The United States is still struggling to free itself from the specter of 9/11. Trying to do so is the most recent controversy that has broken out around the museum in memory of the victims of the Twin Towers attacks, the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, which will open in a few days to Barack Obama, the victims’ relatives, survivors, emergency services and members of the public. A cultural-religious polemic that in certain regards has taken on a surreal aspect has overshadowed the anticipation of the inauguration.
Let’s have a closer look at what it’s about.
Some religious Muslims maintain that a proposed documentary for museum visitors would unjustly link Islam with terrorism. It concerns a short seven- minute video that tells the story of al-Qaida from the initial attacks through to Sept. 11 and uses phrases such as “Islamist extremism” and “jihadism.” We haven’t seen it, so we are not in a position to give an informed opinion, but if as it seems, the finger is to be pointed not at Islam — all of Islam —but only at the extremists who armed the terrorists, that wouldn’t be such a bad thing. However, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, there is no difference: They believe that these terms, particularly the “generalizing” way in which they are used in the video, “conflate Islam and terrorism and carry the risk of misinforming museum visitors, particularly those unfamiliar with Islam.” CAIR has thus urged all Americans to lobby political leaders to remove the “anti-Islamic terminology” before the museum opens to the public.
As a sign of protest, last month Sheik Mostafa Elazabawy, the imam of the Masjid Manhattan Center, resigned from the museum’s interfaith advisory group. The answer from Michael Frazier, the museum’s spokesman, was swift in coming back, “It does not purport to be a film about Islam or in any way generalize that Muslims are terrorists.” But to little avail. The controversy won’t die down.
There is also another group that has protested vociferously, but for a completely different reason: the transferal of the attack victims’ unidentified remains to an area under the museum. On Saturday, dozens of the victims’ family members covered their mouths with black gags after the New York authorities transferred the remains of the 1,115 unidentified victims from the city’s Medical Examiner’s Office to an underground repository at the museum. Placing the remains under "Ground Zero," the families maintain, is disrespectful to the victims. But is it really? Or is putting these poor souls to rest under the museum precisely the best way to remember them?