An interfaith advisory panel urges the National September 11 Memorial Museum to bowdlerize a six-plus-minute film of unflattering references to Islam for fear of sparking an international incident. If only Osama bin Laden had employed such a nonsectarian “coexist” council of elders prior to sparking international incident.
“We want and expect a little bit more,” the Rev. Chloe Breyer told Fox News Channel’s Megyn Kelly. “It needs context.” Like the ’93 WTC bombing, the U.S. embassy bombings in Africa, and the murder of Leon Klinghoffer? That’s not what she means. The Supreme Court justice’s clergyman daughter says the documentary should show Islam as a “peace loving religion” and demonstrate that Muslims understand “jihad” as “the ability to wage the struggle to do good.”
“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 a Manhattan mosque who doubles as an enforcer of a modern-day Hays Code, informed 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.”
Translation? They think we’re like them and they’re like us. Breyer imagines Saudi Arabian Muslims as Vermont Unitarians and Elazabawy imagines the Americans visiting the museum as akin to the Islamic rubes who rioted over a low-grade documentary two years back. And by Hollywood standards, they are of course correct that the museum’s short film is deeply flawed.
The rank amateurism of the filmmakers to portray Muslims as the bad guys astounds. Any decent casting director would have installed as the lead villain a Southerner, a German, or a German Southerner. Was that guy who played Bruce Willis’s nemesis from Die Hard unavailable?
If Hollywood can airbrush the “American way” out of Superman’s tagline “truth, justice, and the American way,” then surely NBC’s Brian Williams, who broadcasts not far from ground zero, offers too jaundiced a perspective for narration on a 9/11 documentary. Another broadcaster, less tainted by American jingoism, who has also commented extensively on 9/11, might have proved an acceptable choice had he not also called the attacks “jihad” and pointed to Islam as the inspiration by observing that “America has been hit by Allah at its most vulnerable point.” And there remains the added obstacle that that commentator died in a raid on his Abbottabad, Pakistan compound three years ago.
The script, too, requires a rewrite. “The Rise of al Qaeda,” come to think of it, is a Donnie Downer of a movie. Instead of 19 terrorists killing 3,000 people, why not CGI in a hologram of Cat Stevens persuading the hijackers at the last minute to abandon their death plane for the peace train? Rather than crashing the jets, they could land them safely on Zion where they would join the dance scene from Matrix Reloaded. Audiences love happy endings.
All this, of course, makes about as much as sense as the unconstructive criticism of the interfaith council. The problem for Muslims isn’t a film about 9/11. It’s 9/11. It doesn’t lend itself to Rashomon-like retellings. The people in the cabin may have been Episcopalians and Jews and Methodists and Catholics and Nothingarians. The people in the cockpit weren’t. There’s no getting around that a religious faith inspired these evil acts and that Osama bin Laden enjoyed more popularity in several predominantly Muslim nations in the years following the attacks than does the president in the United States right now.
In Hollywood, old fops in ascots and sea-captain hats sit around board rooms and decide that a widow will kiss her dead husband through a psychic medium or that a boy will travel through time with a band of midget thieves. That’s fantasy. History doesn’t work that way, as much as a motley crew of clerics prays that it does.