Final Project: The 9/11 Memorial Museum and Islamic Stereotypes

Posted on May 23, 2014 by


“Muslim problem. Sharia Law. Muslim terrorists. Muslims did crash planes that killed 3,000 Americans. Pathetic Muslims. Islamist extremists. Allahu Akbar – Last words from cockpit of Flight 93.” Reading through articles about the 9/11 Memorial Museum, these are some phrases that stand out. After reading this type of language, it is hard to believe the purpose of these stories is actually to speak out against the negative Islamic stereotypes presented in the controversial film “The Rise of al Qaeda.” The writers of these articles attempt to highlight the issue with the film’s presentation of terms like “Islam” and “terrorism,” and “jihad” and “terrorist mission” in conjunction, while using derogatory language themselves. All the articles take a stance against the film, but using these phrases, whether they are in context or from quotations, greatly affect how readers perceive the information.


Sources and Biases Are Important

           Not only is it important to be educated and up to date on current news issues, but it is also crucial to understand how these issues are being presented to us. One hot topic that has been in the news this semester is the opening of a new 9/11 Memorial Museum dedicated to the victims of the terrorist attacks. The Museum will feature “artifacts from the World Trade Center and 9/11 attacks, interactive exhibitions, contemplative areas, and programs that will convey individual and collective stories relating the experiences of survivors, responders, area residents and eyewitnesses” ( This issue controversy is two fold: we must look at the media’s discussion of the memorial as well as the implications of the memorial itself for Islam.

It is crucial for readers to pay attention the source of their information, because biases can be very strong, especially concerning a sensitive topic such as September 11th. For example, we looked at sites ranging from the New York Times to Religion News Service. Information presented by different websites can vary dramatically, even if they have the same facts; an important part of writing is the way the information is presented. It is interesting to consider that websites such as the New York Times and New York Daily News may have a bias towards the 9/11 Memorial because the tragedy occurred in New York, and writers in New York may have an allegiance towards the city. Therefore, people may think pages such as the New York Times, The Huffington Post, and New York Daily news are unbiased, but they were in fact biased against the museum on this issue. These conflicting ideas provide an excellent example of why we must always be aware of who is writing the articles and what stance they take on the issue (even if they don’t outright express it), because the news is rarely unbiased. It is almost impossible to write about a sensitive topic without taking a stance on it. Sometimes it is obvious from the first few sentences when an article is written with a strong opinion, such as “5 reasons the 9/11 Museum Should Drop Islamist” written by Muslim professor Dr. Faheem Younus, pictured here.


However, more often, it is much less obvious that the story is written with a bias. For example, the NY Daily News seemingly takes a neutral stance on the issue, but it uses quite a few quotations from families of 9/11 victims speaking out against Islam.


Further Analysis of the Articles

          Without fail, every site we researched said something negative about the controversial movie “The Rise of al Qaeda” in the 9/11 memorial museum. This is understandable, because if they supported the film which compared Islamists with terrorists, and jihad with this tragedy, they would outrage their readers. This is a powerful photo which negatively associates Islam, jihad, and war (the word printed on their headbands is the Arabic spelling of “jihad”). Jihad actually means “to strive” or “to struggle,” but this photo shows the Western interpretation of jihad as “holy war.”


The Daily Beast says it sounds fair that museum officials say the film doesn’t generalize that Muslims are terrorists, but later on, interviews members of the New York Interfaith panel who were upset with the representation of Muslims in the video. Right after this, the museum director was quoted as saying “The film will be shown as we developed it” (The Daily Beast). In addition, Mr. Daniels, the president of the museum foundation, said, “What helps me sleep at night is I believe that the average visitor who comes through this museum will in no way leave this museum with the belief that the religion of Islam is responsible for what happened on 9/11. We have gone out of the way to tell the truth.” It is interesting despite the numerous claims that the film is biased, the museum directors continue to declare it will not shed a negative light on Islam.  Brian Williams, the narrator of the film, says he was not at all involved in the editing and has not seen the final film, obviously trying to keep his reputation clean.

A religious blog from CNN is very biased towards Islamist activists; they only interviewed the director of the New York Interfaith Service and two members of the organization. This site is lacking information from the other side of the issue, which provides an “anti-museum” standpoint without making it inherently clear this is what they are doing. It also concerns us that a reader wanting more information on this topic could type “9/11 Memorial Museum controversy” into Google and stumble across an article from the Huffington Post with the title “5 Reasons the 9/11 Museum Should Drop Islamist.” This article is very opinionated, and contains no credible sources from the museum or other organizations. It is an opinion piece written by Muslim professor Dr. Faheem Younus. He rants about the film, saying if the KKK can draw inspiration from twisting Christian texts without being called “Christianists,” why are Muslims who draw inspiration from twisting the Qur’an still called Islamists? He may make a good point, but he has very strong comments. He even says “If you don’t want to say ‘these angry savages, hell-bent on enforcing Sharia law in America,’ just use the shorthand ‘Islamists.’”  Other sites generalize, saying the film will have a significant impact on America’s view of the threat of Islamic terrorism.

Although most sites did make arguments against the memorial, many of them used language and symbolism which could be seen as negative stereotypes about Islam. Many articles had sources from both sides of the issue and tried to represent the different sides, but “Islamophobia” is such a big part of our culture that it is hard to separate it from unbiased news. For example, one of the articles’ title is “The 9/11 Museum’s Muslim Problem,” which implies there is a problem with Muslims or Muslims have a problem with some part of the memorial. They also use the term “sharia law” and it is not made clear that it is a set of guidelines for living, not a strict law like many people assume. Two different sites use this quotation from a family member of a victim of the attacks: “19 people who were Muslims did come and crash planes that killed 3,000 Americans … There’s no getting around that.” Even if the article does not support this viewpoint, one can argue that having this quotation in the article automatically instills a correlation between Muslims and terrorists, and hatred for both of them. Fox News quotes imam Mostafa Elazabawy, member of the Lower Manhattan Clergy Council saying, “Unsophisticated viewers may come away with a prejudiced view of Islam [from the film].” In this context, he may seem pretentious and again provides a negative attitude towards Muslims. Elazabawy has recently been discredited as a legitimate source due to the recent discovery he has swindled over $140,000 while working as a “tax preparer” for a restaurant; he now faces 15 years in prison. He made a significant impact on this issue and spreading the word about “The Rise of al Qaeda,” but these accusations greatly discredit him and this issue. Here is a link to this story:

Some articles use shock techniques to blatantly enforce negative stereotypes, using quotations like “Bin Laden was a Muslim, and so were his followers. The terrorists who carried out the attacks of 9/11 were pathetic Muslims.” This gets to the root of the problem; even associating terrorists with Islam causes problems. None of these articles outright say “Muslims are terrorists” or “This tragedy was jihad,” but they don’t have to. They all bring up Islam, Muslims, terrorists, and extremists in the same context. Although these words are not used interchangeably, simply associating them together changes how viewers perceive the subject. The American media, from Facebook to Family Guy, has played a crucial role in perpetuating Islamic stereotypes, It is unfortunate how presumably “unbiased” news can continue to enforce negative stereotypes in our culture without inherently doing so.


Stereotypes of Islam in the Media

        A major reason why negative stereotypes of Islam are perpetuated in our culture is the crudeness of the media. A few examples are shows such as South Park and Family Guy which show Muhammad in a bear costume and a “Muslim alarm clock” which blows up the house, and cartoons like this one which blatantly confirm negative stereotypes.


Shows such as South Park and Family Guy are extremely popular, especially with adolescents and teenagers whose perceptions of the world are just forming. These images may seem funny at the time, but they are covert racism. Not only does the media enforce this, but social media is a vast outlet for fueling hatred of Islam. When we searched Islam on Facebook, one of the first things to show up was the page “People against Islam,” which features a photo of a Muslim woman eating bacon and drinking beer. The description of this page is “A page that should instantly have over 1 million. No posts are to be racist, in any way. We all want islam out of our countries and need to group together for this cause. Use this page as the international gateway for eliminating islam.” It is frightening that these kind of pages are available for everyone on Facebook to see, especially children. These are just a few examples, for there are countless videos, shows, images, and movies which cultivate extremist views of Islam. – Family guy & Islam


Implications of the Memorial for Islam

        The 9/11 Memorial and Museum were created to to honor the victims of the tragic attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City. The memorial was opened September 11th, 2011, on the tenth anniversary of the attacks; it is located where the Twin Towers once stood. It features a 30 foot water fall which has the names of the victims etched on the outside.  At night the memorial is lit, and has two beams of light going up towards the heavens. An important thing to note is the memorial doesn’t reference Muslims, it simply has the victims names from the attacks.

The museum opened to the public on May 21st, 2014. In the museum, people can view artifacts from the WTC and 9/11 attacks, interactive exhibitions, contemplative areas, and programs that will convey individual and collective stories relating the experiences of survivors, responders, area residents and eyewitnesses.


The memorial is a reminder of the tragic attacks. Although it is meant to commemorate the victims, it is seen as a symbol of terrorism committed by Muslim extremists. For Islam, the memorial is a harsh reminder of the actions their religious community is blamed for every day. This stereotype does not work the opposite way; for example, the Columbine shooters were American, but we do not view all Americans as terrorists. Honoring 9/11 victims is inherently a good thing, but the memorial has a two-fold purpose of reminding people of the attackers as well as the victims. The monument represents allegiance to America how this tragedy changed the lives of Americans, not Muslims. Steve O’Connor, president of First Responder company Altus, said, “The Twin Towers of the memorial, which always projected our economic power to the world, are a reminder of what we lost as a nation but also a testament to the power and resiliency of the American people.” This statement speaks about America as a whole, but no one mentions the dozens of Muslims, including a Muslim member of NYPD, who were killed on 9/11. Muslims are underrepresented in the film and the memorial; there is no mention of Muslims grieving for their lost love ones or fighting through the rubble to save others. The image below shows Muslims praying in commemoration of the 9/11 attacks; there is an American flag shown, and one of the Muslims is a member of the Army.


– Rachel Haefliger and Nolan Holcombe


“7-Minute ‘Rise Of Al Qaeda’ Film To Be Shown At 9/11 Museum Stokes Controversy.” CBS New York. CBS, 24 Apr. 2014. Web. 16 May 2014. <>.

Allen, Ron. “9/11 Museum Poised to Open at World Trade Center Site.” NBC News. NBC, 13 May 2014. Web. 16 May 2014. <>.

“Does 9/11 Museum Slander Muslims?” CNN Belief Blog RSS. CNN, 23 Apr. 2014. Web. 15 May 2014. <>.

“FAQ about 9/11.” 9/11 Memorial. National September 11 Memorial & Museum, 2014. Web. 13 May 2014. <>.

“Film to Be Shown at 9/11 Memorial Museum Sparks Controversy.” Fox News. FOX News Network, 24 Apr. 2014. Web. 16 May 2014. <>.

Kaplan, Don, and Tim O’Connor. “Manhattan Muslim Cleric Blasts 9/11 Museum Video on Al Qaeda.” NY Daily News. Daily News, 23 Apr. 2014. Web. 15 May 2014. <>

Obeidallah, Dean. “The 9/11 Museum’s Muslim Problem.” The Daily Beast. Newsweek/Daily Beast, 28 Apr. 2014. Web. 15 May 2014. <>.

Otterman, Sharon. “Film at 9/11 Museum Sets Off Clash Over Reference to Islam.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 23 Apr. 2014. Web. 15 May 2014. <>.

Safi, Omid. “The 9/11 Memorial Museum at World Trade Center Legitimizing Claims of Al-Qaeda? – What Would Muhammad Do?” What Would Muhammad Do. Religion News Services, 7 Apr. 2014. Web. 16 May 2014. <>.

Younus, Dr. Faheem. “5 Reasons the 9/11 Museum Should Drop ‘Islamist'” The Huffington Post., 30 Apr. 2014. Web. 16 May 2014. <>.

Posted in: Islam