One of the strangest aspects of post-9/11 America has been the compulsion of so many to change the narrative about the attacks that took place 20 years ago. We were reminded of that again recently by a new Netflix documentary, “Turning Point: 9/11 and the War on Terror.”
Along with what is by now a familiar litany of criticisms of the George W. Bush administration’s policies and its treatment of captured terrorists as well as its failures in Iraq and Afghanistan, the film also offered a one-sided view of a controversy that had little to do with actual events of 9/11 and everything about efforts to influence the way Americans should think about it and themselves.
In treating opposition to the failed effort to build a Muslim community center and mosque in the shadow of the fallen twin towers of the World Trade Center as representative of what it considers to be a pervasive anti-Muslim prejudice, Netflix has essentially lent its considerable influence to an effort to reshape the 9/11 narrative from one about Islamist terror to one about American racism. This effort was lent further credence by the Anti-Defamation League’s decision to commemorate the assault on America by revisiting the organization’s decision to oppose what came to be known as the “Ground Zero mosque.”
Bush and the rest of the government, as well as the U.S. media and entertainment industry, went to great lengths to point out that the conflict was only with the radicals who had attacked America rather than all Muslims. But almost immediately, a counter-narrative about 9/11 began to be put forward. In this reading, the real story wasn’t about those who committed the atrocities and their goals. Instead, for some, the most important thing about 9/11 was that it gave birth to a surge of Islamophobia.
Though there was little evidence to support it, a myth that there was a post-9/11 backlash against Muslims in America was embraced by much of the mainstream media and others who purported to advocate for civil rights. Among the leaders of this effort was the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a group that had its origins as a front to raise funds for Hamas terrorists in the United States but masquerades as a civil rights advocacy organization.
Mosque Proposed in Footprint of Twin Towers
It was in this context that in 2010 an effort was made to build a mosque on the site of one of the buildings that had been struck by debris falling from the collapsed World Trade Center buildings. While none except a few extremists disputed the right of any religious group to build a house of worship or community center where it wanted to, the idea of converting that specific site into a large Islamic facility outraged families of the victims and much of the public.
Abe Foxman, then the director of the Anti-Defamation League, took a stand opposing the building of the Ground Zero mosque, labeling it as an insensitive gesture that would do more to inflame religious conflict than, as its promoters disingenuously claimed, to heal the city.
Nevertheless, leftist opinion backed the project, and those who said it was inappropriate, such as former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and scholar Daniel Pipes, were denounced as Islamophobic, a theme that is taken up by the Netflix documentary, which represents the effort to build the facility as an exercise in idealism that was cruelly snuffed out by bigots. Nevertheless, the plan for the Islamic center failed to materialize and, up until now, it was just a divisive footnote to the 9/11 story.
But on the 20th anniversary of the attacks, the mosque is back in the news due to an op-ed by Jonathan Greenblatt, Foxman’s successor at the ADL, in which he apologized for his organization’s opposition to the mosque. The former Clinton and Obama administration operative — who has transformed the ADL from a liberal-leaning opponent of anti-Semitism into a partisan front group for Democrats — not only recycled the anti-Muslim backlash myth but also the disingenuous claim that the Trump administration’s ban on immigration from five Muslim-majority nations that were terrorist hotbeds administration was a “Muslim ban.”
Although Greenblatt claims FBI statistics back up his claims about an anti-Muslim backlash, a look at the last 20 years of such data proves the opposite. The number of attacks on Muslims has remained small even when temporary hikes occurred. Throughout this period, the numbers show that the overwhelming majority of religion-based attacks have been aimed at Jews, not at Muslims.
An Attempt at Distraction from Disaster in Afghanistan
Greenblatt and others on the left are again trying to change the subject from our disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Taliban — the Islamist group that hosted the al-Qaida terrorists — initially planned to inaugurate their new government on Sept. 11. But they were ultimately persuaded to back down by their allies in Pakistan, who rightly understood this was an unnecessary provocation that would interfere with efforts to persuade the United States to reconcile itself to a stunning defeat. While four administrations from both political parties contributed to this catastrophe, the feckless Biden administration’s move will help recruiting for various Islamist radical terror groups and encourage rogue regimes such as Iran.
In retrospect, the Ground Zero mosque controversy was about trying to mire Americans in a self-destructive and dishonest conversation about prejudice rather than one about the real dilemmas of the struggle against Islamist extremism. The fact that the organizers of the plan now claim that criticism of leftist Squad members Reps. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., for their anti-Semitism is morally equivalent to opposition to the mosque illuminates their mindset and goals.
While Netflix’s revisionism is hardly surprising, who would have believed 10 years ago that the ADL, the group tasked with defending Jews against the ideas and the people behind 9/11, would be lending its influence to this disgraceful effort? Greenblatt’s stand — and the applause it received from establishment opinion — speaks volumes about that group’s descent into partisanship and toxic leftist ideology. But it also demonstrates the way the chattering classes have embraced the desire to change the story about 9/11 from one of terrorism and heroism into another leftist lie about American racism.