During a news conference Wednesday which cast aspects of a film about al-Qaida at the new 9/11 museum as prejudiced toward Muslims, a speaker invoked the anti-Semitic claim that Jews killed Jesus.
Talat Hamdani, whose son Salman Hamdani was a Muslim New York Police Department cadet killed on 9/11, said religion often is overlooked in other historic crimes.
"Who crucified Jesus?" she said. "Do we ever question that? Bring in the fact that not only the Romans but there were Jews who crucified Jesus?"
Jewish groups say the claim that Jews killed Jesus is one of the strongest messages fueling violent anti-Semitism. The State Department has cited similar statements in its annual reports on Global Anti-Semitism. Though it is still a widely-held belief, Pope Benedict wrote in 2011 that Jews were not responsible for the crucifixion.
No one at the news conference tried to correct Hamdani's statement or walk it back.
The news conference came on the day the September 11 National Memorial Museum opened to New York's first responders and victims' families. It opens to the public May 21.
Islamist groups and their allies have taken issue with the 7-minute film, "The Rise of Al-Qaeda," since a screening last month. On Wednesday, they reiterated their belief that its references to jihad and Islamist violence are unfair and could leave visitors blaming the entire faith of Islam and all Muslims for the attacks.
Speakers included New York City Councilman Robert Jackson, Rev. Chloe Breyer, daughter of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, and Zead Ramadan of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) New York chapter.
"Suicidal terrorism" and "violent extremism" are more accurate descriptions, Ramadan said. He invoked Charles Manson, who was able to get people to do bad things. "It's unfortunate that there are people who are suicidal and not very guided, and they can be manipulated."
But al-Qaida's core ideology relies on religious justification for violence.
"The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies – civilian and military – is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it...," Osama bin Laden wrote in his 1998 fatwa. In a 2002 letter, he cited a passage from the Quran:
"Permission to fight (against disbelievers) is given to those (believers) who are fought against, because they have been wronged and surely, Allah is Able to give them (believers) victory" [Quran 22:39]
This verse, bin Laden wrote, means that, "It is commanded by our religion and intellect that the oppressed have a right to return the aggression. Do not await anything from us but Jihad, resistance and revenge."
And, according to the 9/11 Commission report, when passengers on United Flight 93 fought back, refusing to let their plane strike another target, the hijackers sent the plane into a nose dive. "Allah is the greatest! Allah is the greatest!" one shouted.
In a martyrdom video taped before the attacks, hijacker Waleed al-Shehri made it clear he was acting out of a belief that Muslims had strayed from their faith and abandoned jihad.
"The condition of Islam at the present time makes one cry," he said," ...in view of the weakness, humiliation, scorn and enslavement it is suffering because it neglected the obligations of Allah and His orders, and permitted His forbidden things and abandoned jihad in Allah's path."
In addition to Hamdani's statement about Jews Wednesday, other advocates for changing the film have their own records of extremism.
Mustafa Elazabawy, an imam at Masjid Manhattan who wrote one of the first letters of protest to the museum, cast Jews as controlling money and the world during a 2008 sermon still available on the mosque's website. He called them a "cancer ... in every generation as they get in power." And, like Hamdani, he said Jews "killed the Prophets and the messengers."
Elazabawy claimed that the film, as it exists, "would greatly offend our local Muslim believers as well as any foreign Muslim visitor to the museum." It might leave "[u]nsophisticated visitors who do not understand the difference between Al Qaeda and Muslims ... with a prejudiced view of Islam, leading to antagonism and even confrontation toward Muslim believers near the site."
The FBI deemed CAIR, Ramadan's group which helped organize Wednesday's news conference, as persona non grata in 2008 due to evidence it uncovered linking the group to a Hamas-support network in the United States. Reviewing that same evidence, a federal judge in Texas found "ample evidence to establish the associations of CAIR ... [with] the Islamic Association for Palestine, and with Hamas."
Hamdani also decried what she saw as the inherent bigotry in the film's language, which was ironic given her comments about Jews. She acknowledged the hijackers had religious motivations.
"Yes, Islamic terrorism, Islamism, jihadism. And this is prejudice and this is bigotry," she said. "This is non conducive to the security of our nation and we need to get over this ... rhetorical statements that are talking points given to the media. Islamophobia is a big issue. It is also big business."
Adolph Hitler was a Catholic, she said. No one talks about that.
The flaw in Hamdani's logic: Hitler's religion was absent from his genocidal, fascist quest for global domination.
People don't call actions by the KKK "Christian terrorism," Hamdani said. Consequently, it was bigoted to use the term "Islamic terrorism."
This is a claim often made, but not an accurate one. The Klan considers itself to be a Christian organization, but people do not argue that this somehow leads others to believe all Christians are Klansmen. Studies of domestic extremist violence from the 1990s often focus on Christian Identity movements. Eric Rudolph, who bombed abortion clinics and a park at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, was motivated by his Christian beliefs, something that was widely reported at the time.
Islamic extremism is invoked only when the terrorists themselves articulate their motivation. For example, Army Pvt. Naser Jason Abdo told his mother that he wanted to bomb a restaurant popular with Fort Hood personnel, and then shoot any survivors, because of his religion.
Americans were killing Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq. "When bad things are happening," he said, "you have to do something about it."
Similarly, Farooque Ahmed scouted Washington, D.C. Metro stations in hopes he was helping terrorists plot bombing attacks.
"There's an incessant message that is delivered by radical followers of Islam," his defense attorney told the judge at Ahmed's sentencing, "that one cannot be true to the faith unless they take action, including violent action, most especially violent action … that is a message that can unfortunately take root in individuals who feel like if they don't do something, that they literally will not find salvation under their faith."
Museum officials have been relatively quiet about the video. When the New York Times first wrote about the issue last month, President Joseph C. Daniels said the museum "had a very heavy responsibility to be true to the facts, to be objective, and in no way smear an entire religion when we are talking about a terrorist group." Visitors, he said, "will in no way leave this museum with the belief that the religion of Islam is responsible for what happened on 9/11."
Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, chairman of the museum's foundation, said Wednesday that the film was carefully handled "to make sure that nobody thinks a billion people who practice one religion were responsible."
Former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., who continues to fight to declassify 28 pages of the Congressional Joint Inquiry into 9/11 that he helped lead, said it is important to tell the whole story about the attacks. He was not familiar with the campaign to change the museum's video when the Investigative Project on Terrorism called him for comment.
A Muslim extremist connection to 9/11 struck Graham as "saying what is obvious."
"This is a matter of assuring that the historical record is complete at least complete to the extent that we can know it today," he said. Sanitizing the motivation expressed by Osama bin Laden and the 19 hijackers would "be like trying to diagnose the motivations of a mass murderer without being able to talk about the things that influenced him or her to commit homicides."
The museum does not appear interested in changing the film at the last minute. It is now clear that the critics' message is flawed, as are several of the messengers themselves.