Empathy is the essence of tragedy. To be able to mourn for others we have to feel their loss and make it our own. Most Americans never lost anyone on September 11. Most never knew anyone who died that day in the planes above or the buildings below. And yet we as a nation felt that blow. Their pain was our pain. And that response was not limited to the United States as millions of people beyond these shores reached out and took in the full weight of that tragedy and grief.
All-American Muslim: The Day the World Changed, an episode of the reality series that has the cast interacting emotionally with the attacks of September 11, is less about those who were murdered on that day than about the cast’s feelings and exploitation of that day. It may be unfair to criticize the cast of a reality television show for being self-centered. An obsessive focus on one’s own feelings and needs to the exclusion of all else seems to be a standard prerequisite for appearing on one of these shows. The perfect reality show performer must be a sociopath or capable of playing one on television. And yet this self-centered reaction to the attacks of September 11 is disturbingly common among Muslim leaders and activists in the United States.
Perhaps the most odious aspect of this is the incorporation of the Islamophobia theme into a day of remembrance for the dead, until the very act of remembrance becomes tarred with accusations of bigotry. Every commemoration of the day by Muslim leaders seems determined to not only foist the Islamophobia myth on us, but to also associate it with some national overreaction to that day. Like the family of a cop killer arriving at a memorial determined to make their own sense of victimization the center of attention, the need by some Muslims to turn their own sense of victimization into the focus of September 11 is inappropriate and flies on the face of what should be basic decency.
That sense of grievance is rarely if ever directed at Al-Qaeda and those Muslims who carry out terrorist attacks against Americans; instead it is directed at Americans who woke up to a day of fire and terror, and tried to understand what was going on. The All-American Muslim cast follows the political line of groups like CAIR by indicting Americans for their reaction to a terrorist attack carried out by Muslims, rather than engaging in some soul-searching about the violent roots of their own religion.
When cast members insist that the terrorists were not Muslims, or not truly Muslims, their denial echoes the collective denial of Muslim communities and leaders in America who have never come to terms with the problem because they are too busy misrepresenting themselves as the victims. They are too busy feeling sorry for themselves to understand the pain of so many Americans on the anniversary of that awful day.
But All-American Muslim’s denial that the September 11 hijackers were Muslims acting in the name of Islam, because Muslims are incapable of terrorism is blatantly dishonest. Especially when the series featured two Imams who support terrorists, Imam Abdul Latif Berry, who is quite a fan of the Ayatollah Khomeini, and Husham Al-Husainy, who supports Hezbollah. The appearance of these two men on a series which pretends to show us the peaceful nature of the real All-American Muslim demonstrates how difficult it is to detach the religious violence in Islam from the Muslim community.
When Al-Husainy signed a document which read in part, “We remind our sons to get ready to carry out their duty in Holy Jihad and continue the path which our young valiant men in Hezbollah began in Southern Lebanon” and which invoked a “Islamic nation which extends to all parts of the world”; how was this any different than a bulletin from Osama bin Laden?