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April 23rd, 2014
06:47 PM ET

Faith leaders: 9/11 museum video blurs difference between Muslims and terrorists

(CNN) – Interfaith leaders object to a film slated to be part of an exhibit in the National September 11 Memorial Museum.

"The Rise of Al Qaeda," narrated by NBC's Brian Williams, is supposed to provide a brief history of the terrorist group.

The opening lines:

“This program describes the emergence of the terrorist organization that carried out the 9/11 attacks. It concentrates on a period of roughly 15 years, beginning with al-Qaeda’s founding during the Soviet-Afghan War and concluding with its rationale and planning for the attacks of 2001. The program tracks al-Qaeda’s embrace of violence and the decision of its leadership to commit mass murder, at the dawn of the 21st century.”

But faith leaders say the film does not draw a sharp enough distinction between al Qaeda, and Muslims in general.

"The facts are presented in a context that is not nuanced enough for the audience expecting to see the movie," says Reverend Ruth Yoder Wenger, of New York Disaster Interfaith Services.

"We're concerned that the way this story is told equates Muslims in general with al Qaeda, and that people coming away from viewing the video will make that same association in their minds," says Wagner.

Not all Muslims are terrorists. But the ones that carried out the 9/11 attacks were Muslim extremists.

"We'd prefer people talk about al Qaeda extremism, or Islamic extremism, but simply using Muslim and Islam every time you mention al Qaeda or terrorists just draws a constant association between the two faith communities," says Peter B. Gudaitis, also with New York Disaster Interfaith Services.

Read the organization's official letter to the museum here.

Instead of being narrated by Williams, some of the translations in the film are voiced over in broken English, by someone with a heavy middle eastern accent, a move the interfaith group calls sensationalist.

"When any one faith community or people is vilified in history, we try to make them different," says Gudaitis. "It just felt to us unnecessary, and a bit sensationalist."

In March, the only Imam who was part of the interfaith advisory group to the museum resigned over the film, the New York Times reports.

"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," Sheikh Mostafa Elazabawy said in a letter to the museum's director.

The museum should "reshape the story to draw attention to the positive impact of Muslims, both in response to September 11, the vital work that was done across faith lines there, and also just putting it into a broader context," says Wagner.

“A major part of preserving the history of September 11 is to show who was responsible for the monstrous attack on America that led to the deaths of thousands of innocent people of various ethnicities and religious beliefs," a spokesman for the museum told CNN in an e-mail.

The museum declined CNN's request to see the video.

"This brief film, within the context of surrounding exhibits, focuses on the roots of al-Qaeda with the express purpose of helping visitors understand who perpetrated the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It does not purport to be a film about Islam or in any way generalize that Muslims are terrorists,” the spokesman wrote.

A spokesperson from Williams said the NBC anchor "did not take the request to narrate this film lightly and, after receiving a script from the museum, asked two leading experts to carefully review the wording. He was not involved in the editing of the film and has not yet seen a final version.”

The National September 11 Memorial Museum will open to the general public on May 21.

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