in the name of Islam.
“We have to be careful as religious leaders to not vilify a people for the acts of a radical few. It is wrongheaded and leads to violence and bigotry,” Peter Gudaitis, another member of the clergy council told The News.
Elazabawy was unavailable for comment Wednesday.
The museum is set to open on May 21.
Some loved ones of those killed on 9/11 said they had not screened the film and were not interested in doing so.
“Neither my wife nor I want or need to see the film. We lived it,” said retired NYPD Sgt. Will Sekzer, whose son, Jason, 31, was killed in the attacks.
Retired FDNY Deputy Chief Jim Riches, whose firefighter son, Jimmy, 29, died helping to evacuate the World Trade Center, called the controversy “an overreaction.”
“The fact is, 19 people who were Muslims did come and crash planes that killed 3,000 Americans,” Riches said. “There’s no getting around that.”