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Anti-Muslim zealot Pamela Geller’s new film starts with a thud – literally. It’s the sound of a body striking a ground-level roof after plunging from lower Manhattan’s World Trade Center towers shortly after Islamic terrorists flew two jetliners into them in 2001.
Just in case that gratuitously shocking audio image wasn’t gut-wrenching enough, video clips of people leaping from the burning towers – and one striking a roof below – follow. Indeed, the greater part of Geller’s film, “The Ground Zero Mosque: Second Wave of the 9/11 Attacks,” is devoted not to making the case for its hyperbolic title, but merely stirring once again the pain, loss and outrage of the 2001 attack. The movie was screened for the first time at the Conservative Political Action Committee’s (CPAC) annual convention Saturday. The film will make its New York City premiere on Feb. 20 – Muhammad’s birthday.
The movie, produced by Geller, founder of Stop Islamization of America (SIOA), and Robert Spencer, principal of the Jihad Watch website, examines the controversy over the Park51 project – the so-called Ground Zero “mega-mosque.” Developer Sharif El-Gamal purchased the unoccupied building at 45-51 Park Place in lower Manhattan – two blocks from the World Trade Center site – in June 2009. He and Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf received city approval to build a 13-story mosque and community center there.
The “seminal, ground-breaking” film (as described on SIOA’s website) is intended to cast the Park51 controversy as a critical turning point in America’s war on terror – but despite incessant yanks on the viewer’s heartstrings, the 87-minute film makes a remarkably thin case for its provocative claim that it represented “the second wave of the 9/11 attacks.” The first 35 minutes and the last 20 minutes are almost entirely devoted to an emotional recounting the horror of the 9/11 attacks – often from the viewpoint of surviving family members – and a belabored critique of the mainstream media for allegedly ignoring or slanting the mosque controversy. The half-hour in between takes a cursory, one-sided look at questions about Rauf and El-Gamal, their financing, and about their alleged connections to radical Islamic figures.
The 9/11-related emotionalism thickly embedded throughout the movie serves a clear purpose. Like Geller and Spencer themselves, the presentation blurs any distinction between radicalized Muslim fundamentalists bent on violence, and Islam itself, thereby implying that the former accurately represent more than 1.5 billion nonviolent Muslims worldwide. It further interweaves concerns about Rauf’s “insensitivity” for choosing that particular location (Geller, at one point, says she has “no problem with mosques” in general) and insinuations about the developers’ motives (which imply Geller would object to the project even if it were moved). So is the film about a single offending mosque, a dangerous radical cleric allegedly masquerading as a moderate, or generalized anti-Muslim hostility? Yes.
“On its face [the project is] a terrible idea,’ Geller says on the film. “It reveals Islam and Islamic supremacism. … If it was truly about healing, they would withdraw it. It is a supremacist act to callously dismiss the pain and the grief they’re causing. I find their dismissiveness radically intolerant.”
Adds Spencer: “We want to give a voice to [opponents of the project], and to express the frustration and the anger the American people have in the face of the mainstream media’s indifference and complicity with this effort.” The movie’s aim, Spencer said, was “pointing out what the cynical agenda of the mosque organizers really is, and how it will be understood in the Muslim world.”
Even though the site is not actually at Ground Zero, Geller says it should be considered “sacred ground” because landing gear from one of the crashed airliners fell there. Spencer goes further, stating – without any supporting evidence whatsoever – that the Park51 project would be a “celebration” of an Islamic “conquest” rivaling the greatest in history. “This will be the triumphal mosque of all triumphal mosques,” he says. “It will outdo the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, or second only to them.” (It also would evidently be the first “triumphal mosque” ever built with a swimming pool and basketball court open to the public.)
The few details presented by the film are typically offered without identifying sources, making it difficult to separate fact from opinion. Geller at one point asserts that there have been “20,000 radical Islamic attacks since 9/11,” without mentioning that all but a handful of these attacks have occurred in the embattled Middle East and that other Muslims have been the primary targets.
The crisply edited production gives so little face time to Rauf and other supporters of the community center that it is hard to avoid the term “propaganda.” On CBS’ “60 Minutes,” Rauf – an American born to an Egyptian father and Polish mother – denounces the 9/11 terrorists. “We have to wage peace. The military campaign against radical extremists from my faith community is a military campaign. The campaign for winning hearts and minds is an important part of that campaign. We know how to do it, and we’re committed to doing it. We’re ready willing and able to serve our country and serve our faith tradition. … We have condemned 9/11. I pray for the souls of your loved lost ones. If 9/11 happens ever again, I want to be the first to die. Muslims want to stand right there to say that we are here. It’s my duty as an American Muslim to stand between you, the American non-Muslims, and the radicals who are trying to attack you.” Though the “60 Minutes” clip is available on SIOA’s website, none of Rauf’s sentiments are reflected in the film.
Perhaps the sneakiest edit in the film is a clip from CNN reporter Deborah Feyerick’s interview of project developer El-Gamal. At one point, she asks him, “For those who would say, ‘This [project] is not an olive branch to greater understanding, this is more an act of defiance,’ what would you say to those people?” Geller’s film cuts off El-Gamal’s response, making it appear as if he is stumped by the question. In the full clip, El-Gamal actually pauses for a moment, then says, “This is an olive branch.”
The film’s credibility isn’t helped by several commentaries by blogger Andrew Breitbart – now infamous for having publicized secretly recorded videos of right-wing “sting” operations against the community group ACORN and Planned Parenthood, and a speech by former U.S. Department of Agriculture official Shirley Sherrod – all of which were revealed to be strategically edited to misinform viewers about what really happened.
Late in the film, Spencer verbalizes what seems to be the real motive of the movie: arguing against any accommodation to Muslims in America: “It’s a threat that we’ve seen from many Islamic leaders in the West, that [Muslims] say that if you don’t grant us this concession, then there will be unrest, there will be anger. You will have to placate us in some other way. … And so the problem is, is that if you start on the road of accommodating shariah [Muslim religious law], if you start on the road of allowing for changes in the way that we do business or changes in the way we that operate our businesses and do our banking or the changes in the way we run our educational system or various other things … then we’re only reinforcing the principle that where Islamic law or practice and American law and practice conflict, then it’s American law and practice that have to give way, not Islamic law and practice. And once we start on that road, there is always more Islamic law to accommodate.”
Of course, that’s entirely false. Nothing in American law would, or even could, allow the use of Muslim religious law — or any other foreign system of law — in American courts. But like the film itself, that does not seem to concern the likes of Spencer and Geller, who are apparently ready to use any bludgeon that comes to hand in their jihad against the Muslim religion and those who practice it.