Remembering 9/11: Is There a Right Way?

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Last week, the famed 9/11 memorial museum opened with a host of items salvaged from that fateful day in American history. About the same time, Pamela Geller’s American Freedom Defense Initiative burst onto our collective consciousness by once again using the image of the burning twin towers on Washington, D.C. buses to malign an entire religion. It seems that almost thirteen years after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, we still have an antagonistic, feral response to this defining moment in modern history.

Both events have spurred protests, but thankfully not just by Muslims. Although the 9/11 memorial museum itself has remained out of controversy’s way, the accompanying seven-minute film called “The Rise of Al-Qaeda” is fast becoming a cause for concern for many New Yorkers regardless of religion. Rather than Muslims screaming themselves hoarse about Islamophobia to no avail, the film is being protested by an interfaith group as one that used specifically Islamic terminology in a way that many viewers may associate Islam with terrorism. While no-one is disputing the religion of the terrorists involved in 9/11, many feel that more should be done to differentiate between Islam as an ideology and the extremist interpretations of some Muslim groups. While it doesn’t seem that that the authorities are listening, at least we’re thinking and talking about it as a society, and deciding that demonizing an entire religion due to the actions of a few thousands, even millions, is just not fair.
Another important demonizing attempt is Pamela Geller’s new bus ad in the D.C. area. I say important because it again has led to objections, not just by Muslims but by other faiths as well, and many different groups and individuals have acknowledged their distaste. The Anti-Defamation League protested the use of Hitler’s picture for the sake of sensationalism, going as far as to condemn anti-Muslim bigotry in terms of Israel and Zionism:

Pro-Israel doesn’t mean anti-Muslim, and support for Israel cannot be built on bigoted anti-Muslim and anti-Arab stereotypes.

David C. Friedman, the ADL’s Washington, D.C. regional director.

Strong and unusual words for the ADL, whose defense of Islam in recent years has been lukewarm at best. But it underscores the point that when a religion is painted with a heavy brush, all people of all faiths should sit up and take notice because that same brush could be taken to their religion next. It is satisfying to see Jews and Christians, Hindus and Sikhs, even atheists, coming together to protect Muslims, and I hope the same occurs if Judaism or any other religion is maligned.
So what is the best way to respond to people and films that incite hatred? Qasim Rashid in Time Magazine debunks some common myths about the “Islamic Jew hatred” Geller talks about, but it seems as if such discussions fall on deaf ears. On the other hand, Mira Sucharov at the Jewish Daily Forward claims that these ads, by a group acknowledged as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, could actually do some good. By bringing people of different faiths together to discuss issues that divide them, the ads could actually result in better understanding and even a healing of sorts. I agree with her rather radical idea as one that could just work:

The discussion would start as a conversation about scripture, values and religion – with lots of talk about how terms like “infidels” and “jihad” are used and heard; what the legacy of phrases like “People of the Book” are now that Jewish communities have mostly left Muslim countries; and how different belief systems understand concepts like war, peace, force and negotiation. It would then likely meander over to the areas of politics and foreign policy. These issues would include U.S. diplomatic and military actions in the Muslim world, the legacy of 9/11, and Israeli and Palestinian policies towards one another.

So is there a right way to commemorate the tragedy of 9/11 and the resulting Islamophobia we have seen in the United States as well as abroad? I think that as long as we are respectful, and can work together to humanize the “other”, there is hope for our nation, our world. We will see many other instances of bigotry, sometimes against Muslims, at other times against Jews or other groups, but at the end of the day we must stand up for each other, and always remember that those who promote hate and intolerance are faith-less terrorists, whether they belong to the Al-Qaeda or the Geller camp.
Saadia Faruqi is an interfaith activist, editor of Interfaith Houston and trainer of American Muslim issues. Follow her on Twitter @saadiafaruqi.