Should the 9/11 Museum Redo Brian Williams–Narrated Video?

As Brian Williams serves out his six-month suspension at NBC Nightly News, his future remains uncertain in more ways than one. In addition to the question of whether Williams will return to the news anchor chair, there is also the short film The Rise of Al Qaeda, on view at the 9/11 Museum, which the reporter narrates.

With Williams no longer the trusted figure of authority he once was, following revelations that he was not in a helicopter that was shot down in Iraq (see Brian Williams Misremembers Art History), is he still the right voice for the film, even if he is only acting as narrator, not reporter? On the Huffington Post, Todd Fine argues that the seven-minute film deserves a new narrator, with a new script that is more attuned to sensitive religious issues.

artnet News reached out to the museum, but the communications office declined to comment publicly over whether any changes to the documentary were being considered, even though the film was mired in controversy long before the Williams debacle.

Ahead of the museum’s opening this past May (see No Light Down Here in the 9/11 Museum), the institution screened the film for an interfaith advisory group of clergy members. Although the advisory group was unhappy with the film’s terminology, which they felt potentially could be interpreted as casting all Muslims in a negative light, the museum declined to follow their recommendation that changes be made.

The 9/11 Memorial Museum at night. Photo: courtesy the museum.

The 9/11 Memorial Museum at night. Photo: Courtesy of the museum.

Sheikh Mostafa Elazabawy, the only imam in the group, resigned from the interfaith group in protest, calling the short documentary offensive in a letter to the museum 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,” he wrote, as quoted by the New York Times.

(Given the opposition faced by the so-called 9/11 mosque, such concerns are certainly understandable—see Proposed Mosque Near World Trade Center Reborn as a Muslim Museum.)

At the time, the museum’s executive director, Joe Daniels, assured CBS New York that museum officials “stand by the scholarship that underlies the creation of this video.”

Fine disagrees with that position, claiming that the film “is actually opposed to [the museum’s] original government charter, which restricts it from becoming a general authority on terrorism, and even from addressing the motivations of al Qaeda.”

According to the Times, Fine led a successful campaign to remove the phrase “Islamic terrorism” from the 9/11 Museum website last year. Islamic scholars recommend that references to Al Qaeda as an Islamic group should be qualified with the adjectives “militant” or “extremist.”

Now, given Williams’s newly-tarnished reputation, the museum may have even more reason to edit the controversial film, taking into account the feedback of its religious advisory group.

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